Farm Focus: Ewespun Fiber Mill at Old Man Wool Farm

This past week, I corresponded with Deborah Peterson of Ewespun Fiber Mill at Old Man Wool Farm. First of all, love the name. Second of all, love her recent destashing–this was how we ‘met’ online: through a FB destashing group. Lucky me! Deborah has hopefully found the floor of her wool room. In the meantime, she was kind enough to answer some questions for me. So, today, I am happy to share the story of Old Man Wool Farm! Deborah raises Karakuls–a breed I have not yet featured. I am sharing some of my favorite photos from the Ewespun Facebook page below. Enjoy the interview and head on over to Ewespun Fiber Mill or check out the Etsy shop!

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How did Ewespun Fiber get it’s start?
A long time ago, in a land far away—well, not that far away, in fact, on this very farm, a young girl raised a bottle lamb and a goat kid.  “Toro,” “Lawn Boy,” and the dog, “Sammie,” were devoted to that young girl. Every morning, the four of them would trudge down the 1/4 mile long driveway to wait for the school bus. Every afternoon, the three pets would set out to meet the bus and run to her when she finally arrived. One day, Lawn Boy tried to board the bus but when the bus driver would not let him on, he chased the bus down the road. Lawn Boy was the lamb, only quite full grown at the time. He did find his way back home in time to greet the little girl when she got off the bus.

Little did that young girl know she would become fiber obsessed later in life.  Even when in her teens and her mother had a flock of sheep, she was not interested in wool.

When she came back from college in California, there was an old man residing on the farm in the guise of a Dorset ram.  All summer long, that ram would spend his days with the cattle—grazing with them, pushing them out of the way when it came to the tastier bits of grass, and generally behaving like one of the herd.  As the nights grew cooler toward fall, he would suddenly remember he had a job to perform and would morph into a sheep ram again.  As he grew older and older, he became more of a pet and would spend his time in the yard, not in the pasture where he could be better cared for.  That old man lived to be 14. He was dearly missed.

That young girl was an avid knitter spending many evenings watching her idol, Magic Johnson, play basketball.  One day it dawned on me (who used to be that girl) that we had a great source of wool on the hoof in the pasture.  I learned to spin and became obsessed with fiber and wool and encouraged my mother to breed her sheep for wool.  As I started selling fleece to spinners, I decided the farm needed a name and “Old Man Wool Farm” was in tribute to that old Dorset ram who had been an integral part of the farm for 14 years.

In 2012, another dream was realized when I purchased a Davis and Furber 60” card built in 1929 along with a picker.  Little did I realize when I purchased this item, that it was not “plug and play.” Fortunately, my father was on board to help me get it into running condition.  It only took a year of cleaning, machining, making parts, replacing parts, new chains, redesigning, and back breaking work to get it up and running.  In the summer of 2013, we carded our first wool.  “Ewespun Fiber Mill at Old Man Wool Farm” was born. Its a mouthful but I just couldn’t bear to drop the Old Man who has been my mascot for so many years.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What kinds of fiber animals do you raise?
I raise heritage breed sheep. Many years ago, I had a commercial ewe flock of 120 ewes. But working full time and being alone on the farm made it very difficult to keep up with the chores. I sold most of that flock and puttered with a few sheep until I decided to concentrate on Karakuls. I’d always admired the breed since meeting Letty Klein (Pine Lake Farm Karakuls, in Michigan). I love that they are probably the oldest known domesticated breed in the world. And, its pretty cool that they store their fat in their tails (hence the name “Fat Tail”). Karakuls are also the breed of sheep that were used to make Persian lamb coats. Their wool is suitable for felting and spinning but it’s very coarse. My Karakuls are sheared twice a year so that the fleece is about 6”.

After a few years of having Karakuls, I decided to add Romeldales to my flock—another heritage breed at the far opposite end of the fineness spectrum. Romeldales (of which CVM is a sub color) originated as a cross between Romney and Rambouillet sheep. They produce a nice fine fleece in many colors.

I also have llamas to protect the sheep against predators.

Should I mention my geese? I love geese! Currently I have only 20—all yard pets. I haven’t eaten a goose in over 25 years!

What is your favorite part of raising fiber animals?
My favorite part of raising fiber animals is shearing. I just love when the fleece comes off the sheep warm and greasy!

What are you spinning, weaving of knitting at the moment?
I’m a knitter and spinner and a sometime collector of looms that never get used. I like to spin Karakul bulky singles on my Country Spinner during the summer (outside by the fire pit with wine or beer). I have several spinning wheels with all kinds of fibers on them. And, I’m a wholly selfish knitter—I knit for myself—lots of cardigans and sweaters.

What should folks know about your fiber?
My fibers are locally sourced wools—most from Minnesota, but some from other central states. I buy direct from producers and also use my own farm-raised fibers in my carding operation. All the dyeing is done by me choosing colors and color blends.

How can interested buyers get in touch?
I have an etsy shop:  www.oldmanwoolfarm.etsy.com
I have a blog:  www.ewespun.com
I have a FB page for the mill: https://www.facebook.com/Ewespun
I rent retail space at Anoka Fiber Works where I sell fibers: http://www.anokafiberworks.com/
And, of course email: oldmanwoolfarm@igenesis.us
Or phone: 320-496-5925

*  *  *

Thanks so much Deborah!
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)

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