Hi, my name is Carol Treadwell-Steitz. I’m midwife to ewes, chief wool handler, and farm hand at Steitzhof Merinos. I’ve been assigned to write about the MTFS April word of the month – “Raw.”
I spent my youth and middle years pursuing degrees and certifications and collecting acronyms to put after my name. I was hungry for knowledge, seeking answers, wanting to know the exact truth of things. Sort of like the Indigo Girls song “I went to see the Doctor of Philosophy…” Some time in my mid fifties my husband retired and informed me that we would raise sheep as a way to regenerate the soil and pastures on the 10 acre spread we had just moved to in Montana. That was twelve years ago and it’s been the most real, raw, and rewarding thing I’ve done in my life.
In the second year after becoming a shepherdess, my fellow shepherd, John, asked me to help a ewe while he strapped a prolapse paddle on her. I put my fingers in a place I’d never thought they’d go. The next year John said “my hands are too big to get in and pull this one, you’ll have to do it.” And I put my whole arm in a
place I never thought it would go. Most of our ewes birth naturally – easy peasy, but every once in a while we assist. It’s one of the most real and rewarding feelings to say “I saved a life today.”
April weather is raw. In fact, spring is my least favorite season on the ranch. Watching lovely white snow melt into poop soup makes my gut wrench. Lambing in a snowstorm is raw. The winds whipping across eastern Montana are raw. But the rawest element of being a shepherdess is losing the battle. The ewe who ages out, dies in your arms, or finds the worst, most untimely way to pass. That’s raw. It’s a smack in the face with an icicle, a fight to diagnose unrewarded.
The most important raw is raw wool! Lustrous, crimpy, soft. Some spinners like to spin “in the grease,” which I suppose you could say is “spinning in the raw.”
On our farm we strive to produce the highest quality, colored fine raw wool fleeces. To this end, we continually work to improve our feed plan and feeding system. The jackets used to produce clean wool add a bit of work to our annual schedule but it comes with great rewards. In the process of changing coats, we constantly handle our sheep. They become familiar with us and some of them even accept
a kiss on the nose once in a while. That’s rewarding. We get to know their personalities, quirks, and dispositions. They make us laugh daily.
A personal reward for me is that, while I was “seeing the doctor,” I was studying the role of arid soils in the global carbon cycle. I was passionate about saving the world from “climate change” through carbon storage and capture in soils. Little did I know, that ideology would come full circle, and later in life I’d be raising sheep. Sheep help regenerate landscapes by adding organic matter (poop carbon) to the soil. In turn, the soil holds more water and supports healthier pasture. As a fiber artist you play an important role in carbon sequestration. Sheep turn grass into wool, wool is 50% carbon; you knit a wool sweater, it lasts a lifetime, carbon captured. My life has come full circle. I used to study it, now I do it. That’s rewarding.
The biggest reward of all is when a customer writes or calls to say “this is the most amazing fleece I’ve ever worked with!” Steitzhof fleeces have won ribbons and trophies every color of the rainbow but nothing is as rewarding as seeing pictures of the lovely garments our customers create.
While Steitzhof fleeces ship to all corners of the globe, our yarns stay in Montana. A portion of our clip is processed at The Wool Mill, in Belgrade, MT, a zero waste, solar powered, woman owned and operated business. We sell it at fiber shows in Montana and at Fiber LLC. in Big Fork, MT. Montana knitters and weavers make it into sweaters, hats, scarves, and other soft to the skin garments worn in Montana. From one shepherdess to another, “Thas wha’ I’m talkin’ about!” – 100% Montana grown, made, crafted, and worn in Montana. That’s rewarding!
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