Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em: Rare wools initiative

Record-sheet-vertical-2up-printer UK-2019The Livestock Conservancy has initiated a wool-oriented rare-breed project that warms my heart every time I come in contact with suppliers and fiber folk who are participating in it. Called Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em (also known as #SE2SE), it encourages people to discover rare-breed wools and to use them. It also provides incentives for producers to up their game in promoting their animals’ fibers.

I’ve been advocating for and teaching workshops on and writing about and using rare-breed wools for more than three decades. It’s SO MUCH FUN to see large-ish numbers of other people getting excited about them all at once.

There’s a Facebook group called “Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em.” There’s a Ravelry group. There’s information at The Livestock Conservancy’s site. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and camaraderie, and it’s just getting going.

If you’re a fiber person, whether you start with fleeces or already-spun yarn, you could have some fun with this and expand your horizons and support a lot of good causes (every individual shepherd and The Livestock Conservancy’s whole mission). Check it out!

If you would like to download a record-keeping sheet to go with this project or your own explorations, click here for U.S. letter size and click here for UK A4 size. These sheets were created for personal use only—feel free to print (card stock works best; cut each sheet in half) and use for your own record-keeping, but please do not attempt to sell them.

Meanwhile, I’m researching and writing about the most recently recognized rare sheep breed, the Florida Cracker. It was distinguished from the larger population of Gulf Coast Native sheep in 2013, well after the development time for the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and the Field Guide to Fleece, so it’s not included in either of those volumes. I’ll be teaching that fiber at an upcoming Explore 4 retreat.

Are we having fun yet? Well, yes we are. And the party’s open to everyone who’s interested!

Florida Cracker fleece
One of the three Florida Cracker fleeces I’m currently studying. There is little available data on the wool quality, so I’ve sent multiple samples to be analyzed at a lab. Awaiting results!



9 thoughts on “Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em: Rare wools initiative”

    • I love Coopworths and their wool! The breed is not on the endangered list presented by The Livestock Conservancy, so not included in the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project, but this is a great time for enlarging people’s breed-specific awareness and I’m all for Coopworths! One of my favorite sweaters is handspun Coopworth (sportweight).

  1. I recently started this journey beginning with the purchase of a cracker ewe and her ram lamb. I’m very interested in your findings and what the wool would be good for! I haven’t been able to find much information other than that it is good as a “craft” wool but I’m not sure what that means. Maybe felt is my guess… however the ram lamb’s wool is so soft I think I could do more with it.

    • Florida Cracker sheep were recognized as a separate breed (from the Gulf Coast Native) after The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook was published, so we didn’t include them in the book. I’ve spent the past two months or so digging into their history and writing up some of my findings. I’ll be teaching the breed at the Explore 4 retreat in Washington state at the end of March 2019, and I have three fleeces here for initial experimentation. I’ve selected locks and sent them off to the lab for analysis.

      That said–it is an excellent, useful, mid-grade wool, say micron counts in the upper 20s or very low 30s, with some exceptions (haunches coarser on at least one of the three fleeces). It will be pleasant to spin and work with, and suitable for sweaters, hats, mittens, gloves, blankets. In the breed’s early days, it was grown as a wool supplier for families. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s a little crisper than the Gulf Coast Natives. Lengths I’m seeing are 2.5 to 3.5 inches.

      From sheep to sheep, the texture will vary because it’s a landrace that has not been bred for commercial consistency. But it should all fall into a very pleasant-to-work-with and versatile range.

      Enjoy your sheep and their fleeces!

  2. Hi Deb,

    I have been pursuing interests in Florida Heritage everything since moving to a barrier beach in Southwest Florida at the heart of the Calusa culture, where Ponce Leon came ashore via the Boca Grande Pass. There were no sheep dropped off on this particular island, though we still have some feral hogs.

    I have spun some very beautiful Gulf Coast Native fleece from a friend who keeps a small flock near Gainesville, and have recently been playing with Florida Cracker fleece. The staple is pretty short, but the fiber is nice and bouncy.
    It seems to me that GCN is moving toward achieving softer fleeces while the Florida Cracker is still raised mainly for meat. I have processed some other Florida “meat sheep” fleece which feels very like the Florida Cracker.
    It is fascinating how these sheep adapted to our climate.

    What are your thoughts on the distinctions between Gulf Coast Native, Florida Cracker, and Florida Native sheep?
    There has been some controversy regarding the Spanish origins– I have read that Churro sheep were brought to the New World, but is it really possible that they may have brought some Merino, thought the King guarded the herds so closely?


    • Amy, there’s lots to unpack about the Gulf Coast Native/Florida Cracker situation. First is terminology, and there’s confusing crossover in the way the names are being used. Let’s see if I can encapsulate my current understanding:
      – Florida Native = Florida Cracker, the latter name having been decided upon by the breed society in order to prevent confusion and overlap with other so-called native breeds
      – Gulf Coast Native = larger overall population OR “what’s left after you take out the Florida Crackers” (two different things, and thus confusing)
      – In one major scientific paper, the distinctions are made between (1) Gulf Coast Native (comprehensive population), (2) Florida Native (Florida subpopulation–note not in this case Florida Cracker), (3) Louisiana Native (subpopulation of southeastern native sheep from mostly outside Florida)

      For the time being, I’m using:
      (1) Gulf Coast Native = comprehensive population of southeastern native sheep
      (2) Florida Cracker = Florida subpopulation of southeastern native sheep (following breed society terminology)
      (3) Louisiana Native = subpopulation of southeastern native sheep from farther west than Florida

      With regard to origins, there are a couple of theories. For the most part, churro is considered to be the base, although yes, there may be infusions of other breeds, including Merino, Rambouillet, and white-faced English breeds. Yes, the Merinos were guarded closely–but the settlers who brought the sheep were Spanish; the sheep would not have been going “outside” the kingdom but helping create an extension of it.

      Gulf Coast Native/Louisiana Native wool has, in my experience, been silkier and a bit longer than the fairly small sample of Florida Cracker fleeces I’ve experienced, which have been bulkier. However, it’s difficult to make supportable generalizations based on just a few examples. I can set up possible ideas based on preliminary studies, and then later experience may prove or disprove them.

      I hope that was semi-coherent. It’s a summary of a 16-page document that I’m still working on. . . .

      Likely the most interesting resource I’ve found so far is that scientific paper, which is:
      Kijas, James W., James E. Miller, Tracey Hadfield, Russell McCulloch, Elsa Garcia-Gamez, Laercio Neto, and Noelle Cockett. “Tracking the Emergence of a New Breed Using 49,034 SNP in Sheep.” PLoS ONE 7 (2012): e41508.

  3. You know, as a fiber producer, maybe the best thing to come out of Shave ’em to Save ’em is the positive encouragement/publicity/… (?) in the face of all the discouraging corporation ads and PETA attacks. This has been a distressing winter for wool producers. It’s nice to have something pleasant to talk about for a change.

Comments are closed.