Cozying up with Blue Hen Blankets
Published: Monday, November 2, 2009
Updated: Monday, November 2, 2009 23:11
Far removed from the heart of the university and tucked away in a barn on South campus, resides a flock of university-owned Dorset sheep. Students and community members may not know they exist, but will soon have the chance to get up close and personal with the wool they provide.
The College of Agriculture & Natural Resources is, for the first time, auctioning Blue Hen Blankets & Yarn using wool shorn from the flock of university-owned sheep.
According to Katie O'Connell, the manager of communications for the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, auctioning began on Thursday, Oct. 15 and ended Thursday, Oct 29.
The auction required a minimum bid of $80 for lap throws and $150 for the queen-sized blankets. All bids had to be made in $5 increments.
O'Connell says Blue Hen Blankets & Yarn auctioned off a totall of 32 lap throws and 25 queen-sized blankets.
The blankets are all the same design, she says. All of the blankets have the year they are made and a serial number printed on them.
"The serial numbers add a novelty to the blankets," O'Connell says. "Obviously blankets numbered one are getting the highest bids right now. Other bidders have favorite numbers or are selecting graduation years and so on. And, thinking that we'll sell blankets again, it will be great for someone to be able to say that they have a blanket with a 2009 serial number, the first year they were produced."
The highest bid was on a queen-sized blankets with serial number 10 at $255. Most of the other queen-sized blankets sold for $200 each. The highest bid on the lap throws was $215 for serial number 1, with the rest hovering around $100.
Yarn created from the wool was also for sale. According to the Web site, yarn comes in 4 oz. hanks of either 2-ply 200 yard or 3-ply 126 yard lengths.
O'Connell says the proceeds will help to support the undergraduate large animal teaching programs of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.
"The idea of making blankets with the sheep has been tossed around for some time.," she says. "Really, it was a matter of finding a company who would do all of the processing from start to finish, starting with the raw wool and ending up with finished blankets."
According to Lesa Griffiths, a professor of animal science who instructs courses related to sheep, the blanket production process was modeled after a similar program at Cornell University.
She says Scott Hopkins, superintendent of the university farm, initially thought of selling blankets about a year and a half ago.
"We had wool saved from the last two years' spring shearings and were looking at options for wool products," Griffiths says.
Previously, the wool was sold through a regional wool pool, which is like a wool auction. Wool processors and their buyers would come to the sale and purchase the wool from multiple sellers.
The sheep themselves, she says, are part of a registered flock of 35 to 40 ewes that is part of the animal science and pre-veterinary medicine teaching program.
Griffiths says Dorset sheep are good all-around or all-purpose sheep and are known for providing lamb meat and wool. She also says they are one of the most popular breeds of sheep in the United States.
While the majority of the shearing is done by farm assistant Larry Armstrong, some students try their hand at shearing as part of a course in sheep production at the university.
"It is very tiring and difficult work," Griffiths says. "The goal is to shear each fleece without breaking the fleece up into small chunks or pieces of wool. The wool is sorted, baled and exported to MacAusland's Woollen Mills of Prince Edward Island, Canada."
According to MacAusland's Woollen Mills' Web site, the dirt and grease is first removed from the wool in a standard washing machine. After being dried, the wool is combed and brushed in a carding machine and spun into yarn.
"Wool is a strong, natural fiber that is environmentally friendly, renewable, and keeps people (and sheep) both warm and cool," Griffiths says.
O'Connell says that the response has been positive.
"We have bids from faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents of students, the general public — you name it," O'Connell says.