Saturday, November 8, 2014

Roving Crochet Reporter: Windland Flats Farm Tour

Windland Flats is a local, small-scale farm located just east of Princeton, Minnesota - a town just north of the Twin Cities. During our recent fall retreat, several Crochet Twin Cities members visited the farm for a private tour. Here are their comments and impressions.

How did our group find out about Windland Flats farm?
Every year on the retreat we try to plan a special fiber-related outing that is close to the retreat location. For the fall retreat, we thought we'd be able to go to the Cambridge MN Fiber Fair like we did last year. However, that Fiber Fair was cancelled this year so we had to come up with an alternative - Rosemary stepped in and searched the internet for ideas and found Windland Flats.

The day we picked for the tour could not have been better! It was a sunny and crisp October autumn afternoon. Our hosts, Maria and Josh Krenz welcomed us with hot apple cider and Marie’s homemade banana muffins. They asked us to give our names and city of residence and were impressed by all the Twin Cities communities that are represented in the CTC.

What animals did you meet?
The farm specializes in "boutique" breeds that are not found on larger farms. We met: Shetland sheep, Scottish Highland cattle, German Angora rabbits, several heritage varieties of chickens, and
two horses.

The Scottish Highland cattle are the cutest cows you'd ever want to meet! They are short and stocky with light to medium brown long-haired coats - each a slightly different color. Both males and females have large horns. As their name implies, they are natives of Scotland and thrive in cool, harsh conditions - in fact, the colder the weather, the more hair they grow. Other types of cattle put on more fat to stay warm, but they don't need to be put on much fat thus their meat is very lean and also high in protein. Plus they are easier to care for since they are so well-adapted to our winter climate.

The farm has two male German Angora rabbits that are sheared every year and the fleece spun into the Shetland sheep fleece to add softness and drape to the yarn.

What did you learn about the sheep and about wool production?
The Krenz couple shows Shetlands at the state fair and Shetland breeders organizations in the Midwest so they know a lot about the breed! They told us about the breed's history and showed posters of the wide variety of colors and more than thirty marking patterns. The northernmost islands of Britain are the home of, and source of the name for, Shetland sheep, who have lived in that vicinity for more than 1,000 years. Yarn from the Shetland sheep is mostly used to make garments to be worn next to the skin because the fleece is very soft and dyes well - think "Fair Isle".

They had a full Shetland fleece laid out on a table and we talked about how they are skirted. In the barn we met some of their flock and were able to touch the animals and feel their fleece. The Shetland sheep is a surprisingly small animal!

The other big surprise is that the sheep enjoy animal crackers as a treat! Rosemary had found this out in advance from the farm website so she brought a large container along and everyone enjoyed giving the sheep a treat.

A couple of other random interesting facts we learned about the sheep: (1) They can be placed on their butt and sit upright - good for trimming toenails and for shearing. (2) The males and females live separately until it is time to make more sheep.

What did they have for sale that would be of interest to members?
The farm sells meat products at Plymouth Farmer's Market when it is in session. They also have a farm store but be sure to check the Facebook page or website for hours and for item availability. Josh told us he’d be happy to drop off an order of meat products for us at the Textile Center when we have our monthly meeting if we pulled together an order.

These are some of the items they sell.
  • Meat products: Frozen Highland Scottish beef and pork products (from neighbor farms) - sausage, steaks, hamburger, and jerky
  • Fresh eggs for sale as well
  • Yarn and wool products: Yarn and roving processed from their flock; had DK and worsted weight in traditional Shetland colors of cream, light brown and dark brown. Some of the yarns included fleece from the German angora rabbits and made for softer yarn. Be sure and check the website though - they may not have much yarn left right now because our members bought a good bit of the available stock!

Tell us about some of your favorite parts of the tour.
Carla fell in love with the rabbits - in fact, she's holding one of the rabbits in her lap on the group picture on the farm's Facebook page.

Rosemary's favorite sheep was Luna, a totally black young ram whose fleece will change to lighter colors in the next few years. She pulled a small piece of his fleece from his back – soft, very crimpy. And her other favorite - the Scottish Highland Cattle.

Overall, everyone enjoyed the tour. The Krenz were excellent tour guides: very organized and prepared for the group, very knowledgeable about their animals and the 'farm to table' industry.