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Holly Browder and her husband, Chris, were up to their ears in wool sheared from their flock of about 20 heritage Cotswold sheep raised on their Mattituck livestock farm.
“We didn’t know what to do with it all,” Browder said, sifting through a large paper leaf bag brimming with raw fleece.
A late August shear netted over 300 pounds of wool, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars to be spun into yarn, Browder explained. “That yarn still has to be knitted into something to sell,” she said.
Some of the wool had been used to create $250 wool whaler sweaters sold at local farmer markets, she said — another added cost for a pair of small farmers who aren’t looking to break into the fashion world.
“I was really considering throwing out a bunch of wool sitting in the basement,” she said.
Enter the Livestock Conservancy and the “Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em” challenge that launched in January. The challenge encourages fiber artists to seek out wool from rare sheep breeds directly from shepherds.
Browder heard about the challenge from a local knitter who purchased their wool from the Riverhead Farmers Market. After signing on as a fiber provider, Browder said she’s found a sense of relief that she isn’t alone. “Other farmers have the same problems,” she said.
In a matter of weeks, she’s sold out of raw wool.
“It has really helped us move a lot of wool before we shear again this March,” she said, and will include lambswool from sheep born last spring.
Since joining the challenge, Browder has been busy shipping boxes of wool to nearly all 50 states. “I love getting pictures of our wool back from all the different spinners, knitters and artists. I’m amazed at what you can do with it all,” she said, noting that her wool has been turned into fringe felted shawls to felted garland.
Marsha Berkemeier of Florissant, Mo. has purchased Cotswold wool from Browder.
“Cotswold has become one of my favorite wools to work with,” Berkemeier said. “I wash and dye the locks for other fiber artists to create things with. Cotswold is wavy and strong. It takes color beautifully.”
It’s even inspired Browder to try something new and pick up a beginner’s knitting kit.
According to the Livestock Conservancy, the Cotswold sheep breed was developed in western England and may descend from the white sheep brought to England by the Romans.
The longwool breed is known for its curly locks and silky fibers and though once popular, neared extinction in the mid 1900s.
Browder originally brought sheep to her farm to help maintain the 16-acre property, where they also raise chickens, turkeys and ducks.
“We couldn’t keep up with the mowing,” she said, laughing.
They are currently classified as a “rare” breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Though the twice yearly shearings were once the onset of some level of anxiety, Browder is looking forward to the springtime shear.
“It was a lot of fun to think outside the box,” she said.