“Variety is the spice of life” certainly applies to Icelandic sheep. They can be produced for milk, meat and fiber. And their fleeces feature a wide array of hues.
Sheep producers Jeanne Telderer and Barbara Stinson raise Icelandic sheep for their colorful fiber, but also find value in the breed's milk and meat.
“Lambing is like Christmas,” said Telderer, of Telderer’s Rainbows End Farm LLC near Neosho, Wisconsin. “There are so many different color variations in their fleeces.”
She had been producing Icelandic sheep for meat but at one point wanted to learn more about their fiber. That led her to Kristi Langhus, owner of Argyle Fiber Mill in Argyle, Wisconsin. Telderer asked Langhus about what she did with fleeces. That way she could fine-tune her breeding program.
Telderer hasn’t done much knitting herself, but said she’s interested in learning the art of felting.
“Kristi liked our fleeces for making yarn and has produced yarn for us too,” she said.
She now sells fleeces, yarn and fiber art at her on-farm shop in Neosho. At the shop she also features products of area artisans.
Argyle Fiber Mill also sells yarn but its main business is processing fiber. That involves washing and drying fiber. It’s then converted into yarn, batting or roving.
Telderer currently raises 45 Icelandic sheep. She has them sheared twice annually – once in April or May, and then again in September just prior to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. The festival’s held every September at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Jefferson, Wisconsin. She and her daughter, Marissa Telderer, have earned numerous awards at the event. At the 2018 festival’s junior fleece show, Marissa Telderer earned “reserve best of junior show” in division II, and best of junior show in division III. Her mother earned first place in the open show in both division II Class 5 and division III Class 5.
Knitter combines craft with sheep
Like the other women Stinson said she appreciates the diverse fleeces produced by Icelandic sheep. She refers to herself as an inveterate knitter.
“I’ve been knitting for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I started making doll clothes when I was 3 years old.”
She has since combined her love of knitting with raising sheep. At Farm of Beauty near Lodi, Wisconsin, she currently raises 13 Icelandic ewes, three rams for breeding and two wethers. She also raises Nigerian Dwarf goats – seven does and two bucks.
Between farming and knitting she doesn’t have much time to spin her own yarn, she said. So she has turned to Argyle Fiber Mill to process her fiber into yarn. Langhus also processes fiber into roving to sells to hand spinners for Stinson.
“Kristi spends extra time to show me different ways to process my fleeces,” Stinson said. “For example she showed me a multi-colored yarn rather than a solid color as well as roving that mixes two colors. She’s able to handle Icelandic fleeces – not all mills can – and she can produce yarns of various weights.”
Stinson said she prefers medium-weight worsted yarn. It’s similar to traditional Icelandic lopi yarn, but the wool is versatile and can be processed into lighter or heavier weights, she said.
“The yarn is kept as a natural color, reflecting the color of the sheep,” she said. “Because Icelandic sheep are dual-coated, the outward appearance may not reflect the color of the yarn. One of my mature ewes, for example, looks creamy in color but produces a marvelous light- to medium-gray yarn because her inner coat is gray.”
Stinson knits socks for herself as well as hats and scarves for family members. She has started to make a line of sweaters for toddlers with plans to sell them on Etsy, an e-commerce website featuring handmade arts and crafts.
Icelandic sheep provide variety beyond fiber for both Stinson and Telderer.
Stinson sells milk from her sheep as well as her goats to a woman who uses the milk to produce fine soaps. Feta, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese can be made from sheep milk, Stinson said. But she prefers to make chèvre cheese as well as ice cream from goat milk.
Telderer raises Icelandic sheep for meat in addition to fiber. The breed thrives on grass pasture in her rotational-grazing system, she said. Icelandic ewes are good mothers. Between their milk and grass pasture, lambs reach market weight in about six months. That eliminates the work and cost of overwintering lambs, she said.
She sells lamb meat direct and credits a cousin of hers for being able to do so. Her cousin has sold beef direct for many years. She was able to contact his customers to see if they wanted to buy lamb in addition to beef. She also raises pigs, chickens and turkeys on pasture.
For Telderer, Stinson and Langhus, variety is indeed the spice of life.