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.

Tools for Yarn Production

There are a variety of tools used in the home production of yarn. All of them are not necessary. I began with dog brushes. A handy person can make some of these without a lot of difficulty.


comb & hackle in the foreground, hand cards back left, flick carder, viking combs
  • Mesh lingerie bags for washing for washing wool. Mesh potato bags can be used in a pinch. 

  • Extractor for pulling the water from the washed fleece. This can be a spin dryer, the spin cycle on a washing machine or a salad spinner.

  • Drying Rack keeps all the fiber in one spot and off the dining room table. Herb drying racks are dandy for this.

  • Flick Carder for opening the washed locks prior to carding or combing.

  • Hand Carders for manually brushing wool or cotton so the fibers are arranged in a way to make them easy to spin. This is the prep for long draw woolen spinning. They are also used to blend fibers.

  • Drum Carder is a machine that speeds up the process of carding and achieves the same purposes as hand carding.

  • Blending Board is an accessory for hand carding. It has a larger surface and more fiber can be blended on a board than on a pair of hand carders

  • Wool Combs are used to prepare wool to spin. The fibers are all aligned with shorter ones eliminated. The result is called combed top. This is the preparation for short draw worsted spinning.

  • Hackle is an accessory for wool combs. It is a long device that can hold a lot more wool than a comb. It is used for blending or to make a longer run of combed top.

  • Drop spindle is a primitive spinning tool that was the forerunner to the spinning wheel. Spindles are relatively inexpensive and are a quick, cheap way to begin spinning yarn. They are relatively easy to make.

  • Spinning Wheel requires a bigger investment than the simple drop spindle, but makes yarn faster. It was the forerunner to the spinning jenny which displaced it during the Industrial Revolution.

  • Electric Spinner spins yarn like a spinning wheel but doesn't need to be treadled. A good option for people unable to treadle a traditional spinning wheel.

  • Niddy Noddy the amusing name for a handheld tool upon which a skein of yarn is wrapped aafter it is spun.

  • Yarn/Skein Winder is a spoked device used for the same purpose as a niddy noddy, but faster and less tiring on the arms. Some have a counter to keep track of the yardage.

  • Umbrella Swift is used to unwind a skein to a ball winder. It clamps on a table and opens out like an umbrella. This tool can be adjusted to the size of the skein. It collapses like an umbrella for easy storage. Faster and easier than using the back of a chair for this purpose.

  • Nostepinne is a stick on which yarn from a skein is wrapped to make a center pull ball. It makes a larger, neater ball of yarn than wrapping the yarn on your thumb.

  • Ball Winder makes short work of turning a skein into a center pull cake. The yarn cake is flat on top and bottom which prevents it from rolling around. There are hand cranked and electric options.

Harvesting Methods

  • Shearing involves electric clippers, scissors or hand shears. Most fiber animals are sheared once or twice a year. Rabbits may be sheared as often as four times per year.

  • Brushing/Combing applies to rabbits that are groomed on a regular basis and the wool that is released is saved and spun.

  • Plucking involves gently pulling the fiber from the rabbit as the coat begins to shed/molt. This applies mostly to French Angoras and some English.

  • Rooing is when the sheep releases its fleece and it can be peeled off. Soay and some Shetlands roo. 

8 Steps for Processing Fiber

  • Harvest

  • Skirt the fleece by discarding all the areas with manure tags, belly wool and wool with a lot of vegetable matter such as hay and chaff. 

  • Wash to remove dirt and grease. There are many methods for washing wool 

  • Comb/Card the wool to arrange the fibers for easy spinning

  • Spin into yarn

  • Ply if the yarn will be two or more strands twisted together. This adds strength.

  • Skein the yarn by winding it off the bobbins into a yarn package that is now ready for setting the twist

  • Set the twist in the yarn by soaking in hot water.

Infrastructure Needed

Animals have certain requirements to live safe, comfortable lives and not be a nuisance to neighbors.

Shelter

There must be a place for them to get out of the elements. Fiber animals suffer more from heat than from cold. In most climates a three sided shelter is enough with enough space to avoid overcrowding. Rabbits kept in cages will also need protection from rain, snow and summer sun. A garage, shed or barn will keep them safe from predators. There must be proper ventilation. Rabbit urine has a strong, caustic odor. Fans may be needed in summer to prevent heat stroke. Rabbit does can be kept loose in a colony setup inside a building as long as they can't dig out. My does are loose in a small barn and bucks are caged in another barn.

Fencing

Fencing definitely makes good neighbors. A herd of animals on the loose will destroy landscaping and may get in the road and cause an accident. Different species have various requirements. For instance, goats put their feet on fences causing them to sag. They also rub their bodies along the fence line. They need strong, sturdy fencing.

Cages

Caged rabbits deserve enough space to move around and stretch out. The requirements differ according to the size of the rabbit. Wool bearing rabbits range from medium size English Angoras to very large Giant Angoras.

How Much Land?

The question of land is not easy to answer. The first consideration is local zoning. Check for restrictions before adding animals. Then become familiar with stocking rates to avoid overcrowding. A couple of Shetland or Babydoll sheep don't require much more than an average size yard as long as shelter and fencing is in place. A few angora rabbits require little space and can be kept in a well lit shed, garage or basement.

What Is Involved in the Care of Fiber Animals

Farmers/shepherds must be ready and able to get out in the elements and care for the animals in their charge. They will need food and water at least once per day. Food quality is extremely important. Poor, sparse pasture will have to be supplemented with hay, grain and/or fodder. Poor nutrition will show itself in poor quality fiber.

Animals must be kept free of internal and external parasites and receive medical care when they are unwell. 

The Benefits of a Yarn Farm

Not all value has a dollar sign. There are benefits that can only be measured by the amount of pleasure derived.

Land improvement

The grazing wool bearers will improve land if managed properly. They will eat many noxious weeds and fertilize the pasture with manure. Grass will have a better chance of flourishing if it is not competing with weeds. More carbon is sequestered by soil covered with vegetation than in barren soil. Carbon, in turn, plays an important role in the fertility and stability of soil. This impact can last for generations.

Gardening

Animal manure is rich in ingredients necessary for plant life. Composted manure is even more valuable to the gardener as pathogens have died off. Rabbit manure has more nutrients than cow or horse manure and is not “hot” so doesn't need to be composted before use. Besides supplying nutrients, manure improves water retention, drainage and soil structure.

Lawn Ornaments

Animals grazing emerald green pastures or yards are aesthetically pleasing. They reduce the need to mow, but will also eat ornamentals if care isn't taken to protect them.

Friendship

Not only do fiber animals provide companionship, they may also widen your base of human friends. Friends and coworkers will appreciate an invitation to experience shearing day or a family farm visit. Some will ask for spinning or knitting lessons. Selling yarn at your local farmer's market will draw new friends that share your passion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “What Is a Yarn Farm?”

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