Amber and I just returned from Oregon, on a journey to the wooly beginnings of our Heirloom Romney yarn. Our private label yarn since 2012, Heirloom is produced by Jeane deCoster of Elemental Affects. Jeane works with small farms to source the wool for her special yarns, and has been milling breed specific yarns for many years. Her connections with the Romney farms of Dona Zimmerman and Carol Pasheilich are how Heirloom came about. What a joy to have worked with Jeane to create this special American yarn. After working with this yarn and falling in love with its unique qualities over the last few years, Amber and I decided it was time we meet the farmers and the sheep responsible for the wool behind Heirloom. Last weekend we flew to Medford, Oregon and stayed at Silver Cloud Farm, a small farm that is home to over 40 Romney sheep.
Heirloom is made from the wool from two farms, Silver Cloud Farm in Ashland, Oregon and Tawanda Farm in Montague, California. Amber and I were able to visit both farms on our trip and meet the farmers and the sheep. We did conveniently plan this trip during lambing season - we wanted to see both adults and lambs and I'm so glad we did! Not only were the lambs oh-so-cute, but we were able to learn so much.
Our first stop was in picturesque Ashland, Oregon. Silver Cloud Farm is owned by Kent and Dona Zimmerman. Dona also owns a yarn shop in Ashland, the Web-sters, which is a huge yarn shop. Her story is very inspiring and she has had both the shop and her sheep for 30 years and had a ton of knowledge to share. Kent and Dona were gracious hosts and we're so thankful they allowed us into their lives for a few days!
Dona and Kent had finished this year's lambing (all this year's lambs had been born), but they were still busy watching over all the ewes and new lambs to make sure everyone was doing good and had a few lambs who required bottle-feeding.
They gave us a tour of their farm including their shearing shed and skirting table. The freshly shorn fleeces are thrown on the skirting table and skirted immediately after shearing, before being sold as fleeces or baled to be sent to the mill. Dona demonstrated the skirting process with one of last year's fleeces for us. Dona and Kent shear in September so their sheep had 6 months worth of fiber on them giving them a particularly cuddly look.
We were also able to help turn out the ewes and lambs each day and bring them back into their pens at night. During the day the sheep get to graze on lush green grass in beautiful fields of the picturesque Rogue Valley. They come in at night for safety from predators. In addition to the ewes with new lambs, there were also some yearling ewes in a separate field that did not have lambs (they don't have lambs until they're two) and they also had two rams kept in a separate field.
Romney lambs that will have colored fleeces are born almost black. They lighten a bit as they age so the colored adults are a medium grey. The white Romneys are born stark white. This breed is particularly cute. We spent hours everyday just watching them play in the fields. The lambs are protected from predators by Jazz, the Great Pyrenees dog who spends his nights roaming the fields to deter coyotes from coming near the farm.
As an experienced knitter and spinner, Dona breeds her sheep for fiber. She loves the qualities of Romney and keeps some of her fiber each season to mill herself into roving. I couldn't resist coming home with 20 oz of her beautiful, minimally processed roving to one day spin into a fingering weight yarn for a sweater. Romney fiber is a medium coarseness, a quality that means it will last and hold up to wear well. The long fibers have a bit of a natural sheen to them that is visible in both the roving and the yarn. This is something I love about Romney.
Dona and Kent mentioned they started with Rambouillet sheep, but quickly switched over to Romney. From both Dona and Kent and the other farmers in California we visited we heard the same qualities touted over and over: the Romney sheep have gentle dispositions, are easy keepers, and great mothers.
Our farm-filled weekend was such a great experience. We learned so much about raising sheep, breeding for wool and healthy animals, and just how cute Romney sheep are. We couldn't be more proud to support these farmers and their sheep. The sheep are happy and are living in some of the most beautiful land we could imagine. And now for your viewing pleasure, here is a short film about lamb gangs.
Check back on Friday and we'll take you to Montague, California and Tawanda farms to meet more Romneys.