Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Shepherd Profile: Cynthia Alby, Gulf Coast Native

This is the first in a series of Q&As with Livestock Conservancy members who raise sheep for wool. The opinions expressed by the shepherds do not necessarily reflect those of The Livestock Conservancy.

Cynthia Alby has been raising Gulf Coast Native sheep since 2003 on Shangri-Baa in Milledgeville, GA.

Why should a breeder sell the wool from their sheep?

Because if you can't use it all yourself, you wouldn't want any to go to waste!

Is it difficult to raise your sheep with an eye towards selling the wool? Why or why not? 

I've found that most craftspeople aren't that obsessed about how clean or free of VM fleeces are - it all comes out in the wash! We literally do nothing differently than if we weren't planning on selling the wool.

Why have you chosen to sell your wool as raw fleece, roving, yarn, etc rather than in a different form? Or why have you chosen to do all of the above? 

So far we have sold our wool as raw fleece and also as items we make from it such as felted jewelry and dryer balls. Soon we will start experimenting with selling the yarn. When we sell things we make ourselves, it is pretty much pure profit. There is almost no cost associated with making dryer balls and very little cost associated with making felted jewelry or nuno-felted scarves on cheesecloth. These are always where we will have our biggest profits, but they do take time. But if you enjoy making things, then the time component doesn't matter so much.

What is one important thing you learned about sheep management as it relates to selling their wool? 

Buy sheep with the best wool possible. Don't skimp on breeding stock! I don't know about other breeds, but Gulf Coast sheep run the gamut from exceptional wool to truly worthless wool. And make sure you have an exceptional shearer!

Why do you coat your sheep (or not)? 

No. We raise Gulf Coast sheep in the south, and they would be uncomfortably warm in coats in May or June when we are waiting for the shearer. Also, one of the premier fiber experts in the nation told me she thinks coats cause sheep to sweat and they also rub the ends of the fibers, both things that decrease the quality of the wool.

What is one surprising thing you learned about coating your sheep -- or having sheep that are not coated? 

I was surprised to learn that some experts advise against coating (which is good, because there was no way I was going to do that).

What is one important thing you learned about selling your wool? 

You need multiple venues. We've got a website, we're listed in the Conservancy index, we post on fleece for sale Facebook pages, we sell at a local farmers market, and we post on our farm's Facebook page. I probably spend about two hours a month total keeping up with all these and making sure they look good.

Are you a Livestock Conservancy member who sells your wool? Want to share your experiences? Email Deborah with your answers to the above questions, and you may be featured in an upcoming post.

Learn more about The Livestock Conservancy's new Shave 'Em to Save 'Em program at www.RareWool.org.

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