When it comes to adding livestock into your life in an effort to increase your self-sufficiency, there is one group of animals that is often forgotten: fiber livestock.
The purposes of raising chickens, goats, ducks or even cattle are obvious. You’re getting eggs or meat. Most sheep obviously need to be sheared since they produce wool, but often they are raised for meat, not necessarily for that wool. Many people find hair sheep attractive since it negates the chore of having to shear.
But what if you are someone who has a love of knitting, crocheting and other such crafts? Or perhaps you eventually want to add these skills to your mental bank of knowledge. Well, in that case, you really need to consider adding fiber livestock to your property.
Why Raise Fiber Animals?
Generally when people begin a life of self-sufficiency, they focus on growing their own food, reducing household costs, making DIY household cleaners, and generally just reducing how much money they spend and decreasing their reliance on grocery stores and big box stores. In all the excitement of this new life change, many folks forget about one major aspect of their life — literally the clothing on their backs.
From the perspective of being self-sufficient in today’s world, you don’t need to run out and buy a loom to start weaving cloth from scratch. That’s pretty advanced for a beginner, although it could be a very useful hobby if you are so inclined. However, anyone could learn how to knit and crochet clothing items like gloves, scarves, hats and eventually big items like sweaters and blankets.
Knitting and crocheting only requires patience, a few tools and access to instructions (a person, a YouTube video or even a book). Proper tools are going to last a very, very long time. The real expense, aside from initial investment in needles and whatnot, is the yarn to make the items mentioned earlier.
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Rather than buying cheap synthetic yarns or shelling out the money on high-quality natural fiber yarn, you can make your very own right at home. Not only will it save you money, but you can produce a higher quality product.
So how do you make your own yarn? Well, this is where fiber livestock comes in.
Types of Fiber Livestock
Fiber livestock are domesticated animals bred to produce hair or wool that is spun into yarn. This fiber can be plucked, sheared or brushed off, depending on the animal you are working with.
Let’s take a look at a few different types of fiber-producing livestock suitable for a small homestead or even an urban setting.
First up are the most common type of fiber livestock.
There are two types of sheep: wool sheep and hair sheep — the former being the one you will want to raise for fiber. With 50 recognized breeds in the US alone, there is a nice selection to choose from (not to mention the many crosses).
Many of the commercial breeds of sheep are wool sheep. You can use their wool, but their primary purpose is meat so the quality of the fiber you’ll get from them won’t be great. Instead, opt for a dual-purposes breed or fiber breed. You will get high quality fiber AND still get meat from them.
Here is a reference list to a few breeds of fiber sheep that are generally easy to find in the US and are naturally hardy, making them an ideal choice for the first-time sheep keeper.
- Icelandic Sheep
- Merino Sheep
- East Friesian Sheep
- Shetland Sheep
- Cheviot Sheep
Sheep are super versatile and generally docile in nature. They aren’t difficult to care for and tend to get along well with other livestock. Another benefit is they don’t require a ton of land and aren’t difficult on pasture, either. For those really limited on space, the Shetland sheep breed mentioned above is a great choice.
Goats are probably one of the most enjoyable types of livestock to keep, if you take the proper caution of installing secure fencing.
Although goats are typically kept for either milk or meat, there are two breeds specifically developed for the production of fiber:
Within these breeds there are two common crosses that also are used for fiber:
These two mini-fiber goats are perfect for a suburban setting (city law permitting) and small acreage. They are also a nice introduction to fiber goats if you are unsure about how much you want to get into the hobby.
Goats as fiber animals are limited in breed selection but make up for it in personality and versatility. Not only can you get fiber, but also milk and meat.
Most people don’t think of cattle as fiber animals, but there is one breed that you can use: the Scottish Highland. This amazing breed is quite endearing looking and typically very docile. They are a hardy heritage breed, especially suited for cold climates. As an added bonus for those uncomfortable with the size of most cows or who simply don’t have much handling experience, Highlands are smaller in stature.
Scottish Highlands have a dual coat, meaning that they have course outer guard hairs and a very soft, wooly undercoat. This undercoat is what can be brushed off the cow to be used for spinning. Like some other fiber livestock, Highland fiber is best mixed in with another fiber, like sheep wool, for example.
You can find out more about this breed by visiting this page.
Rabbits just might be the ultimate fiber stock for the self-sufficient family or individual.
There are a lot of benefits to raising rabbits for fiber. They are smaller than other livestock, so you can house more of them. Their size also means those who are very young, elderly, handicapped or otherwise can’t handle large stock can still raise them. Rabbits don’t really require specialized care, save for precautions in keeping them cool in the heat.
There are 4 fiber rabbit breeds recognized by the NARBC:
- English Angora
- French Angora
- Giant Angora
- Satin Angora
The individual breeds differ from each other based on the weight of the angora fiber they produce as well as how often you can “harvest” the fiber. They also differ in size.
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Angora rabbit’s fiber is harvested in a few different ways. Some people brush it out as the rabbit naturally sheds, while others pluck with their hands instead of brushing. Finally, some just clip the fur right off. Either way, when the process is done properly it should not at all hurt the rabbit.
Both alpacas and llamas are common fiber animals that also work very nicely on small properties. Both are pretty quiet livestock that tend to keep to themselves. They are docile and can be quite pet-like — especially llamas. Llamas are also versatile since they can double both as livestock guardians and as pack animals.
Alpacas are quite a bit smaller than their llama cousins, making them a great choice for novice livestock keepers and those who are limited on space. Both produce a really beautiful fiber. There are two types of alpacas based on fleece type: suri and huacaya. Llamas also typically have two different types of fleece depending on whether you’re buying stock bred for fiber production or are buying working stock for bred for packing.
If you are solely focused on producing fiber, alpacas would be the best option. Their fleece is superior to llamas and pretty easy for a new spinner.
You can find out more about alpacas and llamas as fiber animals by visiting the following websites:
Learning to Spin and Use Fiber
Like most hobbies, spinning fiber and eventually using it to create clothing can be pretty intensive. The subject is very complex, especially since there are many methods you can use to harvest fiber/wool/fleece, combine it with other fibers, and eventually spin it.
You can get an idea of the work involved in spinning fiber by checking out these references:
Raising fiber livestock is a very rewarding process that not only leaves you with a very beautiful, useful product but also meat, milk and other benefits depending on the animal you choose.
Please share any of your stories, thoughts or other comments below!
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