By Jan Jackson
CRABTREE, Ore. – Vickie Manns’ personal goal is to raise sheep that produces wool so soft that it feels exquisite next to the body. When she first saw Merinos 32-years ago while living with her husbands family on a sheep and cattle station in New South Wales Australia, she knew instantly that they were going to give her the wool she wanted. Everyone (including her husband) told her she couldn’t raise Merinos in the Willamette Valley because it rained too much. She did it anyway and made it work.
Manns, lives with her husband Peter on the 20-acre farm in Crabtree that her dad inherited from her grandfather. Born and raised a city girl in nearby Albany, she got started in her livestock adventure years ago when someone gave her an orphan lamb. Her learning process has been trial and error.
“There wasn’t anyone raising Merinos in Oregon when I bought my first ram and two ewes that originated from Mendenhall Wool Ranch in Loma Rica, California,” Manns said. “Of course, like everyone said it would, the first two years the fleece ruined when it felted on their backs from too much rain.
“I put rainproof coats on them thinking just keeping the rain off would solve the problem but my fleece quality didn’t improve until I changed my shearing time. I get the best results now, by shearing right after the cold dry period near the end of winter before the before spring rains start.
The Merino, instrumental in southwestern Spain’s development in the 15thand 16thcenturies, was further refined in the late 18thcentury in the hot, dry, semi-arid areas of Australia. The breed is prized for its fine wool used in making fine lingerie and high fashion garments. Manns’ wool tested between 15.5 to 18 microns the finer or lower the number of microns, the softer and more expensive the wool).
“I am constantly looking and trying to find wool processing mills close to home so I can keep the money in Oregon but so far haven’t found any that are prepared fore the extra strength grease cutting etc. that it takes to wash and further process the Merino’s wool,” Manns said. “I do my own dying and then send my wool to Canada because shipping is cheaper than sending it to the East Coast. Once it is processed into roving and yarn, I sell it at fiber arts shows like Scio Fat Lamb and Wool Show, Black Sheep Gathering and the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival.”
The Merino, though not the largest breed, averages 99 – 220 pounds for ewes up to 250 pounds for rams. Manns has had to make a number of adjustments to accommodate her five-foot-two frame and Crabtree Oregon’s annual 49-inches of rainfall. To stay ahead of the ever-present problem with foot rot and accommodate her slight five-foot-two-frame, she trains her rams to lift their feet like horses.
“I realize that the Merino is a specialty flock in the Willamette Valley and not a commercial one, but I love everything about them,” Manns said. “When you are determined, you can make things happen.”
Vickie Manns can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Jan Jackson