Know Your Fiber: Shave 'Em to Save 'Em

Posted on July 01 2019

Know Your Fiber:  Shave 'Em to Save 'Em


Let’s take a look at the The Livestock Conservancy and their brand-new Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em initiative! The Livestock Conservancy has played an important role in heritage livestock conservation here in the USA for more than four decades. Dedicated to preserving heritage livestock, they are responsible for helping to preserve sheep breeds and other livestock that may have gone extinct without their work.


It all started in the mid-1970s. The United States’ bicentennial was coming up, and living museums (you know, those places that have re-enactors that dress up as colonists) were getting prepared for an increase in visitors interested in how colonists in North America lived. The Old Sturbridge Village and Plimoth Plantation (both of which still exist today) wanted to include livestock breeds that existed during the 1770s in their colonial village recreations, in particular Milking Devon Cattle.


It turned out that finding this once popular breed of cattle was quite difficult. As they persisted in their research they came to realize that many of heritage breeds that were once so important to U.S. farms were going extinct. So, in 1977 a small number of livestock conservationists including farmers, scientists, environmentalists and historians started the American Minor Breeds Conservancy, which became the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in 2013, the name of which was later further shortened to The Livestock Conservancy.


This organization quickly expanded their interest in all sorts of livestock, including poultry, rabbits, goats, pigs, the aforementioned cattle, and (most interesting to wool aficionados like us) sheep. Their mission is to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction though discovering heritage breeds, securing them by stabilizing the breed population, and finally by sustaining populations of heritage breeds.


What makes a heritage breed? The Livestock Conservancy defines it broadly as a term that can be applied to livestock and poultry with “deep histories in the United States.” Heritage breeds are the animals that were never developed for large scale agriculture and rapid production. They may have characteristics that the breeds popular for large scale agriculture do not have, such as being particularly well suited to their environments, having better disease and parasite resistance, and having the ability to thrive with little human intervention. In the case of sheep, they may also have wool textures, shades, and other unique qualities that are rare in today’s fiber and yarn.


The Livestock Conservancy has just launched an initiative geared towards those of us who love creating with wool. Called Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em, this program works on The Livestock Conservancy’s idea that the best way to save a breed is to give them a job. They have selected 22 sheep that are on their Critical list (population less than 1000), Threatened list (population less than 5000), Watch list (population less than 10,000) and Recovering list (breeds that used to be on the Watch list, but still need assistance). When fiber artists such as ourselves sign up Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em, our job is to create with the heritage wool on that list!


When participants sign up for Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em, they will receive a passport in which the selected heritage breeds are listed. Wool needs to be purchased from a fiber provider participating in Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em, and participants will receive a sticker for their passport when they indicate they are purchasing wool or yarn for a Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project. Participants are encouraged to share photos of their completed projects on Instagram or Facebook. Once participants have completed 5, then, 10, and finally 15 breeds from the passport, they will also be eligible for prizes! To find out more and sign up for Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em, visit


Northwest Yarns is an official fiber provider for Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em! Make sure to check out the breeds and product we currently carry below – plus we are sourcing and adding new ones all the time. If you have any interest in rare and heritage wool, this is your chance to help stop of loss of biodiversity in sheep breeds and be a part of a program to help save rare and heritage sheep for future generations. Happy crafting, Northwest Yarnslanders!

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