Hello! I’m Lydia Strand, farmer and shepherd in Harris, MN, raising a flock of about 70 Registered Icelandic and Shetland sheep on 15 acres of pasture. Our farm offers Registered Breeding Stock, fiber- yarn, roving, and raw fleece, pelts, pastured lamb, and Beginning Shepherding Education.
My husband and I started raising sheep in 2010 in South Seattle where we kept a flock of eight sheep on unused and overgrown urban lots in our neighborhood, containing the sheep with portable electric fencing and solar chargers.
It’s all about happy sheep!
We chose to raise Icelandic sheep because of their pure genetic lines going back to the 9th century, their size and unique dual-coated fleece- “thel”, the shorter, softer fiber that grows close to the skin and “tog” which is the longer, more coarse outer fiber that protect the sheep’s skin from rain, harsh wind, and snow. These fibers can be blended together as Lopi or separated depending on whether garments will be next to skin or outerwear. Icelandic fiber felts especially easily, so gentle handling and no agitation when washing or blocking is vitally important.
Our Shetland sheep are also smaller in stature and have a mind of their own! They are independent and stubborn which means they are excellent mothers and need little hands on health care. Their fleeces can be as soft as a merino wool but with a much longer staple length for more durability and less pilling. As their fleeces are less prone to felting, coating the sheep with finer fleeces during the non-grazing season assists with nice clean fleeces when they are sheared in May.
We have adopted animal husbandry and grazing methods that mimic shepherds around the world with a focus on outdoor living, a pasture based planned grazing management system that avoids overgrazing, using natural soil amendments such as compost to build soil tilth; minimizing impact of our sheep on the earth they graze by monitoring the health of the soil, pasture, and sheep regularly, and working to leave pastures grazed by sheep healthier when they leave than when they began grazing for optimal sheep health and welfare. Sheep are moved to fresh pasture every 3-5 days depending on forage growth during the spring, summer, and early fall. The sheep live outdoors in the winter, with minimal shelter and high-quality hay to keep them toasty warm.
During the non-breeding season, ewes, rams, and lambs all live together on the pasture. We believe sheep living in family groups during the non-breeding season helps to them to maintain a happy and stress-free environment; mothers and adult daughters sleeping together with their young helps lambs grow better and stay healthier. Lambs are not forcibly weaned, rather we allow their mothers to make that determination because who knows better what the lambs need than their mothers?
The adult rams establish their own flock within the flock; they graze and sleep together and stay close to one another when moving from pasture to pasture.
Sheep are each given a name, no matter their destiny. While some might find this uncomfortable, we believe that each being on our farm deserves respect. They are precious, unique and valuable; by giving them a name, they are never overlooked or just another sheep in the flock.
Raw fleeces from our flock are processed into yarn as local to the farm as possible, within 60 to 100 miles for complete transparency and traceability from farm to yarn.
In addition to raising sheep, I am also the Producer Outreach Coordinator for Three Rivers Fibershed, the local Fibershed affiliate which encompasses a radius of 175 miles from the Textile Center in Minneapolis. (Find out more about Fibersheds in next Friday's post!)
One of the principle reasons I wanted to raise sheep was to provide my own yarn for knitting; I wanted to see the development of the wool through from farm to needle, to be self-reliant and know that no being (sheep or human) was suffering so I could make a sweater.
Exploring fiber resources that are already available locally allows for a lighter environmental impact and total transparency in production. In regional fiber systems, massive output is not the focus but rather building community and lifting up those who make items thoughtfully and carefully.
I clearly recognize that the great joy of being a shepherd, educating new and aspiring shepherds, and the ability to connect and collaborate with our regional fiber system in the Midwest is a place of great privilege. While I love what I do, I do not take it for granted and know that not everyone has the ability to do what I do each day. It is my sincere hope to continue to include everyone who shares an interest in a more sustainable fiber and fashion industry, to grow and embrace our community around local fiber, local production, and local artisans, and share in our diversity of creativity, knowledge, and experience.
- Lydia Strand
If you would like to support raising happy, healthy sheep by purchasing some of Lydia's beautiful yarns, please visit her online shop to see the latest offerings from the flock.
You can also connect with her on Instagram (and swoon at all the lovely fiber & sheep pics that she posts).
In addition to their beautiful yarns, Lydia's Flock also sells Lamb, Eggs, Pelts, & Sheep along with offering a Beginning Shepherding Course. I highly recommend taking a look through her whole site if you have time as she has so many wonderful things for fiber lovers & you never know what you'll find.
Want to give some of Lydia's beautiful yarns a try, but not sure what to make? My Isolde & Butterscotch Knitting Kit features her Light Lopi yarn (similar to worsted weight) in White and Moorit. Named for the sheep families that the yarns came from, this hat & mitts kit features a simple slipped-stitch (mosaic) colorwork pattern combined with ribbing & textured patterns to create a cozy set that is perfect for Fall!