A few ways to help save rare breeds and species that produce irreplaceable fibers

I got interested in rare-breed conservation when I realized that the animals that produced most of my favorite handspinning fibers were on the watchlists posted by organizations like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

That was a number of years ago. Because of the ongoing support of a number of people, some of those breeds are in much better shape now. Some are still very precarious. They all need our interest and help.

Here are some ideas and actions that can make a difference:

  • Experience rare-breed fibers for yourself. Some are even clean and
    ready to spin, knit, crochet, weave, or felt! Check out sources like
    (in alphabetical order) The Spinning Loft and Spirit Trail Fiberworks.
  • Join and/or donate to organizations like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and other organizations (list here).
    ALBC publishes an annual directory of breeders who may have yarns,
    rovings, or fleece you can buy. (Google searches can also be
    interesting, as can careful browsing of the booths at fiber festivals.)
  • Support people who are raising rare-breed fiber animals; this includes individual farms as well as historic sites like George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens and  Colonial Williamsburg; help a nearby living history
    site with its livestock program (help it develop one if it doesn’t have one already). When you make contributions, make sure people know you are
    especially interested in the fiber animals!
  • Wear your heart sheep on your sleeve shirt. (With a rare-breed sweater on top for warmth.)
  • Learn about the conservation of biodiversity in domesticated, as well as wild, animals; discover and support the work of the SVF Foundation and the National Germplasm Project (through ALBC).
  • If it suits your lifestyle, make room in your life for some
    rare-breed animals. (For genetic conservation purposes, cross-breeding
    doesn’t count. It has other uses. Just not in keeping rare breeds
    around.) Or help someone who does have them.

Okay, that’s a lot. Just pick one thing to learn a little bit more
about . . . or just pick up a skein of breed-specific yarn to play
with, whether the breed is rare or not. Educate your fingers about what different wools feel like (although this isn’t just about wools, of course; we’ve lost cottons, and we need to safeguard our flax quality, and . . . ). "Merino" and "100% wool" are just the entry points to an amazing universe of options. I’ve been engaged in this process for years. It’s fascinating, and extremely rewarding.

A couple of books:

  • Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools (out of print, but still available from some retailers; Google finds it): a small book, full of inspiration about what to do with rare-breed wools
  • The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds, by Janet Vorwald Dohner: a big book, full of information and stories; borrow it from the library until you decide you want your own copy; she has the best information I’ve seen on Santa Cruz sheep

Have fun! And surprise yourself, as I just did in the discovery process of the most recent three posts.


2 thoughts on “A few ways to help save rare breeds and species that produce irreplaceable fibers”

  1. A timely post, Deb: I finally made it back to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this year after a too-long (eleven-year) hiatus. The biggest change I noticed was the queue for “branded” MSWF items, which I bypassed to get a “Save the Jacob” t-shirt and some roving for the same price.

    Bet the shirt will be a big hit when I teach at Olds College’s Fibre Week next week…. 😉


  2. I have Navajo Churro and Jacob shirts, probably some others I’ve forgotten. The shirts rotate through the drawers and a wooden chest, so I get to rediscover old friends and they’re all new again. . . .

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