Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sheep Farming - A Labor of Love

I am a shepherd.
Havencroft Higgledy-Piggledy (Higgs) grows fleeces for
some of my best wild rugs, has awesome lambs, and loves
to get scratched under her wool. She wags her tail when
you get the right spot, just like a dog. She passes that
unique trait on to her children.

My heart, my soul and my passion are -
  • the land that supports my sheep and goats; 
  • the healthy flocks that greet me every time I look out the window or step outside; 
  • the milk, wool, mohair, alpaca, llama and dog fiber they provide for my fiber arts; 
  • the spinning, weaving, felting and crochet that I do with the fleeces from my animals; 
  • the cheese that I make from the goat's milk; 
  • the connections I make with the people who buy the things I craft; 
  • and the relationships that those folks build with our animals and land.
It's a lot of hard work, and it is truly a labor of love.

HF Hocus Pocus is mildly annoyed at her son for climbing on her.
HF Finesse ("Nessie" - Thyme's last lamb and Canoe Lake Sonic Boom's first
on our land), is on the right is with her two 2018 ram lambs. We retired her
with those two boys. She's only nine, but she had trouble lambing.
Our retired sheep, now six of them, ranging in age from 9 to 16,
live in a big paddock with trees and a deep bedded shelter
on the west side of our land.

I frequently get asked if I make a living farming. I have learned to school my expression and not laugh maniacally at the question. There was a time when I thought I could live sustainable as a farmer, and there are people who do. I don't. As my tax preparer says, "You have a hobby farm." It's a lot of hard work for a "hobby". It is a labor of love.

So, it's tax time again and as I was figuring things up, I thought I'd share some numbers. Every farm is different and costs vary every year. The weather is also a big factor. Some years we can graze seven months. Some years we feed hay all year.

These numbers aren't meant to prove anything. They are just some business numbers from Havencroft Farm in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Like many Americans, we have a mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries, medical bills and insurance. We are lucky enough to have jobs to pay for all of that. Our jobs and help from our folks cover infrastructure like roofs, fencing, and barns; and equipment upgrades like my new Spinolution Firefly, an electric production spinning wheel that allows me to keep spinning the yarns I love as my body ages.

I love this picture of the sheep grazing out front fall of 2018.
Left to right are HF Judith, HF Hester, HF Ipswich (Dapper Dan's last daughter),
HF Magic, HF Nexxus, and HF Natalie.

Our flocks of 25 adult Jacob Sheep, 4 angora goats, 3 alpacas, and five dairy goats mostly pay for their own food, supplements and medical bills.

This last year, expenses were
Hay - (thanks for wonderful friends in a very weird growing year), $1,350
Grain - $4,680
Supplements - salt blocks, kelp, selenium - $800
Vet - (supplies like wormers and visits - and we have an awesome vet. Thanks Doc Nixon!) - $900

Total expenses  - $7,730

This year my goal is to weave all my
shawls from yarns spun out of 
fleece grown on our 
Havencroft Farm by our beloved
sheep, goats, and alpaca.
That's part of the reason I've 
enjoyed dyeing so much this winter.

Income from sales of products I make by hand from milk and fleeces from our animals -
Goat's milk - $384 (family drinks most of it, or eats the cheese I make from the milk, this number is just direct sales to customers.)
Sales from the Havencroft Farm etsy store, $1,200 (I hope to build that back up this coming year)
Sales of Fleecyful rugs, Havencroft Homestead Handspun yarns, and handwoven shawls - $4,300
Sales of ram lambs and extra ewe lambs - $1,500

Total income - $7,384

So, the cost to our homestead budget of having the sheep and goats that I love so much is $346, this past year.

They're worth it, to me, and I hope to those of you who love the things you treasure from the fleeces they grow. Its truly a labor of love.

I love to spin yarn from the fleeces of my sheep, and to be able to watch them
playing out the window as I spin. I love how the yarn seems to have the
characteristics of the sheep or goat who is growing it, sometimes sweet and
soft, sometimes michevous, sometimes elegant. This yarn is
HF Luna's (Moose Mountain Jacob x HF Imbri)
spun as a whole fleece, right from the pillowcase we put the fleece in after
shearing. Luna started out shy, but she has grown to be one of our boss ewes.

Each Fleecyful rug that I weave is from the whole fleece
of one of our Jacob Sheep, angora goats, or alpacas.
I usually weave with the raw fleece, right out of the bag
it's put in a shearing, letting the natural colors of the
animals design the pattern of the rug. 

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