Sunday, July 28, 2019

Shepherd Profile: Steve and Sonja Pyne

Steve and Sonja Pyne of Queen Creek, AZ, began raising Tunis sheep about ten years ago on The Farm at the End of the Road, and today they are fiber providers for other shepherds as well. Their flock name is Woolhalla.

Why did you decide to raise Tunis?
They had all the qualities we wanted – dual-purpose, striking good looks, polled, good mothering ability, and docile. What tipped the balance in our choice of breed was that Tunis are a Livestock Conservancy Watch List breed.

But the fleece and wool project grew beyond our own sheep as we began networking with folks in Arizona and other Four Corners states and realized how many of them kept, for various reasons, between 1 and 10 sheep of assorted breeds. Many considered the fiber to be a liability, feeling that a single fleece or two is more trouble than it’s worth, and so ended up discarding the fleeces, or even shearing the sheep only every other year. As I learned more about their flocks and was certain the sheep were not crosses but single breed sheep (if not registered or perhaps LC Priority listed), I offered to pay for the shearing and occasional other expenses for the health of the animal and take the fleece in payment, developing access to a wide variety of fleeces and fibers, far greater than what we could grow ourselves – it’s the ultimate spinner’s flock! Where we have permission from the shepherd, our packaging always reflects the name of the farm, as well as the name and photo of the sheep.
How many adults in your flock?
We have 13 ewes, a ram, and a wether.
What state are you in?
We are located in Queen Creek, Arizona between the Superstition and San Tan Mountains.

Why should a breeder sell their wool?
From a producer’s perspective, selling the wool allows the farmer to realize a bit more income and helps balance the scales for what it costs to raise that animal. From an environmental perspective, harvesting and actually using that resource means that it doesn’t go into a landfill. From an artistic perspective, single breed wool allows fiber artists to accentuate various qualities in their crafts, and a properly chosen breed of wool will highlight all the qualities the artist is looking for.
Why have you chosen to sell your wool in the form you do?
In the Southwest US, fiber mills and shearers are at a premium. Generally speaking, roving can be returned from a mill to a grower much faster than yarn can. In addition, unless you are independently wealthy (which we certainly are not!) there is a tremendous amount of money tied up in yarn at any given time, and choosing what kind of yarn to have made is always a scatter shot. At various times I have tried lace, fingering, sport, DK, worsted, bulky, all in both 2-ply and 3-ply and it didn’t matter which grist or ply I had chosen, it was the “wrong” one. I still have some beautiful yarn that I had made 5 or 6 years ago, and that represents money spent that cannot be used for some other farm and animal related project. I can’t out-guess what yarn will be most appealing, and roving fits just about all spinners.

What is one important thing you have learned about sheep management as it relates to selling their wool?
Clean well-kept wool from well cared for animals sells product. Period.
Why do you or do you not coat your sheep?
We do not coat our sheep. Temperatures here can reach 118 degrees during the summer months. Sheep don’t need another layer of anything on them, and they certainly don’t need the stress of having coats managed and changed during hot weather.
What is one surprising thing you learned about having sheep that are not coated?
We have discovered that through good husbandry and careful management, it is possible to work around the perceived need for coats on sheep. We feed about 50% grass and 50% alfalfa in the summer. The sheep are fed at specific times in specific ways, and my husband specifically designed feeders that minimizes the possibility of the sheep spreading veg on themselves or each other, and maximizes the efficient use of the hay which ends up saving us money, as well.
What is one important thing you learned about selling your wool?
I have to give you two important things! First, we compare ourselves to an indie bookstore – there is no possible way to complete with the Big Box stores and discounters, but we will offer you the best and most personalized customer service there is. The second thing, however, is that the support and commitment of fiber artists means everything. Of course I acknowledge the financial support in the form of buying product, but perhaps even more important is the social and emotional support we feel from artists who are invested in the farm and the sheep and honestly value what we do, as we value what they do.

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