Welcome to the first official post in my “Ask the Shepherd” monthly feature. The best place to start in most things is at the beginning, so my first post is dedicated to those who work full time jobs, but dream of owning their own fiber farm one day. It can be difficult to know where to begin. Here is an excerpt from a woman who is longing to start her own fiber farm with her husband.
- Read…Read…Read. I read just about every book I could find on raising sheep. Living with Sheep by Chuck Wooster, provides light entertaining reading, and a general overview of shepherding.
- Visit local sheep farms. We visited just about every farm that would allow us to come. During our visits, we would ask a million questions about sheep management, fencing, housing, and animal husbandry. The information we gained from seeing many different farms, and different management systems was invaluable. Each breed of sheep has its own characteristics and by visiting different farms, you will quickly learn which breeds you like and which you do not like.
- Attend local sheep and wool festivals. Many festivals offer free workshops on animal husbandry, fencing, and border collie training. There you will connect with the amazing fiber community from knitters to spinners to farmers. Knitter’s Review has an extensive events calendar where you can find festivals in your area.
- Look for local mentors. In Vermont, I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by many like-minded people. Through the years, I have had wonderful mentors like Jennifer at Fat Rooster Farm, and Kat Smith at Stonesthrow Farm. These two women have talked me through countless situations at all hours of the day and night.
- Learn about the many different breeds of sheep before you make your purchase. Each breed of sheep has its own characteristics, personalities, and benefits. By visiting different sheep farms, you will quickly learn which breeds you like and which you do not like. I also recommend the following books which talk about the many breeds of sheep:
- Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Wool
- The Fleece & Fiber Source Book by Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson
- The Field Guide to Fleece: 100 Sheep Breeds and How to Use Their Fibers by Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson
- Beautiful Sheep: Portraits of Champion Breeds by Kathryn Dun
- Pure Wool: A Guide to Using Single Breed Yarns by Sue Blacker
6. Listen to the weekly podcast at Woolful as other people share their fiber journey and become connected to the wonderful community of shepherds, designers, and fiber enthusiasts across the globe.
7. Take a Farmstay vacation to a sheep farm and experience life first hand on a working farm. At VT Grand View Farm, as with many other farms across the United States, we welcome farmstay guests to join us in caring for our sheep.
Please keep in touch as you begin your own journey into shepherding.
Keep In Mind: I am not a vet, and I am not a sheep expert. My advice will reflect my personal experiences raising sheep on a sustainable family farm. I advise people to develop a relationship with their local vet, seek advice from multiple sources (vet, mentors, and books), and then follow what makes sense for your situation.
Where to send your questions: You may send your questions to me via a blog post comment, or email me at email@example.com.