I mentioned in my last post that teeth can reveal the age of a sheep, but I did not go into any detail in order to avoid sounding like I was encouraging people to go sticking their hands and fingers into random sheep-mouths at the fair. Now that we have a safe time gap between the context of the last post and this one, here is the basic story behind telling a sheep’s age from its teeth with several different diagrams.
New lambs have “milk teeth,” which are small and uniform, these milk teeth will replaced by large permanent teeth. Sheep replace their milk teeth at a rate of a pair a year over a four-year period. It is recommend that ewes are purchased when they have one or two pairs of permanent teeth, when they are one or two years of age. This way they are old enough to have developed their immune systems, but young enough to have a long breeding life ahead of them.
After the sheep has all of its permanent teeth, the teeth will start to erode and separate from each other. This can be seen in the third diagram, in the set of drawn teeth labeled, “probably 8 years.” A sheep with missing teeth has a “broken” mouth. A sheep with no teeth is a “gummer.” It is better for a sheep to be a gummer than one with only one or two incisors, because a sheep is able to gum and use its molars enough to continue eating, while a sheep with a severely broken set of incisors will not have enough points of contact between teeth or gum to process grass and grain.
This is a very rough outline. The rate at which sheeps’ teeth erode is also dependent on diet, breed, local vegetation and terrain, and genetics.
It’s state and county fair season, a great time to look at what kind of wool sheep are being bred in your area. And if you are like me, you will be doing a lot of day dreaming, and probably more importantly – practicing a lot of self-control so there aren’t a couple of sheep bouncing around in the truck bed as you turn into your driveway.
If there is anything worse than not having sheep, it would be having sheep that you don’t have the means to properly take care of.
…that is my county fair and general animal swap mantra.
Regardless of being able to actually buy any wool sheep at the fair day this year, knowing the marks of a good sheep can help you understand the sheep judging process. It can also, of course, help you build a greater understanding of what you would like for your future flock. Consider it pre-pre-flock building research.
Wool is naturally one of the key features of a sheep that needs to be considered when building a flock. But between the Shepard knowing what he or she wants in the fiber, heaps of jargon, breed variance and other factors, I will discuss wool in another article.
When looking at sheep at the fair this year, check for:
- Clear, clean eyes
- Clean nose (no runny noses)
- Clean lines
- Well-trimmed and uncracked hooves
- Docked tail
- Strong looking teeth (the teeth also reveal age)
Each breed has its own specifications and standards, which makes the judging process more involved. Below, is a tweeted picture from the Herdwick Shepherd that outlines the traits that are sought out in herdwick sheep.
An addendum to the last post, here is a similar video using Samoyeds. How could I have missed this one? It’s so relevant!
You won’t need to take your rations book anywhere because dog wool does not need a coupon, only a comb.
Now somewhat taboo, dogs as fiber animals was once thought of as a war time necessity. Using dog hair was seen as being thrifty, humane and environmentally responsible, largely because the dog hair was going to be shed whether it was collected by the wooler or not. Below are two British videos promoting the use of dog hair fibers as wool. The first video is from 1942, during WWII – the second is slightly after, in 1951.
Though the links for these videos were provided through Youtube, the British Pathe curates these and more historic videos and other short clips.
It is easy for knitters to get caught up in knitting. Yarn choices, patterns, techniques – there are almost too many things to learn about, and ways to improve your products. Because of this, it is also easy for knitters to forget about the non-knitting population. What does knitwear mean to the non knitter? Somewhere between the scratchy feel of their grandmothers’ acrylic afghans, the tragic-comedy that is the ugly sweater and the common questioning of the necessity for hand-knit-anythings, they seem to be missing out on something.
However, luckily enough for them this trend seems to be changing. Now there are options to buy hand knit sweaters and other pieces at all different price points. You can contract independent knitters online, you can find ready made and designer pieces on Etsy, there are new high end boutiques like &Daughter and Needle. There are $200 sweaters, look books, sexy photos and seasonal colors to be had by all.
Knitters, too, don’t seem to be missing out on this knitting fashion trend. While there has been the innate promise of trendy patterns from Vogue Knitting, gorgeous patterns that meld traditionalism and modern flair from Rowan and seemly infinitely searchable one-off patterns on websites such as Ravelry – trendier options are now riding in on the waves of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. Wool and the Gang is one of these stores. They offer ready made knits as well as the patterns and yarn to make them, all while sourcing materials with care and stressing the importance of environmental sustainability.
There is also Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, that showcases (and sells) an idealized knitter’s word of… well, yarns and teas. If that weren’t enough, their store is located on a quaint Washington island.
So what does this mean for the knitters and those who love knit wear? The internet presence and communal atmosphere for knitters are there, certainly. We are also getting quality, variety and an quantifiable sense of “being in.” Those who buy boutique hand knit sweaters benefit from us benefiting from these things too, and they benefit without needing to care about the larger picture. Some folks just like knitwear. If people want to knit to be trendy, awesome. If I can personally propagate sustainable fashion while doing what I love and wearing the clothing I like anyway, great. Count me in.
I have recently finished reading, “Adventures in Yarn Farming, four seasons on a New England fiber farm” by, Barbara Parry. And though I tend
to be a bit of a literary curmudgeon, I loved every minute I spent inside the pages of this book. Parry is the shepherd, fiber artist and designer of Foxfire Fiber at Springdelle Farm. She sells her yarns on her website (link here).
In her book, she outlines the operations of her fiber farm as they change throughout spring, summer, autumn and winter all without letting the reader forget that the seasonal processes are completely cyclical linked.
Personal stories of lambing, llamas, angora goat keeping, sheering, wool processing are told with a great writing style and sense of humor – all which are accompanied by wonderful photography. She also includes several knitting patters, dying instructions, and other detailed outlines for fiber projects.
As tickled as I was with the read, I couldn’t help to be a little envious. Where are my devious goats? Where are my weary sheep? Where are my pragmatic, though completely ridiculous looking llama guards? While one day, I hope to have all of these things, I am very grateful to Parry for sharing her story with all of us in the mean time.
I look forward to trying out some of her yarn (and reviewing it here) in the near future to get a more complete experience of her sheep.
Stevie Nicks is looking for a new shawl to be designed by one of her fans.
From talenthouse.com, where Nicks has made the request:
Designers can submit a ready-made shawl design or a sketch. Both should include a written description about why they think this shawl would be appealing to Stevie Nicks. The selected artist will receive $2,000 of which they will be required to produce their final piece.
A professional photograph of Stevie Nicks wearing the shawl will be taken for the selected artist to include in their portfolio. The photograph and winner will receive an official feature on stevienicksofficial.com and across her social channels, potentially being seen by millions globally.
Also from talenthouse:
“In 1968, a very handsome boy brought me a poncho from South America. I knew it was magic and that some day I would copy it in chiffon or leather or beaded material. I realized that wearing a poncho or a long shawl gave me something to work with up on the stage. Big movements, big twirls, you need to be seen from far away. So I made that a big part of my stage clothes. It became totally intertwined in my fashion style.”
– Stevie Nicks
Nicks’ style of shawl tends to lean towards the light and airy, usually being made from embroidered silk, chiffon or lace. It would certainly be a great and rewarding challenge for experienced knitters to design a shawl that would meet Nicks’ witchy-bohemian specifications.
I’m spinning wool with a stone spindle. This tool has been used probably for more than 30,000 years. And when we twist fibers into yarn we are actually creating a spiral. And the spiral is a cosmic gesture of creation.
This short interview features Renate Hille, co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, NY. Here, Hille quickly and eloquently ties together a lofty and romanticized fiber-centric philosophy to the intimate core of those who participate in the craft.