Together at last: sheep farmers and artisans

By Lynn Macnab 

Weaving together wool-working artisans and sheep producers is something Laurie Maus, District 10 chair for the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency (OSMA), feels will benefit both industries.

The district’s first ever Wool Day held May 27 at the Glengarry Pioneer Museum (GPM) in Dunvegan was very successful, according to Maus, who along with partner Bob Garner raises a variety of heritage animals including Tunis sheep.

“We’re trying to create a relationship between fleece producers in the region and spinners, weavers, knitters, felters, and rug hookers,” Maus explained. “Many wool buyers go from farm to farm or down to the States to buy their wool. We’re hoping this relationship will help improve the wool and sheep industry and get people together.”

Maus explained that for too long farmers thought of wool as a waste product from their meat-producing sheep.

“This new event is a start towards making wool and fleece a viable enterprise,” she said.

The museum served as a location to host the event, where close to 60 producers and artisans gathered. Sellers displayed a variety of fleece under the Williams Pavilion and explained its characteristics and varieties.

The Big Beaver schoolhouse (circa 1910), relocated years ago from Laggan and still equipped with desks and a cast iron wood stove, housed guest speakers and a standing-room only crowd.

University of Toronto assistant professor, Nicole Klenk, spoke about the need to educate the public on the benefits of using and wearing natural fibers.

“We need to find a way to explain to people the qualities of wool and get them to turn from synthetic materials to natural,” Klenk stated. “This new study will be beneficial.”

Klenk was referring to the research map she’s developing that will help bring the entire industry together, including those that turn fleece into roving and wool.

“Many producers and potential buyers don’t want to spend a lot of time on social media sourcing material and others in the industry. This will be a network map.” The funding for the research is being partially funded by OSMA.

Maus was approached by many after the event who expressed interest to repeat the venue next year.

“We’ll try and do it again and maybe get together with District 9 in Renfrew County,” said Maus, also a member of the Heritage Livestock Club of Eastern Ontario. “We’d like to add more to it, like what they do at the Royal Winter Fair.”

She explained that there could be a competition where experts judge the fleece as well as an auction.

“We’d also like to work with the spinning guilds in the area like the Twistle Guild of Glengarry and the Ottawa Valley Weavers and Spinners Guild. And it’s not just sheep. Llama and Alpaca wool is also sought after and needs to be promoted.”

Maus is passionate about the industry and wants to see more progress and will be teaching another side of the animal world.

With a Master’s in biology and as a past farm research and regulation employee for the federal government, Maus continues to keep research a part of her life.

She offers courses in fecal egg testing to farmers concerned about their animal’s welfare and parasites.

The next one is June 10 between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at their farm west of Dunvegan. People can register by phone or email.

“By determining parasites found in fecal material, farmers can then implement proper treatment. But the course is really expensive. It will cost a bottle of poop and a bottle of wine,” she joked. Register at 613 527 1897 or Hawk Hill Farm.


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