Not all farm animals are raised as a source of food. Some are raised specifically for the beautiful, naturally-colored fiber they produce. We spin, knit, felt, dye, crochet, and weave the harvested fiber to make sweaters, scarves, socks, gloves, hats, mittens, outer garments, blankets, bedding, rugs, and more. We depend on dedicated farmers who raise and care for these amazing animals.
What farm animals come to mind when you think of natural fiber?
Baby sheep are called lambs (pictured above). More than 200 distinct breeds of sheep exist today representing different types of wool fiber. Merino, Cormo, Targhee, and Rambouillet are a few breeds known for growing fine wool that is super soft and great for creating comfortable, breathable clothing. The Corriedale is a long-living breed that produces a medium grade, versatile wool perfect for novice spinners thanks to a nice staple length and even crimp. Pictured below is one of the world’s oldest breeds. Icelandic sheep have two coats—a soft, fine undercoat with short fibers and a second coat of longer, wavy and lustrous fibers. Jacob is another very ancient horned breed. Jacob fleece is multi-colored and offers a fun, colorful palette to fiber artists.
Some breeds of goats grow fabulous fiber. Cashmere comes from goats that are bred specifically to grow cashmere fiber. The fiber of Angora goats is called mohair (not to be confused with angora wool which is the fiber of Angora rabbits). The two goats pictured below are Angora kids (young goats). Pygora goats are becoming quite popular. Pygoras live for 12-14 years and can produce either cashmere or mohair.
The rabbits breeds known for producing angora wool are English, French, Satin, Giant, and German. The fluffy fiber of these rabbits is very soft, silky, and warm—seven times warmer than sheep’s wool. At fiber festivals or special farm events, you can sometimes see a seasoned spinner demonstrating how to spin angora wool straight from the source! The rabbit is content to sit upon the spinner’s lap. Newborn rabbits are called kits.
Alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic because it doesn’t contain lanolin. Baby alpacas are called crias. There are two kinds of alpacas—Huacaya and Suri. It is easy to distinguish between the two. Suris grow longer, pencil-like locks that drape downward. Huacayas (pictured below) have a teddy-bear like appearance growing shorter, dense fleeces. Huacayas are shorn yearly while Suris are shorn every two years.
Fabulous Fiber Book
The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Carol Ekarius and Deborah Robson is very visual, inspiring, and educational. “This one-of-a-kind photographic encyclopedia features more than 200 animals and the fibers they produce.”—Storey Publishing
If you have other books about fiber that you’d like to recommend, leave us a comment.
Celebrating Fiber Animals
Do you raise any animals for fiber or dream of one day having your own flock? What is your favorite fiber festival or sheep shearing event to attend? Your comments are always welcome.