Louise Fairburn on Harvesting Wool…

We glimpsed Louise Fairburn’s Lincoln Longwool sheep on this blog earlier this WOVEMBER, where we also pointed out that one of her sheep featured in the photo contest last year! Louise Fairburn shot to fame for making an incredible Wedding Dress out of the wool from her Lincoln Longwool Flock. At the time, she was quoted as saying “It always occurred to me what a waste it was to turn this beautiful long wool into carpets,” and on her own website, she writes of how she was formerly “disheartened at ‘shearing time’ seeing our beautiful clippings of lustrous locks bagged and practically given to the wool board!”

These quotes remind me of the depressing story of Shepherds describing the diminishing value of the Wool Cheque in Cumbria, as relayed in Laura Rosenzweig’s story earlier today. However, as with Laura’s work, much can be done to raise the profile of WOOL, to add value to WOOL through creativity and experimentation, and to better the earnings that farmers can make directly from the WOOL that they grow. Both Laura and Louise have found ways of improving what the farmer earns for their WOOL.

WOVEMBER sent Louise some questions about how she has turned the depressing spectacle of shearing day into a joyous annual occasion at Risby Grange!

1. Are there any special challenges associated with shearing Lincoln Longwool sheep? It seems to me that you might need a special knack to get in under all those long, lustrous locks, and some way of managing the mass of fleece as it comes off the sheep?

The Lincoln Longwool is our largest native breed of sheep, so from a shearer’s point of view their size can be off-putting! A fully mature ‘two shear ram’ will weigh around 200kg and will clip an astonishing 15-20kg on his second shearing, so its backbreaking work. On the positive side Lincolns are a very docile breed and decades of domestication have resulted in a very mild mannered sheep. Invariably the huge rams are the also the biggest ‘softies’ of the flock! The fleeces come off the sheep usually in one piece and are rolled in the same way as all other fleeces – they are just a lot heavier to lift. Our main flock clip an average of 8-10kg of wool per sheep annually.

2. There is an amazing photo on your website featuring one of your fleeces with a first prize rosette. I wondered if you could tell us what makes a really superlative Lincoln Longwool fleece?

The main properties which make Lincoln Longwool such a wonderful fibre are strength, length and lustre. A perfect Lincoln fleece will display all these properties with consistency throughout the fleece and in quantity. Lincoln Longwool has a micron count of around 40.

3. I absolutely love the photo of you with “Risby Olivia” and I wondered if you could tell us about shearing her, and why she in particular was chosen to provide the fleece for your Wedding Dress skirt?

Olivia’s fleece was all of the above. However, the main reason for choosing her was the wool length. The wool for the dress skirt was used from her first clip. This means she was clipped as a ‘shearling ewe’ with a full 18 months growth of wool, this would yield locks of around 18 inches in length, thereafter her annual clip length will be nearer 12 inches.

4. On your own website you have commented about the depressing spectacle of bagging up fleeces at shearing time and sending them off to the Wool Marketing Board for peanuts. I noticed you are now selling fleece and mill-spun yarn directly from your farm – has this changed how you feel about shearing day?

As time has gone on I feel less disheartened at clipping time for two reasons: firstly, the wool price has risen quite dramatically over the last 3 years, largely due to the fall in worldwide supply, we now achieve a value of around £1.30/kg from the wool board as opposed to the meager 20p/kg when we started the flock 9 years ago; secondly, I have lots of my own projects going on with the wool, which greatly adds to its value.

I am dying it for felting, processing some as machine spun yarn for knitting, as well as producing many of my unique creations.

I have an abundance of ideas but all too often not enough time to execute them! I am hoping to increase the commercial aspect of my website over the coming months.

5. What drew you to Lincoln Longwools in particular, as a sheep breed to keep?

We came across Lincolns quite by accident, in an ‘escape to the country’ type manoeuvre I found myself with 50 acres of land and nothing to graze it. A modicum of research soon led me to the local rare breed and what better to graze the Lincolnshire Wolds than Lincoln Longwool sheep?

WOVEMBER loves the empowering and hopeful story of a rise in the value of WOOL, and increasing options for farmers to sell WOOL directly from their farms either as machine-spun yarn or as fleece for handspinners. If you want to get your hands on WOOL from the Risby Grange Lincoln Longwool flock, you can do so here. Thaks to Louise Fairburn for permission to reproduce her words and pictures here!

This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

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