My house has wool tucked in every corner .  I fell in love with wool, sheep and spinning in the early 80’s and collected all kinds of wool like there would be no more.  Now in my early 70’s I am trying to find uses for it all.  I hope to finish some of the projects that have been sitting around this month..


This is one of the projects which needs to be finished   I have been working on it for years.   Each area inteminated me and certainly brought me out of my comfort zone in hooking.  Thank you Deanne Fitzpatrick for pushing me forward on this project.   WIthout your example I would have never attempted it.

I am still spinning and took up rug hooking and made many huge rugs but my supply is still there.  This year I am going back to weaving in hopes to make woolen rugs and I hope that will deplete my boxes and boxes of lovely dyed handspun.

I have found there just isn’t a kind of wool that I don’t like, even the coarsest of wool’s have uses in rug making and felting.  On a recent trip to Ireland I could not resist these wild colors at Kerry Woolen Mills.


I have started some fleece lined mittens with this wool.


 I still have 4 sheep and love the quiet life of being a shepherdess.   This year I plan to send the wool out to a mill and have it made into yarn.  It is a wonderful way for me to share my love of sheep to others.



Word has come to me that Hannah Hauxwell Of England has passed away and I wanted to share this with you.  She was 92.  She lived on a remote farm for most of her life and at age 35 after her parents passed, she took over the day-to-day chores on the farm.  In this very remote area there was no electricity or running water.  She battled poverty and hardship most of her life and did this all alone. She was discovered and  her life brought to the public eye through wonderful documentaries and her books and her life did get somewhat easier.   She carried a bale of hay on her back to feed her beloved cows.  When she felt she could no longer continue on the farm she, with help moved to a small town nearby.  Leaving her beloved cows was one of the saddest things but a neighbor agreed to take care of them.  The documentary’s can be seen on you tube and her books are available from Amazon.  She was such an inspiring woman.

Many thanks for reading Fiberuary,  please share your stories with our readers.  Contact me at


IMG_8105 Continue reading




Professional Sheep Shearing Models
The subject of education and careers has been on the forefront of discussion in America in recent times. Young adults trying to find their way are faced with enormous decisions about where, when, and how to get started on a career path that will satisfy their goals. Some choose higher education, while others get started in a trade. From a very young age I knew that I loved working with sheep. I did many other odd jobs as a pre teen and teenager, but my passion was always with animal husbandry. In a way, I didn’t choose to be a full-time sheep shearer; one sheep at a time, and one new shearing job at a time, shearing sort of chose me.
At 18 years old, I too was unsure of where life would take me, and what I would end up doing to make a living. I was never afraid of hard work, and I had already been shearing sheep professionally for a couple of years. The important adults in my life had me convinced that shearing could be a good side gig, but would never be enough to live on. By my mid 20s I finally convinced myself and those around me that shearing was enough. The title “Just a sheep shearer” has never bothered me. Some people are a mile wide and an inch deep. If my skill set is only an inch wide, then I will keep pushing as deep as I can go. My interest in sheep and shearing has taken me to a hundreds of farms, in 15 states, and 3 foreign countries.
The profession of sheep shearing can vary quite a bit from place to place. The biggest factor is the size of flocks and how spread out the flocks are geographically. In places like Australia and New Zealand, where flocks are often enormous, the most efficient model is through contracting. Someone has to “organize the run”. It ends up being beneficial to both the farmers and shearers to have a middle man. For example, if a farmer has 20,000 sheep that need shearing, they would have a hard time finding the help for this once a year task. So they call a local contractor to sort out the details. Similarly, by working for a contractor, a shearer can count on steady work with plenty sheep. Contractors are often shearers themselves, so they understand the whole process. They will usually provide some amount of training, transportation, as well as lodging and meals. And when asked by the farmer, they also supply the wool handling help. Crews are sent out to jobs, and the entire process is efficient and seemless. Given the amount of sheep shorn in this manner, I would say most shearers in the world are employed by contractors.
In the western portion of the USA, flocks can be quite large, so a similar set up as just described, is used. But what about in the northeast where I am from? It’s an entirely different thing. Though a lot of shearers work together on bigger flocks, there is no middle man. There are pros and cons of people like me who are independent. The opportunity for learning is much worse. There are weekend courses which serve as a great introduction to shearing, but are nowhere sufficient for all of what a shearer has to know. The work load of coordinating and scheduling jobs is much more difficult. This means that skills like communication and customer service become very important, and adds a whole new dimension to the job. Also, with smaller flocks that are spread out, I spend lots of time driving. But I do enjoy the human aspect, and I wouldn’t trade the relationships I’ve developed with my customers for anything.
Aaron has just returned from Australia where he has spent time addig to his skills.  Do you need a shearer?  E-mail Aaro ar arronshearing@gmail.comImage may contain: one or more people and outdoor





                                           THE LEAD LINE

Most sheep shows have one.  It is an event which shows the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.  It usually involves children but can also include adults.  It also  involves a young Ewe or a Whether or other fiber animal.



A most well behaved Sheep great outfits

Contestants in most shows have to halter train their sheep or in some cases llamas or Angora Goats.  Not an easy feat in most cases.   The handler needs to wear an outfit made of wool.  Points are added for home made garments.  The garments can be woven, knitted, crocheted or sewn.


A well behaved Llama and handwoven garments

The contestant leads his or her sheep around a ring and points are given for appearance, handling , outfit and more.


What a great costume  and such a sweet lamb

This is a not to be missed contest as you never know what will happen when kids and sheep are involved.  Many times you will see a crowd of people chasing after a an unwilling sheep.  The wonderful lessons that a child learns can bee seen at the event.  I encourage all of you to be sure and catch The Lead Line at your favorite sheep show.


These pictures were taken at The Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair of 2016





Massachusetts Sheep & Woolcraft Fair :: May 27 & 28, 2017


Shepherds are getting their sheep and fleeces ready, vendors are getting wool, yarns and crafts ready for you  to see and workshops are now in place.  Come and join us at the fair.  Located in the beautiful town of Cummington, Massachusetts, at the fairgrounds.   Good food will be available bring the family for a day of fun.  Sheep shows, Dog trails and lots of demos will await you.


We are pleased to present our workshop schedule for 2017. We host great teachers from near and far. Bruce Engebretson writes for Spin Off Magazine, and teaches at Marshfield School of Weaving. He was trained in the Scandinavian tradition of fiber work. Katherine Johnson will teach us about Naalbinding, spelled variously: in English it is needle binding. Emily Gwynn enlightens us on using charts for knitting! Dotty Taft will be bringing her fleet of drum carder for us to experiment on.
On Saturday the cotton expert Joan Ruane of Bisbee AZ will be demonstrating how to spin cotton. On Sunday, Bruce Engebretson will demonstrate. Other guests will be joining us for various demonstrations.. Check out the Website for times and days.


Potluck Supper

A potluck supper will be held on the fairgrounds dining room at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. Everyone is welcome. Please bring a prepared dish or salad sufficient to feed your family to the kitchen by 4:00 p.m. NO BREAD PLEASE! Rolls, beverages, and place settings will be provided.  Both refrigerators and a warming are available on the grounds.

Fleece Judging

The Dog Trials are always an exciting event

See you there









FIBERuary Jill and Jim Lyons




Skirting Fleece


“Skirting” is the traditional term for removing less desirable/ clearly unusable parts of a sheep fleece.  When a fleece is laid out- cut side down- it looks something like this:

(in this sketch, the head end of the fleece is facing down).  You’ll see that the outside edges of the fleece, all the way around, are the edges to be removed.  (Think of a laid out skirt, with the hem chopped off.)


It’s helpful to lay the fleece out on a skirting table.  Ours is about 4’ by 8’, a wooden frame around welded wire that’s set on sawhorses.  The holes in the wire let some small bits fall through.


The amount of skirting to be done on any particular fleece can vary tremendously:  all the way from none to virtually the entire fleece.


For me, the two things I’m skirting is fiber that is structurally unsound or contaminated by vegetation.  Structurally unsound fleece can be:

  • Fleece from the belly or legs (often a very different quality).
  • Fleece with kemp (hair not wool) fibers- unless from a fleece that should have kemp.
  • Fleece so weathered that all oil is gone.  This fleece is usually found around the edges and (particularly in luster fleece) along the backbone.
  • Parts of fleece that are cotted (clumped together)
  • Fleece with a break (usually caused by stress, when the wool growth has been retarded)
  • Fleece contaminated with manure and so weathered or colored.
  • “Second cuts” or short bits where the shearer has sheared some fleece twice.


Most vegetal contamination is caused by hay or by weeds.  Sheep are gregarious creatures, and love to chew while turning their head over the back of the sheep next to them.  (My tallest sheep almost always have less back hay than the shorter ones.)  They love to pull out great bunches of hay, dropping the uneaten portions.  This is why most sheep feeders have small openings, forcing the sheep to take smaller bites.  Sheep will also dribble hay over their own and their neighbors’ neck wool. Weeds can be of many species.  We’re renovating old pasture and my two biggest problems come from burdock and thistles…sometimes I don’t get to removing them before the sheep find them.  Burdocks aren’t too bad to get out- as long as they’re removed right after they attach.  I once had some sheep get into beggars’ ticks- most of that fleece had to be tossed.


So from a shepherd’s perspective, how do you keep the fleeces clean?  There are lots of strategies:

  • Most time consuming, expensive and effective are sheep coats.  These need to be kept clean (washed and dried after a bout of hot, wet weather- and other times.  Lots of labor- but the value of your fleece is doubled- or tripled.
  • Pay attention to your pastures.  Always check them and remove weeds before turning the sheep into a new section.
  • In winter with snow, ground feed your sheep on clean snow each day.  When you do this, you break the bale into flakes and lay each flake out about 3 feet from any other.  This reduces hay from one dropping into the fleece of a neighboring sheep.
  • We’re trying a new experiment this year, shearing in the fall instead of the spring.  This means that we’re shearing fleece that’s been grazing and not eating hay for five or six months.  The hay falling onto shorter fleece seems to stick less- and some likely washes out over the summer.  The couple we experimented with worked well- we’ll have to see what the whole group look like in October.


The photos are of a Romney fleece with six months growth which was shorn in the fall.  The fleece is a bit jumbled- but  the first picture shows about one third of the fleece, with the two small piles on the right being the fleece I’ve skirted out.

The next photo is a close up of some of the wool so you can see the staple.

From a spinner’s perspective, a lot depends on how bad the fleece is and how much you like it.  One of the frustrations is that the finest fleece around the neck is generally in the worst shape, as shown on the two diagrams below. 

When I skirt I actually sort into three bags:  Prime, Seconds, and Skirtings.  I’ve learned that I can often use the seconds- after washing and dyeing they can surprise me.  I’m still looking for skirting uses.  It composts very slowly, makes lousy mulch.  I’ve had people use it for insulation in a double wall (unwashed….not sure what it attracts).  Someone tried to use it as the first layer on a green (ie, planted) roof.  Our dogs have bags of it to sleep on during cold winters….but I just replace the wool if it gets soaked with urine or throw-up.


I do weigh and make notes about each fleece, and I use those notes when breeding and when culling.


When you buy a fleece it should be clean!  You still should lay it out and look at it whole.  Are the different sections of fleece similar in staple length and softness?  If not and you want to make one project from that whole fleece, you’ll need to take care to evenly blend the different kinds of fiber.  Lots of times I just use the different types of fleece in different ways.


Hope this helps you approach a fleece- buying one raw (in the grease) is a great way to start.  Fun- and it smells good.


Jill Horton-Lyons

Winterberry Farm


FIBERuary Green Mountain Spinnery


FIBERuary Day 20  Green Mountain Spinnery

Green Mountain Spinnery is a cooperatively run woolen spinning mill located in the southeast corner of Vermont.  It was founded in 1981 with three goals: creating yarns of the highest quality, supporting regional and breed specific sheep farming, and developing environmentally sound ways to process natural fibers.  We work exclusively with US sourced fibers and are one of the only certified organic yarn mills in the country.

You can learn a bit more about the founders by listening to Woolful podcast episode 41.  David, Claire and Libby share their memories of starting the Spinnery as well as their perspective on how it has evolved over the decades.

Today we balance our production between manufacturing yarns for our direct customers and processing fiber for others.  Shepherds, dyers and weavers have come to rely on our gained expertise to created finished products that maintain their fibers’ natural characteristics and charms.  These custom projects extend the range of fibers that we normally work with in our yarns (wool, alpaca, mohair, cotton and Tencel) to include some unusual fibers such as yak, bison, angora and camel.

Our mill resides in a converted gas station just off the northbound exit of I-91.   A tour through our facility will give you a unique chance to travel back in time thanks to the vintage machinery used in our manufacturing process.  For example, our extractor and several parts of our carding machine are over 100 years old.


Maintaining these machines and finding ways to re-use and recycle our fibers and water attests to our ongoing commitment to making our yarns with as minimal an impact on our local environment as possible.

And our yarns reflect our passion.

As the fiber is transformed from raw material to skein, it is handled and inspected over 20 times.  This ensures that there are many of us confirming the quality of our yarns at every step along the way.  And this attention to detail is valued by our customers who have come to trust the reliability of our products.











We hope that you’ll visit the Spinnery when you are in our corner of New England.  We’d love to walk you through our mill and share with you how fiber is transformed into yarn and from there into heirlooms that will be as functional as they are beautiful.



FIBERuary Eric and Barbara Goodchild


FIBERuary   Day 19  Eric and Barbara Goodchild -Handspun Yarn


Hello.  We are Barbara and Eric Goodchild of Barberic Farm in Shelburne, MA.  We are going to tell you about our handspun wool yarn.

Handspun yarn is yarn that is created by “hand” using just fingers, simple sticks, or more complicated machines run by people power, to twist fibers into heavier string than the original fiber.  This twisting holds the many short fibers together to create a stronger and longer “string” to make items from.

On our farm, handspun starts with our Romney sheep.  Care is taken all year to keep the wool on the sheep as clean as possible.  The sheep are fed from pastures free of high weeds and grass, with seeds that could get into their fleece.   In the winter, once the sheep are off of pasture, and in the barn full time, we put coats on the sheep.  A sheep coat is much like a dog coat.

Extra nutrition is given to the ewes (female sheep) when they are nursing their lambs, to keep the fibers strong while there is a big drain on the ewes natural resources as she feeds her lambs and grows her new fleece.  If a sheep becomes under-nourished or sick, this can cause the wool fibers to become thin or brittle.  This will cause a weak spot in the fiber that will break while being made into handspun.

Fibr 2.jpg

Shearing time on our farm is in March, about 4-6 weeks before lambing.  At that time each fleece is skirted to remove the dirty fleece and vegetable matter, weighed, measured, and labeled with the sheep’s name.  Fleeces are stored in brown paper bags until they are sold or sent to Still River Mill in  Eastford, CT to be made into roving.

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Roving is a continuous  length of washed, combed fibers that we use to spin into handspun.  The spinning of the yarn is done on our Ashford spinning wheel, which is powered by a foot pedal that causes the fly wheel to turn that powers the spinning apparatus.

Handspun wool yarn can be spun fine, medium or thick.  Just like commercially made yarns, the yarns thickness is defined by a number system.  Lace is #1. Sock is #2. DK or light worsted is #3. Worsted is #4. Heavy worsted is #5. And Bulky is #6.  These weights allow the knitter to know how best to use the yarn.

picture 4.jpg

Once the yarn is spun, we can ply 2 or more strands together to make a thicker or variegated colored yarn.  Once the bobbin on the spinning wheel is full, we remove the yarn and put it on a kniddy-knoddy.  This stretches the yarn to prevent tangles, and makes what is called a skein.  After plying each skein is soaked, drained, squeezed to remove the water, and hung at full length with a weight at the bottom to dry.  This process sets the twist of the yarn.

After the yarn is fully dry, we measure the skein’s length, weight, and thickness.  Now it is ready to be made into beautiful wool garments or crafts.






FIBERuary Day 9  Aaron Loux – Shearer, Sheep Breeder

Learning to shear sheep

Living in a culture that has become removed from its agricultural roots, how does anyone get started in sheep shearing? Some say it’s a calling, which I would not disagree with. But even though I have been a professional shearer for my entire working life, I still find myself explaining exactly what it is I do to ordinary citizens. I can’t say simply, “I’m a shearer”, as perhaps I’d be able to say as an introduction in a place like New Zealand. People who are connected to the sheep world in one way or another, understand the importance of getting the wool from the sheep’s body to the processing stages. These people probably see shearing as an important piece of the equation. Yet, they may not grasp the difficulty of the learning process.

I’ve heard it said that it takes a beginner shearer 1,000 sheep to “get the hang of it”, and 10,000 sheep to “be experienced”. Although that sounds daunting to someone trying to learn, I’d even argue those figures are on the low end. There are so many variables to learning, in regards to the learners’ aptitude, the kind of experience available, access to good training, and so on. The challenge of teaching the next generation of shearers is a continuous problem for the sheep industry. Furthermore, most who attempt learning will quit before reaching any of those milestones. As evidence of this, consider that a large number of sheep in the USA are shorn by migrant foreigners. Though much of learning to shear comes down to experience, it is only good quality experience that makes a good shearer. You can practice doing something the wrong way ad nauseum, but you may still be doing it the wrong way. Since shearing is generally piece work, efficiency becomes important. The more efficient you are, the more sheep you’ll shear, with less stress on the sheep. As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”. I’d argue that it is more like, “perfect practice makes perfect”.

As a 16 year old beginning shearer, I was fortunate enough to start with a few advantages. First, my family had been raising sheep my entire life. Eager to learn every aspect of the family tradition, I started shearing our sheep at about the time I learned to tie my shoes. I was comfortable handling sheep, and knew a few basics of shearing. I watched other shearers at every opportunity, and knew it was something that interested me. “All” I had left to do was learn the technique. Or as a shearer would say, the pattern. But it is a technique which proved to be much more difficult than I realized. Though shearing is sometimes thought of like riding a bike, where once you’ve got it you’re all set, it is actually much more in depth. It takes enormous dedication, and the humility to realize it is a lifelong learning pursuit. Another advantage I had as a youngster was that I already had a large network of sheep friends who were willing to let me practice on their flocks. At 16 I was quite stubborn, and when I picked up my handpiece for the first time, I knew I would never let myself quit.

Parts of my training were typical of any beginner. I went to shearing schools, watched videos, talked to experienced shearers, and never turned down opportunities to learn. When I realized I wanted to make it a full time job, I took my training more seriously. I went to New Zealand for a few months, where I sheared with some of the top shearers. A good friend I made in New Zealand went on to become a world record holder. I also made a few other long distance shearing trips in between jobs that were close to home. Besides the shearing skill needed, one of the hardest things is coming to terms with the lifestyle. Even if you don’t travel abroad, and decide to shear locally, the sheep population is very spread out. As a shearer, you learn to have a nomadic lifestyle. One season I looked back and realized that in a period of nine days, I had eight different sleeping arrangements. None of which were my own bed.

I have been approached by people who think they want to learn. I would love to be part of someone’s training, yet I am cautious. I need to give them realistic expectations. You will not learn in a day. Or a weekend, or a season. The equipment is expensive. Building clientele takes years. It takes several teachers to learn. Scheduling jobs can become a nightmare, since farmers’ management practices vary. The goal is to spend more time shearing and less time driving, but that does not always work. Being organized, then, is essential. Next to skill, reputation is the biggest asset. So, if you are too eager at the beginning, taking on jobs that are too big or difficult for your skill level, you risk damaging your reputation before you’ve even started.

After raising these points, you may be asking, “is trying to learn worth it?” For me, unequivocally yes. I cannot see myself doing anything else. There have been plenty of unenjoyable days; sore backs, misbehaved sheep, etc. But it’s good honest work, you can’t fake it. Whether your boss for the day has one sheep or thousands, they are appreciative of a job well done. There’s a reason they choose to hire a specialist. Maybe it’s all I know, or maybe I’m still like the stubborn 16 year old. Either way, it has been an incredible journey, and I have never found myself looking forward to retirement.

> Aaron Loux is a sheep enthusiast whose specialty is shearing. To book services, call or email. 413 230 8607.



FIBERuary   Day 8   Jill Horton Lyons part 2

Keeping the Sheep Alive or Living Harmoniously with Coyotes

Part 2

I spent lots of time that winter talking to farmers with guard dogs and reading about them.  Many shepherds in New England have Maremmas- great big white dogs that look similar to Great Pyrenees.  A friend put me in touch with a Maremma breeder in upstate New York.  First I read Jackie Church’s book, and then I went out and spent a day with her.  Although we’ve always had dogs and I grew up with dogs (my mother bred St. Bernards for awhile) I found the guard dogs pretty intimidating.  Because of their size, because of their bark, and because of the not friendly way they eyed me when I approached their pasture.  These dogs are not pets; they live full-time and year round with their stock.  Which was also intimidating:  What sort of a relationship does one have with a dog who lives with stock and not in the house?  Would it work to have these dogs with all the kids who come to our farm?


These dogs are expensive (about a thousand dollars for a puppy, at least twice that for an older dog).  And everyone I spoke with said that, given the intense predator pressure we had experienced, we needed at least two adult dogs.  Way more than we could afford!  I really liked Jackie’s Maremmas, and I liked the way her four homeschooled kids worked and played with them- the kids would be OK.  But the money was impossible.  I looked into rescue livestock guardian dogs.  Many had problems, and we knew we didn’t know enough to consider taking that on.  In the spring we got very, very lucky.  An experienced breeder suddenly had a working female available.  She’d gotten sick after whelping her pups and needed an emergency spaying. So she’d be available, as would one of her pups.  We jumped at the chance, even though we knew we’d be sleeping with the sheep for yet another grazing season.  (Too many coyotes for one dog to handle, and pups can’t handle adult work until almost two.)  So Alka and her puppy Boro came to the Leverett farm in March of 2012

Immediately we had complaints from our closest neighbor.  The dogs and sheep were right next to our house at night- but the neighbors wanted no barking between 10pm and 7am.  We explained again about the 17 killed sheep; they explained that barking was not tolerable to them for any reason.

Now Leverett had passed a Right to Farm Law which clearly stated that recognized agricultural practices were allowed.  The selectboard, however, initially treated the neighbors’ complaint as a dog nuisance problem.  So there were meetings with the Selectboard, meetings of the Agricultural Commission, talks with the Farm Bureau.  Things became quiet when the sheep- and dogs- and one of us after dark- went off to pasture.  But of course grazing ended, and the dogs and sheep came home.  And the complaints resumed.


So now what?  We were legally in the right, but our neighbors were making our lives very difficult.  Do we now just stop raising sheep?  We decided we weren’t ready to give up!  But we realized that to live in peace we would have to move.


The winter of 2012-13 started the serious farm search.  We finally found a hillside farm on 50 acres in Colrain and a buyer for our Leverett house.  We moved in late October 2013, jerry-rigging shelters for sheep and guard dogs, goats, and poultry.  We’re gradually getting settled; there’s now a small sheep barn, poultry and goat house.  We’ve had several open farm sheep shearings and we’re beginning to offer farm and fiber programs again.  We’re tired a lot (starting a new farm when most of your friends are retiring is a challenge), but living in a farming community is a wonderful treat.  And we’ve not lost one sheep to coyotes since the dogs arrived!

Now for a little factual information about livestock guardian dogs:

Various sorts of livestock guardian dogs (from now on, LGDs) have always lived with shepherds in any part of the world still inhabited by large predators.  In many places, shepherds take their animals into the mountains to graze in summer.  These shepherds are accompanied by herding dogs (like border collies, keeping the flock together) and by guard dogs. The LGDs are large, fierce when they need to be, but very much part of a unit with the shepherd and herding dogs.

In places where large predators were killed off (western Europe and the US), the LGDs gradually were transformed into people guarding dogs or simply companions, with  livestock guarding abilities lost.  In rugged terrain, though, old world shepherds still used both types of dogs.  Dog breeds are a modern convention; these shepherds worked with the same kind of large dogs used by generations of  local shepherds before them.  Now many of these different types of dogs have been given breed names.  In the book Livestock Guardians, Janet Vohrwald Doehner identifies 32 breeds of LGDs.  Many are rare or not even available in this country, but she describes the dogs’ differing guarding styles, their relative ferocity, their weather tolerances, and other variables.

In the US, LGDs were not used until after 1973.  The Endangered Species Act and a more nuanced understanding of ecological systems made the hunting and trapping of all large predators no longer possible.  Predation, particularly in the west, became a major problem.  Farmers and ranchers here were slow to consider LGDs, chiefly because American livestock practices had come primarily from Great Britain, and Great Britain was the earliest place wolves had been eliminated.  Ray Coppinger at Hampshire College was responsible for bringing several breeds of LGDs into this country and placing them with ranchers throughout the west.  People learned a lot about working with the dogs and they are now used in rural areas throughout the country.

The dogs bond with their livestock (initially with help and supervision) and understand that their job is the protection of their stock.  Since canines are territorial, they chiefly work by keeping other canines away.  This is done mostly by barking.  They notice and will bark at any change in their environment. If necessary they will physically challenge any predator who continues to threaten.

They learn who belongs on the farm and will often accept a known herding dog moving their flock.  They can be used to protect alpacas, horses, cattle and even poultry.  It’s important to us that our farm is able to co-exist with our local coyotes.

Our oldest LGD, Alka, was pictured in part 1.  She is a Sarplaninac (pronounced shar-pla-NEE-natz).  These dogs originated in Macedonia (the name means “LGD from the Shar Mountains”).  Her son, Boro, is half Maremma.  And our youngest dog, Grisha, is also a Shar.  He came from a ranch in Alberta, Canada.  More photos follow.

We welcome farm visitors with appointments if you would like to meet the guard dogs. We also welcome phone calls or emails.  Visit for more information.




FIBERuary Day 7 with Jill Horton Lyons  – Sheep breeder, Angora Rabbits, Guard Dogs, Herding Dogs , Spinner and Weaver and so much ore

Part 1


Keeping the Sheep Alive or Living Harmoniously with Coyotes


We’ve been raising sheep since 1985.  First in Leverett, then in Deerfield for six years, then back to Leverett for thirteen years.  And then in 2013 we moved to Colrain.


Our place in Leverett had only ten acres (which seemed a lot, coming from suburbia).  We fenced about half with hi-tensile wire and built a small sheep shed.  And began to search for unused fields in Leverett and nearby towns for summer grazing.  Over the years we grazed something like twenty properties.  Some arrangements worked well, others not so well.  And since we checked each group every day we did a lot of driving. The six years at Woolman Hill Retreat Center in Deerfield were lovely- we had fenced fields, places to graze with electronet and even a hay field.  Coming back to Leverett with sheep was not easy.


Now our first coyote experience was early on….probably about 1990 in Leverett.  Our four geese (white Chinas) free ranged.  Jim looked out the window one day and saw a coyote carrying off a goose.  He dashed outside, yelled and gave chase.  The goose was smart- she spread wide her big wings and the coyote couldn’t pass through some brush.  So the coyote dropped the goose (named Coyote for the rest of her days) and Jim brought her in to heal. And that was it- we don’t even remember hearing coyotes during the early Leverett days.


We did hear coyotes in Deerfield.  But our fencing was good and the sheep were fairly close by- very close by in winter.  We also had Abby- a big farm dog (wolfhound-akita cross).  Abby liked to circle our end of the acreage- especially early morning and late evening.  Which undoubtedly helped.


While we were in Deerfield the Leverett coyote population had evidently grown.  We heard them more often, and several times saw some rather mangy ones in our driveway.  But we co-existed just fine until 2010.  One day in August that year the ewes and ewe lambs were in electronet at Gordon King’s in East Leverett . (These fields were part of the land Gordon gave to the town which became conservation land.) There had been a drought, so we were feeding hay.  After some rain the fields were greening but we still fed hay, wanting the fields to recover.  Now electronet is something you train the sheep to- it’s mostly psychological.  And sheep love fresh grass much more than so-so hay.  So the night of the attack the sheep busted out.  The neighboring coyotes seized their opportunity- somehow all the sheep survived, but we lost seven of our eight ewe lambs.  Even though Gordon’s was our best and largest grazing, we moved the survivors that day.  In part hoping that the coyotes would forget about their feast.  (The good thing about coyotes is that they eat what they kill and they kill pretty efficiently.  Nothing like a domestic dog attack.)


The winter of 2010-2011 was fierce, with lots of snow.  Snow completely covered our perimeter fence.  So the sheep were fed in the field each day but came in at dusk.  But one day I left two of the wethers we use for dog training out in a back field.  They were dead in the morning.  Score is now coyotes 10- and they ate a couple of geese as well.


We researched and decided to buy a guard llama.  Supposedly quite effective and looking not at all threatening to all the walkers on Gordon’s land. Very expensive.


Sam the llama was a beautiful guy but absolutely no match for the now even larger coyote pack.  Who well remembered the taste of lamb.  So this time they stampeded the sheep through the fence themselves- and picked off another seven- six lambs and my favorite ewe.  (Sam did just fine later that summer guarding lambs in North Leverett.  The resident coyote was respectful of both fence and guardian.)


Do we stop raising sheep?  We sure can’t afford these losses!  So we spent most of the summer and early fall taking turns sleeping in the truck next to the sheep fence. (And dusk comes early in fall.)


We decided we wanted to keep the sheep.  Many of our friends used livestock guardian dogs to stop predation.  We were concerned that the dogs would frighten the walkers.  But we couldn’t figure out what else to try.

Part 2 tomorrow