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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 97a............Fall 1998  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Our Angora Goats and Teir Fiber


Stan and I have been raising this wonderful animal for approximately 16 years. Our first band of angora goats came into our lives like a hurricane. We wanted a wether or two so that I could spin mohair and, as fate would have it, ended up with a herd.splash dot!


Amongst this early herd was a herd sire appropriately named "The General". Behind him strutted about 6 eager wethers, his regal battalion, I guessed. Lastly, there were a few sundry does. It was 1982 or so, and colored angora goats were still unheard of, at least by us. These were all "grade" angora goats, with General sporting the only registration, and, of course, an all white herd.splash dot!


There was a doeling in the herd, though, who was definitely a silver blue color with a wide black stripe running through both horns. She sported a dark nose. We named her "Mildew." I looked at her and said to myself, "automatic cull", gleaning from reading I had done that she was not a quality goat. Stan, though, kept telling me we had an exceptional goat, lauding that extra color. He couldn’t wait to see what kind of kids she would have.splash dot!


Glossy General won our hearts, his gentle personality brought on by old age, a polled head (later we found out we did not want any of our goats polled), and the fact that he was bottle fed as a baby. The herd began to reproduce, little goats were born on our 20 acre farm, and we were soon addicted to the angora goat with all its wiles and idiosyncrasies and have raised them ever sincesplash dot!


We moved to Oregon five years ago, selling our Montana herd with great heart pangs of sorrow and hope that we were not doing the wrong thing by doing so. We had every hope that we would come to the "fiber capital" of the world (Oregon) and not have a difficult time replacing our lovely herd.splash dot!


Not so. It was incredibly difficult finding the beginning of a herd that fit our specifications. Our first attempt was a total fiasco. I combed classified ads in various newspapers and saw "angora goats for sale". Medford was only 45 minutes away, and I had visions of my angora herd beginning anew in our vast green back 40. Borrowing a neighbor’s horse trailer, we drove out that day. A kind man with a Spanish accent greeted us and immediately handed me a little white buck kid while we walked through his pasture examining the small group for sale. There were two large white bucks with wavy white hair, along with two does, one of which would soon give birth. I looked down at the newborn and did not see the tightly crimped curl I was so used to seeing on newborn angoras. Confused, ignoring the blinking red "caution" sign signaling my brain, all I knew was that our new back forty was empty. I wanted the goats – those two stinky bucks, the does and baby, so we loaded them into our neighbors’ borrowed trailer, and drove home.splash dot!


After placing them in a pen, Stan and I stood there examining our new acquisitions, our hearts beating faster and faster with the new found knowledge that we did indeed leap in the dark and made a very wrong move.splash dot!


The next day we called the seller and begged him - could we please return the goats. I allowed my husband to make me the culprit, and Stan said, "my wife just can’t use this fiber. It’s not the mohair that she is used to." After some lengthy negotiating, we returned the goats. Part of the deal was that we had to take a $50 loss and Stan told the seller he would shear the bucks, heavy laden with a thick coat of wavy hair. Even so, it was all worth it to us. (When is the last time you hired someone to shear your goats and he paid you to do it?) We still laugh at our near catastrophic purchase.splash dot!


Out of that close call, we searched the classified ads continually. Another ad for angoras. This one said, "registered buck". Dare we? We decided to chance it, driving from our new home in southern Oregon five hours one way to Portland. Exhausted, ready to purchase because the buck was registered and not a half-breed, we were again in our now familiar "buy anything" plight, as long as we saw those familiar tight curls and tendrils.splash dot!


We ended up with a registered buck who had no fear of any member of the human race, and quite the opposite, enjoyed challenging humans to a good fight. He was big and his horns could do a real number on an unsuspecting person whose back was turned for a moment. Stan won the buck’s respect soon enough, but I never could trust "Mo" and kept my distance. We purchased him, a doe and a doeling. Afterall, the crimp was there in all three goats.splash dot!


With time we found that Mo’s fiber was full of crimp, but dense with grease. Worse yet, he threw that trait to all kids he sired. I could barely wash the grease out with three hot water and soap baths.splash dot!


It was not until we made it to our first Black Sheep Gathering (June 1994) that we discovered that true angora goats did still exist and that we could still place into our herd the traits and quality and crimp and spinnability we once had and let go of. And something else was added to the equation: color! From the first time our wide-eyed gazes looked at colored angora goats, we knew we wanted color in our herd.splash dot!


We brought home a young black buck whose hair frizzed delightfully and was carrying a 2nd place red ribbon next to his name. Zebulon (a Coon Hollow yearling) became part of the small herd that day.splash dot!


The following year at the Gathering we added "Isha" (young black doeling) to our herd. By this time we decided on what we were looking for in breeding does, and drove out to Kidoebuck’s farm in Yoncalla, Oregon to view any doelings they might have for sale. We saw a satiny almond colored doeling sporting a black nose (Stan never could forget "Mildew"). Kidoebuck told us "no, that one is not for sale." We couldn’t get our eyes off of her and finally, with reluctance borne of the knowledge they were selling a breeding line they could never replace (and now I know that feeling since I’ve embarked on breeding these creatures myself), they allowed us to purchase her. Her sire was black as an ace of spades and certainly looked like a registered buck except for his black coloring. She had a forehead full of curls and I could hardly find her eyes. Fleece galore, crimp galore, and color genes.splash dot!


It’s spring in Oregon; the plum tree festooned with bloom has already shed its white bouquet. The goat kids are outside bouncing from volcanic rock to volcanic rock in their green pasture. We’ve had the elation of seeing our first color kids born on the farm. A rainbow array, their tap-dances and pirouettes are visual background to the steady click-clack of the loom.splash dot!


Carding and Spinning Mohair

When one has been captivated, lured and snared by the elegant creature called "angora goat", when one’s heart has been stolen by its antics, personality and winsome looks, but more than this, when one is a spinner of fiber and finds out what a lustrous and incredible fleece the goat gives twice a year at shearing time, the time for debate is blown to the winds. Acquiring a herd becomes an overwhelming compulsion. Psychoanalysis might reveal an innate character weakness in those of us who have an ever incessant need to acquire yet another goat (sheep people have this same psychosis, I’m told) when the "larder is already full" as it were, or more to the point, "the barn cannot hold another one.".splash dot!


But, I confess to the addiction, and so far as I know, there is no cure.splash dot!


My clothing is usually laden with curly hairs, especially if I have been sitting at the spinning wheel for any length of time spinning mohair. Stan has learned that an occasional mohair fiber in his dinner is to be expected. My guests have all been polite as they fish out the mohair from a mouthful of spaghetti or a slice of home baked bread. I have learned to wear high-powered reading glasses while preparing food, which seems to help, anyway.splash dot!


In the back room of this small house, a catch-all room that houses muddy boots, a treasure trove of odds and ends in boxes, two freezers and a washing machine, there is a circa-1920's drum carder hauled from Massachusetts by some enterprising lover of the fiber industry. When we bought this house in Oregon, relocating from Montana, our dream list was small. One of its edicts: "get a drum carder".splash dot!


Stan’s the carding man. Actually, that huge machine (called a "sample card" because it was used in the ‘20's to make a sample of what the wool would work up to), a cast iron behemoth, sat mostly unused the first three years we were here. We had tried to card mohair, the fiber of our choice, but kept finding the fiber breaking or pilling on the carder. The adult fiber seemed to work fairly well, but I was more interested in carding yearling or even kid hair.

So, the cast iron antique collected dust in the back room, and any mohair that I washed and dried and picked was put (believe it or not) into a small hand crank carder I had owned for years, whose teeth were mostly missing on one drum, and whose stalwart presence was both loved and hated by me at the same time. Its rubber band finally snapped one day (the one that turned the drums) and I pulled out a worn pair of nylons, tying a nylon band around the drums. I was forever taking the unit apart because mohair had a tendency to clog the drum ends leaving them motionless even though I cranked away. There was no doubt that the little wooden carder was old and had seen better days. I was desperate. I wanted the cast iron behemoth in the back room to work. But Stan was so busy building a barn....splash dot!


Event: The ’97 Black Sheep Gathering: you meet the nicest and most helpful people at that place! We had read articles that said extreme care in washing was the key to non-pilling in the carding process. It was time to talk to carding folks at the Gathering. One helpful person insisted that other than squeaky cleanliness of the wool or mohair, speed of the drums was an important aspect. If the drums were going too fast (past 65 rpm), we’d pill. Our big drum was going l20 rpm, which means that the "workers and strippers" were flying.splash dot!


So, Stan conceived of a plan sometime after the Gathering in ‘97. When we got home he took out his tool box of wrenches and began to dismantle the huge machine. He completely reconfigured it, removing all the strippers and leaving only the workers. A "stripper" takes the mohair off the workers and puts it back on the main drum. A "worker" combs and aligns the fiber, with the finished product being a batt on the main drum.splash dot!


I watched Stan’s careful artisan hands fine tuning all the adjustments after removing the "fancy" and three strippers from the blue painted machine. He geared down the rpm’s; most of the drums were set aside. Now, time for the test run: Stan asked me to bring a clean batch of picked mohair to him. (We have a Patrick Green picker>The.splash dot!


mohair glided effortlessly over and around the drums, the incessant whir of the motor and cadence of the drums a steady hum. No more electricity in the air, with flying pieces of mohair coating everything in sight! No more "nubs" in the finished product, a spinner’s nightmare. Instead, we removed batt after batt of perfectly carded mohair – and the largest victory was the fact that it did not matter if it was adult, or first shearing kid. It was all the same, a perfect batt every time, and consequently, a perfectly spun skein every time.splash dot!


One plus from the configuration was that the coarse hairs, debris, second cuttings and the like were neatly removed by the comb drum, and stayed on that drum. My husband hadn’t planned it that way - it just happened. We call the fiber we doff from that drum our "seconds fiber" and a friend of mine from Montana never turns a batch of that down when I send it to her, making fine mohair yarns from that carded batt.splash dot!


It’s been an experience in "making do" with the equipment one has on hand, and a learning experience that’s taken years. Processing mohair is not easy, but it can be done. And processing kid mohair, the nemesis of most fiber artists, is now a breeze. The mohair blankets I’ve been turning out on my loom these days, of 100% hand-spun mohair fiber, bring in a small income and a large return in the way of satisfaction and smiles from me, the spinner and weaver in this small operation. When it comes to handspun mohair, it’s all in the ease of spinning. And when it comes to ease of spinning, it’s all in the carding.splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484