The Livestock Conservancy is an organization dedicated to preserving endangered livestock breeds from extinction.
If you are tuned in to farmers markets, local food or more deeply involved in the farming aspect of fiber arts, you probably are aware of the amazing diversity (beyond what you see in most grocery stores and yarn shops) of everything: like garlic (Solitude used to sell 15 varieties out of the hundreds that exist) tomatoes, apples, breeds of pigs, colored cotton, poultry (with their broad palette of colored eggs), and of course wool! Not so long ago, before the modern system of food/product distribution, smaller, locally focused farms raised animals and grew types of food that were available, fit their desires, local market and environment. Many hundreds of different varieties existed with different genetic traits: taste, storage, growth rate, resistance to disease, etc etc etc. Now, commercial and economic pressures have led agriculture to focus on fewer breeds/seeds that have the traits that work best for mono-cultures or are most profitable: fast growing, high yield, shipping stability, consistency, good shelf appeal, soft...etc.
What happens if the Holstein cow is decimated by a disease? Or if climate change wreaks havoc on red delicious apples? We need to preserve the broadest possible number of breeds/seeds and their genetic diversity for their traits for our own survival (might be overstating the danger, but then again, I like post apocalyptic novels), as well as the other traits we have forgotten...like taste and function. The Livestock Conservancy has been around since the 1970's doing work on many fronts in order to preserve breeds.
Sheep, I think, have had less pressure than other livestock in both the number of breeds commercially raised, and their husbandry. Very few sheep are raised in confinement or denied access to pasture or normal breeding and lamb rearing. But as fiber artists...think about what you look for in a yarn? The vast majority of knitters say "soft". Like Merino maybe? Merinos are not easy to raise in humid environments like the Mid-Atlantic United States. What if parasites (the bane of shepherds and sheep everywhere) develop even more resistance to chemical wormers? We need to be able to mine the genetic traits of as many breeds as possible in order to battle future problems we might not even guess today.
There are over a thousand sheep breeds and one of the great differences between them is their wool (or hair for some sheep). I realize that I am preaching to the choir here...but as wool lovers, don't we value the wildly different types of wool with different attributes that will perform how we want for different functions/end uses? From fantastic felt-ability to superior stretch, from soft and next-to-skin-appropriate all the way to super strong and hard wearing, from warm and insulating to cooling and moisture wicking, from white to natural colors...on and on!
The Shave 'Em to Save 'Em campaign launched in January 2019 and opened up the Fiber Artist sign up (click on previous link for sign up form) on February 4th. The Initiative will run for three years. The challenge to fiber artists is to buy and use the fiber from some of the 22 breeds on its Conservation Priority list in a project. You earn prizes for using 5, 10 or 15 breeds, and more importantly, you are helping to increase the commercial viability of raising rare breeds. The Facebook page is communication central: find the rules in the files section, along with announcements and discussion.
I know this is getting long winded...but I hope you will consider participating in the challenge. It is doing good and it will be fun! We are an Official Fiber Provider...and yes, we love that we are getting more orders and new customers from it (we have the stamps and are enclosing them and a brochure with all qualifying orders). We are easy to order from, and if you are a knitter, we have yarns (click here to see the list of our products that qualify). But, we really hope you also look for farms raising these endangered breeds directly. A few, like Bridget’s Farm Cart, Davlin farm, and Ross Farm are established fiber marketers and will be easy to buy from. Other farms may not have developed their fiber products as much and need your patience. Your interest and appreciation (or constructive feedback) will be immensely encouraging for them and will lead to improved fiber and products. Solitude Wool has seen this time and again when we buy fleece from small farms. Once someone cares about the fleece, the shepherd pays attention and shears at the right time, skirts better, looks into value added processing etc.
Wendell Berry, farmer and poet, says that "eating is an agricultural act" Solitude Wool says making is an agricultural act too.
Go Fiber Artists!!!!!
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Ever wondered about why it is so hard to find a true sock yarn without nylon? Although we've only been using nylon in sock yarn since about 1938, it's almost ubiquitous because it increases the durability of the finished item. But not without cost to the environment. Microscopic bits of plastic and nylon are turning up everywhere in our water sources. We wanted to create a durable sock yarn using only wool, which is 100% biodegradable. How hard could that be?