Learn all about wool sheep with Janet Garman! From choosing breeds, healthy stock, and what to do with the wool, this is the best place to get started on your wool sheep journey!
We are bringing you a series of episodes on the podcast about raising sheep, and in today’s episode, Janet of Timber Creek Farm is lending her expertise to the conversation! Janet has been building her homestead and growing her skills for decades, and she has a unique passion for creating beautiful fibers with natural dyes. Join us as we talk about acquiring and maintaining a healthy flock of sheep that is right for you and your homestead. We also discuss what to do with the wool after shearing and why wool is such a valuable resource.
In this episode, we cover:
- Choosing the right breed of fiber sheep for your needs
- What health markers to look for when acquiring new sheep
- Options for processing wool if you don’t spin it yourself
- The differences in raising sheep for wool, dairy, and meat
- Types of plants you can use to dye wool naturally
- Benefits of wearing wool and other natural fibers
- What kind of property you need to raise sheep
E20: All About Wool Sheep: Choosing a Breed, Processing Fiber, Natural Dyes | Janet Garman of Timber Creek Farm – Homesteaders of America
Thank you to our sponsor!
Premier 1 Supplies is your one-stop shop for all things homesteading! Visit Premier1Supplies.com to browse their catalog.
Janet Garman is the writer and animal wrangler on Timber Creek Farm. In addition to writing the blog posts, she manages the online shop, seeks out new products to add to their Free Range Yarn lineup, and writes books and magazine articles.
In addition, Janet loves to speak at in-person venues to further the education regarding small farm operations, livestock care, and the importance of the wool industry. She has a background in large animal farm management and an animal science degree from the University of Maryland, which has helped her focus her energy toward helping others learn to raise livestock, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and small farm management.
You can find her writing in Countryside Magazine, Backyard Poultry Magazine, and Goat Journal. She speaks both locally and throughout the US on homesteading, poultry, and livestock management. Janet’s books include Natural Dyes on Wool with Timber Creek Farm, Keeping Sheep and Other Fiber Animals, 50 Do-it-Yourself Projects for Keeping Goats, 50 Do-it-Yourself Projects for Keeping Chickens, Chickens from Scratch, Habitat Housing for Rabbits, and Margarita and the Beautiful Gifts. All books are available in her online shop, or wherever books are sold.
Keeping Sheep and Other Fiber Animals by Janet Garman
50 Do-it-Yourself Projects for Keeping Chickens by Janet Garman
50 Do-it-Yourself Projects for Keeping Goats by Janet Garman
Natural Dyes on Wool with Timber Creek Farm by Janet Garman
Margarita and the Beautiful Gifts by Janet Garman
The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius
Episode 19 of the HOA Podcast: Getting Started with Sheep + Starting a Farm Business
Natural Dyes on Wool eCourse by Timber Creek Farm
Check out Timber Creek Farm on Etsy
Janet Garman of Timber Creek Farm | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube
Homesteaders of America | Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Pinterest
Join us at the Homesteaders of America Conference in October 2023!
All About Wool Sheep Transcript
Amy Fewell Welcome to the Homesteaders of America Podcast, where we encourage simple living, hard work, natural healthcare, real food, and building an agrarian society. If you’re pioneering your way through modern noise and conveniences, and you’re an advocate for living a more sustainable and quiet life, this podcast is for you. Welcome to this week’s podcast. I’m your host, Amy Fewell, and I’m the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. If you’re not familiar with us, we are a resource for homesteading education and online support. And we even host a couple of in-person events each year with our biggest annual event happening right outside the nation’s capital here in Virginia every October. Check us out online at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. Follow us on all of our social media platforms and subscribe to our newsletter so that you can be the first to know about all things HOA (that’s short for Homesteaders of America). Don’t forget that we have an online membership that gives you access to thousands—yes, literally thousands—of hours worth of information and videos. It also gets you discount codes, an HOA decal sticker when you sign up, and access to event tickets before anyone else. All right. Let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Amy Fewell Welcome back to this week’s episode of the Homesteaders of America podcast. This week I have my friend Janet Garman. Thanks for joining us, Janet.
Janet Garman So glad to be here.
Amy Fewell So a lot of times I say “my friend” when we have guests and they really are my friends, but Janet is like my really real friend. We talk all the time. And for those of you who don’t know, she’s also our HOA vendor coordinator, so we know Janet pretty well here at HOA. So, Janet, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself for those who might not know who you are?
Janet Garman Oh, sure thing. So we are in Maryland. We currently are running our farm as a sheep farm. It also has chickens and some leftover animals from when we still had our children growing up here. So just a note to parents: some of those animals don’t go with them when they get married and move out. But we are raising 15 sheep for wool currently and lots of chickens for eggs and we have a big vegetable garden. And we are technically, I suppose, retired people, but we’re not because we have too many businesses so we can’t retire ever.
Amy Fewell Yeah, but you’re living the good life up there in Maryland and having fun. And so today we’re going to specifically talk about wool sheep. But let’s talk a second… You have a few books out, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?
Janet Garman Mm. Well, thanks. I do. One of my favorite books that I wrote is called Keeping Sheep and Other Fiber Animals. It takes you from what animals are right for you all the way through your decision making, your infrastructure setup, how to work with wool, all the way through using a mill or doing it yourself, and getting things set up on your property or sending it out to small cottage mill to have help getting it processed into the product that you want. I love that book. It has a lot of interviews in it with people that are in the industry. I just enjoyed it so much— writing it, sharing what I have learned over 20 years of raising fiber animals. And so that’s one. I also have a two-book set that can be purchased separately. 50 DIY Projects for Keeping Chickens and 50 DIY Projects for Keeping Goats. And I have a natural dye guidelines. The workbook is called Natural Dyes on Wool with Timber Creek Farm. I do specialize in working with wool, which is probably a no brainer for everyone to understand why. And natural dyes are my passion. I just love it. You can just go out in your yard and find something that can be turned into permanent color on protein fibers. So that’s near and dear to my heart. I also have a children’s book called Margarita and the Beautiful Gifts. That was inspired by something that happened here on our farm.
Amy Fewell You also have a publishing company, too, right?
Janet Garman We do. Yes, my daughter and I are running Sawdust Publishing, and it is geared to homesteaders and small farmers who have a voice in the community that would like to share some unique method or subject that is near and dear to their heart. We are also doing children’s books that are tales that originate from a farm type or homestead type setting. We’re really excited about it. We will definitely have two books out this year, maybe three, and they’re all in the works currently, and we have a couple more people in the contract phase right now signing their books up with us. So it’s really exciting. We are trying to bridge the gap between the big publishing houses that tend to not always notice the smaller voices and the do it yourself method of publishing a book. So we’re kind of in between. We have a full staff— designers, editors, proofreaders. And we are going to be producing a product that they can be proud to hold in their hands.
Amy Fewell Yeah, that’s awesome. I love it because one of the things that we have tried to start focusing on with HOA at our event is trying to get more speakers that are not as well known, but they have equally as valuable information and maybe even more valuable in a lot of ways because they’re living a different life than some of these other big names. And so I love that you’re doing that. All right. So let’s jump in to wool sheep, okay?
Janet Garman Yes.
Amy Fewell So why don’t you tell us… So, you know, I have wool sheep, so and all these sheep episodes that we’re recording for HOA, I am always and forever going to say, “Yes, we just got sheep.” And I’m going to ask questions that I have specifically for my sheep as well. But why don’t we start with what are the main kinds of wool sheep that people might get into?
Janet Garman Mm hmm. I think a lot of people choose Merinos, Shetlands. We have Finn, which is a very popular homestead breed. The Icelandics are a good dual purpose breed. So that’s just a few that people tend to gravitate for in the lifestyle that we’re in, Amy. There’s there’s hundreds of sheep breeds. Sheep are ancient animals on this earth. And so if you go to a different country, you’re going to find a whole lot of different breeds that are kept for wool that we’ve never heard of here. The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook that was put out by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius many years ago is like the go-to sourcebook for breeds and their fiber. So if you’re looking for a particular kind of fiber for the art that you want to do, that is a great book to have on hand so that you’re not ending up with a very coarse rug fiber when you would hope to be making sweaters for your whole family. So you need to know… I think what I always tell people when they’re looking for fiber animals is, “What is your end product? What do you want to do with the fiber from your animals? Or what niche market are you trying to sell to?” If you want to be a rug yarn creator and developer, that’s fine. But you’re not going to want to do that with a fine Merino sheep. So those are the things that you need to think about.
Amy Fewell So what are some examples? Like if somebody did want to get a fiber that is softer? Could you give us maybe two examples of that? And then what are some examples of a coarser fibered sheep?
Janet Garman So Romneys are kind of a middle of the road. They can be super fine or they can be a little towards the more middle breed. Like I already said, the Merinos, your shorter staple breeds like Southdown even is a little coarse, but it’s a finer micron count. Like Leicester Longwool is a super soft wool. But again, it’s a long wool, so there’s so many things that go into that. But I really do think Romney can be really soft. You can always blend your fibers too. So if you had like Romney with some Merino added in, that’s going to be really soft. You can add your Pygora or Angora or Alpaca to your wool to soften it if you have a coarser wool sheep. For your heavier wools, then you’re looking at your long wools for the most part. So your Lincoln. Border Leicesters are kind of a medium. That’s a coarser wool. I would say your finer wools are going to be your short to medium length and your coarser wools are going to be the medium to long wools.
Amy Fewell Okay, that’s really good to know that. That’s an easy way to… As people start thinking about what kind of sheep they want or what sheep they already have as to what kind of category that falls under.
Janet Garman So what I always say to people, too, on that same thing is like the Babydoll Southdowns are super popular in the homesteading world because they’re a smaller breed, but their fiber is very short. And if you want to spin it and you’re not an accomplished spinner, it’s going to be harder. Also, your mills can’t spin it because it’s so short. So you have to make decisions like can you wait two years to shear so that your fiber is long enough? There’s a lot of little tricky nuances in there between what people love, what they love, what they see, but then what are they going to do with it? So, yeah. You really need to get knowledge first. I always say to people, “Really investigate what you’re grabbing before you bring the sheep home.”
Amy Fewell Yeah. So sheep health, let’s talk about that for a second. When people are looking for their wool sheep and they have made that decision what breed they want and what they want to do with it, what are some health things that they need to look for in those sheep when they go and buy them? Because one of the things that a lot of people hear all the time is that sheep are so fragile, and they buy all these sheep and all the sheep die. So what is your recommendation for finding sheep and good, healthy sheep?
Janet Garman Yeah, that’s a really good question. So when I go to get some additional sheep for our flock, I want to see 1) the first thing I notice is where are they being kept? When I go on to the property, where are they being kept? If they are not out on grass, I would like to know why. Are they being pulled off of grass for a reason? Is there a parasite load that I need to be aware of? Or are they just maybe there to give the pasture a break? So there’s lots of little things, first impressions. Everybody’s barn should smell like a barn. I’m not saying that. But if the barn is wet or fly ridden, I would really want to know why that was true. I’m not saying that when I look at somebody else’s barn that I’m looking for pristine, like we can have a wedding here. I’m not looking at that, but I’m looking at basic cleanliness. Has the straw been kept up fairly recently? Is there piles of manure everywhere? What’s the poop look like? Is it normal? You know, the small little round pellets? Or is it globs? Because that can indicate there’s some digestive problems going on. So those are my first blush looks. I want to look at their feet. Now, some breeds have very fast growing hooves. So I’m not making a total judgment call just on the condition of their feet. But I would like to go look at their feet and see what’s going on. Do they smell? I certainly don’t want to bring any hoof rot problems back to my own flock because that is so contagious, true hoof rot. Sometimes it’s just hoof scald that can be fixed by just conditions, keeping them dry for a while and maybe some topical. I want to look at their eyes. I want to make sure there’s no discharge. Things like that. Just basic animal health is what I’m looking for. One lady that I have acquired quite a few retired ewes from has always offered me their last fleece also. So I can look at that in the bag and see the condition of it. I can check to see if there’s wool break. It’s a great indicator. I can look to see if there’s any parasite damage on the fleece like from external parasites. So I really appreciate that. I don’t really need the fleece, but it’s nice that she offers it to me because it’s another step that proves to me that she’s taking good care of her animals. And then, of course, you can do the FAMACHA scale by looking at their lower eyelid, by pulling the eyelid down. It’s a pretty quick test if you can get your hands around their neck long enough to grab them. Some sheep are less conditioned to being handled. So that’s another thing. You might not be able to get your hands on them until you get them in the trailer because, you know, some people use a chute. We don’t use a chute. We put our animals into a smaller and smaller space to get them where I need them to work with them. But depending on the difference in how they’re being handled, you might not be able to just walk up and grab them and be like, oh, I want to feel your fleece. I want to pick up your hoof. I want to… So some of these things you’re going to have to ask for help with or ask for conditional sale, where maybe you’re going to exchange the money to a certain point. Depending on your investment. I mean, $50 is probably not… and most people that are selling their animals are willing to work with you as far as like, “Hey, I would really like to see the bottom of her feet. Can we move her into a stall where we can get her in a corner and one of us can pick up a hoof?” So I would want that. I would want that back and forth agreeable behavior to go on what I was choosing animals. And definitely not any sickness, apparent sickness. No scours. Don’t bring home an animal that scours. You don’t know what you’re bringing home at that point to your rest of your flock.
Amy Fewell So you mentioned hoof rot. Could you tell people a little bit what that looks like? What is it and what does that look like with sheep?
Janet Garman Well, when it gets advanced, it’s actually quite debilitating for them. It’s a softness in not only the bottom but also up the sides. You can see some delamination starting around the outer wall of the hoof and it’s very painful. When you look between the two toes or cloves, if you can rinse that out in there, it’s actually a very, very strong red inflammation that you’re dealing with. It looks painful just to look at it. I have had it here, so we will always have it here. I don’t want to bring any more strains or variations of it, though, I can tell you that. And keeping the conditions as dry as possible is a help for my sheep that are prone to having a resurgence of it.
Amy Fewell Okay, very interesting. Okay, so let’s go back to wool. You mentioned the wool mill or spinning yourself. What’s the process of going through if people don’t want to spin it themselves? I would venture to say that unless most people are already spinning and then get into sheep… There’s people like myself who have sheep and we don’t spin yet. And so what is the process of going through a wool mill and how would somebody find one of those? Because I didn’t even know they existed until you mentioned it to me months back.
Janet Garman Right, Right. Yeah. That’s funny that people don’t realize that this is an option. It’s not always a cost effective option depending on how you’re raising your sheep. You know, in any business, you’re going to look at your break even point. Right? With sheep, a lot of times it’s more animals in order to break even. So when you have a small flock like I do, I don’t tend to look at the break even point because I’m sure it’s not there. I’m just being honest. You know, I think my products sell well. I can give you breakdowns from certain points on, but we tend to over care about our animals so they get a lot of babying, and so that ends up being a little bit more costly. What I do is I just ask other sheep people in the area that are doing well, “Where do you get your fleeces processed?” Or you can do a Google search: fiber mills in Virginia. There are quite a few. Fiber mills in Pennsylvania. Fiber mills on the East Coast. Also, any of your breed associations, the fiber mills are probably members of your breed associations. Like here in Maryland, we have the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association. It’s not just for Maryland residents. There are people from surrounding states that belong. And so we know the fiber mills that are members also. And so they’re great to talk to. I always talk to them at the festival every year, kind of get an idea of what they’re processing because they’ll have their products right there that they’re processing. So you can feel it, you can see it, you can ask them what other things they can add to your product. Like I have some fleece that isn’t always the softest. So I always ask them, “Do you have the ability to add Merino to my fleece because I want some Merino top added in to make it softer?” So I can get input right there from them. I think that it’s a brilliant and beautiful idea that we often have as fiber producers that we’re going to do the whole thing from raising the animal, letting them lamb out on our properties. And it’s just going to be this bucolic setting. But when you get, say, ten fleeces sheared in the spring and you put them in your garage or your basement and then it’s spring planting time, and the kids have activities and you’re busy from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall into bed, and then the fleeces are still sitting in your garage eight months later, a year later, and now it’s time to shear again. And this happens not just to me, this happens to lots of people unless they are just devoted and dedicated to their wool process. I know some people that would never let that happen. But I also will guarantee they’re probably not growing a big garden. They’re probably not running a separate business in addition to their fiber animals. And they probably are just very, very focused on that part of life. I know some brilliant shepherds who, you know, the minute the shearer drives away and they’re skirting their fleeces. And I’m like… When our shearer leaves, I’m looking for a glass of ice water and a couch. I just want to go sit down. I’m done.
Amy Fewell That’s hilarious. Yeah, we haven’t gotten our sheep sheared yet because they were sheared shortly before they came here. But it’s about time for us to get them sheared. And so that’s an interesting process that I’ve not gone through yet. And so a lot of people are like, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” And I’m like, “I have no idea. It’s probably going to sit in my basement until I know what to do with it.” So I’m totally in that group of people, Janet.
Janet Garman And that’s a good point, too, because you do have Lincolns, and Lincolns often need to be shared more than once a year because their wool gets too long. In addition, like I said, you’ve got your Babydoll Southdown wool at one end. It’s like this long, you’ve got your Lincoln Longwool at the other end where some mills can’t process it because it grew too long for their machinery. So then you are definitely going to be looking for a hand spinner if you don’t spin yourself. Luckily we both know somebody who handles that really well.
Amy Fewell That’s right.
Janet Garman But I just don’t know if she’s willing to take on even more.
Amy Fewell For real.
Janet Garman But the whole process, it’s beautiful if you can say, “I did this. This is a lamb that grew up here and I skirted the wool, carted it, washed it, and spun it, and here’s my yarn. And now I made you this hat.” That is so amazing. It gives me chills to even think about that happening. However, we know that that is not going to happen for very long or all the time. Now at any one of those points though, you could outsource. If you want to do your spinning, you can outsource the washing and the carting and get back beautiful bats that you can then spin from. So you can outsource the parts that you really don’t want to do or don’t mind having someone else do and then bring it back in. I like the dying part, you know that. And so I have everything done from… I do the skirting, I send it to the mill, I get it back as yarn, and I dye the yarn, and that’s what I sell. It’s still my product. It’s not any less my product because I chose how to have it processed.
Amy Fewell Yeah. It’s beautiful. Our friend Casey was showing me some yarn that she had sent to the mill recently, and it came back beautiful. And so I’m always curious about those and how each person does it differently. And so the sheep we bought obviously came from her. And so it was interesting to see the wool that she got back from those sheep when she sheared them before they came here.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for listening. We’re going to take a quick break to introduce you to one of our sponsors that has been with HOA for a few years, and that’s Premier 1 Supplies. At Premier 1, they’ve been providing electric fencing and electric netting, sheep and goats supplies, clippers and shears, ear tags, poultry products, and expert advice for over 40 years. Whether it’s electric netting for your chickens or cattle or horses or poultry, or clippers and shears, and even poultry supplies such as fencing, feeders, waterers, egg handling supplies, hatchery items, they have it all. They are a one-stop shop for all things homesteading. Just like many of our sponsors. Check out Premier 1 Supplies at Premier1Supplies.com and don’t forget to check them out at the HOA event this year.
Amy Fewell All right, so let’s talk about… I recorded a podcast last week—which is probably out by now—about meat sheep. But now there are dual purpose sheep and maybe even triple purpose sheep. Could you talk about that just a little bit? Like what are sheep good for? Obviously wool, but expanding from there, what else are they good for? And maybe just a couple of breeds to go along with that?
Janet Garman I think in the homestead world, any sheep that you have on your property in addition to wool is also a meat sheep. No one who is breeding animals should not have the meat sheep element in their life. You can’t keep them all, nor should you, because they’re not all going to exemplify the characteristics you want in the wool for that breed. So whether you’re a registered breeder or not, you want to always be improving what you’re producing. Not every lamb that is born on your property is going to have the characteristics that you want. So those are your meat sheep. Now if you can’t stomach that yourself and you’re a breeder, then that’s what the market is for. You take them off to market. You say bye-bye and you let the market handle the sale for you. Yeah. That is the only responsible way to breed animals as far as livestock goes. You cannot just continually breed and breed and breed the same animals without having this game plan. The other thing you can do is sell the wool for other purposes. So instead of it being a fiber for clothing or home decor or whatever you’re going to do in that realm is sell it for garden mulch. You’re not going to get the same top dollar that you’re going to get for processed yarn that’s beautiful for making clothing, but you are going to have a product that needs to have more recognition. I am loving using waste wool in my garden as far as a way to help it stay moister. And it also adds so much great carbon nutrition back into the soil as it decays. So that’s another thing. And there’s some shepherds that are doing a magnificent job now of making wool into pellets. I don’t know the process. I am not up on this, but I am just clapping and applauding them for finding that other resource, that other way to use their wool. And then, of course, there’s milk. Any mammal that nurses its young is going to have milk. And sheep dairy is amazing. Not only is it delicious, but it is nutritious. And the protein components are different than both cow and goat. So a lot of times people that are allergic to certain dairy or sensitive or just can’t tolerate it can eat some sheep dairy products. So there’s that. And then of course, there’s soap. I always kind of say… What’s really kind of funny with goat milk or sheep milk soap because it uses so little milk. Of course, your sheep isn’t going to be a milk producer like a cow. You’re not going to have eight gallons a day now. You’re going to get a pint each milking, maybe. It’s good and it’s fine. And I think that there are certain sheep breeds that are very productive. But your regular sheep that you’re probably raising for wool is putting their nutrition into growing wool. That’s just what they’re bred for. Whereas your dairy breeds, they’re going to put their food energy into producing milk. So that’s important to think about is what is your main reason for getting that breed? And kind of stick to that. I mean, if I let my Finns breed, which we don’t read here any longer, but if I did, I could milk that ewe, but it still isn’t going to be a great quantity of milk. It would just be just kind of a fun little side thing to do.
Amy Fewell Just one more thing to keep you busy, right?
Janet Garman Yeah, the Icelandic breed is known for being a more multipurpose animal for both meat, fiber, and milk. And the Finns also. Finn Breed also has a good reputation for being a multi-use sheep breed.
Amy Fewell Yeah. And we’re going to unpackage dairy sheep in another podcast, for those of you that are listening. The podcast episode before this was talking specifically about meat sheep. I wanted to talk to Janet about wool, which we’re going to get more into in just a second. And then the next one after this will be about dairy. So you guys can kind of go back and listen to those episodes or wait for the next episode to come out if you want to learn more. But you mentioned dyeing wool, Janet, and you dye wool naturally. So I wonder if you can talk a little bit about that— how you do that, what are some of the plants you use, and how others can get into that?
Janet Garman Oh, sure. Well, you know, this is my hot topic, right?
Amy Fewell I know. Right?
Janet Garman So I’ll try to be not all all over the place. But there’s three sources that you can use for dyeing. I like to just kind of categorize them as three sources. You could forage for natural dyes. You can go out in your yard, in your woods, whatever you have available legally to go and forage. Lots of plants are out there that are actual dye plants as opposed to plants that might stain. Staining and dyeing are two different things. If you fall down in the grass, you’re going to get a grass stain. It’s not going to stay significantly that color for long. That’s the difference. Whereas your natural dyes, they’re actually a component of the plant and they have lasting color when applied correctly. So that’s just a short answer on that. The other one is your garden. You can garden certain plants and flowers that are beautiful dye plants. For instance, zinnias, black eyed Susans, sunflowers, hollyhocks, marigolds, popular one for yellow. And then the other source is your kitchen scraps. It’s so much fun to use kitchen scraps in the winter when nothing’s growing and it’s maybe not that easy to go foraging. But if you’re making bean soup out of black beans, there’s a lot of color in those black beans. After you’ve soaked them, that water is your dyebath. So I always think that’s an amazing one.
Amy Fewell That’s so neat.
Janet Garman Onion skins is another one. And your coffee and teas have so much tannin in them that they leave a natural dye, too. So that’s just some quick ones. Turmeric. If you have turmeric or other things like that that you would probably normally just have for cooking, but they can be used for other things. Your forage dyes that are super easy to find are goldenrod. There’s some mints out there. We have a wild mint that goes on our property and it’s prolific. It’s everywhere. It’s called Perella, and I’ve used that for a green dye. It can be anywhere from a light green to a dark green, depending on how much of a little bit of iron that you add to it. You can make it really a dark forest green, like here’s…
Amy Fewell Oh, wow.
Janet Garman I know. It’s amazing. So there’s lots of things like that. Poke berry, you know, that’s a terrible one. It’s everywhere, right? Everyone dislikes—
Janet Garman Uh-huh. But it’s useful. And not only that, it’s a really good one to use as a solar dye experiment because it’s very sensitive to heat. So if you don’t use any heat at all, it still works. It just takes longer. So that’s fun.
Amy Fewell That’s super cool. Who knew there was so much science behind natural dyes.
Janet Garman I know.
Amy Fewell Well, it’s a good thing you wrote a book all about it, right?
Janet Garman Right. And I wish I’d paid attention a little bit better in biochemistry.
Amy Fewell Yeah. But that is such a cool skill, though, because you have to think way back in the day, they weren’t dyeing wool with synthetic dyes. They were using… They were doing exactly what you are doing. And that’s such a neat homestead skill to have.
Janet Garman And some of the plants are also so medicinal. There’s a whole other facet of this that I haven’t even reached of whether dyeing the yarn with medicinal dye plants gives you any benefits as far as it being absorbed through your skin. I don’t know much about this, so I’m not even going to go any further. But it’s an avenue I would really like to explore because I love the interaction of plants and man and how we can do so much for our bodies by using herbal products. So that’s a super fun thing. I mean, you’ve got tons of plants you can grow in your garden that will just look like a flower garden— coreopsis, indigo, all your zinnias, marigolds, all those kind of flowers. Woad is another type of plant that kind of works like indigo. That’s just a kind of really short answer. It’s a really long story.
Amy Fewell Yeah.
Janet Garman So, I mean, you can do this in your own little small flower bed. And you can have plenty of flowers to save for dye.
Amy Fewell That’s neat.
Janet Garman And then, of course, I just love going up in the woods in the fall and finding all kinds of things, especially Goldenrod.
Amy Fewell Yeah. Oh, Goldenrod is my favorite to forage for. I love Goldenrod just for medicinal reasons. So you mentioned wearing wool and having some medicinal… Wondering, you know, the connection with medicinal herb dyeing, but is there any benefit to wearing wool in general? Like, is it more breathable? Or what are the benefits of wearing wool?
Janet Garman Well it’s all of those things. And it’s a health benefit because it’s good for your skin because it’s a natural fiber. We’ve gotten accustomed in a very short amount of time to wearing plastic. Plastic is not good for us. It’s not good to eat. It’s not good to wear. It’s definitely not good for us when we dispose of it. You know, all of that. I call it plastic clothing now. And I know that sounds kind of smarty, but it is. I mean, if you really break it down, that’s what all your polyester clothing is. It’s not a natural fiber. It’s not naturally degrading back into the earth. Whereas if you wear wool, and wool is very breathable and the lightweight wools will keep you just as cool as a 50/50 T-shirt. 50/50 meaning the poly/cotton blends that they have out.
Amy Fewell Right.
Janet Garman So I’ve gotten to be a really kind of snobby label reader, and I’m really glad that there’s a lot of companies now producing natural fiber clothing that is not off the charts expensive. In addition to wool, you can look for linen, 100% organic cotton. I just always kind of like to leave the message that be aware of what you’re putting on your body because it does matter. I think it really does matter.
Amy Fewell Yeah. When you think about all the little things that we do, like our clothing, what we eat, our lotions, soap, chemicals, like all those little things over and over again build up in your body. And so it makes sense that if you’re not wearing a natural fiber, that that can be harmful to your body as well.
Janet Garman Yeah, I think your skin requires a certain amount of airflow and breathable coverage. And of course, that’s what you’re getting from wool. I don’t find it to be… I mean, if you’re wearing a heavy wool, yeah, it’s going to keep you warmer. I mean, but we’re not talking about that. There are lightweight wools out there. There are companies making wool T-shirts, and they’re from a very fine wool. So I strongly suggest that people check them out, try them. You know, if you really don’t like it, then that’s your choice.
Amy Fewell Right.
Janet Garman We do have choices. But it’s kind of my latest little thing is like, you know, sustainable clothing. I’ve got involved in the local fiber shed group here in our area, and there’s fiber shed groups all across the country. They started in California, but there’s a lot of knowledge there as far as sustainable cloth and how to help make the right choices and not be promoting more and more plastic clothing, disposable folding.
Amy Fewell That’s awesome. It’s just one more way homesteaders can get into wool production and live a natural life, right?
Janet Garman Yeah. And that’s actually one more point that I didn’t bring up is you could sell your fleeces, too. If you have certain breeds of fleece that are in demand in the niche wool market, you can sell them to spinners. You can process them a little bit like down to roving and then sell them at that point. And, you know, you can get some good return on your money if you don’t want to fiddle with yarn at all. So that’s another income producer for your sheep.
Amy Fewell Yeah. That’s awesome. Cool. All right. Well, anything that we haven’t covered yet in regard to wool that you think we should add before we hop off here?
Janet Garman Well, I just think that we need to really consider wool as the future and not just, oh that’s what colonial wore.
Amy Fewell Right.
Janet Garman I think we really need to look at it as a very prominent player in the future of clothing, cloth regeneration, regenerative agriculture. You know, we have a silvopasture farm, so a lot of our pastures are in the woods. And what the sheep have done for that ground, that earth that’s in the trees is amazing. Silvopasture works for sheep. I think the biggest fallacy out there is that you have to have rolling pastures for your sheep. You do not. Yes, sheep like to graze, but sheep also will browse low growing understory and they will make the whole farm and forest healthier for it. So this is kind of one of my subjects lately that I’ve been trying to explain to people because they are like, “How do you raise sheep up there? How do you have sheep up there? What are you letting them eat?” My sheep are round. Like they’re very well fed.
Amy Fewell Yeah. Well we’ve found that to be true, too. And pretty much we started doing that when you started talking about it more, because the first half of our property is just wide open pasture, which is great for the cow. Although cows like woods, too, they like silvopasture as well. But the back half of the property is wooded to semi wooded. And we have been using those sheep to clean out spaces and add nutrients to the soil. And they love it. They are thriving on it. Like you said, they’re round, they’re happy, the ruminants are full and they’re just, you know, as if they were on pasture, maybe even more so. Our sheep love the pasture, but they just really love the diversity of a silvopasture setup.
Janet Garman Yeah, they do.
Amy Fewell So I think that’s great. That’s another topic we can dive into another day because that’s a big one.
Janet Garman Yeah, that is a big one. And I think that animals will often self-medicate plants that they know they need. So it will probably also prove in a lot of cases to be natural parasite prevention to some extent if they have access to things that you wouldn’t normally see in a rolling field of green grass. And the other thing you can do if you don’t have a lot of understory growth in your forest is bale graze. Take a bale of hay up wherever you’re putting them for the day, spread it out. Not only are they going to be happy to have more room and be out in the forest, the seeds from the hay will naturally seed the area that is sparse, and we have found that to be the best thing to do all winter is bale graze them on the worst pasture we have. So just walk out there with a bale or half a bale or whatever you need to feed them for the day and let them spread it. It’s amazing what will come up underneath that leftover hay in the spring.
Amy Fewell Sheep are pretty incredible, we’re coming to find. They have multiple uses, and they’re really like the ultimate homestead animal, especially for people who don’t have hundreds of acres or even 10 or 15 acres. And so they’re very easy to manage on a small property. Well, thanks for joining me, Janet. And we only touched on topics, right? Like Janet has a whole book called Keeping Sheep and Other Fiber Animals that you guys can go check out. We’ll put all that information below. She has her natural dye book, which, you know, we could go over that for hours, which is really like a course, but you should just buy the book.
Janet Garman There is a course, too.
Amy Fewell That’s right. You have a course. So we’ll put all of that information below, because I know that you guys are going to want to learn more about wool, especially if you’re getting into sheep. And I know you’re going to have more questions. So if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. And I’m sure Janet will be scouring the internet to answer some that you might have.
Janet Garman Happy to.
Amy Fewell But anyhow, yeah. Thank you for joining us, Janet. I really enjoyed this episode.
Janet Garman You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me.
Amy Fewell Thanks, guys. Happy homesteading.
Amy Fewell Hey, thanks for taking the time to listen to this week’s Homesteaders of America episode. We really enjoyed having you here. We welcome questions and you can find the transcript and all the show notes below or on our Homesteaders of America blog post that we have up for this podcast episode. Don’t forget to join us online with a membership or just to read blog posts and find out more information about our events at HomesteadersofAmerica.com. We also have a YouTube channel and follow us on all of our social media accounts to find out more about homesteading during this time in American history. All right, have a great day and happy homesteading.