Vertical Integration

March 15, 2021

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As we get ready for shearing this Saturday and enter our ninth lambing season, I looked at our blog this afternoon and saw only five posts for all of 2020 and none since May.  Maybe the pandemic impacted our storytelling abilities and desires.  Maybe not – only six blog posts in 2019.

It’s reasonable to say we’ve settled into a routine by now.  Shearing in March; lambing in April; rotational grazing and Farmer’s Market booths in the spring, summer and fall; breeding and slaughter in November; hay and heated water buckets in the winter.  Repeat.  In our first years, most of our posts were focused on firsts for us, for the flock, for the farm.  Lately, maybe we just haven’t had as many “firsts”.

BUT, behind the scenes we’ve been busy preparing for some big changes, big firsts.

The backstory begins with last year’s shearing, which happened on March 21, 2020 (also the date that our first grandson was born!) just as everything was shutting down from Covid 19.  We limited the number of helpers and had a successful day.  A week or so later, Peg loaded the fleeces in the truck and drove with Amanda to an out-of-state mill that told us they were still accepting fleeces despite the lockdown.  The mill was new to us but has been offering custom spinning services since 2009 using refurbished traditional milling machinery.

We didn’t know when to expect to see our fleeces come back as yarn, so we were surprised when the mill told us the yarn was ready in late May.  Peg picked up about 300 pounds of yarn.  The night she got back from the mill, I asked her how its looked.  Her reply, “I’ll look at it tomorrow.”

The next night, this sentence uttered by Peg pretty much summed things up, “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”  Not to belabor it, but the majority of the yarn was not of the quality Peg has seen from three other mills we have used and she didn’t think she could sell it.

Over the next few months, Peg and Amanda began talking about starting their own mill.  They had discussions with Michael Hampton, who had processed our yarn from 2013 to 2017.  Michael presented them with a price tag for all his equipment, and they reached a deal.  They looked around for space for the new mill and found space to lease in downtown White River Junction. 

Last week, Junction Fiber Mill produced its first 1100 yards of two-ply yarn.  Amanda and Peg were featured in the business section of the Sunday Valley News.  A co-worker who saw the story asked me this morning, “Are you going to process your fleeces at the mill?”

Spinning Machine

Yes, yes we are.  While Junction Fiber Mill is co-owned by Amanda and Peg, conceptually we have pretty much vertically integrated the entire fiber chain:  grow lambs to sheep, shear lambs and sheep for fleece, process fleece to yarn, sell yarn to wholesale and retail customers.   The empire grows.

– Todd

 

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