Melissa Kness, Shepherdess
In the Spring 2017 issue of THISyarn - we will be showing you what we've been weaving over the past several months to inspire your creativity in this ancient art form. Art Yarn & Weaving are like chocolate & peanut butter. They just go together. Below is an article interview with Melissa Kness, who contributed Teeswater Locks to her friend Laura Spinner to spin into a fun tailspun style art yarn that was featured in many of our weavings. Stay Tuned for photos & articles starring Melissa's wooly locks! - Ashley Martineau
Growing up on a ranch in southern Oregon Mom and Dad had a large herd of sheep. As a toddler I helped nurse bummer lambs back to health by the warm fire. Mom tells me I often tried to share a bottle with the lambs.
I had the love for sheep early in life. One Thanksgiving my mother-in-law taught me to knit and this sparked an interest in wool sheep. I wanted a rare and unique herd of my own. I began my search and discovered Cormos with their fine wool. That year I attended the Black Sheep Festival in Eugene, Oregon. While walking through the sheep barn I found the most beautiful sheep I had ever seen. She was striking with long gorgeous locks and black eyes and nose. I learned that this lovely animal was a Teeswater, a UK native. They are a rare and unique breed that is being introduced to North America through artificial insemination, as it is prohibited to import sheep from across the pond. I learned there were very few Teeswaters in North America.
Roy and Myrtle Dow of Colorado had a fantastic herd and I begin collecting the beautiful animals one at a time from them. Soon I had a herd of six Teeswaters. Bow Peep, my very first ewe from the Dow’s produced Vulcan from my first A.I. He is a 96.8% Teeswater ram, which is rare here in the US. He is a blessing, being beautiful and friendly. He has been the cornerstone of my program as I continue expanding my herd with wonderful Teeswaters.
Introducing Teeswaters to the US has been challenging with periodic bans on importing semen due to health scares in the UK, which has limited introducing new genetics.
As we all know, sheep multiply at a rapid rate and I now have a herd of 25 Teeswaters. My sheep are very sweet and friendly. At feeding time they gather around for their pats on their heads. I also find this a good time to continually evaluate their conditioning by feeling their backs and noting if one is standing back from feed, or any other behavior that may catch my eye.
Learning to take care of their long wool needs has been a challenge. To produce a quality fleece, long wools need to be fed well with a good balance of minerals. Special attention is required their first year to get them to grow big and strong to produce that first hogget fleece that everyone covets. A fleece 12 plus inches takes a lot of time and energy. Every time the sheep are moved to a new pasture I watch for any changes and adjust the rations as necessary. I have read “The Natural Sheep Guide” by Pat Colby, as well as pick up tips from fellow shepherds with hands on experience
I learned that if they are kept washed up and groomed when the fleece is ready to be clipped it comes off so nice. Also, I have chosen to hand clip my girls the old fashion way. I find this helps me sort the best locks off as I clip. The ewes are kept on their feet and stand calmly as I shear, and I feel this helps with their overall disposition too.
There is a lot of love and work that goes into raising these animals for art yarn, doll hair and other crafts. I very much enjoy and love my sheep and I hope you will enjoy and love working with fiber they have produced.