Where Are We Going?!

After wrapping up another wonderful Black Sheep Gathering experience, it’s time to hit the road.

Empty the van…

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Let friends check out our fleeces….

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REALLY empty out van…

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Specially equip van…

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Hit the road…

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Arrive at Oregon coast….

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Over bridges….

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Quick stop at a very nice yarn shop….

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Down a very long dirt road….

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And we’re here!

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Meet Hazel and Heddy, the Herdwicks, who are going home with us!

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“Yay ! We’re off to California” “Where’s that?” “No idea, let’s just hope they have hay there!”

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Published in: on June 24, 2014 at 2:06 pm  Comments (2)  

A Little Bit of Black Sheep Gathering

We made our annual trek to Black Sheep Gathering in Oregon. It seems like I just got home from France but colored sheep were calling again!

First, we had to load up the van with about 135 pounds of fleece headed for processing at Creekside Mill up here. And, no, it wasn’t all mine! I am having batts made of mine for making felt. Others were having yarn or roving made.

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It is always good to be back here: familiar signs welcome us.

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There are creative booth displays and fabulous entries in the fiber art show. The needle felted dogs are created by our friend, Shannon, of Kenleigh Acres who won Reserve Champion with this year’s entry.

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There is plenty of time to see those special sheep faces.

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Sheep start the day eating – and figuring out how to keep their ears out the way!

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They get ready for their big moment in the show ring.

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Some with more enthusiasm than others!

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And they wait their turn to go into the ring.

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Some get a little tired waiting and need to rest on a nearby friend.

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Of course, all those sheep produce a lot of wool. So, if it is in the form of processed wool ready to spin or felt…

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…or in the form of fleeces to be purchased to process, wool needs to be acquired. Watching the wool show is one way to learn about fleeces you may want to purchase.

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The fleeces are so popular here that many people stand in line to get a chance to purchase them (ok, so I was one of them this year for the first time!)

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One more day here to wrap up attending a few more demos, check out those vendors I missed, and get a few last looks at beautiful sheep, before heading out for the next adventure which also involves sheep. Stay tuned!

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Published in: on June 22, 2014 at 6:01 am  Comments (2)  

Good to Be Home

The trip to the 8th World Congress of Coloured Sheep in France was very special and a great education into other sheep breeds and how people are re-claiming the value of wool in their cultures.

 

However, it is good to be home and back to my own wool pursuits:

 

Washing fleeces….

"Moon" a Jacob from Meridian Jacobs

“Moon” a Jacob from Meridian Jacobs

 

Drying fleeces….

"Quentin" one of our very own special Karakuls

“Quentin” one of our very own special Karakuls

 

Planning projects with wool from the trip….

with Noire du Velay batt, still in France

with Noire du Velay batt, still in France

Customs made me open this bag!

Customs made me open this bag!

It made it! Soon to be felt and yarn.

It made it! Soon to be felt and yarn.

Dark brown Soay yarn from the UK brought to the Congress and my hand spun Herdwick. A shawl is being planned!

Dark brown Soay yarn from the UK brought to the Congress and my hand spun Herdwick. A shawl is being planned!

Spinning and washing yarn…

Some beautiful wool from Coco Chanel, a CVM X Australian Bond from Michigan

Some beautiful wool from Coco Chanel, a CVM X Australian Bond from Michigan

Herdwick and CVM (dyed by American friend, Colleen)

Herdwick and CVM (dyed by American friend, Colleen)

 

And, of course, being welcomed home by the producers of all that lovely fiber!

"And, where WERE you all that time?!"

“And, where WERE you all that time?!”

It’s good to be back!

grazing

 

 

 

Published in: on June 6, 2014 at 4:33 am  Leave a Comment  

The (Sheep) Faces of France – Adieu

It is time to say farewell to another wonderful wool sheep adventure. We learned so much about French and other sheep breeds during the 8th World Congress on Coloured Sheep and the post-Congress tour.

I feel the best way to wrap this up is to share the faces of these sheep. After all, that’s what it’s all been about: learning about programs to save endangered or rare breeds, getting a better understanding of sheep color genetics, meeting people who are working so hard to increase the value of the wool of these sheep, learning how sheep can truly benefit the local environment and economy.

We saw sheep resting….

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Eating….

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Communicating….

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Working….

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And just being the truly amazing creatures they are.

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Adieu mouton.

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Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 4:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Ardelaine Wool Program and Last Felt Inspiration

The last couple days were not as full as the trip winds down. On Tuesday we wound through the Ardeche mountains to arrive in Saint Pierreville where the restaurant where we ate lunch had felt art on the wall. Always a good sign!

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The highlight of the day was a visit to the Ardelaine program. It was begun 30 years ago by five friends who wanted to convince the farmers to produce better wool and that, if they did there would be a market for it. At that time, wool was being thrown on the manure pile as waste. These friends brought in shearers and separated good wool from bad and then farmers began to understand that they had to change what they were doing in order to get quality. Today, from 250 owners they shear 50,000 sheep a year.

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So, where to begin to sell this improved quality wool? They decided to start with mattresses and we were invited into see how they are made.

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With 70 tons of wool collected each year, they are the only “short circuit” (direct sell) organization in Europe. When the shearers are through shearing for the season, they come to join some other employees making matresses.

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If you look under this table you will see a mirror. This is so she can see where the long needle she is using comes through on the other side – inventive!

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Wool mattresses are very traditional in this area but had almost disappeared because of the de-valuation of the wool. Today they make 1000 mattresses per year.

They keep a few sheep here as part of an educational exhibit. I think one spotted one looks familiar!

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Besides having the sheep to help educate the 20,000 people per year who visit, they have created this amazing mechanical diorama (i don’t know what else to call it). It is the scene of a whole village involved in wool processing.

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The play begins by introducing the shepherd and his sheep and, as each new figure is introduced, the spotlight moves to that scene and movement there begins. I can’t do it justice as a still shot.

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Those of you who work with wool may be able to tell what is going on in the few scenes I am sharing here. I could have watched the story unfold several times over!

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This was a very interesting visit and we came away with new appreciation for the inspiration and hard work that is creating programs such as these and, maybe, even learned a few secrets about wool!

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On our last day of the tour we needed to get from Lyon back to Paris, a several hour trip. To break it up, we stopped for a visit at a very historic hospital in Beaune. It was founded in the 1400s and, since the 1970s has been a museum showing what care was like during this time – much more advanced than most of us thought with even the first women pharmacists!

The highpoint of the visit for me, however, were the tiled roofs. The tiles have been restored over many years. Some are 100 years old but this varies. The clay is from this area and they are 32 cm long, 2 cm thick and each one weighs 2 kilos – very heavy when you get them all together on a roof! But so pretty. I think this may be another felt inspiration!

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With a quick visit to a very colorful little market outside of the hospital/museum, we load onto the bus one more time as our tour heads back to Paris.

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Published in: on May 29, 2014 at 3:14 pm  Comments (3)  

Bon Appetit!

Who knew the food and wine in France would be so wonderful and we would eat so much?

Jackie has invited me, Dona, to guest-blog the food and wine experience of our trip.

Most days our tour provided two large, multi-hour meals starting with an aperitif or a glass of champagne.

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As the salads arrived, both red and white wine were put on the table.

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Salads were a meal in themselves. One salad Jackie didn’t care for, the creamy cheesy tomato yogurt-textured one. So I ate two.

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And bread was always on the table.

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By this point, we are an hour into the meal having had the apertif, a big salad, multiple glasses of wine and multiple pieces of bread. We are full and out comes the main course (most main courses were lamb or fish but their vegetarian meals were excellent, too).

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Dessert next? No! Then out comes the cheese platter and more bread. Keep in mind the wine is always flowing.

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Two hours into the meal out comes the truly wonderful dessert.

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Only one dessert in eight days was questionable.

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Here comes the coffee.

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Lunches were served from 1 to 3 PM and dinners from 8:30 to 10:30 PM.

Since this is really a Wooly Adventures blog, it would not be complete without a sheep eating. The French hay must be as good as our meals were from the look of these enthusiastic eaters.

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Published in: on May 28, 2014 at 8:51 pm  Comments (6)  

Berger

And that is your French word for the day – “shepherd”. We were able to visit a very interesting place today, The Shepherd’s House in Champoleon. It is an educational program for the public (with 12,000 visitors per year) and support program for shepherds.

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It is in a beautiful area in the French Alps.

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We were pretty high up – a fun trip on a big bus!

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We learned so much today but I will try to just pick out a few fun facts.

* transhumance is this whole process of getting the sheep back and forth from lower areas to mountain pastures and back. The owners come and check on their flocks once a week. The sheep are marked to identify town and owner.

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* “The flock manages the grass.” This is the sheep’s job. Their daily schedule is: 6-10 AM – graze; 10 AM -4PM – ruminate; 4 – 9 PM – graze; 9 PM – 6 AM – get fenced in for the night. There were sheep up by the Shepherd’s House and I again noticed I keep seeing sheep in groups of threes!

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* Shepherds’ have a pay system based on diplomas they have and the number of sheep they care for. Pay ranges from 1500-2500 Euros/month. They live in small cabins with supplies such as fences, minerals for animals, food, wood for heating brought in by helicopter. The cabins use solar power and get water from local streams. They can use the Shepherd’s house to sleep, eat and shower. This poster shows a typical cabin.

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* There are two things which the sheep carry with them that help the shepherds. First, sheep in leadership positions wear bells. These help the shepherd know where the sheep are. Second, when the sheep are sheared, sometimes two round poofs of wool are left un-sheared on their backs. These are often dyed and identify the leader sheep. These are the very tame sheep who know the paths and where to go – and not go – on their transhumance. These sheep are called “foucas”. We think we might want to shear some of our sheep this way!

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It was hard to stop taking photos of the interesting and colorful sheep…

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…but we had to move on. We next visited the ski resort town of Chantemerle to meet with a wool association, meet the founder of “Wools of Europe” and see a small mill. The Wools of Europe has produced a beautiful book (also coming home with me!) showing the breeds and photos also of things made from each breed’s wool. In their office they had a wonderful display to educate people about each breed. These are very portable and I will be making some of these for our breeds.

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The mill had some interesting equipment, including a different style of picker (to open up the wool for carding)…

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…and we were shown some socks from the sock machine, ready to be cut apart…

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…and a loom warped for blankets which then get put into a machine with soap and water for fulling (expanding the woven fibers). The mill is run on water power so they do not have enough electricity to run all their equipment at once.

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Here are some beautiful samples and a blanket getting its edging put on.

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Finally, remember the yarn I received from the Australians? I was lucky enough to receive a hand spun, hand-dyed skein from my friend,Colleen, who I met in Australia. Well, I finished the scarf just in time for the cool weather near the French Alps! Thanks, Colleen!

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Published in: on May 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm  Comments (4)  

More Sheep – Actual and in Paintings

Today was a “rest” day. Well, not exactly but we did get to start a little later as it was Sunday.

We headed to a national farm to see a flock of Merino d’Arles sheep, one of four breeds of Merinos in France. We got to meet the author of a book on this breed (which just might found its way into my luggage – the book, not the sheep!)

As usual, we were met by people who know these animals and got a short talk about the breed and how they are managed, both there and as they head to higher pastures (more about that in the next post).

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They showed us how they irrigate in the area.

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Here are some of the sheep.

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See the one that is taller than the others and has a reddish head? He is actually not a Merino but a Mauray Rousse from N. Africa. It seems that on many of the farms we visit, they mostly have one breed but a few of other breeds are often there as well.

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This farm has 1500 ewes. Sheep will be leaving soon to pasture the summer in the alps. They will be back to lamb in the fall.

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We were impressed by how they are able to move the sheep around just by knowing where to be around them, without using dogs.

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At every stop we get to see things relevant to our visit.

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Today it was a sheep bell

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A carved shepherd’s stick

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And some of their wool.

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We left yet another flock to continue our journey to Provence. Here we visited a castle with a very impressive collection of paintings.

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The artist’s name is Theodore Jourdan and he must have lived with sheep to create these paintings!

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See the two “poufs” on the back of the sheep? We will talk about those in the next post when we saw them on actual sheep!

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Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Very Special Dairy Sheep

Today was a food and sheep experience – putting the two together in a lovely way! We got the opportunity to visit the famous Roquefort cheese making caves. This process is very carefully controlled and this cheese comes only from here from the milk of these sheep. It is all controlled by Societe, which began in1863 and has seven producers.

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They make 4 million “pains” (this could be your French word for the day!) -bread shaped pieces of cheese per year with its special flavor being created by the injection of penicillium. The cheese, after being made in 8 days is ripened in these caves and then “put to sleep” in real tin foil to finish the process before it is shipped out.

The caves were amazing!

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After a brief cheese tasting and a chance to buy some more postcards, we were on our way to see these special Lacaune sheep from whom they get the milk for this cheese.

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This Lacaune sheep farm in Ste Eulalie de Cernon has 320 ewes for milking and 85 ewe lambs.

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They are a pedigree flock with a 190% breeding rate (meaning they average almost 2 lambs per ewe) and the lambs are weaned at one month of age. We found them to be curious and friendly, although we thought a little annoyed at us because they kept them penned in for the first part of our visit.

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The sheep are fed on a special hay from an approved factory pasture. Some of our Australian friends took the opportunity to check it out.

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Well, the sheep finally got their wish and got let out. With the dogs in charge…

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…the sheep came out of the barn, across the yard, down a small hill, and into the pasture beyond (with only one thinking maybe she wanted to go the other way!)

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We left these very friendly sheep to have yet another fantastic lunch with bread…

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Wine…

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…and many other wonderful things.

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After being shown by Pierre where we are (this trip has been a crash course in French geography, among other things!)…

geo

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…we leave this area with fond memories of a special cheese and the sheep without whom it would not be possible.

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Published in: on May 25, 2014 at 10:29 pm  Comments (4)  

Bizet and Noire du Velay

Yes, more sheep breeds today but I need to finish yesterday’s blog first! I left you at the cathedral in Bourge. We even found some sheep inside – a painting of St. Solange who lived in the 8th century with her sheep.

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Outside, near the cathedral, is a monument to a nobleman of the 18th century. Nobleman were not popular during the French Revolution but the town pleaded to spare his life as he had been responsible for introducing a new sheep breed (a cross) to the area to replace one that was not doing very well in an area that depended on the sheep for their economy. His life was spared (see what doing good things for sheep can get you!)

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A detail from this monument’s surface may provide me with another felt inspiration.

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And now, on to the sheep (cathedrals and history are fine, but we know what we are really here for!)

We left Bourge and headed for Brioude to visit a coloured Bizet breed flock.
They had arranged for us to see the sheep moved from one pasture to another. Here they wait.

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You might ask “What are those white heads peaking out of the flock?” They have a few sheep of another breed, the Ile de France. So, your French words for the day are: “Noir et Blanc” (black and white).

Here they are crossing.

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And finished. Good job, dog.

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Lambs with ewes and just lambs.

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And, yes, always one who needs a snack no matter how many people are visiting.

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We got to see some wool from this breed (the lighter) and one from a breed we will see later in the day.

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Here is this morning’s lesson:

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* they have 900 ewes (80 are Ile de France)
* the breed began in 1905 with 300,000 ewes in the 1930′s; 50,000 in the 1960′s and 8500 today
* fleece should be creamy on body, no wool on face and legs
* fleece weight 2 kilos or less and 30 microns

The woman in this photo has started a new business where she goes to the farms during shearing and collects the wool to process it. I requested a short interview with her (and our tranlator/guide Amelie!) and asked her about her criteria for choosing fleeces. No surprise, it was much as ours: no (or little) vegetable matter, the best wool possible from each animal. She also has trouble with farmers who do not understand about keeping the vm out of the wool!

Before leaving this farm, I was intrigued by these fence posts and how they used them to create their fences. Remember yesterday when “the shepherd is the fence?” Today, the fence is the fence!

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Dona, of course, found lots of good subjects for her photos (you can see some of them if you go to Ravelry and under the group Meridian Jacobs, look for the thread for the Congress). Part of the fun of the trip is seeing which things catch both of our interest for photographing!

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At yet another wonderful lunch, we were welcomed as “sheep men to sheep men” ( we got him to correct it to include “sheep women”!)

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Much note taking

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…included information about their wolf problem. They have been re-introduced and are moving in closer and closer. They have 5000 ewes killed per year and hope that as the wolves move closer to Paris (they are at 100 km now) the government will do something about the problem. It has cost the government 14 million Euros/year with 9 million of that as compensation to breeders.

On a happier note, we visited another flock after lunch, the Noire de Velay.

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This may give a whole new meaning to “black sheep gathering!” These lambs loved this wall and jumped on and off it.

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This was one of the most colorful shots I got so far! The bred ewes are marked with colored collars for their projected order of lambing. Those with yellow and orange collars will go first, those with purple will go second and those with green, third. When we asked, but what about the blue collars?, with much laughter we did not even need to understand French to realize that these are the ones that they don’t know when they will lamb! Some things are universal with sheep breeding!

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Our final sheep event of the day – we got to see the dogs move the sheep to new pasture. It was so much fun to watch two dogs work as a team and successfully complete the job.

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After a long, sheep (and food) filled day, we headed for Millau where we caught a glimpse of the Viaduc de Millau, the highest viaduc in the world (you can see it a little from the hotel window.)

Long post, good night. See you tomorrow as we head to Roquefort – and cheese tasting!

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Published in: on May 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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