While North Fork farmers have turned their attention to fall crops, mid-September brings a different kind of harvest at Browder’s Birds. Twice a year, professional shearer Tabbethia Haubold of Long Island Yarn and Farm in Yaphank visits the Mattituck farm to shave wool from the 21-member Cotswold flock.
In the spring and fall, the two-day process yields hundreds of pounds of long curl, strong wool — a hallmark texture of the heritage breed sheep raised at Browder’s. Haubold starts shearing the belly and the hind legs, working her way around. The goal is to shave close and in continuous cuts.
“Shearing gets them all cleaned up,” owner and farmer Holly Browder said. “It is a health check for the flock. By winter, they’ll have enough wool to get them through until spring.”
The wool from each sheep is individually heaped upon a nearby skirting table, which is made up of a rectangular wood frame covered in chicken wire at the Browders’ farm. It allows shorter, unsellable pieces to fall to the ground. Skirting is the process of handpicking grass, hay and vegetable matter from the unwashed wool.
It is then bagged, and sold raw to fiber artists across the country or brought to an upstate mill that spins yarn to be processed into clothes and accessories sold at the farm stand. A portion of the collected wool is also used for The Livestock Conservancy’s “Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em” initiative, which connects shepherds of heritage breeds with customers.
This year, the bagged raw wool will also include the names of the sheep from which it was harvested. Browder and employee Maria Zorrilla gave the sheep Shakespearean-inspired monikers during the shearing process, in order to help customers better connect with the farm.
“People love to know the story behind the wool,” Browder said. “It is a good way for them to get to know us.”
Also for the first time this year, the Browders will be traveling to Rhinebeck next month to sell their wool and wears at the annual Sheep and Wool Festival. The event draws thousands to Dutchess County each year.
“The Cotswold are sought after because of their curly wool,” Browder said. “The knitters love it.”
Browder’s Birds is located at 4050 Soundview Ave in Mattituck.