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After 23 happy years at Cwmchwefru Farm, we headed south and now live in Laugharne. We took on a very neglected small ex-dairy farm so the challenge for the next few years is to get it back to how it should be and suitable for the sheep. With no electricity or water in the very small barn (too small to fit all the sheep) and moving in just before lambing time, it was mad panic to sort out what was possible.
There was no suitable studio space for knitting, so that was another vital need to sort fairly qickly. The studio is called after the shop we had in Hay on Wye, so it is The Ewe Tree Studio. Visitors are welcome by arrangement.
Some of this year’s lambs and their mothers enjoying the lush grass at the new farm
The Ewe Tree Studio open for visitors
Our sheep have been carefully bred for over 30 years to provide high-quality wool in a variety of natural colours. With no need for dyeing, the wool is very eco-friendly. It only travels to West Wales to be spun, so has very low “fibre miles” – even more eco-friendly.
It all started when Lesley learned to spin and discovered that however good the spinning, good quality wool was needed too. Rubbish in, rubbish out. There were not many coloured sheep around at that time so a search began, and soon the meat sheep on the smallholding were ousted by the foundation stock for the wool flock, with a large learning curve about wool types in the different breeds going on at the same time.
No one breed gave all the qualities needed, so the flock has always been ‘mongrel’, with various breeds added in to the mix over the years. A move to a hill farm in Mid Wales gave more space to enlarge the breeding programme, with up to 300 ewes plus their lambs at one time.
Breeds used over the years have mainly been the old (and now rare) breeds, plus some ‘foreigners’. They include Shetland, Cotswold, Ryeland, Wensleydale and Portland, with Gotland, Corriedale and Merino. The first-ever tup was an Icelandic, and we have come full circle with an Icelandic again right now. In between, even the tups have been cross-bred, so all of the sheep are a real mix.
Their fleeces are a mix of types, as each sheep throws back to a different side of its breeding. This means that the fleece ‘stash’ is a treasure-trove for spinners; whatever staple length and type of wool is needed for a project can be found here, and in many different colours too.
The farm was also home to The Vatch Herd of pedigree Dexter cattle. Founded in 1982, breeding concentrated on the long-legged type to avoid any genetic problems, producing a good-sized animal with a calm temperament. All three colours in the breed (black, red and dun) appear in the herd, and many are also naturally polled.
At various times we also kept hens, pigs, and Boer and Angora goats.
With retirement from full-time farming these have all gone, and The Vatch herd has moved to Pontarddulais near Swansea, having been taken on by our daughter.
Long before she had the sheep, Lesley was a knitwear designer using a knitting machine. She now specialises in using her own wool and various products are available from the sheep as well as the knitwear:
Organically tanned sheepskins:
Woven throws and scarves:
Wool for hand knitting in various colours:
Fleeces for spinners:
Washed and carded fleece for spinners and felters, and, of course, jumpers…
In many styles, some are one-off designer originals, and for men and women alike.
Also hats, scarves, mittens, skirts, jackets, etc…