Parry had a little lamb ... and more
Barbara Parry of Shelburne assists a ewe and her newborn lamb.
Submitted Photo/Ben Barnhart, courtesy of Roost Books
Ben Barnhart photo courtesy of Roost Books.
Barbara Parry examines fleece from shorn lambs.
Ben Barnhart photo submitted by Roost Books
Barbara Parry lowers skeins of uncolored yarn into a dye kettle.
SHELBURNE CENTER — You don’t have to like yarn to like Barbara Parry’s book: “Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm” (Roost Books). It’s about raising sheep and living on a farm in one of the most scenic places in New England — the Patten Hill District, near High Ledges.
It’s also about the dream of leaving the work-a-day world behind and starting a new life.
After Parry fell in love with weaving and spinning her own yarns, “it just wasn’t enough to buy a skein of yarn,” she says, in her farm-based studio. “I wanted to make my own yarn — starting with the sheep.”
Between the chapters called “Casting On” and “Binding Off,” (two knitting terms), there are knitting patterns and lessons in dyeing yarn, garden produce recipes from Hawley chef Margaret Fitzpatrick, and many good animal stories — not all with happy endings.
In addition, Conway photographer Ben Barnhart took lots of iconic photos of the landscape, of farming neighbors, baby lambs and the entire process of turning fleece into a spun fiber.
Parry will host a farm open house on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as part of a national “Small Business Saturday” event. Springdelle Farm and Parry’s studio are located at 125 Reynolds Road.
On Dec. 12, she’ll be signing copies of her book at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls. That event begins at 6:30 p.m.
Before she and her husband, retired Yankee Candle CEO Michael Parry, purchased the farm, Parry had been an English and writing teacher for 11 years at the Bement Upper School. But she also kept two sheep at their South Deerfield home.
“We bought Sprindelle in 2000,” said Parry, in her sunny studio, overlooking a sheep barn. “But the first year, only our sheep were living here — we weren’t, because we were building our house. The first year, I was commuting from South Deerfield,” she said. “During lambing season, I was staying here, sleeping in my car, so I could be there when they needed help.”
Even now — during the spring lambing season — Parry has a bed in the studio and a closed-circuit camera in the barn, so that she can observe the birthing process from a nearby computer monitor.
The 220-acre farm has about 60 sheep, depending on how many are born during lambing season — from late March through April.
“The reason for being present isn’t that you expect things to go wrong. But, what can happen is, you can have multiple mothers birthing at night. The ewes get confused about which lambs to claim,” she says.
When she is there, Parry dips the lamb’s umbilical cord into iodine, cuts it, and cradles the lamb in her arms, shows it to the mother, and moves away slightly. The ewe follows. “The mother’s adrenaline is pumping,” Parry explains. By moving the lamb in her arms, “You simulate that the lamb is walking, and the mother is picking up its scent and following. I put the mother and the new lambs into a lambing jug,” she said. “That really helps the lambs not to waste energy.”
Lambing jugs are small pens for mom and the newborns. It keeps them close together as they bond. Parry says the ewe doesn’t want other creatures near her offspring and will sometimes butt-away “nosy-body” ewes who stick their heads into the pen. Parry even has had some head-butts and bruises from sheep who, when not giving birth, are normally gentle.
In her book, Parry writes that, “As a shepherd, I do some of my best work in pajamas.” When asked if sheep most commonly go into labor in the middle of the night, Parry replied: “I don’t think there’s an hour of the day that we haven’t had lambs born.”
One of the patterns in her book is called “Jammies for Lambies,” and these were designed for shivering newborns by Holly Sonntag of Shelburne. Every so often, a newborn is especially frail or the wet newborn doesn’t get licked dry well enough by its mother. To keep a frail lamb from shivering away all its energy, Parry lopped off the sleeves of an old sweater, cut out holes for the legs, and put a makeshift “sweater” on the cold infant.
She blogged about her discovery and received bunches of sweater sleeves in the mail from online followers who wanted to help. “We referred to this as the ‘sweater drive,’” said Parry. Sonntag didn’t want to see perfectly good sweaters being cut up, so she designed the jammies, using one of the cut-up sleeves as a model.
But lamb “sweaters” should only be used when the lamb is in danger of hypothermia, Parry says. She said putting a sweater on a lamb could impair the bonding between mother and child, if the sweater smells different. “It’s not something you want to do, to dress them up to make them look cute,” said Parry. “You do what you have to do. The idea is not to tamper with nature.”
In case the readers don’t have any newborn lambs to warm up, the pattern can be modified to fit small dogs.
The list of designers who contributed other patterns includes Melissa Morgan-Oakes of Bernardston and Barbara Giguere of Shelburne.
Parry has been blogging about her “yarn farm” since 2007 — when farm blogs were not as common as they are now. Besides writing her own blog, she also contributed articles for Living Craft Magazine and a five-part series for an online magazine called Twist Collective. Parry’s series was called “Yarn from Sheep to Skein,” and it became the basis for this book proposal.
One of the chapters, “In a Wild Place,” is named in honor of the book written by Ellsworth “Dutchy” Barnard, whose nearby High Ledges property was donated to the Audubon Society in 1970.
This chapter tells the story of the Wolves’ Den Trail and of a predatory gray wolf, believed to have migrated from Canada, who attacked and killed about a dozen lambs in 2007, before it was killed by an area farmer.
Parry’s first book, in 2009, was called, “Teach Yourself VISUALLY Hand-Dyeing” and was part of a self-help series, written according to a very specific format.
Parry said her new book didn’t have to be written according to template. “With this book, I was set free. I could write it any way I wanted to. I had a clear vision of where I wanted to go — and that I wanted it to follow through images of any time of day or night.”
“I think there will be more readers who dream about doing this (running a farm), but never really will,” Parry said. “But for those thinking about doing it, they’ll read that it’s not all hillsides and springtime. I’m trying to show it as honestly as possible.”
Parry has run her yarn business, Foxfire Fiber and Designs, as a CSA (community-supported agriculture) since 2007.
“I just had somebody sign up from Australia, and from South Korea,” she said. “The Internet is a wonderful thing. We have no high-speed Internet where we live, and yet the Internet is the life-line of our revenue stream.”
She said 90 percent of her business comes from online orders.
Twice-a-year “sheep shares” are mailed from the farm, with each year bringing a different yarn or roving blend. Share-holders have a choice of receiving undyed natural wool or dyed skeins. Hand-spinners can opt for fleece instead of yarn if they want to make their own skeins.
Instead of offering specific colors for the hand-dyed yarn, the share-holders are given natural color “themes” to chose from: Country garden, woodlands, fields and meadows, and northern skies. They don’t know exactly what the hand-dyed yarn will look like, but that’s part of the fun, says Parry.
Also, the Parrys hold three special events for their farm share-holders: a special spring sheep-shearing day, a June “strolling of the lambs,” and an October “Fiber, Foliage and Friends” wrap-up party.
Parry still has one of her first sheep from South Deerfield, 17-year-old Cocoa, who resides in the “assisted living” pasture where Parry keeps her oldest favorites. Parry said a sheep can produce good quality wool for its entire life span, if it’s healthy and taken care of properly. She said she supplements the diets of some of the oldest sheep. If they don’t get enough nutrition, their fibers can get brittle.
For online information about Parry, go to:
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277