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Don't mess with a soprano  

Feeding an addiction

I'm addicted. I can't live a day without feeling, rubbing or burying myself in it.

My fix?

Yarn. Some people hang out at bars. Me? A yarn store or even better — Eureka! — a sheep farm.

To feed my addiction, I visited Jan and Dale Hamby, who own the Fair Winds Farm in Quarryville, Penn., where they raise sheep and a 600-pound nak — a female yak — named Nora, who loves donuts.

She is the newest member of the four-legged producers of wool on this farm. Twice a day, Dale puts a halter on her and spends time with her so she gets used to humans. She has big horns and can move very quickly.

That’s where the donuts come in.

Dale is building a relationship with her so when he shears wool from her underbelly, he will survive the encounter.

Knitters covet yak wool and will pay any price because it is the softest, silkiest wool around.

Jan and Dale met in high school at the county leadership 4-H Club meeting in Ohio. 4-H clubs are youth organizations for engaging youth to reach their potential.

Jan grew up in Medina, the county seat of 10,000 people. Dale lived in nearby in Black River, a town that boasted one stoplight.

Even through neither lived on a farm, they both knew at this early age that they wanted to return to the land.

When university time came, they both needed scholarships.

In the 1970s, the military was actively recruiting, and offered scholarships for Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC). Its goal was to train college students for future service in the Army, Air Force, or Navy.

ROTC paid for college expenses in return for training during college and afterward.

Jan just wanted the scholarship, but soon discovered she loved the Navy. She stayed for her entire career and retired a two-star rear admiral. Her expertise was in computers, telecommunication, cyber, and space.

She was one of only 17 female admirals not in the medical service corps at that time.

Dale joined the Army and ended up at West Point Military Academy. He was commissioned into military intelligence.

They managed, with two different careers in two different services, to get re-acquainted, get married, start a family, get master's degrees and teach at West Point.

Jan taught computers and Dale economics.

How did these military people end up on a sheep farm in Pennsylvania?

When Jan was in Iraq in 2005-06, her twin sister sent her a care package. It contained double-pointed knitting needles, sock yarn, and a pattern.

Jan asked her what she was supposed to do with it.

Her sister said, “You’re smart; figure it out.”

Those were intense times in Iraq and she found knitting calming. Her love of fibre arts had begun.

Dale retired as a major in 1993 and began to teach. He narrowly missed out on the astronaut program for teachers in 2003, ran for the State House of Representatives, and worked for the department of defence and department of education.

They were working and living in Washington, D.C. when they bought property in Quarryville and started building their home on weekends.

The dream of owning a farm became a reality in 2013. They bought their first alpaca. They soon had eight.

They wanted a farm that went with Jan’s love of knitting. They wanted sheep. They chose Finnsheep — Finnish Landrace from Finland.

They are a great breed because:

  • They are compatible with alpacas
  • Dual purposed – raised for their wool and breeding,
  • Wool is on the fine end of medium and blends with alpaca

To make knittable yarn is more a labour of love than for profit.

Jan began her fibre studies to gain expertise.

  • In 2015, she went to Peru with Cat Bordhi, a world-renowned knit designer. They explored native techniques,
  • Studied forensic knitting — the study of how knits are put together, especially the use of yarns.
  • She studied a certificate program for wool graders and sorters.

"Artisan-produced wool is lovingly and intentionally created." said Jan. "Buying this type of wool gives you a direct connection to each sheep."

I visited Fair Winds Farm three years ago. I saw baby Finns, petted them, saw alpacas, and felt the beautifully finished skeins of wool Jan and Dale lovingly produced.

It was an unforgettable experience, and I am grateful that they shared their valuable time with me.

On any day, you will find Nora with her best buddy, Sophia, a miniature donkey, in the field, and Valor, the original sheep allowed to live out his days, keeping watch.

When I visit Fair Winds again, and see Sophia and Nora, I will definitely bring glazed donuts.

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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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