Woolly Bullies

Tony was up & about at 0230 this morning,

having to drive down to London for his Induction Day with the newly-merged airline.  His working day began at 0730 as there was much to cover; learning all the basics of where & how to report etc, whilst I found I couldn’t really get back to sleep after he left therefore did a bit of reading before getting up even earlier than usual to start the standard daily routine. 

After milking etc, I booked our last two pigs in at Welsh Hook; also provisionally booking in four of the male kids, although it broke my heart to do so (but I am holding out hope that we may yet find new homes for them, before we have to make that unhappy decision). 

I contacted the Wool Marketing Board who’d sent us a ‘snot-o-gram’, asking why we hadn’t yet dispatched them this year’s shorn wool?  The reason was simple – they’d duly registered us as new producers (take note o ye aspiring/new smallholders – it is mandatory to register with them if you own four or more sheep) but hadn’t subsequently sent us a ‘wool sheet’, which is basically a large sack into which the fleeces are bundled, nor any despatch instructions. 

I was advised we should now drop our fleeces off at the regional depot in Brecon; however as the majority of the bundles consist of coloured wool, they are probably worth only around 2p per kilo.  As each fleece weighs around 6kg this makes a grand total of about 12p per fleece – or £1.32 (although Acer & Angelica’s white wool would fetch a little more, with MacDougal’s fine fleece worth more still) – which would probably give us a total ‘grand haul’ of about £5 – whoopee do.  As it costs £1 to shear each sheep we’re already 88p down per animal for 77% of our wee flock; so shearing alone has put us into ‘negative equity’ of around £6 for the adults – hard farming facts. 

Add to that the cost to transport our eleven fleeces to Brecon – a minimum three-hour round trip from here (picturesque though the journey might be) which would use at least £35 in fuel, it means the whole exercise would actually cost us at least £44.68!  Subsequently we mutually agreed that the fleeces could wait for another year – if we can maintain their condition we’ll put them in next year’s woolsack when hopefully they may even fetch a better price – & I’ll only have to take them as far as Newcastle Emlyn to ‘piggy-back’ in the bulk collection. 

It’s such a pity however, that they are deemed virtually worthless; almost waste material, according to the WMB: because some of our fleeces are simply stunning  – silver on black or on dark chocolate, for example (see header picture on ‘Sheep’ page) – & I’m sure would make superb natural-coloured knitting yarn as the Shetland cross produces such a lustrous, silky fibre.  It seems such a shame that it will be used instead in some nondescript industrial process rather than for creating quality, natural garments – & with our over-processed, chemically-saturated lifestyles, that is to what we should all surely be aspiring.  

We even considered purchasing a spinning wheel to give me something (extra!) to do in the evenings on those rare occasions I have time to watch TV or listen to the radio but at around £275 for a basic wheel, it would take far too long to recoup the costs; lovely though it would be.  And besides, I can’t knit & drop more stitches than I achieve; although Tony did win a prize in his school Eisteddfod for his knitting, at the tender age of nine – so maybe there’s hope for us yet….I can picture it now, Tony in his flashy uniform, feet up in the cockpit with needles a-clicking on a nice warm scarf or fluffy pair of socks….classic.  He did point out that the Airbus does have a side-stick rather than a central control column; so maybe there’s mileage in the idea, yet…!!  

Anyway when Tony came home he had a rare treat in store – he’d been to the chip shop (it is a Friday after all!).  So we enjoyed our ‘take away’ supper before collapsing into bed – both of us having had a long day, but especially poor Tony, not coming home until about 9pm. 

His Induction Day had been interesting & some positive noises were made; it looks as though the new company may attempt to look favourably upon their unwittingly-merged employees, trying where possible to give them what are classed as the ‘medium haul’ routes which are new to the company. 

After all, bmi’s philosophy is short-haul with the majority of pilots living in close proximity to Heathrow; whereas BMed’s ethos was completely the opposite, with Tony having only an average ‘commute’ & some aircrew living as far away as Devon, Scotland, France & even Italy & Poland.  I somehow doubt that bmi’s ‘nine-to-five’ pilots are going to want to give up their comfortable home life for a more unpredictable schedule; so hopefully things will settle down to give everyone concerned the best compromise in lifestyle issues; but we have learned that it’s always worth having ‘irons in the fire’….you have to carve your own path through life’s dense woodland, after all.

So if any of you spinners are after some fleecy delights this Winter, do drop us a line – we’d be happy to see our wool go to a good home.

About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, Aviation, Business, Diary, Farming, Livestock, October 2007, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Woolly Bullies

  1. Pingback: singlepilot.net » Woolly Bullies

  2. Hi Jo & Tony,

    It’s clear that, as a raw commodity, your fleeces are next to worthless, which is such a shame as a pile of sheeps’ wool is such a lovely thing. I may have some ideas for you though and a contact based in Somerset.

    Have a look at my own blog and start off by clicking on “Read our …” first and second articles in PM magazine under “Links”.

    Then have a look at Val’s own website, also under “Links”, called The Woolly Shepherd.

    We have just one fleece this year, from our little black Ouessant sheep and Gabrielle has washed and carded it and is about to make it into felt (for the first time) and then into little booties for babies for sale at a Christmas market here in Brittany.

    Hope this helps,


  3. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Sincere thanks for the help & info, Stuart –

    we’ll get in touch with Val to see if she’s interested in our lovely fleeces (if you haven’t forwarded our details to her already).

    Having delighted in Hugh F-W’s felt-crafting antics, we’d love to have a play ourselves with fuzzying fleeces; however as I’m sure you’ve gathered – what with Tony commuting to Toulouse/Heathrow to learn the art of flying the Airbus, & with me concluding my RAF Career to become midwife & handmaiden to our sheep, goats etc (as well as working to set up our busy business) – we really haven’t had time as yet to experience the fabulous art of felt-making.

    As you so rightly observe, raw fleece is a truly lovely, wonderful thing (just run your fingers through it to experience sensuously pleasurable, ‘fairy liquid’ skin) & I’m sure you’ve gathered we are indeed frustrated that our gorgeous, natural wool might end up literally as ‘rubbish’ – insulting at the very least.

    Therefore next year (if I have any time & energy left) I do intend to transform it into a ‘value added’ product; in the meantime, if there are any natural wool workers out there who would like all of it (in return for a nice warm Christmas cardigan from said clip for my recently-blinded Mum), you’re welcome –

    and Val, if you’re reading, we’ll be in touch – thanks to Stuart & Gabrielle (may your Brittany booties prove a big success in the Christmas market).

    Best wishes, thanks so much for your advice & please call again as we’ll certainly be dropping in on your excellent Blog –

    Jo, Tony & FfF Menagerie.

  4. Jill says:

    Greetings from California!

    I am a spinner living in Los Angeles who is obsessed with the cuteness factor of the Greyface Dartmoor. I have always wanted to have a fleece for work with, but as they are not bred in the US, have found it difficult to obtain a sample. Doesn’t seem that there are many breeders in Great Britain whole sell their fleeces openly online like they do in the States, well, at least for Greyface Dartmoor amnyway.

    As I was poking around on the internet today, I came across your blog and your offer for the fleece. Now, I don’t know the first thing about sending fleece across borders, legality/cost, but if it were doable and not too astronomically expensive, I would be very thrilled to have Mr. MacDougal’s fleece and possibly even the finest of the shetland crosses you have available (I don’t mind colored fleeces either!) And of course, I would be more than willing to pay above market prices for the fleece. (Seems a shame they offer you so little!)

    I love supporting small farming and have made a habit of purchasing a fleece or two directly from a farm each year. Last year I purchased a CVM (California Red Sheep) yearling fleece directly from a donkey farmer near Yosemite National Park who happened to have a small flock. It turned out to be a huge fleece and had beautiful creamy cinnamon locks.

    You would assume that this practice would have me swimming in fleece, since it can often take a handspinner much more than a year to scour, card and spin a whole fleece. Luckily, I am the vice-president of my spinning guild here in LA (http://www.glasg.org) so there are many, many inspired fiber enthusiasts that I can share the bounty with.

    Please let me know if you think this might be feasible. Thanks very much in advance.

    All the best, Jill

    Jill Packard

    oboegoddess (at) gmail (dot) com

  5. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Jill –

    many thanks for visiting our site, I do hope you’re enjoying it. I will root out a photo of ‘Big Mac’ for you & put it on the Blog page, so you can see what a fine chap he is!

    The Greyface Dartmoor is my favourite breed of sheep; they are beautiful to look at with the most magnificent fleece, & our chap is the sweetest, most tractable ram I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with – a really gentle character. He often just follows me around the field or the barn – walks ‘to heel’ far better than our dog, in fact – & hasn’t one nasty bone in his fine body.

    I’d be delighted to sell you his fleece, as we are very proud of it indeed & I’d love to see it go to such a good & worthy home. Other sheep breeders in the local area were filled with admiration & gave the fleece fulsome praise during shearing this year. MacDougal has proved to be an excellent sire & his lambs are all fluffy little white clones of him, sporting the same fine, long, silky, crimped fleece quality – despite the girls’ multi-coloured genes.

    Unfortunately I gather at present, that British farmers are not currently permitted to send raw wool abroad, because of the restricitons imposed as a result of the FMD outbreak. However these restricitons are bound to be lifted in due course so I shall find out what I can reference when restricitons are likely to be lifted, potential export costs etc & hold onto the fleece for you in the meantime. Again, I’ll see if I can post up a photo for you so you can see how big it is – it’d certainly keep you busy for a while! If you look on our ‘Sheep’ page, you’ll see the fleeces in the woolsack we purloined from the local farmers’ co-op as we weren’t issued one by the Wool Marketing Board this year. I’ve still got all the fleeces from this year’s shearing; so if you let me know a colour preference – white, black, choclolate, silver-on-black/choc – I’ll put one aside (they’re all good quality & of course I’d only send out the best, anyway).

    After all, I’d far rather see this lovely wool made into beautiful garments than just used as loft insulation or whatever – it deserves a better fate!

    And many thanks for your support of small farmers – up against the ‘bully boy’ tactics of the supermarket chains, we need all the help we can get.

    I’ll keep you posted as I find out more – keep on spinning!

    Cheers aye,

    Jo, Tony, MacDougal & girls.

  6. Val Grainger says:

    Found your blog! Very good and made me laugh! Yes I am always interested in other peoples wool so get in touch and I will tell you the latest developments!


  7. Val Grainger says:

    Hi again folks

    I know you have sheep and are interested in felt! We (the blackdown hills natural fibre group) have secured a little funding and will be starting a small felting plant in Devon soon, would you be interested in getting any fleeces felted? please get in touch if so

  8. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Val –

    good for you, glad you’re doing well. Actually I’ve never done any felting; & sadly haven’t even had the chance to try my hand at any serious spinning, as time & money are so agonizingly short at present – every waking hour & every last penny is being ploughed into the business.

    But I’ll put the word out to others in our locality who do work with felt; hopefully they’ll be in touch!

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