It’s a chicken and egg question; which comes first, the love of spinning yarn, or raising sheep? Well, for Susan Proctor, of Vale, NC the love of spinning turned into a sheep farm:
“At that time there wasn’t a local source. I would have to travel or buy ‘sight unfelt’, but with wool you want the feel of it. I was having to buy it long distance unseen and I thought, I have a farm, why can’t I have my own fiber product? I wanted a low maintenance sheep with a specific kind of fiber. So I spent about four years researching various breeds of sheep and found two ewe’s that we liked in Oregon. Both of them were bred ewe’s that had babies and at that point we started a flock of sheep.”
Proctor, along with her husband also dairy farm Registered Holsteins on Sunny Hill Farm in Catawba County, and it took some convincing to start her flock:
“My husband and I met at NC State. I took a sheep course there because I wanted to get into livestock and specifically the veterinary program. Sheep had always fascinated me and I finally convinced my husband to let me have them.”
Ewes are fine, but in order to perpetuate the flock, rams are needed, and the flock has just continued to expand, according to Proctor:
“We got a black ram that was out of a totally different family and brought him home. So we started to end up with a bunch of boy and girl sheep and we weren’t sure what we were going to do with the males. Someone suggested I sell them as meat and at that time one of the famers markets was just getting started. So I took five of my lambs to the processor and then was able to sell them at the market. The next year I had seven and sold all of them. The market was asking for them all season long so I ended up doubling my flock.”
While selling of the meat pays the bills so to speak, the fleece was the original goal of the exercise, and Proctor cultivates that aspect as well:
“Each year I select one or two fleeces that I am going to keep and process for myself because I have no problem selling these fleeces. I will send them off to places like Gaston Technology in Gastonia to be carded, so all I have to do is sit down and spin. It allows me to skip the labor intensive part of having to hand card it. For me its so much fun to spin because you can add colors and different types of fleeces. The different breeds of sheep have a different kind of fleece. Some are long and very curly, and I can spin those in with the really wooly soft stuff and have the little curls bouncing off. They are also really great for hats or nice in a blanket. I do a lot of weaving and hand weaving. I take the products to the famers market and people are buying them because its local raised, hand spun and it gives ability to keep money local.”
Thus Windy Wool Windings was born.
Proctor sells raw fleeces, and yarns through her website as well as some finished products at the Catawba County Farmers Market.
Proctor feels that women have played, and continue to play an integral role in agriculture that’s often overlooked:
“I don’t think people have realized how much over the centuries that women have actually contributed to agriculture in every manner possible. During the wars the men are gone and the women kept the farms going. Women are active in legislature and the ones they want to talk to because they get a very clear up front understanding of what is going on.”
For more profiles in our 'Women in Agriculture' Series, click here.