Sheep-o-nomics 201

Mom came by last week to knit, sew and talk with me.  Over quiche and a screening of The Great British Bakeoff, we talked at length about elderly relatives, kiltmaking, and sheep.

I recounted my trip to Rhinebeck, and we started to talk about marketing and plans for next year.  I’m really divided on one point of my marketing plan.  With eight sheep this year, I feel I need to decide how much of my sheeps’ wool I want to sell raw, to handspinners, and how much I want to send to the mill to sell as yarn.

If you’ll recall, I had my whole 2013 clip made into yarn.  The natural gray sold out rapidly to pay off the cost of production, but the white yarn lingered at home, tying up my profits for a while.

In 2014, I found out that there was a chance that my fiber couldn’t fit in the schedule of the only mill I like, so I sold some of my fleece raw, to handspinners.  I had quite a bit of wool left, however, because my sheep were very dirty that winter (thanks, Dot and Agnes!)  Despite warnings, my yarn was ready for the Sheep and Wool Festival, and I did quite well there.   I also felt that going to the festival was a great boost in marketing, as well.  One thing that sold exceptionally well were the patterns my mother developed.

Because the initial outlay to have the yarn processes in 2014 was so high, I thought I might move toward making less yarn and selling more fleece.  I pre-sold almost all of my fleece online in 2015.  Each sheep produced about four pounds of good fleece, and about two pounds of acceptable fleece that could go to the mill which Michael made into gorgeous yarn.  He warned me, though, not to bring such a small clip in the future.   Again, while my initial production was about 5/8 natural color yarn and 3/8 white, I am left with a whole bag of white and no gray or brown yarn at all.

Many years ago, Jaska and I had tried our hands at vegetable farming on a small patch of hilly land in Randolph.  We quickly learned that there is a challenging space between homesteading and commercial production called “too much for us to use- not enough to sell” where it’s hard to do the right amount of marketing to sell your small surplus of goods.  Too little effort, and you will have lots of leftover wares.  Too much, and potential purchasers will be disappointed with your lack of available product.

So for 2016, I am at a junction.  With eight good sheep, I have some wiggle room, but I still have to choose primarily between marketing raw fleece and making yarn.   Marketing raw fleece would be less labor, but I wouldn’t go to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival and I wouldn’t bring as many new customers in.  With a great deal of cash and labor input, I can sell yarn but also promote my other enterprises more effectively (lamb, handspinning batts, pelts).

What do you think?

Sheep and Pickle Farm Fine wool Sheep
Valentine mainly worries about which grass to eat.

2 thoughts on “Sheep-o-nomics 201

  1. I had such poor luck selling my fleeces, even though when I started out everyone said “Oh Shetlands! The Handspinners love them!” Then I never sold fleeces. When I made yarn I sat on it for a long time before I ever sold it. Then I started self-promoting and also I would get it into people’s hands more by creating specials online. They’d try it and like it and then want more. So that was surprisingly a good thing. But the waiting and expense of having yarn made, milled or handspun, washing the fleeces, etc., all of that work that goes into yarn, is a huge investment. If you already have folks that want your fleeces, I would go with that. If you get into more sheep or save up your fleeces, maybe make a lot of yarn so you can move it at a festival(I remember your booth, your mom’s stuff was great!) I don’t think I’m helping, am it?! 🙂

    1. I found this to be true, too – I would have thought that Cormos would sell their yarn for me, but that’s not quite the case. And people definitely have to touch it to believe it. It’s heartening to hear that even a connected and talented fiber artist like you wound up with some wool hanging around the house! I’ve gotten good feedback from this article from other shepherds- it’s very reassuring.

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