When shopping for yarn on the Prado de Lana Farm website, the description gives more than just gauge, length and color. Instead, knitters and crocheters don't just buy yarn, they buy "Anna's" yarn or a yarn blend from "Leona's boys," and each listing contains not just an image of the yarn itself, but the sheep from which the yarn came.
With this distinction, owners Amanda and Alberto Barcenas have established a business and a farm where their customers can form a bond with the animals who provide the products.
"We bag up each sheep's wool in their own bag after shearing and then I go through everyone's bag of wool to be sure it is the cleanest possible wool before it goes to the mill," said Shepherdess Amanda Barcenas. "We send it to a mill in Pennsylvania and they wash and card and spin it into yarn. They allow us to do this by the fleece or blend a few that are similar. When we get it back everything is labelled and uploaded to the website."
While today the Dublin-based farm provides a personal connection to the source for fiber arts enthusiasts, four years ago the Barcenas were living in Pennsylvania where Alberto was working on a large estate. They approached the owner about introducing small animals that would contribute to the care of the land in a natural way. Fortunately, she was all for it.
"We did a lot of research before we purchased (our first sheep), as we wanted to be sure we got the right breed for our family," Barcenas said. "We picked Romneys, which are a long wool breed and very docile, so they are easy to handle with young children and have few medical issues.
“Then Alberto found four white Lincoln ewes on Craigslist. They have similar characteristics with their health and temperament, but they have curly wool, instead of fluffy. They are also a rare breed, and that interested us.
“A couple years ago we added CBM sheep as well. They are a fine wool sheep and another rare breed."
The Prado de Lana sheep are primarily grass-fed and Barcenas stated that in the spring and summer the flock is "purely on pasture." The sheep "rotationally graze," she said, meaning that a small section of the larger pasture is fenced off and periodically this sub-area is reset, and the sheep moved to the new spot to graze, which also contributes to the health of the land.
"Being purely on pasture, our sheep might grow a bit slower, but we are okay with that as long as they are growing naturally," Barcenas said. "Sometimes we supplement with alfalfa pellets when the hay quality is down in the winter or when we wean the lambs to be sure they are getting all the nutrients they need since they are not on momma's milk anymore, but that doesn't last too long."
In cold temperatures, Barcenas says her flock doesn't seem to mind the frigid conditions or the snow, and although they have a shelter, they really only use it to get out of the wind or for shade on a hot summer day. Instead, having a full belly and eating, chewing their cud and ruminating keeps the sheep warm even in mid-winter.
When spring comes around, part of the flock is due for their annual shearing, while the rest await their turn in the fall.
"We hire a shearer to come in and then we try to make sure the sheep haven't eaten in about four or five hours," Barcenas explained. "If they are sitting on their rump with a full stomach that can be uncomfortable.
“We try to make it a relaxed environment, but most of our sheep have been through it before. When one sheep is done, Alberto and I move him or her out and bring the shearer the next one."
Beyond the yarn, the community can also "Follow my Fleece" with the Prado de Lana sheep. For a yearly subscription, anyone can pick a sheep to personally follow, and based on the price tier they choose, sponsors will receive monthly updates with videos or pictures of that sheep, some amount of yarn from the sheep chosen, an invitation to shearing day and more.
"Follow my Fleece started as another way to get people involved, and for education. All of our sheep have names and about 20 of them are available with a blurb on each one," Barcenas said. "Many people think, 'What would it be like to have my own farm?' or if they wanted to have sheep but couldn't this is a great way to be part of a farm.
“It is also a wonderful way to share agriculture, or for small children or those in an urban area to learn (about raising sheep)."
For more information about Prado de Lana Sheep Farm, including how to purchase yarn or to "Follow my Fleece," visit pradodelana.com. Upcoming appearances at fiber festivals will also be posted on Facebook at facebook.com/PradodeLana.