Leaving Garsdale by train for Leeds for a short overnight stay…
I then took off the next day for Newcatle by train. I knew it wouldn’t affect me but I bet the locals were happy to see this sign!
From Newcastle I flew to Heathrow (London) and then on to Stuttgart where I was picked up by my friend Nathalie and her two daughters. Long day! Off to dinner at their house and then to my hotel. They live in the German state of Baden-Würtenberg.
I first met Nathalie last year at the 8th World Congress on Coloured Sheep in Paris. She is the coordinator of the wool project Kollection der Vielfalt – seltene heimische Schafrassen erhalten (Collection of Diversity – Preserving Rare Indigenous Breeds of Sheep). There are more than 22 different sheep breeds on the endangered list in Germany. They began this project specifically to market these sheep breeds and their wool, making the breed and the wool attractive to the breeder and the consumer.
I got to see several of the endangered breeds that Nathalie’s group works with. And it was a very full day – just at Nathalie’s! Nathalie and her family participate in a landscape management program with their sheep (and goats). They have their sheep in orchards and surrounding land to eat the grass and weeds. These orchards used to be taken care of by machines but as the equipment got larger it would no longer fit between and beneath the trees so they looked to another solution – sheep and goats! Nathalie spends a lot of time moving all her animals around to control the growth. To those of us in Northern California right now, this is looking pretty lush!
The first group we visited were the Alpines Steinschaf (Alpine Stone Sheep). They have retained their beautiful colors because when, about 100 years ago, the King of Bavaria wanted only white sheep, the farmers hid their colored sheep in the mountains to protect them. Today, as the most seriously endangered German Sheep breed, there are about 30 breeding groups in Germany with a total of about 600 sheep (when Nathalie’s group began with this breed in 2004 there were only 148 registered sheep in this breed!).
Look at the range of colors. I will have two of these colors coming to me soon in the form of spinning batts (wool prepared for spinning).
Now, from a different field, meet “Noah”. He is an Alpines Steinschaf ram, one year old. They are hoping that he will be a champion in a few years. He already looks like one to me!
Another breed that Nathalie has is Coburger Fuchsschaf (fox sheep). It is a centuries old breed from the Middle East and Central Asia and, more recently, from the Coburg area of Austria. According to Verena Täuber’s article in the conference proceedings from last year, this sheep almost disappeared until local farmers told a cloth manufacturer about it when he was looking for a breed to improve the quality of his tweed. Fortunately, the numbers have increased significantly. The wool is excellent for spinning and felting. (Yes, I have some of this spinning wool coming home, too!). Like our own California Reds and the Solognote we saw last year in France, the lambs are born a beautiful dark russet color.
I was lucky (again!) to get to feed a bottle baby from this breed and sneak in a little cuddling.
Along with the Coburger Fuchsschaf in the next photo, you will see another breed Nathalie has, the Schwarzbraunes Bergschaf (Brown Swiss Mountain Sheep) which originated in Switzerland. They are the dark brown ones in the photo.
In another field we found a very cooperative group of sheep! These yearling Alpines Steinschaf ewes (on the left) and Coburger Fuchsschaf ewes (on the right) lined up perfectly for the photo! They will be sheared soon for the first time so their wool is classed as lambswool.
As we move from field to field (because she was taking time to show me everything, a walk of about two and a half hours), I think their young herding dog, Fay, wondered why Nathalie was so slow today!
We also visited Nathalie’s goats. They are Thüringer Waldziege (a goat from the forest of Thüringen from the eastern part of Germany). They were a little reluctant to meet me so Nathalie went up to get them.
They’d had enough socializing and left – to go back to work.
The countryside here is beautiful but it would quickly become overgrown and not healthy without the work of people like Nathalie and her animals. Twice a day she has to make the trek to check on the health and safety of her animals and move them and fences as required to keep this landscape managed properly. It’s an incredible amount of work but with the help of her animals, she keeps it beautiful and, at the same time, works to preserve these rare breeds of sheep and goats.
That was a lot of animals in one day. And now I hear we are off to Austria tomorrow!