Friday’s Farm: Meet Orion – The Jacob Merino Cross

Orion’s Story

It’s not often we have lambs on the farm. However, a few years ago Andromeda and Victor got together unexpectedly and created Orion. He was an unusually large lamb and his sister Minerva was just under a pound. Fortunately I was home because Andromeda needed assistance with the birth.

Orion, or Big Rye as he’s nicknamed, at three months old. He was already well over one hundred pounds and was the official peacemaker on the farm.

It became clear that Minerva would have to be a bottle lamb. Orion however stayed with his momma. By the time he was a month old he was our peacemaker. If anyone was picked on he was there ending the issue and comforting anyone who was upset. Our orphaned lamb would cry and Orion would suddenly appear to lick his head.

Orion has grown into an impressive wether. He’s nearly three hundred pounds, gentle, and all his flock mates seem to enjoy his company. He’s also quite handsome. He’ll never be a cuddle bug like his sister or my Black Iris. But every day he let’s me pat his head and will bob his head in appreciation when he gets corn. Even as a grown boy he follows his mom around like an oversized shadow. However, he’s taken quite a liking to is Aunt Good Night.

Orion and Good Night. Night is a solid 130 lbs. Just to give you an idea of his size. He wasn’t full grown here.

Orion’s Fleece

His fleece is interesting. It’s a little longer than the other Merinos. However, it’s ALMOST as soft as a typical Merino. I’d guess his micron count is around twenty one to twenty four. His color pattern is what’s interesting. I was surprised to find him spotted with tricolor spots. He’s produced a fleece that has grey, black, and smokey patches with white spots. However, coco brown is the main color. The other colors are sporadic and just blend into the brown. His fleece also has a more typical merino clump and dense lock structure. However there is some crimp in it. I’m experimenting with his fleece some. So far I’m pleased with both combing and hand carding his wool. His woolen is super bounce. I love bouncy sock yarn, and his fleece is perfect for it! Since my drum carder is only set up for medium to corse wools currently I haven’t tried a drum carder. His fleece comes out well as either woolen or worsted. If you are interested in his fleece, check out the Etsy shop www.kindfibers.etsy.com . All proceeds go directly to caring for our resident sanctuary animals.

My thoughts on Merino Jacob Crosses

If you are interested in a Merino Jacob cross as a wool pet I can tell you that my crosses are wonderful, hardy, healthy, personable critters. The fleece type varies. However, the quality does not. I’ve been pleased with the fleeces and with the finished products. Or, if you decide to open your land up to grazers in need of a home, this cross is a good choice. Other than minerals, winter hay, water, and a yearly shearing they require little care and are suitable for a novice. As always, if you decide to take one on, make sure it’s a life commitment. They are sentient beings with complex emotions that effect their health.

Until next time,

Craft no harm

Moriah and the flock

Winding up Wednesday: Spinning a Tender Fleece

Shearing season is finally coming to a close and I’m back to the wheel and the loom. My dear Sade was one of the last sheep in the flock shorn.

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My shy little orphan had two surprises for me. First – she’s not such a little sheep! She’s a decent sized gal with a five pound fleece! Guess that Merino finally kicked in.

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The second surprise is that she’s a Lilac! Her tips are still black from lamb hood, but that under color is spectacular.

There’s just one minor issue: she’s a little tender fleeced. It’s not bad, and it’s not throughout the entire fleece. It’s mostly at the spine and the areas of less crimping. I believe part of the issue is a combination of a Merino micron count (I’m guessing she’s around 19 or 20 microns) with a very Jacob texture and lock structure. Extremely soft, but not as strong as a pure bred sheep of either breed. No matter how strongly I feel about Sade, the fact is when you give some of her locks a good yank they come apart. I’m not apt to sell such a fleece to the average spinner, so this is my blanket fleece for this year. There are tricks to turn an iffy fleece into beautiful and useable yarn.

Fleeces are stronger in the grease than scoured, especially those scoured in hot water. I’m processing this entire fleece in the grease. Merino level grease to be exact. I’m glad she’s a fairly clean girl. However, it’s still Merino level grease – yuck!

I have the choice to either flick card the fleece or to comb it. If I just had a half pound or even a pound I would flick this. However, I have five pounds to power through processing and spinning within two weeks. My handy dandy Viking Combs are the best tool. They will be getting a bath after this… okay after my Rom Doll and Mini are done, too. What can I say? Viking Combs are made for serious work, and eighteen pounds of wool in twelve weeks is serious work!

I’m spinning straight from the comb instead of pulling roving. When you draft directly from the combs you are pulling on just a few strands, sliding them forward into the spinning wheel or to the spindle. I’ve found fewer major breaks in staple this way. Also, if you come up on a nasty bit it’s easier to get it out. Working in the grease really helps the fibers to slide past each other. This also minimizes breakage.

The actual spinning is a judgment call. I find that shorter fibers hold together better in a thin single with slightly higher twist. However, that single can also break more easily. This works, but you have to watch the twist carefully. Too much and the yarn ends up hard, not enough, and the tender fibers don’t hold together through washing. I’m going a little thicker than usual since this is a weft yarn. I definitely will not use this for warp! I’ve tried tender fleece warp and it’s not worth the aggravation. If you can do it… go for it… you’re more patient and braver than I. The fulling at the end of the weaving process will felt this slightly and hold everything together.

This brings me to the last issue in working tender fleece – the finished product. If just the tips are tender I have no issue creating sweaters, socks, or even warp yarn from that fleece. However, if the break is in the middle it’s not going to be as durable as other yarns. That’s why I reserve these fleeces for weaving and other crafts, specifically, for projects with felted finishes.

I have hope for next year’s fleece and the ones after that as Sade ages and her fleece becomes courser. Her father and mother both had excellent fleeces, and so does her daughter. Her lamb’s fleece was good. It might just be an off year for her. In the short term, I’m doing what few folks even try – I’m spinning a tender fleece, weaving it up, and enjoy Shy Sade’s work of art.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm,

Moriah

 

Winding up Wednesday: Spinning Oatmeal Girl

The Fleece 

This past February I helped out on shearing day at my neighbor’s place. She graciously gave me a salvageable fleece with problems. The fleece has been in storage until recently. This particular ewe had a skin infection that caused skin flaking and small scabs throughout the fleece. However, it was mostly on the spine and rump. The rest of the fleece was nice and soft. I don’t know this ewe’s name, but she’s Oatmeal Girl to me because of her creamy oat color spots.

Raw fleece “Oatmeal Girl”

The overall staple length is under three inches, and I suspect the micron count is in the low thirties to upper twenties. She’s also a freckled Jacob, so there are dark hairs in her light wool, and light wool in her dark spots. This is a love it or hate it trait, and fortunately a minority of Jacob sheep carry it. I personally fall on the love side. Since the staple legnth is on the shorter side, and there was some dander I decided to wash the fleece first. This time I used the washing machine, and just pine sol. I wanted to kill off any fungus or bacteria that might be lingering before handling the wool. 

Freckled lock. Look closely and you can see the black wool in the cream

After washing, rinsing, and hanging out to dry, the fleece was picked on my Little Dynamo picker until fluffy. That’s when I discovered there was also a vegetable matter issue. However, carding on my hand carders really sorted out the matter. I still had to pick out some farm while spinning, but overall my rolags ended up clean.

Oatmeal’s oatmeal wool all picked

Once my carding party was over, Josephine, my Babe Production Wheel, and I set out spinning supported long draw singles. Since the bulk of this fleece is going to become warp thread for a new Jacob Sheep inspired blanket, Navajo plying (chain ply) seemed like the best choice. I ended up with a lovely three ply fingerling weight yarn that will hold up to weaving. I’m about half way through, and I’ll be spinning up the rest this week. 

Spun into Navajo three ply

Lessons

In our modern age of machine processed fiber it’s easy to overlook and simply toss fleeces that don’t meet milled standards. However, if I had gone with that idea I would have tossed nearly three pounds of nice usable wool. It was definitely more work, but the sense of accomplishment outweighs the extra five days in processing time. Besides, I dare anyone to beat the price!

Because this fiber was softer than most Jacob I ended up having to put extra twist in, especially since I went with a Navajo ply. It didn’t come out as squishy as I hoped, but then again durability was the goal, not a fluffy scarf.

Oatmeal Girl spent an entire year of her life growing this fleece, raising a lamb, and avoiding becoming dinner for coyotes or dogs. Why toss that? In days not too long past our mothers and grandmothers would have spun this fleece and been grateful for the opportunity to keep their families warm. What wasn’t usable for spinning will end up as mulch and eventually compost. Gratitude may be the biggest take away lesson from this fleece. Gratitude for good neighbors, a wonderful day, a free fleece, and a little ewe who gave an entire year of her work without complaint.

In all you do, craft no harm.

Moriah and the Flock