Friday, May 31, 2013

A Wooltastic Visit to Imperial Stock Ranch--Shaniko, Oregon


When Jaime and I planned our trip to Portland for Quilt Market, we knew we had to set aside a day to visit one of our favorite yarn producers, Imperial Stock Ranch, in Shaniko, Oregon.

Jeanne Carver of Imperial Stock Ranch was there to greet us with her herd of adorable Columbia Sheep, including some sweet lambs.

Jeanne with Charlotte Rose, one cuddly lamb-ster.
Imperial Stock Ranch was founded in 1871 which means they recently had their 150 year anniversary! Jeanne was kind enough to spend the day with us and share the history and intent of this unique ranch. The only Oregon working ranch on the National Register of Historic Places, this family owned ranch has a focus on sustainability and mindful land stewardship. It was breathtaking to see and hear the stories of this magical place.

One of the many majestic old barns from the early days of the ranch
The ranch was founded by Richard Hinton and is where he began developing the cross-breed that would become the Columbia breed of sheep. The ranch is dotted with poplar groves and fruit orchards planted by the first ranchers. Today the 50 square mile ranch is home to 300 Columbia Sheep and 800 cattle, as well as 500 wild elk.

Scott training one of the young herding dogs

The Carver family shared their love and respect for the land they live on and the animals there. Since they became stewards of the land in the late 80s, they have been working towards more sustainable and healthier ranching practices to improve the surrounding environment. Dan Carver shared with us his experience of seeing the health of their land reflected in the native fish. In the decades they have been working the ranch, and by working together with other local ranchers, they have seen the yearly count of salmon in the rivers go from what you can count on one hand to, in years recently, over 800 salmon.

Wildflowers and wild sage
Inside one of the historic barns is where spring shearing happens. Jeanne took us on a tour of their shearing barn, which works the same way as it did in the early days, except for the added convenience of electric shears.

A large skirting table  |  The wooden chute for bagging wool

Each sheep is sheared and--one fleece at a time--the fleece is skirted. It is thrown whole onto the skirting table, where dirty bits and locks that are too small will fall through the wire mesh table. Someone will give it a look and remove more of the dirty and short pieces that aren't fit to go to the mill and become yarn.

Then the fleece is handed off to someone who will bag it. The wooden chute is about 10 feet tall and holds a giant bag open. Once a few fleeces are in the bag, a person will climb into the bag and step on the wool to pack it into the bag. The fleeces continue to be added until the person inside stomps enough fleeces to fill the bag and climb out. That sounds like an awesome/greasy job! I bet all that lanolin makes for some really nice skin.

Jaime and I stand on over a ton of freshly bagged wool
Each of these giant bags holds about 300lbs of wool. That means we are standing on 1.35 tons of wool. Sweet.

Many of the sheep like to spend the afternoon in the field  next to Jeanne's backyard
Each year Jeanne is a foster mom to several lambs--those who are born to ewes that can't care for them or have one too many babies. These well-socialized lambs followed us around like puppies and were more than happy to let us play with them.

What else would young Charlotte Rose wear around her neck but an Imperial Stock Yarn bow?

Jaime and some sleepy lambs
Can we please take these babies home?

Thanks to Jeanne, Dan, Keelia, Scott, Leah, Blaine and everyone at Imperial Stock for sharing your story with us, and for making fantastic American yarns!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Looks like a sheepy good time! What a bunch of cuties.