Spinners, weavers, knitters, curiosity seekers, as well as families looking for a country experience to step back into earlier times are invited to a Wool Trek in Cornish from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 4.
The Wool Trek is hosted by Fred and Jo Knowlton and their daughter, Ann. It coincides with the annual wool sale at Notlwonk Springs on the Knowlton’s 55-acre farm nestled between lush pasturelands, alfalfa fields and the Bear River, which meanders through the low hills and fields of Cornish.
This occasion will be the initial offering of the 2019 wool clip from their flock of 50 Romney, Correidale and Romeldale sheep.
“These particular breeds are particularly cherished by hand-spinners because their wool offers a variety of characteristics, including color, staple (fiber length), crimp (waviness), and softness,” Fred said.
The Knowltons hosted their first Wool Trek 28 years ago as a result of people having reserved fleeces of particular sheep that came with the farm when they purchased it. Currently, spinners come from as far as Idaho Falls, to Payson, Utah; many bringing their spindles and wheels to join knitters, crocheters and people who are just curious about the featured activities, such as the Skirt Scramble, lamb gawking, a potluck brunch and more. Wool, needles and lambs will be for sale.
“We want people to come visit us here at Notlwonk Springs for our Wool Trek. We want them to feel no pressure from us to buy any of our products. We like people to just come and see what we have,” Jo said. “We feel that it is a nice day where families can come with their children and enjoy our farm. We also ask people to feel free to bring what they have made from our wool.”
The name Notlwonk Springs sounds like “it could be the name of an English Village on the Knowlton genealogy side, or it could even be a Native American name for ‘the hills that weep’ in recognition of the many springs in the area, but it is actually the Knowltons’ last name spelled backward,” said Ann, who came up with the “extra” stories about its origin. “Coming up with the name for the farm was a family effort.”
Spinners and weaver guilds heard about the Wool Trek by word-of-mouth years ago but now get word of the Wool Trek via Facebook. The farm now has 45 breeding ewes, three rams and four market animals.
“We’ve become known for the quality of wool that we produce and that spinners cherish,” Fred said.
Jo added: “Not only do the spinners like the quality of wool we have, but I would say that others like the meat, too, that they can buy and have processed. To stay on the farm, the sheep have to earn their keep. Our sheep literally give us the wool off of their back and then some.”
Fred grew up on a vegetable and poultry farm south of Buffalo, New York. While in college, he moved around quite a bit — central New York, Montana, Indiana, Texas, Kansas City — eventually accepting a job as a research biologist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in San Antonio. In 1972, he transferred from the San Antonio research station to Logan, Utah. Affiliated with Utah State University, he was instrumental in developing the Millville Predator Facility for studying coyotes. He retired in 2007.
“This farm was a retirement job for me and a learning experience for us all,” Fred said. “I really wanted to get back to the farm, and when I saw this serene setting, it reminded me of my home farm. After living in a city in Texas for eight years and then in Logan for 20 years, I wanted to recapture those earlier days. But the first thing I had to do was to convince Jo to live on a farm.”
Jo, born in Warren, Pennsylvania, added: “My parents came off of farms but I’m a city girl.”
She completed a degree at Utah State, acquired a certificate in gerontology and for 15 years was the Activities Director at Sunshine Terrace and Terrace Grove in Logan.
The Knowltons moved from Logan in 1992 after buying part of the Joe Hansen Sr. farm, then owned by Paul and Roxie Leitner.
“For three years we lived in an old railroad line house that had been moved onto the property from a small community known as Utida (now vanished) until we built our two-story house in 1995,” Fred said. “The property came with 15 ewes and two rams. Most of the fleeces from the sheep that first year had been reserved by spinners.”
Their daughter, Ann, the youngest of four children, was born in San Antonio but grew up in Logan for 20 years. She is a marine biologist, having spent 16 years working in the oceans around Alaska, primarily the Arctic Ocean. She now resides with her parents and has been overseeing the business end for their farm activities, maintaining the sheep records, enhancing sales opportunities and keeping up the Facebook postings.
“Right now during lambing, Dad and I take turns 24/7 checking on the sheep to see if they are ready to deliver, helping as needed,” Ann said. “I have the night shift and have helped Dad with deliveries if necessary.”
Ann helps with the shearing, spins the wool, makes finished felt purses, clutch purses, tablet totes, cup cozies, spindle quivers, shoe inserts, drier balls, wool-rock trivets and upcycled feed bags. She also sells lambs.
“We try to do as much as we can to not only increase sales but to minimize waste by recycling and up-cycling materials,” Ann said.
One of the draws to Wool Trek Day is the Skirt Scramble, which occurs toward the end of the trek. After the sheep are sheared, the fleeces are maintained separately. Each fleece is laid out as it fit on the sheep. First the tags (dirty wool filled with dung, heavy grease, etc.) are removed and discarded. The fleece is then re-examined and the “skirts” (good wool that is atypical of rest of the fleece) is removed.
“Initially we used to discard the skirts, but now we put them to other uses,” Ann said. “Toward the end of the Wool Trek, we pile the skirts on a tarp on the lawn and spinners who want some of them are allowed, upon an appropriate signal (ready, set, go) dive into the wool pile and stuff as much wool as they can into a plastic grocery bag. It’s a free-for-all with people taking what they want for free.”
The first lamb this year arrived on April 9.
“In fact, most of the ewes so far have delivered twins. We have 17 sets of twins and 3 sets of triplets out of the 45 lambs born so far,” Ann said.
Excess lambs or sheep are sold for breeding, pets, or sent to auction. The sheep also have a roommate, a female donkey, simply called “Little Brown Donkey,” that serves as a guard animal.
“If the sheep become frightened, they tend to group around the donkey. The donkey has an inborn protection trait if they aren’t allowed to socialize with the horses,” Jo said. “You don’t mess with her inborn protection, especially against canines. We’re surrounded by coyotes here.”
The sheep are pasture-grazed from May through September. From fall through winter they are fed alfalfa pellets to help minimize hay residue in the fleece.
“We shear in the spring before the lambs are born, which makes a cleaner, easier delivery process and return to pasture grazing as the grass greens up,” Fred said.
At first, the business started out really slow, but over the years the product line increased from raw fleece to roving (washed and carded wool) or 36 by 48-inch bats, spun yarn, felt and a variety of finished products. They use several processors to help prepare the wool for sale.
Notlwonk Springs only deals with naturally-colored wool, which ranges from dark charcoal to light grey, rich brown to oatmeal, and white.
Additional information about the farm and directions can be found on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.