I’ve been thinking about genetic diversity, ever since Alice O’Reilly of Backyard Fiberworks sent us her box of 121 skeins of yarn made from 31 fleeces of Santa Cruz sheep.
One of the rarest breeds, there are fewer than 200 Santa Cruz sheep in the world today.
Alice told me that her goal in creating this small batch of yarn was to raise awareness of these rare sheep, as well as the larger issue of preserving genetic diversity in livestock. All she wants is for people to think about this.
I’m grateful to Alice for her generous spirit. I just wish she’d had 1,200 skeins of yarn for us!
We featured Alice’s story in Saturday’s Snippets newsletter (I’ve copied it below). And we offered up the 121 skeins to Snippets readers. They were gone in minutes. To everyone who tried to order it but didn’t succeed, we’re truly sorry and wish we had more than those few skeins. (We didn’t hold back any for ourselves, so we’re Santa Cruzless ourselves!)
In poking around the Livestock Conservancy website, I found a short video featuring the famed professor of animal science, Temple Grandin. I hope you’ll have a look—it’s up top—because it puts this flock of Santa Cruz sheep into a larger context.
Thanks to the Snippets readers who bought Alice’s yarn, we sent $10 from each skein sold to the Livestock Conservancy, a contribution of $1,210.
Thank you to everyone who bought a skein! Here’s hoping for a fertile flock in the days and months to come.
Meanwhile . . .
Here’s Alice’s story of her Santa Cruz yarn.
Last summer I found 31 needles in a fiber haystack.
I’m talking about 31 soft, fine, bouncy, and most definitely rare fleeces of the Santa Cruz sheep. Formerly of the Channel Islands off the coast of California, the Santa Cruz sheep once numbered in the tens of thousands.
After a long history on the Island and experiencing various states of feral living and domestication, the population of the breed has dwindled to fewer than 200 in the United States. Listed as critical on the Livestock Conservancy watch list, these sheep were a precious few.
When I learned that a portion of the flock had made its way to a couple of willing shepherds in Pennsylvania, my fiber-loving heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t determine a lot about the qualities of the fiber in my available resources, but when Jason calls to tell you he’s got some Golden Fleece for sale, you don’t say, “let me get back to you.”
I went up for shearing day. (Mike Kearney and Marcus Hoover are the shepherds who are raising these sheep. Here’s a great interview with Mike, a generous man who talks about his farm and his work.)
The sheep were small and not interested in people without food—remnants of their feral island lifestyle, perhaps.
I found that the fiber was soft and fine, with an amazing elasticity.
The fleeces made their way to Putney, Vermont, where Green Mountain Spinnery put in lots of hours researching the Santa Cruz fleece to make sure whatever we created would be the best use of this magic opportunity.
There are only 121 skeins of this yarn at the moment.
But the good news is that new lambs were born, and we have hope for more this year.
Thanks, Alice! And thanks to Mike Kearney and Marcus Hoover for doing a beautiful thing.
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