Chocolate-colored Sheep Adds Color for Spinners at Hadley Farm

Delilah the sheep
Delilah, a recent cocoa-colored addition to the UMass flock.

Woolen weather is nearly here, and knitters and hand spinners are gathering up their wool supplies for a winter of creating hand-knit socks, mittens and throws – many using wool from sheep raised at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Hadley Farm, says Alice Newth, head shepherd and livestock barn manager.

Each spring after the UMass sheep are sheared, some new wool is available to weavers and spinners, says Newth. “Hand spinners are a group of avid folks who clean, card and even dye the wool. They make their own yarn, different weights and styles, and then they usually knit something with it. We enjoy having a hand-spinners’ flock at Hadley Farm,” she says. “This year we have a wonderful dark lamb that we will coat for the winter for shearing in the spring. The students have named her Delilah.”

Newth expects Delilah’s cocoa-colored “crimpy” locks to delight wool and yarn enthusiasts from all over New England who each year order new wool from the farm. The most common wool color available from the farm’s flock of Dorsets is creamy white, so having a black or brown in the flock is an unusual treat, the shepherd says.

Newth explains that when the ewes came into the barn last November, student shepherds coated some of them to keep hay chaff from getting into their wool. Students help care for the flock by feeding, cleaning pens and rotating pastures every few days and watching over the ewes when they are lambing. They help with sorting the wool during shearing in May and the flock benefits from the sales of the fleeces, Newth adds.

After shearing, Newth stuffs her car with some of the freshly shorn fleeces and takes the wool to a member farms in the BaaayState Blanket program of the Worcester County Sheep Association. Hadley Farm usually contributes 200 pounds each year, she adds. Other assocation members contribute wool, and the group has a packing party and potluck.

“We pack the fleeces into big 100 lb bags that get shipped out of state to be washed,” the barn manager says. “There are advantages to doing all of this as a group, because the mills want at least a thousand pounds of wool to process. Also, some flocks have sheep with darkwool, which means the blankets can be woven with a plaid design.”

After washing and drying, the wool comes back to a mill in Millbury in tightly packed bales, Newth explains. There it is made into yarn, woven into yardage and cut into blankets and throws that are finished and brushed until soft. Blankets and throws – including EweMass blankets that are for sale each year to the campus community and the public – come back to the farm in Worcester county to be distributed back to the farms.

“Blankets and throws are usually done by the end of December,” says Newth. “But the pandemic has put this year’s blankets on hold for now. I do have some blankets still in stock for sale this year and we’ll see about next year. In the meantime, we have a few really nice white fleeces available for you to keep busy through the winter.  These are all from our UMass Dorset sheep.”

For more information or to arrange to view or purchase blankets or throws, contact Alice Newth at 413/545-6034 or newth@umass.edu.