According to The Livestock Conservancy, the sheep population in the United States peaked at 56 million in the 1940s and has been declining ever since to around 5 million today. Modern industrial agriculture favors certain breeds for meat and wool production, and the United States imports the majority of its sheep products from countries such as Australia, China, and New Zealand. The resulting focus on some breeds has led to a loss of genetic diversity and left many other breeds on the verge of extinction. In an effort to save rare and endangered sheep, The Livestock Conservancy started Shave ’Em to Save ’Em. We asked Program Research Associate Deborah Niemann-Boehle to tell us more about the program.
Deborah explains, “The Livestock Conservancy always says that the way to save a rare animal is to give it a job, and unfortunately, a lot of people are not using the wool from rare breeds. Some shepherds raise the sheep simply because they love the breed, but they wind up composting or throwing away the wool because they don’t know how to sell it or where to find customers. Our goals are to put fiber artists in touch with those shepherds and encourage them to start using wool from rare breeds.”
The program challenges fiber artists to use up to 15 rare breeds of sheep in their projects over the course of 3 years, from January 2019 through December 2021. Participants who sign up for the challenge receive a lapel pin and a passport. Each page of the passport features information on a different breed on the organization’s Conservation Priority List. When participants purchase one of these rare breeds of wool from a participating shepherd or supplier, they will receive a stamp in their passport. Once fiber artists complete their projects, they can share them in the Shave ’Em to Save ’Em Ravelry group or on the group’s Facebook page. Not online? You can mail in your results, too. Prizes and rewards will be awarded to those who finish 5, 10, and 15 projects, and the first 5 people to finish 15 projects will receive special prizes, including books and an online class.
Deborah says, “You only have to finish 5 projects per year to get through 15 breeds by the end, so we think lots of people can do this! But if things go well, it is possible that this could become an ongoing challenge.”
For more information, visit www.rarewool.org.
This article was excerpted from the Spring 2019 issue ofSpin Off.
Featured Image: The Gulf Coast breed has adapted to the warm climate of the southeastern United States. Photos courtesy of The Livestock Conservancy