The Dollars and Sense of Shepherding
Deciding to be shepherd is an emotional decision. And of course a lifestyle one too. These go hand in hand. For me it starts with the love of fiber animals. And when I say love, I mean warts and all. There is a messy side to shepherding along with the romantic side of sweet lambs and ewes peacefully grazing in a lovely pasture. The care does mean you get dirty. Handling a very wet new born to dip umbilical cords in iodine come to mind. And add to that catching sheep for shearing, hoof trimming and shots will add a good shower to your schedule. Love means accepting sheep, rabbits and goats, just as they are.
Accepting the bad along with the good is a must for a farmer. And the good parts are so very worth noting. I get to work with incredible animal and their fleeces. I partner with nature in providing a good productive environment where these animals can live out their lives. I feel this is a high calling. Sharing the experience and value of farming to my kids and the community is also part of my goals and benefits. Taking a raw commodity like wool and creating high quality products and bringing them to the market place is exciting to me too.
Farming is free enterprise and entrepreneurship at its core and the economic base in the formation of this country. Farming created the hard working self reliant ethic that propelled American exceptionalism that attracted the world to our shores. And fiber farming was essential in colonial America. I celebrate and keep alive fiber arts like spinning, knitting, weaving and embroidery. Farming allows me to share the hand crafted products from these pursuits. I feel shepherding is a worthy occupation.
Each would be shepherd needs to take off the rose colored glasses and look at the business side of things. The things needed to farm can be expensive, such as land, fencing, shelter, hay and grain, a shearer’s services, a mill’s services, the animals themselves, marketing the products. And more. I have looked at these challenges and know that I face competition. I face all of this with many tools. Maintaining high standards in product production, creativity in marketing and caring about who is purchasing my products are some of these tools. There are many skills and I come to the party with many, but much is learned along the way and taking time to educate myself in the things I don’t know is required. One area I focus on is social networking. This is one marketing venue farmers of old did not have. And one that continues to change and evolve. It is in this farmer’s best interest to stay current. So that means Facebook, blogs, websites and web stores like Etsy. Add to that being a vender at fiber festivals and there is a learning curve there. Creating a farm in the 21st Century is an amazing adventure for sure.
As my production increases, one marketing idea’s time has come. And that is the CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a nifty idea that involves the farm’s customer in the operation of the farm, creating a more intimate relationship. I really like this idea because I like sharing what I do more directly with folks. We are creating a farm membership with perks. And these perks will evolve and grow as the farm grows. So we just introduced our CSA in our farm store
We now have about 30 sheep and we are shearing twice a year. We are taking fleeces to the mill about twice a year to produce our mill products like natural colored worsted yarn, soon a sock yarn, roving for spinners and felt for producing my embroidered products. I am taking some of the roving and yarn and hand dying some of it to go along with the variety of natural colors. So we have a regular schedule of mill production. Add to that is hand spun yarn and custom carding. And we have a good solid production rate to support the CSA. Our members will get information as new products arrive, they get 20% off any product in the farm store plus they get their choice of any four skeins of yarn or six bags of fiber. Coming soon are original patterns to go with this yarn. And those are free to members.
I think any knitter, weaver, spinner or felter interested in supporting a family farm okraising their fiber would be interested in this opportunity. The challenge is getting the word out. And getting people to touch and try this Shetland yarn. I cannot explain in words how lovely this Shetland is.
I hope anyone considering farming has found some food for thought here. Let me me know your thoughts and ideas. Would love to continue the conversation.