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Featured Artist: Dawn Richardson of Grindstone Ridge Farm with Fun Fiber Giveaway!

by EBlack on August 20, 2013

DR-GRF dawn watercolorPublishers Note: Hi Fiber Friends!  We are posting a little early this week because Spin Quest is happening this Saturday in Front Royal, Va and I will be preparing for the trip a little later this week.  Our Featured Artist this week is Dawn Richardson of Grindstone Ridge Farm who is also one of our Spin Quest vendors. 
After talking with many fiber farmers, I can safely say managing a farm seems like a monumental task. But Dawn Richardson of Grindstone Ridge Farm has taken farming one step further by making sure her animals and grounds are perfectly and carefully tended to, with tireless love and consideration. Dawn has been a farmer at heart for all her life and has utilized her livestock’s wool to create lovely fiber creations. It’s a pleasure to talk with such an inventive, resourceful, and inspiring fiber artist, farmer, and business owner.  
DR-GRF Dec. EggsSpin Artiste (SA): On your website, it reads that you purchased the farm property in 2006.  What led you to taking the big step of having a farm and raising livestock?

Dawn Richardson (DR): I have always wanted to raise chickens and sheep, so after my children graduated high school, we started looking for a starter farm.  I have raised my food most of my life, and have crafted with eggs and wool as well. It just seemed natural to raise these things myself.

SA: What a great step to take and your farm is amazing! I’m curious about your choices of sheep and goat breeds:  BFL, California Red Sheep and Angora Goats.  How did you arrive at selecting those breeds?DR-GRF Mom and Baby sheep 3

DR: I was looking at breeds that were dual purpose, with a wonderful wool product. I felt if the wool never sold, we would still be in love with  having sheep to mow the grass. The goats kinda just happened, along with the alpacas! I have found that owning livestock is a slippery slope!

SA: I’m sure all your sheep are grateful you decided to take the leap. What other breeds are you considering adding to the mix, and why?
DR-GRF Two Sheep in the barnDR: Right now I am very satisfied with the fibers that I am producing.  Having a fine longwool, oatmeal reddish colored medium wool, a Leicester Longwool for crafting and felting, alpacas and mohair seems to be just the right combination for me!
SA: That is a winning combination. How many animals do you have now and how much time does it take to care for them? What is your daily routine for caring for them? 
DR: I have ten California Red sheep, nine Bluefaced Leicesters, two Leicester Longwools, sixteen alpacas and seven Angora Goats.  DR-GRF chickenDepending on the time of year (breeding season, summer pastures, etc) animals get done in about 1/2 hour in the am, and about an hour plus in the evening for feeding, watering, and anything else that needs attention.  In the mornings I let the ducks out, feed pigs, hay sheep & alpacas, check water, gather any early eggs, feed the chickens.  In the evening I spend much more time in the barn with feeding sheep, alpacas, goats, pigs, making sure that chickens have food & water, topping off all water containers, rounding up ducks and getting them back into the duck area.  Actually getting the ducks back into their area is what takes up the most time! (if allowed out the ducks quack all night long, and leave their eggs where the dogs can eat them instead of me).  DR-GRF ducks in winterI also like to work with the animals in the evening if I am training anyone or shearing anyone. I try also to make time to snuggle with my younger alpacas, and give some of my favorite ewes scratches and kisses daily.
SA: Wow, talk about a full day of work and fun! Did you start beekeeping this year? If so, what has that experience been like?
DR: As a life long gardener, I have always dreamed of having bees. My son took on the responsibility of being the main bee keeper here and I get to stand and watch the fun. DR-GRF Sheep eatting wreathWell, not always so much fun – bees sting!  And of course, learning how not to react to a bee sting is a bit difficult! Keep calm, keep calm, keep calm, while a bee is climbing up your nose is very hard! I have only been stung twice so far, and still am in love with our bees.  We are not expecting honey their first year, but have plans to expand in the coming years.
SA: I thought about becoming a bee keeper but I’m sure I could not keep calm with a bee crawling on my nose.  I’m sure that delicious honey will make it all worthwhile. Tell us about the sustainable agricultural methods you are employing. Beyond what you are doing now, what further steps are you hoping to take in the future? 
DR: The biggest project we have going on now is field renovation. We live on South Mountain and the soil here is pretty bad and doesn’t sustain a good stand of grass at this point. We use the deep litter method for both the barn and chicken coops. Right now when the barn and coops are cleaned the straw and shavings are spread into one pasture and the pigs are plowing this into the soil. DR-GRF Animals coming from the gateWe have plans on moving this entire operation into every pasture that we have fenced. Nothing goes to waste here. The chickens eat leftovers, spoiled food, garden rubbish, bugs – as well as being my salad clean up crew.  The pigs rout out weeds and unwanted vegetation. I am using our livestock to clear pasture land that has not been used in decades.  The livestock are also in charge of all mowing and branch trimming. Guinea hens eat bugs in the fields and woods, as well as anything alive in the house gutters!   We are using multiple species and natural methods to improve our productivity for now and for the future.
DR-GRF Green and Blue woolSA: What a huge and productive undertaking. Bravo to you for taking these steps to make a better and more earth-friendly farm. What kinds of fibery goodness do you personally engage in?  Spinning, knitting, crochet, weaving?  How did you get started? 
DR: I am learning to knit now. I am still considered a beginner but am determined to wear products produced by my animals. I can spin, but am not really good at it.  My personal favorite is creating fiber mixes for others to spin and dying the rovings and yarns. I love to experiment with the different fibers to create one of a kind rovings and yarns that are wonderful for spinners and knitters to work with. DR-GRF Santa with BearsI also love to needle felt with the stuff that is left over after I have skirted my fleeces (I have found that felting is better with the ….  not so good stuff). I have created a yearly Santa and produced lots of felted sheep.
SA:  What fiber equipment do you have and love? 
DR-GRF BoPeep350DR: My absolute favorite fiber equipment is my sheep!
SA: I’m not surprised. With sleep like yours, they would be my favorites too. Who are the “characters” on the farm and what are their personalities like?
DR: We have LOTS of characters here!   Cissy, a BFL ewe can open doors, and the only reason she hasn’t been in the house is because she hasn’t figured out how to pull a door yet. Cissy also likes to come up to you and block your way, so that you can’t pass her by without a good scratch!   Pebs and Dot, both California Red ewes will knock on the back door for cookies. Pinky, another BFL ewe will just come up to me and stand waiting to get loved on. Most of my animals are very sweet, loveable, and affectionate.  They come to me for affection and just like to hang out where I am.  I do take out several sheep, Dot, Deb and Dharma, and my goats, Valentine, Patsy, Lily and Leia, to farmer’s markets and open houses so that children  (and adults) can interact with the animals.  They all love graham crackers and I get just as many requests from adults to feed the sheep as I get from children!
SA: What have been your greatest challenges in running a small agricultural business? 
DR-GRF Fleece bunnyDR: Connecting with people that want what I have. Advertising and marketing were not part of my skill sets when I started this farm – they are now! I am a “behind the scenes” person, so it has been hard for me to stand up and promote my business to the crowd.
SA: Sometimes word of month is the best promotion, and with a farm like yours, I know word will get out. What have been your greatest opportunities? 
DR: I don’t know if this has helped me with promoting local fibers and food, but I love taking the animals out and having people touch them. DR-GRF drying wool w: sheepWool still has such a bad rap from all those scratchy sweaters from years ago that I love to say “yes that is wool – isn’t it wonderful!?”
SA: Thanks, Dawn, for taking time away from your busy schedule to chat with us. Let me ask you one more question before you go back to tending your sheep. What is your favorite guilty pleasure? 
DR: Pheasants.
DR-GRF bopeepSA:  Pheasants!  That is a first!!  Dawn, I look forward to seeing you on Saturday and getting to experience your fine products in person.  Readers, Dawn has a sweet giveaway for you…one of her fun needle felted “Little Lambie”.  To enter, please leave a comment on this post.  Additional entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Just leave a comment letting us know that you did.  Deadline for entries is Sunday, August 25th, 5 PM EST.  And, please remember to include your email so that we can get in touch with you.

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