Thinking Local Part I: Bringing the Sheep Back

Sharon June 24th, 2009

Note: This is the first in an intermittent series of posts on my bioregion, and how it might create sustainable industries and a viable long term economy.  All of us are going to have to figure out how to create local economies where we are - we’re going to need the jobs, we’re going to need the goods, we’re going to need to think about the long term as we do it.  These are my musings on how New England and Northern NY might begin to adapt.  I hope others will consider how this might work in their region, and link to their considerations in comments. 

In the early 19th century, the northeast was dotted with sheep farms.  In 1809, Thomas Jefferson appointed William Jarvis as ambassador to Spain, where Jarvis met the Merino.  For those of you who are not fiber-aware, Merino is the softest wool out there, often wearable by people who think they can’t wear wool - there is nothing scratchy about it. 

Jarvis imported 15,000 sheep into New England, and their wool sold at a shocking (inflation adjusted) $100lb.  The old stone walls that wander through second growth woodlands and along old homesteads in the Northeast often kept in flocks of sheep, and many of the old farmhouses were built with sheep money. 

In the late 1830s, however, the sheep industry began to collapse.  All animal agriculture has boom and bust cycles - the Merino sheep was the alpaca of its day, starting out selling for high prices, but the very reality that animals reproduce themselves means that those extremely high prices can never last.  Moreover, industrialization pushed back the wood industry - the railroad lines transported western wool back to the mills in the Northeast, coal heating made the need for woolen blankets fall and the industrialization meant more people working inside, in mills and offices, rather than outside.  Wool flooded the market, and since Merino sheep have a characteristic lanolin flavor to their meat which many people do not like, meat sales couldn’t keep the market up.  After that, there was a shift to dairy farming, and then to suburbanization - in many ways it was the beginning of the long collapse of New England agriculture, and the words “Go West Young Man” institutionalized the fall.

Well, I suspect that we’ll be hearing “Go north and east, young man” in the next decades.  Why?  Well, drought for one. The Goddard Institute of Space Science offers drought maps that show chronic drought affecting most of the West and Southwest US.  The pumping of rivers and aquifers and declining rainfall mean that predictions are increasingly clear - much of the agricultural production of the west may end in the coming decades.  The wettest part of the United States in most projections is the upper-midwest and the Northeast.  Because so much of US water use is used in agriculture, it is pretty accurate to say that water is agricultural destiny.  Thus, we can expect to see agricultural production returning to the wetter parts of the Southeast, remaining in the Midwest, and coming back to the Northeast.

And yet, I think we all realize that climate change would have to do a pretty awful number on things before most of, say, Vermont, became the place you’d want to grow wheat ;-).  It simply makes sense to think in terms of the region’s agricultural strengths - and to strategies for agriculture that are adaptive, and sustainable. 

Now sheep have their issues from a sustainability perspective - in the early 1900s, most of what is now forest in the Northeast was cleared for farming, wood heating and, yes, pasturage.  80% of the great Eastern forest was missing - and we all know what happens when you cut down too many trees.  Sheep were a factor in this - as wool and meat prices fell, the pressure to raise more sheep, clear more land drove farmers.  When the prices collapsed altogether, that created the grounding of the forest that now allows Moose to travel down corridors of woodland from Northern Maine and the Adirondacks to Boston and New York City - that is, the great Eastern forest is to a large degree, a product of two things - the collapse of Northeastern agriculture, and the rise of first coal and then other fossil fueled methods of heating.

If Northeastern agriculture is coming back, and if fossil fuels for heating are likely to be expensive or eventually unavailable, the largest single forested biome in the US - the Great Eastern Forest - risks being deforested for home heating, turning into a new and treeless land, and, of course, accellerating our experience of global warming.  This must not be allowed to happen.  Hence the sheep - true, they are implicated in our history of deforestation, but in some measure, they may be the answer to it as well.  For much of our land is steep, rocky and grazable, and we may be able to use less of our forests if we carefully and wisely integrate small flocks of sheep into our work.

Woolen clothing has the enormous virtue of being extremely warm, warm even when wet.  Woolen blankets and down (also once a local crop) mean that one can reduce one’s wood heating to central areas - allowing people to remain cozily in bed in unheated rooms (I sleep this way myself, and strongly prefer it to sleeping in warm rooms - this was the Northeastern norm for many years, and it is not at all unpleasant, indeed, the contrary, when you are used to it).  Wool clothing allows one to be outside in snow and rain and still remain warm - it is actually warmer when it is wet. While we have replaced wool for the most part with space age petroleum based fabrics, few of these are manufactured in the US, and none of them are sustainable.  And most petroleum based fabrics do not breathe, as wool does - that is, shifting from outside chopping wood to inside in front of the fire is extremely uncomfortable in most fossil fuel clothes - wool is breathable, and comfortable in a good range of temperatures.

But there’s something else wool is good for - home insulation, and that’s a need that will only grow in the Northeast.  300 mm wool batt insulation has an R44 value, while also being non-toxic, non-outgassing, fire-retardant and requiring no use of fossil fuels, and being a good use of wool that is too coarse for clothing.  Right now there are only a few manufacturers of wool insulation in North America, mostly in Canada, but there is enormous potential for the industry to grow up where it is badly needed - here in the Northeast, where the oldest housing stock in the country exists, and where most of that housing is badly insulated.  Because of its small niche market, right now wool insulation is more expensive that toxic petro-insulations, but that could change over time - most likely will change.

The problem, of course, is getting the industry started.  Wool prices are, as they say, in the toilet.  The wool act of 1954 instituted price supports for US wool against foreign competition, but was phased out in the 1990s.  Wool production has been declining rapidly since the 1960s in the US, and is now only a 30 million dollar a year industry.  At usually well under a buck a pound, most sheep producers cannot support themselves on wool alone - and the lamb market in the US is still far smaller than the market for beef or other meats.  But there are good reasons to consider advocating and creating conditions for a regional shift, particularly to small flocks and local industries.  Multipurpose small livestock are suitable to very small acreage - that is, instead of a moderate number of sheep farmers with ever-bigger flocks, getting ever richer, sheep in the northeast are well suited to small acreage, rainy climates and mixed land. 

In the short term, I suspect the future of sheep in the northeast may be as sustainable landscapers, that also provide wool and meat.  That is, the largest single agricultural enterprise in the region is lawnscaping and lawn maintenence - as farming has been lost here, lawn production has expanded. Certainly, some of that land could be used for gardens and must be - but all the land will not disappear at once, and just as western farmers have found work with their goats as brush clearers and fire risk reducers, and beekeepers in providing pollination, I suspect there is a potentially successful industry in small scale localized sheep farmers moving their sheep around a network of parks and suburban lawns, providing “mowing” service.  At first, this might well provide the income stream for new sheep farmers while local wool industries are being redeveloped.

I hope we will not see sheep monocultures - because we need a diverse range of sheep breeds to make this a viable sheep producing region - one of the culprits in the Merino boom and bust was the overproduction of a particular breed.  We will need a range of dual purpose sheep that produce both meat and wool, lamb easily and have good parasite resistance (or as good as any sheep ;-)), along with some merinos for long underwear and knitting, and meat sheep that do well on pasture alone.  Perhaps the single best argument for the reintroduction of sheep is their very minimal grain requirements, even in pregnancy and nursing. 

If the Northeast is to gradually transition to sustainable agriculture again, it will have to be done carefully, wisely and with an eye to the longer term.  That means drawing gently on our strengths - coppice wood for home heating, sugar maples (although with climate change I fear sugar maples may not be a multi-generational investment for most farms), dairy, potato and root production and other things that do well in our climate, with our soils.  Sheep, and a wood industry are potentially a part of this project - not all of it - I would not wish us to return to the boom and bust cycle of the 19th century.  But a piece of a larger, deeper project - bringing the farms back east.

Sharon

33 Responses to “Thinking Local Part I: Bringing the Sheep Back”

  1. Shelley Burbankon 24 Jun 2009 at 9:37 am

    Excellent article about the return of the sheep to New England economics and a sustainable future here in the Northeast! I live in a homeowner’s association (advocating bylaw changes to allow gardening and raising livestock is my new pastime), and all throughout our wooded lots are the very rock walls you talk of here. I loved your book DEPLETION AND ABUNDANCE, by the way, and blogged about it this week. I hope my readers find their way to your website. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  2. Jennon 24 Jun 2009 at 11:05 am

    I think I’m going to have to look into whether sheep are viable in my area - I suspect so, although they’re not hugely popular. The possibilities are fascinating - especially the wool insulation - and it’s really important that we think outside the box here, both in terms of what we can do and how we can use it. As you suggest, just because wool as insulation isn’t popular, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be, that there wouldn’t be a market, or that it’s not worth pushing as a healthy alternative to all those other less-great-in-a-variety-of-ways options.

    Okay, admittedly, I love sheep and would just love to have some period, but given all the qualities you suggest, they’re incredibly useful, in general and to a local economy. Now all I need to do is get into the habit of applying this kind and level of thinking to different things and really seeing what options are available (and not just for those things that are cute and leave me wanting to pet them).

  3. Green Assassin Brigadeon 24 Jun 2009 at 11:36 am

    The lanolin itself is also a potentialy useful product that can be used for water proofing fabrics like oil skin coats, hats tarps., used in home made cosmetics and creams, it can even double as a lubricant. It would take a fair number of sheep to commercialize lanolin production but even processing a small amount for your personal use or making small batches of hand and face cream for all those destined to come back the land could add to your self sufficiency, comfort and revenue .

  4. Mark Non 24 Jun 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Sheep, non-native as they are, are OK but not really the best match for the Northeast. Better silviculture including forest gardening, groves, and orchards is preferable, more natural.

  5. WNC Observeron 24 Jun 2009 at 12:44 pm

    We’ve got a fair number of people here in WNC raising small sheep or goat herds - enough to form a good nucleus from which to expand. We also have a fair number of people who are hand weavers. In fact, in more than a few cases it is the same people, raising their own wool to spin and weave. There is also a growing market for locally-produced goat milk and lamb meat.

    The weavers presently are having to cater to the tourist trade, and thus are producing upscale crafts. That won’t last as the economy declines. On the other hand, if the dollar also declines and imports become unaffordable, demand might grow for local handmade fabrics again. Or maybe we might see a return of the textile industry here. The thing is, we have people here who have already achieved a high level of expertise, and who could teach apprentices and thus expand the trade.

    The imported clothing that is generally the only thing available in stores these days is very cheaply made and is not very durable. Once the dollar has crashed and foreign trade dries up, people are going to find their clothing falling apart pretty quickly. They can patch things up for a while, but soon people will start needing some clothes that last. Fashion will go out the window, and people will revert to the older pattern of just owning a few well-made clothes that really last and do not “go out of style” for decades. People will gradually learn to make their own clothes again, but in the interim there will be good opportunities for those who already have good sewing skills; a very good quality sewing machine might be a particularly good thing to own, and to know how to use. There will also be growing demand for good quality yarns and fabrics.

    This won’t happen overnight, of course. The trick is to prepare for the future, but also to be flexible and patient while waiting for it to come.

  6. Treeon 24 Jun 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Love the idea of wool insulation!

    There are also breeds of sheep suitable for milk production :)

    Think cheese!!

    http://www.sheep101.info/dairy.html

  7. Sharonon 24 Jun 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Mark, I don’t think it is an either/or thing - yes, we need silviculture, but much of northern New England produces mostly timber trees - it is too cold for a lot of fruit and nut varieties. So maple sugar and timber are pretty much it - and those places can’t feed, clothe or support themselves on those industries alone in a less globalized society. I think we’re going to have to pasture animals and also raise potatoes and root crops, along with silviculture to make those regions economically viable and as food self-sufficient as possible.

    Sharon

  8. Heather Gon 24 Jun 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Hear hear! A mixture of silviculture and agriculture (the real kind, not big ag)! We have a number of folks in and around our town who raise sheep: Romney, Shetland, Icelandic, Jacob, Border Leicester, etc. Nice to have variety. Roms are both meat and wool sheep, and I think Shetlands and Icelandics are supposed to be as well? But Roms have softer wool (comparing adult fleeces. For softer wool there’s always lamb fleece, but that’s fussier to work with from what I’ve been told — I’ve only spun young Icelandic, so I’m no expert on lamb fleece).

    Another “type” of wool is handspun vs. machine spun. Handspinners have the option, if they can get their hands on it, of working with longer fibers than machines can handle (this machinery problem changed the way wool was cut and probably affected which sheep were chosen for wool production). Longer fibers means fewer ends sticking out, which means less scratchy than the same wool as processed for use in a machine.

    No sheep on our farm though — MIL doesn’t care for them or goats either, esp. not males. Plus first we’d have to re-do all the fencing!!

  9. Dianeon 24 Jun 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Wool production, even when somewhat mechanized, provides employment for a lot of people: carding, spinning, dying, weaving, fulling and sewing. Also, a lighter fabric is necessary. Cotton is the most common these days but linen and hemp serve the same purposes and will grow in cool, wet climates. Textile related crops also include natural dyes, teasels and moth deterrents. (Speaking of which, how do you keep moths from chewing up your wool insulation?) I wonder if these crops would be useful for suspect, possibly contaminated, soils such as near highways and industrial sites.

  10. Sharonon 24 Jun 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Diane - Actually, hemp and linen are another subject I’m planning on talking about, and your idea for growing them on contaminated soils is *fabulous* - upstate NY used to be major flax producers, and I think hemp will grow here as well, and quite well.

    You can mothproof wool - it is a lightly chemical process, and requires some fossil inputs, but is a small portion of the issue.

    Unlike goats, which are pretty difficult to integrate into woody agriculture, sheep can actually be pastured under many orcharding trees, yet another reason to love them - I am fundamentally goat people, and I think goats have a place in northeast agriculture as well, but sheep may be more essential.

    Sharon

  11. Susan in NJon 24 Jun 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Sharon, have you read William Cronon’s Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England? I read the 1994 version years ago, but there is a revised 2003 version out now. It covers the period 1600 to 1800 and I don’t recall if it addresses sheep/wool particularly (and the period is pre-merino).
    What I remember as striking were the pictures (engravings) showing striking amounts of deforestation for wood, farming and livestock from colonial activities and the accounts of the effects on the land. I suspect you’ve read it, but if you haven’t read it, you should when thinking about any return to a pre-fossil fuel economy.
    I really wonder about the human capacity to refrain from too much of a good thing — the strawberry banks cod industry collapsed without the benefit of modern fishing techniques where once the cod “leaped” into boats.
    Not to discourage sheep farming or sheep as a potentially useful post-collapse buffer. And I’m looking forward to reading you on hemp and flax. When I was growing up there was still a lot of wild hemp around in rural Illinois which I understood to be survivors of wartime hemp industry. My mom still processes flax using a very old 1800’s flax break.

  12. sealanderon 24 Jun 2009 at 5:03 pm

    That made me chuckle a bit, living in the land where sheep outnumber people ;)
    The ceiling of my house is certainly insulated with wool batts. Although sheep numbers here have declined over the last couple of decades - since the great increase in prices on dairy products, a lot of dry land sheep farms have been converted to dairy with irrigation.
    My old high school offered agriculture as a subject and kept a small flock of sheep for this purpose, and they were sometimes used for mowing the school sports grounds. It’s not unusual to see them used to keep the grass down on racecourse and golf courses in small country towns (for some reason New Zealand has a surprisingly large number of golf courses per head of population).
    The Merino here is the main breed of sheep used in the High Country - that is the central area of the island, steep rough country, prone to snow in winter. I believe they’re a tough breed that does well on rough forage. Sheep are never kept in barns over winter here - we don’t have that many areas where the snow will settle for weeks at a time. Those areas that do get snow may grow fields of winter vegetables like swede (large turnips) as winter feed, and they’ll certainly make or buy hay.
    I think that if you want a small flock it does not necessarily have to be for just meat or just wool - I gather you can keep a flock of ewes of a good wool bearing breed then put a ram from a meat bearing breed over them, and keep the lambs for meat. That seems to be a common practice here. And don’t forget sheep skins as an end product - good for mattress liners, hats, coats, boots, floor rugs and baby blankets.

  13. Greenpaon 24 Jun 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I’m tempted to say “Bah, humbug” to sheep-

    but I won’t. :-)

    Musk Oxen for me! Native, dontcha know, and with the most costly wool on the planet, probably, maybe except for shatoosh, which is illegal as all get out.

    Musk Ox Cheese! what a niche market!

    Sharon- I’m actually working very hard on integrating SOME kind of grazing animals into our extensive nut plantings- just mowing that grass is killing us, and mowed down tight it must be, or the mice will eat all the nuts.

    I’ve been thinking about trying to TRAIN goats- using electric collars- to leave the crops alone. Goats do have their advantages, if you can only keep them from eating everything. Each animal would have to be trained, but most farmer’s reactions here are that they’d expect any animal to learn quickly and remember well.

    Any thinking on training goats?

    Also- I’ve put up a post on my blog as an aside to your post “You Will Never Know”.

  14. Greenpaon 24 Jun 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Incidentally- think of the electric collar as a portable, temporary electric fence-

  15. AnnaMarieon 24 Jun 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I have 20 pounds of icelandic roving I am planning on braiding into rugs for this winter. I’d love to see the return of a sheep based economy in Northern Vermont. Being a spinner, weaver, felter and lamb lover (tasty!) this would be wonderful. There are many diverse breeds that would do well here. Now to convince dairy farmers that milking sheep for artisan cheese can be profitable *g*

  16. mariaon 24 Jun 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I have a small flock of icelandic sheep and I love them– they are beautiful, give me amazing fleeces, don’t eat any grain, have twins with no help and are great mothers, give me excellent meat.. (and some day soon I hope to milk them– not set up for it yet) But, I have to agree with Mark that I am not sure sheep are really suited to this environment (I’m also in Northern Vermont). It is wet here! And its lush. Sheep are animals of high rocky desert like places. Their feet hate the wet.

  17. MDon 24 Jun 2009 at 9:34 pm

    We have those rock fences here in TN, too, where they haven’t been cleared for subdivisions. A few subdivisions even decorate their entrances with them!
    One of my earliest memories is being propped up from behind by an adult while bottle-feeding a lamb that was eye-to-eye with me, from a huge green bottle with a black nipple. My grandfather kept a small flock as “pets”, and sold the wool, but never made much money from it. You only need wool for a month or two here, though linen would be welcome! I’d love to see those sheep mowing the local yards and parks instead of those dreadful loud crews with the leaf blowers.

  18. Greenpaon 24 Jun 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Maria- gee thanks. I just spent like 2 hours googling Icelandic sheep- and now I’m all heated up about them. :-) Like I really NEED another direction to go in.

  19. Greg Jefferson 24 Jun 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Greenpa:

    I wouldn’t put much stock in training goats in as much as what to eat and what not to. I love my goats, and I have 25 Saanen and Saanen/Nubian crosses, but I could not see my ladies passing over whatever it is that they want to kill… I mean eat.

    I could be wrong, but that is my experience (well, I should disclose that my “experience” is 4 years, not exactly a lifetime).

    Sharon:

    The deforestation of the Northeast does not have to happen. Trees can be harvested in a sustainable fashion. I believe that in those times clear cutting and burning was the norm. Planting saplings and seedlings at harvest sites and other intelligent management of the forests would go along way to keep the wildlife corridors open.

  20. Apple Jack Creekon 24 Jun 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Greenpa, I have to say that all I could do was laugh at the idea of training goats to refrain from eating some particular thing! Goats and sheep are animals that just KNOW when the charger on the fence is down, and go right on through … or so I hear, I haven’t tried electric, I stick to page wire with barbed wire trimmings. :)

    The Icelandics are great sheep - easy keepers, nice wool, good meat. However, the do browse trees - I’m not sure how tall or thick your nut trees are, but the willow saplings in the pasture here got the lower leaves nibbled off, then the sheep walked forward and bent the stem down so they could eat the rest of the leaves. You might look at Southdowns (often called ‘babydoll’) as they are shorter, and tend to browse a little less (I have a Southdown ram I adore - they’re little sumo sheep, short and stocky and sturdy! I get great meat lambs from the Southdown/Icelandic cross).

    Anyone considering sheep would do well to invest in fencing NOW while there’s money and page wire and posts … and get a herding dog trained up for the inevitable escapes. However, they are very manageable animals, and make excellent use of marginal land. They’re a great way for someone starting out with livestock to get going.

    I’m so glad to see Sharon talking about them! We (especially us northerners) need more small farms with sheep! :)

  21. Greenpaon 25 Jun 2009 at 8:25 am

    Apple Jack, and Greg- laugh all you want! : ) I’ve been laughed at before.

    I’m basing my hope on the alleged intelligence of goats. I know they’re very hard headed- but part of that, I think, is that they will find a way around you, to get what they want, regardless. Yes? Smart.

    Usually, the smarter an animal is, the more it respects an electric fence. The training would be a substantial effort; but if it worked- would have huge benefits for me.

    And inevitably, there will be genetics involved- some may be more trainable, some much less. A lifetime of work sorting that out. :-)

  22. Sharonon 25 Jun 2009 at 9:03 am

    Greg, I agree that we don’t have to deforest the northeast. My fear is just that we will, if that makes any sense, and I think having a concerted plan for how not to might help. I would like to see much, much more pollarding and coppicing - we’ve been doing it here and it is extremely effective. On a slightly OT note, I’d also like to see the creation of British style living fences, using “laid” hedges. I’m still playing with this myself, but I like this even better than stone walls.

    Greenpa, I think that Icelandics are one of the best possible breeds for low-input husbandry - what was it they were supposed to winter on - one bale of hay and the fat on their backs ;-).

    Maria - It depends a bit on the sheep, no? Romneys for example (and the old style Romneys are quite a bit thriftier than the new ones, although even the newer breeds do very well - my sheep-partner doesn’t grain at all during pregnancy and only enough during lactation to bribe them to come over ;-)) are resistant to foot rot and wet-climate tolerant. They do very well on my extremely wet pastures.

    Sharon

  23. Berkshireon 25 Jun 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I’m sorry to be the tail end charlie but missed the thread start. A few comments for posterity.

    I live a few hundred yards from what was the largest early wool mill in Western Mass. The hay day was the early to mid 1800s. 8000 Merinos in this small town in 1820.

    This area was totally de-wooded and resulted in constant flooding and dam failures at the early mill sites. Early photographs show a totally de-nuded landscape.

    I’m afraid we are starting a repeat as massive clear cutting of the post dairy new forest is underway - and fire wood demand from the millions in nearby cities should overwhelm the forest resources as oil increases in price.

    Wood for the pre 1870 railroads and charcoal kilns were the end of the early forests. The early farmers would haul wood to the railroad stations in winter by sled as a cash crop. Some historic accounts give delivered quantities in the hundred of thosand cords to one small station over one winter season.

    I’d be happy to provide additional local details.

  24. Sharonon 25 Jun 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Yup - Berkshire, my great fear for this region is that we kill the forests in our quest to keep warm, and then, as climate change moves north, the area actually desertifies. I don’t think that’s totally out of the question if we strip the trees off. Which is why I think the sheep, integrated in with woody agriculture and vegiculture offer one of the best possible ways of balancing. We are going to farm more, and we are going to build new local industries - and none of our choices, given population density and reality, will be perfect. So I’m looking for “best we can do, with least harm.”

    Sharon, who lives just south of the Adirondacks, where the record of overlogging is still written into the landscape.

  25. Berkshireon 25 Jun 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Sharon,

    I totally agree and have told a few folks, only half jokingly, that I feared I would be sitting out in the woods guarding the last stand of trees in western Mass. with my old 12 guage single shot. I’m past retirement age so that only gives me a few years for my prediction to come true. Any bets?

    The hard woods being cut now will be replaced by more southern species changing this place forever. Yes desertification is a real possibility.

    I am at 1600 feet and suggest to all that average temperature drops 3.4 degrees F. for every 1000 feet gain in altitude. Folks might consider altitude as a survival strategy as climate change accelerates. It seems it is always wetter on the west side of a mountain.

  26. Berkshireon 25 Jun 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I’ll throw in a few more thoughts on what might be a strategy going forward.

    Dairy and beef are ideal on our hilly and boulder strewn fields. They don’t damage the fields and hay is easily grown here. My grandfather had a dairy farm a few miles from my home here in the 20s / 30s. They were almost totally self sufficient with no electricity. It was a hard life but it worked.

    I’m building out my south facing walk out cellar. I estimate that I would need at most a half cord of wood for the winter. The magic of below ground living with a modern insulated structure.

  27. heatherBon 26 Jun 2009 at 7:30 am

    And I’m really tail end charlie on this post! Oz often identifies itself as “made on the sheeps back” , so a sprinkling of comments: natural untreated wool insulation is already moth proof - just bung the fleece in as is. Wiltshire Horns dont need shearing, they kinda shed, no good for spinning, great for insulation, felting and dinner, we have a local cheesemaker using only sheep milk (apparently higher protein content per lt, which means twice as much cheese per lt as cows milk) and finally for Greenpa, if he reads this, Pat Coleby, an aussie author on goats and grazing stock makes the point that goats are browsers by nature and as such have a far higher mineral requirement than grazers. She gives a recipe for a mineral lick and if they have access to this (or something similar) they are far less likely to destroy your trees in a desperate attempt to satisfy their nutritional requirements. Fabulous books for goat owners if you can get them in USA.

  28. Greenpaon 26 Jun 2009 at 8:21 am

    Sharon- thanks for the words on Icelandics. Now I’ve spent like SIX hours googling- and finding breeders… :-) And I’m starting to threaten my family with impending sheep.

    HeatherB- Very interesting. In fact, I long ago started putting out mineral blocks for our whitetail deer- for exactly that reason; but hadn’t thought about it in regard to goats. Thanks!

  29. homebrewlibrarianon 26 Jun 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Sharon; it will be your fault if my friend with 80 acres and a herd of Cashmere goats ends up with Icelandic sheep!

    With all this talk of sheep and that I just finished reading “Hit by a farm” (a GREAT book which includes way more about sheep birthing than most memoirs ever mention), I looked up Icelandic sheep in Alaska and they seem to be gaining popularity rapidly.

    So I call my friend with land and goats to talk about wool batt insulation and, BOOM! We’re off and running talking about adding sheep to her holding. She had already been casually looking into sheep and sheep breeds but now we’re GALVANIZED. Not that sheep are imminent - first she needs a LGD (after a scare involving a grizzly sow and two yearling cubs, acquiring a LGD leaped to the top of the priority list) and had decided on the Turkish Kangal Shepherd mostly because they are not afraid of bears and can work with different types of livestock. Sheep are at least two years out at this point but that gives her (us) lots of time to plan.

    I swear that practically every “out there” idea I get comes from your blog!

    Kerri in AK

  30. Lee Johnsonon 26 Jun 2009 at 2:19 pm

    We’re planning on starting a flock of sheep within the next year and we’ve been going to local sheep and fiber festivals to get ideas regarding breeds. Different breeds are good for different areas no doubt, but here in the northwest the Shetland and Navajo-Churro breeds both look very promising. Both are low input, multi-purpose breeds that don’t need a lot of supplements and will eat brush and weeds other sheep won’t touch. Shetland sheep have very soft wool, not quite Merino but close, and are people-friendly more like goats. Navajo-Churro sheep have coarser faster-growing wool and very low lanolin levels which gives their meat a very mild flavor. Just some thoughts for people researching breeds.

    If you are seriously considering getting sheep, I’d suggest buying a breed that is pretty easy to find in your area. Having multiple sources for breeding stock and people familiar with the animals is a big help when you are getting started.

  31. Heather Gon 26 Jun 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Berkshire, we share your (and other folks) concern about woods in the NE! We have some woods as part of the farm (well, my in-laws do — me and my husband who’s one of their kids, rent the second floor and help out here and there). Some of it is used for firewood, but that’s essentially made up of dead and damaged trees, and we only sell some of that. We’re maple sugarers too, and all the family believes that healthy woods should have variety. We may actually have to create a _little_ space here and there though — seems there’s so much growing up there that there isn’t enough light for locust to grow up on the hill anymore.

    We’re over in Franklin Cty, at 1,000 ft. above sea level, and I think even that much is a vast improvement over living in the valley during the summer time. My asthma agrees! Good luck with the building project.

  32. NMon 26 Jun 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Changes in store in the Pacific NW, too; a lot of residents don’t realize that water, regarded as overabundant here, is over-allocated in Oregon and formerly dependable well levels are dropping in consequence; city officials are very worried about the next few decades, and some farmers are starting to put in giant tanks, to catch rainfall off metal pole barn roofs. Plus, it does not rain here from July through September, sometimes longer. Long dry, for a wet climate …
    Mountain snowmelt used to provide plenty of summer water, but of late, it’s not so dependable anymore, thanks to climate change …
    They used to grow hard wheat here a hundred years back, but at some point in the past decided the yields weren’t high enough, so now grass seed, for golf courses and such, is very big … and the pollen allergy levels in the Willamette Valley are dreadful as a result. Now a few people are starting to try hard wheat again (they never stopped growing soft wheat, but export 80 percent of it) … and after years of hearing that you Can’t grow hard wheat here, they’re finding that it grows just fine. (!) … desperately hoping that it picks up and replaces the grass seed fields — which are burned over in the late summer, adding another whole level of pollution, although more and more restrictions have been going in against that, ever since some years back the smoke went across a highway and caused a massive chain wreck that killed several people. When I was a teenager the smoke would cover the valley and turn entire days cool and cloudy (and smoky-smelling). Doesn’t happen so much anymore, at least up at the north end.

  33. Texicalion 28 Jun 2009 at 10:59 am

    Greenpa,
    experiments are being conducted in California with very small sheep and vineyards. The baby dolls sound about right, I don’t recall specifically. When training they spray the lower leaves of the vines with a substance that makes the sheep temporarily ill when ingested. Once they begin to associate the grape leaves with illness they are no longer interested. I imagine something similar would work with goats.

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