World of wool at Windy Grange
Erika Sherk –Special to Peace Country Sun
Posted 8 hours ago
Move over cyber pets, bring in the fibre pets. For those not in the know, fibre pets are animals that not only provide their owners with a cuddly companion but literally the coat off their backs. Think llamas, rabbits and sheep. Vicki Foster grew up with a love for fibre arts, which led her to a whole new world of wool three years ago.
"Until I moved up here I never lived on a farm but always wanted animals," she said. It was her lifelong passion for fibre arts – spinning, especially – coupled with her childhood dream of living on a farm that brought her to where she is today: Shepherdess of 50 sheep.
She didn't start with 50. Three short years ago, she bought six sheep – two rams and four ewes. Where did the 50 come from?
"A few additions and lot of lambs. They keep multiplying!" laughed Foster. This spring, they're looking at 15 to 30 lambs and even more, if any of her ewes have triplets. "It's going to be crazy," she said, obviously relishing the thought.
Moving to Windy Grange Farm near Elmworth five years ago, Foster says she and her husband Stuart talked about sheep for years.
"I finally said, 'either we're going to do it or we're not!'" said Foster and so they installed some fencing and she settled down to research. She knew an ancient breed was in order, to fit in with her interest in textiles of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Shetland sheep fit her bill perfectly.
"What I want to do eventually is reproduce the ancient textiles the way they made them then," she said.
For now, she's got her hands full with her 50 woolly critters. Walking into the ewes' pen, they treat Foster like a celebrity, rushing over to get a bit of her attention. It was a pretty steep learning curve at first, she said.
"I'm just happy I picked a small breed. They're easy to handle, but there is a lot of work, like trimming toes. Who'd have known you have to trim their toes? I had no idea," she laughed.
After three years, Foster has it mostly worked out. The main seasons are breeding in early winter and lambing in the spring. Shearing comes just before lambing. The Shetland fleeces, known for their softness and wide variety of colour, almost always sell out, she said.
It is a business as well as a hobby. The fleeces sell, Foster plans to sell sheep to other farms and the ram lambs that don't live up to the breed specifications are sold for meat. Of course, Foster keeps a few fleeces for herself. She's having an outbuilding turned into a studio for her spinning and other fibre arts.
"I've outgrown my house," she said. Once the studio's done, she plans to invite the other spinners in the area over.
"We can just sit around and do our thing," smiled Foster.
Foster's first six sheep came from Linda Wendelboe of Fibre Works Farm in Sundre, Alta. Though Wendelboe hasn't yet been up north to see Foster's operation, she's heard good things.
"It sounds like she's doing very well in the sense that she's got a good lambing record and the sheep seem to be thriving," Wendelboe said.
Out at Windy Grange Farm they do indeed seem to be happy and healthy and come spring, Foster will have her hands even more full of sheep, thriving all over the place.
"I can honestly say I'm never grumpy about it," she said of all the work. "I just love it. They keep me active and they're fulfilling a dream I had when I was a kid."