Raising Animals for Fiber
a book review by Kim Biegler of Harrisburg, OR
Have you been staring longingly at those wide eyed alpacas you see out to pasture on your way to work? Or maybe you’ve been mentioning to friends that you would love to have a couple sheep whose wool you could use in your knitting, crocheting, or weaving. If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you are in luck as author and fiber farmer Chris McLaughlin’s new book Raising Animals for Fiber gives an informed overview of owning your own fiber flock.
In this book, the author focuses on four main species of fiber animals: sheep, goats, alpaca, and rabbits. This is not a how-to book, but it is an informational book about the many aspects of owning fiber animals. For each species she covers the characteristics about the animal and fiber and gives sound advice about ways to meet animals, talk to breeders, as well as make informed decisions about whether you are prepared to take on these animals and which animals you should choose.
One of the most important points the author makes early on is that a backyard fiber farm is not a safe way to make a “living wage.” Right off the bat she quite fairly makes it clear that, while larger commercial fiber farms are often able to make profits, the smaller hobby fiber farmer is going to spend a lot of money and time on their animals and would likely consider breaking even a solid success. As the owner of a small flock of sheep and alpacas myself, I wholeheartedly agree with this point. Owning fiber animals on a small scale has to involve an appreciation for the animals and a love of doing the work. Money, while lovely, should not be the main motivation.
For each species, the author discusses the fiber that each animal creates, their personalities, and what to expect as far as getting the fiber off of them. She also lays out average annual costs to own the animals in addition to discussing how to house them, common feeding guidelines for them, and the basics of breeding them. And, of course, there is a review of some of the health issues that each animal is susceptible to.
I will admit, I brought home fiber animals without doing much research. I knew I had space for them and had a good rapport with animals; the rest pretty much came as on the job training. Save yourself some of the learning curve and give this book a read. It will hopefully help you to settle a bit upon the decision and which species will best suit you. From there, as the author suggests, do more research. I would also encourage learning about the downsides of each type of animal, including potential animal behaviors that make each species difficult to work with and some of the inherent things that can go wrong with them. The more prepared you are as a fiber farmer, the smoother becoming a care taker for these animals will be. Raising Animals for Fiber will give you a solid start to your endeavor and loads of knowledge about these amazing animals.
Raising Animals for Fiber, ©2019 by Chris McLaughlin and Fox Chapel Publishers International Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-62008-324-6
Kim Biegler is the owner and operator of Ewethful Fiber Farm & Mill, a mini fiber mill located in Halsey, Oregon. Kim lives with her grass seed farming husband and their menagerie of dogs, cats, sheep, alpacas, horses, chickens, and one goat in Harrisburg, Oregon.