We woke this morning to a beautiful frosty morning, the sky was clear, but the temperature bitterly cold- an appropriate day to post about sheepskin rugs!
We keep a small flock of Jacob sheep here at Dale Cottage. Jacobs are a great smallholders sheep, they are an attractive breed, with their brown and white spotted fleeces and handsome horns. They are a hardy breed which can overwinter and lamb outdoors, they lamb without fuss, needing minimal attention from humans. They produce excellent quality, flavoursome meat and their wool is much sought after for spinning and woolcrafts. Jacobs originate from the mediterranean, but have been in England since the 1700's.
Our ewes lambed back in March this year and in September we decided it was time for the ram lambs to go off to the abattoir. It's always a sad choice to make, but we have to remember why we keep sheep in the first place and with respect for the animal, we feel it is important to use every part that we can. This year we were really pleased to find out about a local business which tans sheepskins organically. Organic Sheepskins are based near Hereford and are the UK's only organic tannery. The tanning process is entirely natural, using vegetable tannins, no toxic chemicals and no pollution (the tannery has its own reedbed system to process waste water). It is situated on a farm and the owner Nicki, began tanning back in the late 70's. By trial and error, she developed a totally environmentally friendly process and in 1996 she set up the Organic Sheepskin company. Her naturally tanned sheep and goat skins are very much sought after, especially by people with sensitive skin and for babies.
We informed the abattoir in advance that we wanted the skins and sorted out the relevant paperwork- you need a transport certificate from DEFRA. We brought the skins back home and with instruction from Nicki, we began the process of curing them in readiness for tanning. Each skin was laid flat, wool side down and we spread a thick layer of salt over the skin surface, which we then covered with paper sacking. After a week we shook off the salt and added a fresh layer (salting draws moisture from the skin and prevents putrefaction) a few weeks later, the skins were ready for Nicki to begin tanning. This natural tanning process is much slower than modern chemical methods, but it was well worth the wait! Yesterday Mr Poste arrived home with a package containing four beautiful sheepskins, they are most wonderfully soft and luxuriant, you could happily curl up on them and sleep for days!