January

This is research month and winter is a fine time to do it. There are four immediate areas to be investigated so you make the best decisions and don't have regrets. 

  • Animals and Their Care 

    First of all, what animals appeal to you? Is there a species you have always gravitated to or with which you have some experience? Experience is always the best teacher. Or, perhaps, you choices will be dictated by where you live. You can have a rabbitry of angora rabbits in a city back yard or ventilated garage/shed if local zoning allows this. If you have more land and can afford fencing and shelter, larger animals are within range. Once again, check zoning and any land use restrictions that might be in the property deed. Expense of animals, infrastructure, feed and possible vet bills will narrow selection. It's best to start small.

  • Fencing, shelter and feed storage requirements 

    These vary with species. Fiber goats are hard on fencing as are all goats. They rub against it and put their feet on it which will break it down. Rigid livestock panels are a good choice for goats. Sheep are more passive about fencing and field fencing will do. Any animal with horns can get their heads caught in fencing if they can stick their heads through to graze on the other side. Rabbits have cage size requirements that correspond to their size. Female rabbits can be kept loose in a colony arrangement as long as they have enough places to hide and a dig proof floor.

    Also, where will feed be stored? Do you have a source of hay and feed that can keep you supplied throughout the year or will you need to buy annually/semi annually and have a dry place to store it?

  • Tools and Machinery 

    Tools for cleaning range from a wheelbarrow, rake and shovel to heavy duty machinery. A location for dumping manure and bedding needs to be away from the well.

    If you plan on removing fleece yourself, you will need scissors or clippers depending on the animal.

    Sending fleece to a mill to be cleaned and spun eliminates the need for processing equipment, but it is expensive and there can be a long wait to get yarn back.

  • Expense 

    A yarn farm can be an expensive hobby if everything is to be purchased at once. The animals, shelter, any equipment or tools, fencing, feed costs, wormers, supplements, and veterinary expenses combine to quite a total. A bad hay year drives hay prices sky high. Hydroponic fodder can be grown to offset this, but the cost of seed and the setup should be figured into the budget.

February

This is dye research month. No matter whether you send your fiber to a mill or process yourself, you might want to dye it. There are chemical and natural dyes. Each have pros and cons. Natural dyes are used in combination with mordanting agents, such as alum, that bind the dye to the yarn. Without these fixatives, the result may not be color or light fast.

A small dye garden can be planned and seeds ordered. The garden should contain plants from the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow. You can then mix or over dye yarn to achieve other colors. The can be as simple as growing the plants in pots/planters on a porch or patio. You won't get a lot of dye material, but it is fine for experimental purposes.

March

Tour a fiber farm virtually or in person, especially at chore time. There is no better way to see the work involved before making a commitment. Some ways to connect with local farms are through social media, Local Harvest or contacting your local cooperative extension.

April

Look around for raw fleeces, roving, combed top or yarn from your chosen animal(s). Processing a raw fleece will be intimidating, but is a great way to learn. Handling and spinning the fiber reveals the attributes and you can see if it is what you like. If you can't spin, using breed/species specific yarn will serve the same purpose.

May

Now it's time to plant a small dye garden to love and nurture while you continue learning about fiber. This will be short work if you were able to start your plants inside.

Intro

It is deeply satisfying to knit a warm, cozy hat for a friend or loved one with yarn spun from your own animals. What we enjoy as a rewarding hobby, our ancestors knew as the necessary work to produce enough cloth to keep their families clothed. Cloth had value. It took many hours to produce and garments were repaired, cut down and resewn and finally turned into rugs. Cloth was not thrown away as it is in these days.

While families no longer have to raise their own animals and plants in order to have cloth, many of us would like some control over the yarn we use in our creations. Some are attracted to the fiber realm due to environmental concerns and wish to craft with organic yarn. Others want to make specific types and colors of yarn for specific projects. Many hope to launch a small fiber business to pay for their hobby and make a little profit.

The term farm is used loosely here. It can range from a spare room, garage, shed or backyard space that houses a few angora rabbits to a multi acre tract occupied by a variety of fiber producing plants and animals. I started out with Jersey Wooly rabbits in a city backyard and progressed to acreage with sheep and angora rabbits.

3 Major Yarn Categories

Of the three main yarn categories, a fiber farm only produces the first two which are natural and able to be grown and made into yarn on the farm. Synthetic yarns are man made or, as in the case of bamboo, require a chemical process to break down the fibers so they can be spun into yarn.

  • Animal/Insect this includes wool from sheep, alpaca, llama, rabbits, goats and silk made by silk worms.

  • Plant – cotton, flax, and hemp are in this category.

  • Synthetic – acrylic, nylon, rayon, polyester, bamboo

Uses for Yarn

  • Knitting

  • Crochet

  • Weaving

  • Rug Hooking

  • Needlepoint

  • Punch Needle

  • Embroidery

  • Wrapping

Value of Yarn

Yarn has an intrinsic value because it clothes mankind. With a spinning wheel and a loom cloth can be made and sewn into a garment. One of my goals is to weave a tunic from my sheep's wool.

Breed/species specific yarn is in demand. We all know about the popularity of merino wool, but there is growing awareness of the delightful properties of other kinds of wool. Whether the attraction is softness, luster or durability, there is an animal or plant that produces that type of fiber.

When you make your own yarn, you control the outcome. There are different methods of preparing and spinning that yield very different results. Carding and spinning with what is called long draw method gives a soft, fuzzy, warm, woolen yarn perfect for hats and cozy sweaters. Combing and spinning short draw makes a smooth worsted yarn that wears well for garments such as socks.

There is value in the ability to craft a garment in a particular way with just the right yarn that is just the right color. If you can envision it, you can create it.

Roving, combed top, yarn and items made from yarn can all be sold to recover expenses and add profit. Besides venues such as Etsy, there are fiber festivals, farmers' markets and craft shows at which to sell products. Social media provides another outlet.

Anyone interested in a self sufficient life will be attracted to the idea of growing their own attire. Clothing protects us from the elements and, in some climates, is as necessary as food, water and shelter.