This is research month and winter is a fine time to do it. There are four immediate areas to be investigated so you make the best decisions and don't have regrets.
Animals and Their Care
First of all, what animals appeal to you? Is there a species you have always gravitated to or with which you have some experience? Experience is always the best teacher. Or, perhaps, you choices will be dictated by where you live. You can have a rabbitry of angora rabbits in a city back yard or ventilated garage/shed if local zoning allows this. If you have more land and can afford fencing and shelter, larger animals are within range. Once again, check zoning and any land use restrictions that might be in the property deed. Expense of animals, infrastructure, feed and possible vet bills will narrow selection. It's best to start small.
Fencing, shelter and feed storage requirements
These vary with species. Fiber goats are hard on fencing as are all goats. They rub against it and put their feet on it which will break it down. Rigid livestock panels are a good choice for goats. Sheep are more passive about fencing and field fencing will do. Any animal with horns can get their heads caught in fencing if they can stick their heads through to graze on the other side. Rabbits have cage size requirements that correspond to their size. Female rabbits can be kept loose in a colony arrangement as long as they have enough places to hide and a dig proof floor.
Also, where will feed be stored? Do you have a source of hay and feed that can keep you supplied throughout the year or will you need to buy annually/semi annually and have a dry place to store it?
Tools and Machinery
Tools for cleaning range from a wheelbarrow, rake and shovel to heavy duty machinery. A location for dumping manure and bedding needs to be away from the well.
If you plan on removing fleece yourself, you will need scissors or clippers depending on the animal.
Sending fleece to a mill to be cleaned and spun eliminates the need for processing equipment, but it is expensive and there can be a long wait to get yarn back.
A yarn farm can be an expensive hobby if everything is to be purchased at once. The animals, shelter, any equipment or tools, fencing, feed costs, wormers, supplements, and veterinary expenses combine to quite a total. A bad hay year drives hay prices sky high. Hydroponic fodder can be grown to offset this, but the cost of seed and the setup should be figured into the budget.
This is dye research month. No matter whether you send your fiber to a mill or process yourself, you might want to dye it. There are chemical and natural dyes. Each have pros and cons. Natural dyes are used in combination with mordanting agents, such as alum, that bind the dye to the yarn. Without these fixatives, the result may not be color or light fast.
A small dye garden can be planned and seeds ordered. The garden should contain plants from the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow. You can then mix or over dye yarn to achieve other colors. The can be as simple as growing the plants in pots/planters on a porch or patio. You won't get a lot of dye material, but it is fine for experimental purposes.
Tour a fiber farm virtually or in person, especially at chore time. There is no better way to see the work involved before making a commitment. Some ways to connect with local farms are through social media, Local Harvest or contacting your local cooperative extension.
Look around for raw fleeces, roving, combed top or yarn from your chosen animal(s). Processing a raw fleece will be intimidating, but is a great way to learn. Handling and spinning the fiber reveals the attributes and you can see if it is what you like. If you can't spin, using breed/species specific yarn will serve the same purpose.
Now it's time to plant a small dye garden to love and nurture while you continue learning about fiber. This will be short work if you were able to start your plants inside.
Skirt, pick and wash the fleece you purchased in April. Skirting is removing the parts of the fleece spoiled by manure and a lot of vegetable matter such as hay. Picking is going through the fleece to remove as much hay and debris as possible. Washing is best done with as little agitation as possible. Agitation will cause the fibers to mesh together making it nearly impossible to separate for spinning. June is a good time to do it because much of the work can be done outside.
This is one of my favorite videos of two Irish women in 1978 skirting, washing, carding and spinning fleeces. The first 6 minutes is about buying and selling sheep. Sheep shearing starts about 6:38.
This is Tour de Fleece month. It is a fun time for spinners around the world to gather virtually and share their progress and takes place during the Tour de France bicycle race. Look on social media for Tour de Fleece groups.
Comb or card the now clean fleece to get it ready for spinning. If you know a spinner, he/she may be willing to show you the difference in combing and carding. Investing in a pair of hand carders is usually less expensive than a pair of wool combs. Fiber can be prepared three ways with hand carders, but just one way with combs.
Spin all that beautiful fiber you've been preparing for the past couple of months. You don't need to make a large investment in a spinning wheel. Drop spindles are inexpensive and can even be homemade. If you were fortunate enough to connect with a local spinning group, in March, there may be a member who can teach you to spin.
Harvest dye plants and prepare dye baths. Mordant the yarn and begin your dying adventure. Use some chemical dyes so you can compare the process and results. There are eco dyes that are more environmentally friendly. Check out dying with Kool Aid or cake icing dyes for quick inexpensive experiments. This hat was knit from yarn dyed with Kool Aid and has been my chore hat for 14 years. The color held well.
Now you have a stash of yarn and need to protect this great achievement. Insects are the mortal enemy of natural fibers. There are various ways to protect your stash by storing in insect proof containers, using essential oils or mothballs. Research the ways and implement the best one(s) for your purpose.
It's time for the fun of planning a project that will make the best use of all your hard work. Best of all, for many of us, winter will soon be upon us. You can proudly wear or snuggle under this most beautiful garment.
This is the month you apply the year's worth of experience to making a decision on whether or not a yarn farm is for you.