Livestock Conservancy Begins Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em ProgramAs with everything else in modern agriculture, a small number of breeds represent the vast majority of sheep in the United States, which leaves some breeds in danger of extinction – such as the Navajo-Churro and Gulf Coast (which came to this continent with the earliest explorers more than 500 years ago).
The Livestock Conservancy is hoping to change this situation with its Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em program that encourages fiber artists to work with wool from rare sheep breeds.
Genetic diversity is just one reason to preserve heritage sheep. Heritage breeds have survived through the ages because they are naturally hardy. They adapted to a new environment as they were brought to North America from across the ocean, which means they will likely adapt well in today’s changing climate. Of particular interest to fiber artists are the different types of wool that each breed produces. Some have a softer wool that’s excellent for garments, while others have wool that’s more suited to making rugs. Some have white wool that takes well to dyes, while others come in a wide variety of natural colors and patterns.
The goal of Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em is to put fiber artists in contact with shepherds who produce wool from sheep on The Livestock Conservancy’s list of endangered livestock. When fiber artists register, they will receive a passport that includes a page of information for each breed. Each page will also include space to put a stamp after they purchase wool from a particular breed. There will be a Facebook group and a Ravelry group where members can share pictures of their projects. As fiber artists work their way through the breeds, they will receive prizes for completing projects and reaching various landmarks.
The Livestock Conservancy has long said that the way to save endangered breeds of livestock is to give them a job. In the case of wool sheep, that means using their wool again. Because of marketing challenges, not everyone sells the wool their sheep produce. Some shepherds compost the wool after their annual shearing rather than cleaning it and selling it.
In addition to encouraging fiber artists to try rare wools, the program will also educate shepherds about how to prepare their wool for sale to fiber artists. By helping shepherds market their wool, they will become more financially stable, which helps ensure the future of the sheep.
When shepherds sell raw fleece from rare breeds directly to consumers, they can earn an average of $16 per pound on Etsy. Fiber can also be sold to fiber artists at fiber festivals that are held around the country. By turning wool into roving, it can be sold to hand spinners or felters for an average of $44 per pound on Etsy, and if they take the extra step of having it spun into yarn, it averages $80 per pound.
For more information about Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em or about the sheep breeds that are on the Conservation Priority List, visit LivestockConservancy.org.