I am so excited to feature Ridgedale Farms here on the Flock Farm Yarn shop. I met Angella through her Etsy shop--I loved the beautiful natural tones of her yarn and her buyers seemed to love them, too--she has rave reviews for her yarn. Thanks to the advantages of excellent technology, I was able to Zoom with both Angella and Paul to talk about yarn, sheep, and the value of colored fleece. I think they are kindred spirits! My husband Spencer happened to be on the way back from a trip out west, so we made arrangements for him to pick up some gorgeous worsted weight yarn on his way through Blakesburg, Iowa, where Ridgedale Farms is located. He even came home with some eggs!
As you can see from the images and the interview, these are sweet and well-cared for sheep. Angella enjoys keeping some wethers in her flock of ewes, lams, rams. I have to tell you, I haven't met a wether I didn't like! They are raising Rambouillet and Columbia sheep, so the yarn has a lovely bounce and elasticity. Plus, it blooms beautifully when washed and blocked. I'm fascinated by the genetics of fleece coloring, and speaking with Angella and Paul was an excellent education in breeding for color.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Angella and the flock via this interview. We have Ridgedale Farms worsted weight yarn in the Flock Farm Yarn Shop now, and Angella plans to have DK weight up in her Etsy shop this fall. Check out the links at the end of the interview if you'd like to learn more about the wonderful work Angella and Paul are doing in Iowa. Enjoy!
July 2021 Interview
Melissa: I know you got started with sheep as part of your daughter's 4-H project . . . how did you decide on the breeds for your flock? What do you like about the Rambouillet and Columbia sheep you have?
Angella: I have always been enamored with the smoky look of some sheep. I started looking for naturally colored sheep in the Midwest. I found a sheep magazine while searching that advertised sheep showing and auctions. I was able to see past sheep sold and producers of the sheep. Some of them had websites--so I researched those. I was also able to look up what the sale prices of the sheep were--some were in our price range. I ended up going to a sheep auction in Illinois, one that had a sheep show the day before and you could bid on those same sheep. One of the past producers had listed on their website what his farm was bringing to the show/sale. The night before the auction I was ready to load up the back of my van with a spring born lamb and bring it home for our daughter. Well, my husband spent until the wee hours of the night constructing a ventilated box for the back of our pickup and I set off in the morning with the truck instead. I ended up purchasing a black, Columbia /Rambouillet cross ewe that was actually too old to show in 4-H (with our county rules); however, I did meet the livestock producer that I had researched online and he has been a mentor to us. The bulk of our sheep have been purchased from him and a few from his network of contacts. We bought our daughter's second ewe lamb, a Columbia, from one of these contacts. We also purchased our first ram and my daughter's first lamb 4-H project (Rambouillet--yarn in the shop #1726) that I refer to as Rissa's Baby.
Melissa: Your wool is gorgeous in all of the natural colors--and many of your batches come from specific sheep. Why are natural colors so important to you?
Angella: I enjoy the benefits of naturally colored wool: no synthetic dyes or chemicals to be allergic to, no bleeding of color. Part of the yarn looks heathered due to the spotted fleece. The natural black yarn often looks dark dark brown due to some sun fading even through a coat.
Melissa: Can you tell us more about the genetics of raising colorful sheep?
Angella: Well, sheep genetics interested my husband and I as we were both biology majors in college and found inheritance of color fascinating. I have some solid white sheep, I have some all black sheep and I have spotted sheep. We have a strong flecking gene that came to the herd because the first ram we purchased was highly spotted and possessed this gene. Let's make an example: a lamb may be born appearing white with black spots; as the fiber grows there will be very small dots of black wool that grow in the white sections of the sheep. As the animal ages, the speckles increase in size and the ratio of white fibers to black changes. Each year those fleeces will look slightly different and when that fleece is milled, the yarn will look heathered, but the shade will change from year to year.
Melissa: I'd love to hear a story or two about life with your flock. Any personalities you'd like to share with us?
Angella: "Horse" is the nickname we gave to the largest ewe on the farm. She is a gentle giant: all Columbia with a gorgeous fleece. She is an excellent mom her yarn is beige to the eye. She is broke to lead and is fairly stubborn. We bought her already bred and her first lamb was the first lamb born on the farm.
Skipper is another ram on the farm. He grows a longer staple length and he carries blue genetics. The blue comes out more as patterning that can be observed in the first early days of the lambs life. He is our senior ram and I am hoping his offspring will have longer staple lengths. I prefer a staple length of 4 inches or more for hand spinning.
#1824 ewe is spotted. Her yarn is heathered gray. She is a great mom and a wild child. She originated from Wyoming and is a Rambo/ Columbia cross.
#3506 beige/taupe yarn is a Rambo/ Columbia cross ewe.
#3507 is a ewe Rambo/ Columbia cross.
Fleece from the ram lambs is a natural black but appears very very dark brown. We tried to keep coats on them but their shenanigans often resulted in ripped coats.
Melissa: 2020 was quite a year . . . so what are your plans for 2021 and/or the future? Anything new on the horizon?
Angella: We will drop off the fleece sheared this year to the mill for spinning in September and pick up yarn made from last year's fleece clip at that time. The next batch of yarn is in a DK weight. I plan to have worsted weight yarn made from this year's fleeces (which will be returned in 2022). As a more long-term goal, we hope to breed for moorit (shades of brown) color. We have purchased a ram that we believe carries moorit genes and hope to bring more brown tones into the flock. I do hope to put homemade soap in the shop and make our beeswax into thread conditioner for cross-stitching available for sale. I also want to design more accessories made with our yarn.
Melissa: Where can folks find you online?