We like farmers. Perhaps it is because we’re also foodies and love to cook with fresh, wholesome ingredients. Perhaps its because of their heritage and strength in establishing this Country. Perhaps its because farmers tend to have initiative and like working outdoors as we do. Perhaps it is because we understand small businesses. Any way, they are people to whom I can appeal to directly with questions of the sheep’s welfare and care.
Knowing one’s source is accountability and in my opinion, better than any organic certification. A number of our farms could apply for organic certification if they wanted to, as they feed their animals organically and pasture and care for them well. We support small flock farms where the farmer can keep a close eye on the individual sheep, providing it care it needs. All of our farms are very conscious sheep owners.
I can ask a farmer what they do with the sheep when its winter, when they have worms, when they are sick; if they name their sheep; if the sheep have a shelter; how long they had sheep; why they have sheep; what the sheep eat, what shelter is provided for the sheep during seasonal changes; how many pastures the sheep have; what else do they do with the sheep besides sell me the wool; how often they shear the sheep, what kind of sheep they raise. To me, those answers are valuable because they tell me how they care for their sheep and what kind of responsibility they feel toward them.
It goes to reason that what you put in, comes out. The better quality care and nutrition the sheep receive, the better quality their wool is. The better they are taken care of, the better we and their landscape are taken care of. All are causes worth supporting.
Organic certification is useful when I can’t certify the farmer myself, such as with our puddle pads. Because we do not source the wool or needle punch it, the organic certification is useful. However, it’s limited:
In order for wool to be certified as “organic,” it must be produced in accordance with federal standards for organic livestock production. Federal requirements for organic livestock production include:
- Livestock feed and forage used from the last third of gestation must be certified organic;
- Use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering is prohibited;
- Use of synthetic pesticides (internal, external, and on pastures) is prohibited, and
- Producers must encourage livestock health through good cultural and management practices.
Organic livestock management is different from non-organic management in at least two major ways: 1) sheep cannot be dipped in parasiticides (insecticides) to control external parasites such as ticks and lice, and 2) organic livestock producers are required to ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which their animals graze.
All of our farms meet these organic standards, with the except of the certified organic feed. Most of them cut their own hay from their own untreated grass for the winter months, thus ensuring their feed is as natural as they need. The wool is as good as organic, without asking the small farms to pay the certification costs.
To take the topic further, not only are the sheep raised well, their wool is also cared for without chemicals. There is no carbonization, no bleaching, no superwashing. Nothing but the soap used to remove the lanolin from the wool is put on the wool. The hot water does most of the work of removing the wool grease.
In the end, think that knowledge is power, so I ask questions.
To see pictures and descriptions of our wool sources, see our Small Farm Wool page.