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how many sheep do you need?

20 years ago

How many sheep would one need to make all the clothes for one person? And how much land would they need? I know MOgardener has 3 sheep and knits sweaters from the wool - how many people do you clothe with them? Not that I'm in any position to invest in sheep right now - just fantasizing!

Comments (2)

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi, earthnut. How funny that this a.m. I happened upon this question and you mentioned my name.

    Actually, since my sweet little black ewe BaaBaa died last February at age 10, I'm down to just Ewenice and Peeper, both white but I'm honored that you remembered that I had sheep.

    Different breeds of sheep produce different amounts of wool from just a couple of pounds a year from Shetlands to as much as 18# from a Corriedale or other larger animal. (I cite 18 because I bought a fleece from a 2 y/o Corrie ram that did weigh that in the grease). When you skirt (remove all the really dirty, matted fiber from the edges of the fleece as it was shorn) and scour (wash) a fleece, you can lose easily 50% of the weight. My Peeper has a very greasy fleece that attracts mineral soil readily and her clean weights have been as little as 40% of grease weight. She's a big sheep with a dense fleece so there's still plenty of wool for spinning. When you card wool, you incorporate all the fiber into the preparation for spinning so there is less waste. I prefer to comb my wool for spinning which removes the shorter fibers but gives me a smoother more durable yarn for my projects. I get maybe 3-5% loss there (you can save these bits for felting or carding and spinning too so it's not actually throw away waste). Even my heaviest sweaters don't weigh much more than a pound so figure from there. Adult socks and mittens weigh 3-4 ounces, children's even less, maybe an ounce or two. My thick dubbelmossa cap weighs 7 oz but it's equivalent to two stocking caps folded together Also, you can weigh pants, coats, etc., deduct a bit for linings, zippers, buttons, and go from there. With woven items, you will have to figure loom waste--the ends of the warp that were not incorporated into the fabric. I don't weave so can't help with those amounts.

    With linen, I read an estimate that it took a little less than an acre of flax to provide all the textiles a person needed for a year. That included sheets, towels, undergarments, handkerchiefs, coarser fabrics for sacks to hold grain, flour, money, as well as shirts, dresses, trousers and such. I don't know how accurate it is but since I've processed flax from growing the plant to spinning, let me assure you that it's more physical work than wool ever thought about being.

    If you can find a copy of "The Fields" by Conrad Richter, there is an excellent passage about the main character's shearing a sheep and with the help of her daughters, spinning, weaving, dyeing and sewing a suit in a day for her son to wear when he graduated from an apprenticeship at reading the law to being able to practice with his father. This book is one of three that chronicles the settlement of Ohio through the life of a woman named Sayward Lucket. The first of the trilogy is "The Trees" and the last is "The Town." There was a made for tv movie about 20 years ago that was good but didn't live up to the books, as usual.

    "Land" would depend on the carrying capacity of a given parcel. It's usually expressed as units, meaning the amount of land needed for a cow/calf pair. I think 5-6 ewes represent a unit. In Missouri, we can support a unit on 2 acres when there is adequate moisture. There are a lot of other variables too, such as rotational grazing where you can keep more animals on less land if they graze a spot intensely for a short time with long resting intervals for regrowth of the grass.

    If this didn't answer your question or raised more, email me. Right now, I need to go feed Ewenice, Peeper and the rest of the crew.

  • 20 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I use to raise sheep when I was in Vermont.
    Generally you figure 3 to 5 sheep per acre of good pasture. I raised Romney's and Cotswold sheep and they produced about 15 to 20 lbs raw wool per year. (you'd lose 30% to lanolin after washing the fleece). I preferred weaving to knitting and I would spin my own yarn. A sweater (bulky) would take about 2 1/2 lbs of wool. Blankets were unbelievably warm. At any rate I'd have about 70 lbs finished weight wool. You can also send your raw wool to Bartlett Yarn in Maine and get your own wool spun in various weights. There are other smaller custom spinnerys all over the States and Canada now though.

    I added a link to my weaving site (although I don't do sales anymore and need to revise it. It is informative though :-)

    Here is a link that might be useful: Baptiste Lake Fiberarts Studio