New Year, New Blog @ Whistlebare

We have been selling yarn for just over 2 years now and we love it! Mostly because of all the lovely people we get to meet and share our passion with. In that time there have been constant requests to know more about our farm and animals and the whole process of yarn production. I am sorry that I have been so poor at sharing with you all. However, with the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions! I hear you groan and I acknowledge that it is already the 22nd of January and this is the first you have heard from me, but it will not be the last!

Every week I am going to tell you what is going on here at Whistlebare, generally from my perspective but sometimes I thought it might be fun to hear the story from one of the beasties points of view. With that in mind allow me to introduce some of the main characters around the farm:

Blossom is almost 8 years old and the Matriarch of the herd. She has a gentle personality but a will of steel! Just ask any of the others!

Young and fit at only 3 years old Havelock is our girls’ preferred gentleman friend.

One of our founding Wensleydale Ewes, Frolic is definitely a worrier.

Born here at Whistlebare Brutus is fast establishing himself as the dominant male Wensleydale.

As well as all the news from the farm I will be sharing both my and Flora’s latest knitting and crochet projects. Sometimes there will be tips and ideas for projects and skills of your own. Any news about new yarns, colours, patterns, shows etc will also all be heard here first! Be sure to check back regularly and leave lots of comments to let us know what you would like to hear about!

From Motorway Services to Dairy Goats

I never thought that I would feel comparable to a motorway service station but it has happened. Motorway services fulfil basic functions, they offer a place to break your journey, use the lavatory and re-fuel both yourself and your vehicle. Unfortunately all too often services are crowded, of inferior quality and vastly over priced. As a farmer, biologist and possibly annoyingly devoted Mum I know that breast is best! I personally breast fed for a total of six years (four strapping sons) and I spend many hours each year making sure that all the babies born here at Whistlebare attach properly to their mothers to get their fair share of warm, life giving milk. Very sadly, sometimes, despite our best efforts we find ourselves with a kid or a lamb needing to be bottle fed. Happily we have yet to have an actual orphan. Our pet kids and lambs are either a triplet too far for the mother to rear or a little rejected one, usually from a first time mum struggling to cope with twins.

The first milk that any mammal produces is called colostrum, it is bright yellow and packed full of anti-bodies and nutrition. We know that if any of our goat kids or lambs do not receive colostrum within six hours of birth it is very unlikely that they will survive. Ensuring that new borns are up and sucking within this 6 hour window is one of the most important jobs in the kidding / lambing shed. Any baby that is too weak or whose mother is being obstructive is given a bottle milked straight from the doe or ewe. Often this is enough to set things on their proper course but sometimes we have to go on bottle feeding. Enter the motorway service station. In our case this consists of a pen with a radiant heater and a white plastic bucket with teats containing powdered milk held at 37ºC.

This system works fine. The kids and lambs feed as they want to and grow well. Somehow it is not quite right though. The bottle fed kids just don’t quite look as glossy and beautiful as their doe reared peers. Hardly surprising given that the milk they are being fed is processed cows milk. Thousands of years of evolution has resulted in female mammals producing the perfect nutrition for their offspring so why I ask myself have we been feeding baby goats on expensive processed cows’ milk? Surely there is an obvious solution – enter the dairy goats! We are all very excited to be soon welcoming a pair of British Toggenburg Goats to Whistlebare. Here is a snap of ‘Candy’ to give you the idea. Follow our blog to hear all about this new chapter on our farm.

Coming Up For Air

Few, coming up for air at last! Since I last blogged we have lambed, kidded, attended two festivals including Edinburgh, began our Workshops in ernest, launched our new pattern range and been to Austria for a week – by train! It has been pretty fraught, very short on sleep and very hard work.

I love the kidding / lambing season. In 2012 we bought our first Angora Goats, thirteen in all. Now, in 2015 actually only two and a half years later, we have ninety, nine zero goats! When kidding begins, that’s it I am committed to the shed certainly all day and most of the night too, helped often and greatly by the five men in my life. I love having such clearly defined priorities and the opportunity to focus entirely on one thing. Now if I can just find some way of managing sleep deprivation I’ll have it all sorted. We have been delighted with this year’s outcomes, 150% kidding with 50% female and 200% lambing with 75% female – excellent! We still have one doe and one ewe stubbornly holding out but all other mummies and off-spring are out enjoying the first flush of spring grass in the sunshine.

Of course this year was even more demanding than usual. Not only did we have more livestock than ever before but we also had Edinburgh Yarn Festival smack bang in the middle of kidding! Does anyone know the physiology of sleep deprivation? For me the main symptoms are memory loss and confusion. If you were kind enough to have visited our stall at Edinburgh and found me rather vague then please accept my apologies now. That aside we had a great time in Edinburgh. We launched our new collection of knitting and crochet patterns including, for the first time, some for men and children. It is always nerve wracking sending new patterns out into the World. Flora and I put so much time, effort and care into each and every one that a negative response would be like the rejection of a new baby. Fortunately, as ever Flora’s patterns were a great hit. We will definitely be returning to Edinburgh next year – hope to see you there.


Since then we have been lucky enough to escape for a holiday. A whole lovely week focusing on our human children rather than our animal or textile ones. We returned to blue skies, sunshine and bright green grass – as always it is good to be home. If you would like to meet the little beasts that have been ruling Whistlebare for the last month then do come and visit our Studio on the farm or, for a more in depth look, book onto one of our workshops. Next weekend we will be attending Wonderwool Wales.

Our Very First ‘Workshop @ Whistlebare’

Last week we were very pleased to welcome a select group of ladies to test run our new ‘Workshops @ Whistlebare’. Attendees were chosen with care from our most favoured customers. We knew that these ladies could be relied upon to enjoy themselves and to tell us what went right and what went wrong!

Running our first workshop in February was always a risk and sure enough the weather did its best to thwart us. Two of our number found themselves snowed in and a third had to stay at home to nurse a winter stricken child. The remaining five however, successfully battled the elements to arrive in the sunshine at Whistlebare.

The day began with tea or coffee and cake in the studio. Everyone took the opportunity to choose their skein to knit our Daisy Scarf, as well as to get to know one another. Then, accompanied by lovely Andrew, our intrepid photographer / postie, we headed off into the goat shed. As you can see many more friendships were formed!

As well as meeting the goats we chatted about their husbandry and care and looked at different samples of fleece. From there we moved on to the sheep’s paddock. The sheep too were delighted to have company and charged down the field to meet everyone. This visit was short however, as the weather caught up with us and it started to snow.

Luckily, inside the wood burning stove was burning brightly and all was snug. Time enough to talk about the special qualities of mohair and to watch a short film showing yarn production. Before tucking in to homemade soup with bread from ‘Great Northumberland Bread Co.’ and cheese from ‘Northumberland Cheese Co.’ Rounded off with more homemade cake, of course!

In the afternoon we all settled down to knit. Flora (our pattern designer) was on hand to guide us through the ‘Daisy Scarf’ pattern. By the end of the very cheerful afternoon everyone was well on their way to completing their scarf. A final round of tea and cake set everyone up for their journeys home.

Flora and I very much enjoyed the day and we received lots of very positive feedback from our visitors all asking when the next workshop would be! We are putting together a timetable and we will let you all know! In the meantime keep watching our website, facebook page, intsagram etc to hear all our news.