Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Wonders of Wool - the first in a series of woolly explorations

I am fascinated by wool. The more I find out about it, the more it reveals itself as a wonder fibre. It has numerous useful qualities, and it comes in more varieties than I used to imagine. Now I've decided to find out more fascinating facts about wool, and I'm going to compile them here, in a series of Woolly Wonderings. So if you're interested in going on a voyage of discovery about one of Nature's most versatile and useful products then join me here :-) 

First I thought I'd find out a little bit about sheep, the first animal I think of when I think of wool. And when I think of sheep, I quite often think of Colouritgreen, whose shop on Etsy I first came across last year. So I've travelled to the depths of Devon (my own home county), to visit Nick, a talented and imaginative smallholder, to get an insight into her life with sheep on Dartmoor.

Betty and Bertie, by colouritgreen

What is your daily routine with your sheep?
Daily it is a matter of checking on them, counting heads and making sure they have access to grass, water and shelter - that everyone is the right way up :) no one is limping or behaving oddly or appears out of sorts etc.  After that it is a matter of dealing with a problem - such as pulling one out of the fence where she forced her head through the fence and can't back off.. or trimming a hoof etc.

Are there seasonal differences in how they have to be kept?
Yes - there's a whole calendar to it.  If we intend to lamb, the ram will go in with them in Autumn - traditionally the ram goes in on bonfire night, for lambs on all fools day.  After his visit (we borrow a ram) there is not much to do for the sheep during winter, in fact it is best to handle them as little as possible if they are pregnant.  We give them extra food if it snows etc, and move them from field to field to get fresh pasture.  As they approach lambing time they get extra food.

Lambing is a spring thing, and very intensive, we have to check them through the night and assist with lambing if necessary.then you have to check the lambs are ok and worry about them too!

Early summer and we have to think about shearing (and that lovely wool!) and they are more prone to pests during the warmer months so we have to check and treat as necessary.  Come autumn, time for any lambs that are being sent off to go, check the condition of the ewes, and the ram comes to visit again.

Betty by colouritgreen

Are they individuals with their own characters?
Oh yes! Sharona, our old girl is grumpy about everything.. although she always seems to end up alongside for a scratch along her back... Bertie is just gormless.. Saffie is stroppy but friendly at the same time.. the two newer girls stamp their feet at us and run off.. :)

What are their common diseases/problems?
There are many many sheep diseases, whole books of them - often with funny names - such as 'daft lamb disease' - I mean really how would you know?  But with ordinary good luck the problems are flystrike, worms, and maybe  fluke.  These can be treated.  We don't go in for routine treatment, but do if  a problem develops.  Sheep can also have problems with their feet, as they are designed for running about on rocks, not in fields, so they need a pedicure now and then.  Fortunately our flock is so tame we can just pick up a foot horse style and deal with it easily.  See all that patting and chatting to them pays off :)

New sheep by colouritgreen

And what are their strengths?
In many ways sheep are a lot more hassle than other livestock, but their strength has to be that they are not a threat - cows can be dangerous and pigs bite, and smell, but  you can stroll through fields of sheep without fear, and they turn grass into meat and lovely lovely wool.

I lived on a farm with sheep around us and just saw it as part of the scenery, but when we got our own I was blown away with how entertaining they are  - they are companiable, and funny, lambs racing around and springing about the fields are pure entertainment.  I wouldn't be without them now.

Next week I'm going to stay with Colouritgreen to find out how she processes her wool, to turn it into lovely things like this!

felted pincushion by colouritgreen on Etsy


  1. Great blog post - I really enjoyed reading it. And I'm so envious you got to meet CiG and her girls!

  2. yay fame for my sheeps :)

  3. They are beautiful sheep - make me feel all nostalgic for farming life :-)

  4. Very interesting blog post, learnt many new things!!! :)