This week, I had the chance to visit with Meredith of Magic Hill Farms via the interwebs. Her Maryland-based flock of BFLs began as a mother-daughter venture. Connie, Meredith’s mom recently passed away; but the tradition continues with her husband Dan and their two babes, Jackson and Theodore. Meredith was kind enough to answer some questions via email and I am posting the results below some awesome pictures she sent along. If you are interested in fleeces, check out www.magic-hill-farm.com or be ready to snap one up fast when they appear on the Raw Wool Facebook groups!
How did your farm/operation get its start?
If you want to go ALL the way back, when I was 8 I wanted a bunny. My mom told me I had to join 4-H so that I could learn how to take care of it. Being in 4-H opened my eyes up to the world of agriculture and I’ve been hooked ever since! I wanted cows, but my mom said they were too big. So I settled for sheep, thinking I could do that while I talked her into cows. Well, I fell in love with the gentle wooly beasts and it has been a passion that has easily grown with me over the years. When I went off to college and had to leave my sheep behind, I learned how to spin and knit to feel close to them. When I came home from college I was ready to dive head first into raising a wool flock. I think this could be called the official start of our farm operation and this was in 2006. I learned how to process raw fleeces, which taught me what hand spinners are really looking for when they buy raw fleeces. I’ve gradually taught myself more and more, in order to provide my buyers with a better product and also because I just love learning new things. To this day, though, there are avenues I have yet to explore. I hope to take on learning how to weave this year. Eventually I would like to do some rug braiding and lanolin extraction. Sheep are truly more diverse than any other species I have encountered as of yet.
What kinds of fiber animals do you raise and why?
I keep mostly Bluefaced Leicesters. I put a lot of time and research into my decision to raise this breed. I chose them for several reasons. They are small to medium size sheep (and I’m a small shepherd!) I didn’t want to be raising giants. I chose them because they are fabulous mothers and generally speaking are a healthy, hearty breed that doesn’t need a lot of interference from science. I like that they are self-reliant. It makes them feel more sustainable. I also chose them because their wool is such an interesting mix of long and fine, it makes them quite unique. And finally I chose them because, at the time that I was starting out with them (2006) there were very few breeders nationwide and I felt that gave me an opportunity to really be influential in the formation and prosperity of this breed. In 2010 I wanted to start experimenting with crossing BFL genetics into other breeds I liked, so I added some white fine wool ewes to my flock. It has been moderately successful so far, but I believe with a few more generations of crossing, I will have something truly unique.
What is your favorite part of raising fiber animals?
Everything! I love spending time out in the field and barn with “my girls”. Whatever the chore or task at hand, I truly enjoy being with them. I love the satisfaction I feel when we harvest beautiful fleeces after a year of hard work. I love watching new lambs enter the world and nurse for the first time. They are such curious and gentle creatures. But my absolute FAVORITE thing to do is stand in the dark late in the evening after I’ve just fed them some fresh hay, and listen to them crunching on their yummy snack. It’s the most peaceful place on Earth.
What’s on your wheel/needles right now?
I’m such a BFL snob. Very rarely will I spin or knit anything that’s not BFL. But it doesn’t have to necessarily be my BFLs. I just bought the most gorgeous Romney fleece and felt slightly guilty for not supporting my fellow BFL peeps. 😉 Right now, on my spinning wheel, I’m working on some three-ply rainbow dyed BFL. Several of my needles have BFL hand spun projects on them. (a shawl for myself, a pair of slippers for my cousin, and some mittens for my son.) I have attention issues and can’t seem to stay on one project too long.
What would you like hand spinners to know about your fiber?
That I treat my sheep like sheep, they are not solely a wool bearing robot. I strive for perfection, as everyone does. But I am not perfect, and neither are my sheep. And, possibly more importantly, they are sheep! They live outside, in a barn! And they eat hay! So, when you buy one of my fleeces, you might see some mud where one of my girls laid down in the shade for a nap on a hot day. There might be some hay bits where her neighbor munched hay over her back. And it might be felted a bit where she stopped to scratch her side on the fence. Their fleeces may not be perfect when you look at them strictly as a commodity. But to me, each fleece tells a story of that sheep’s year. Was she healthy, did she get sick? Was it very hot that year, or very cold? Did she have a lamb, did she have three lambs? And I think, as a hand spinner, it’s important to sit back and remember that your wool project reflects the sheep’s journey as much as your own. And it won’t be perfect. But it will be perfectly yours.
I love farm visits and meeting new people (and sheep!): if you are a hand spinner, a shepherdess, a small flock owner, a mill operator, or a wool trader, I would love to feature your work on this site. Please get in touch via email or Ravelry by clicking the “About” tab (above)