A wool business can be an effective farm diversification for adding value to something that is often a bi-product of the sheep farming sector. Wool businesses are useful for bringing in additional income on a smaller scale and tend to work well alongside a wider farm business strategy or even as a way to make money from your smallholding.
The millennial generation has created a resurgence in craft hobbies, particularly fibre or yarn craft such as knitting and crochet. This is a generation that values handmade and crafted items, alongside demanding strong ethical values from many of their favourite shops. As such, this is an ideal market for farmers to tap into, as they can offer locally produced British wool or fibre on an artisan basis.
This type of farm diversification benefits from having a member of the family who is passionate about at least one type of fibre craft, so they can best understand how to tap into the customer base.
Wool businesses can range from selling raw fleeces through to spinning yarn and even dying yarns. Regardless of the type of wool business you have, there are often ways you can add value to your business through complementary products and services.
An example of a wool business that has made use of many of the complementary diversifications in this blog is the Natural Fibre Company and their sister business, Blacker Yarns.
As more smallholders and hobby farms look for an outlet for their wool, offering wool processing services can be an ideal farm diversification add on. This involves taking in fleeces from others and processing them to various levels, including picking, washing and carding the fleece into batts, before returning them to the customer. This could also include spinning wool into yarn, and this can be a lucrative add-on service to wool processing, with hand spun yarn being sold for premium prices to dedicated hobby and professional crafters alike.
One farm that does this already is the Melken Jacobs.
You may also be able to offer courses or sell equipment to do this. See our later sections on these options.
Processing wool from fleece to useable crafted products requires plenty of specialist equipment, and profits can be made from selling this equipment. You could either team up with an established brand such as Ashford, which some yarn companies such as Adelaide Walker already do. Or you may decide to make and sell your own equipment. Equipment to sell could include any of the following:
You could also add further value by selling items as kits with a pattern, materials and the equipment, sold in one easy package. This is particularly good for starter sets or for kid gift sales. Combined with this, you may want to offer training on the equipment, as in our “courses” diversification option, or maintenance and repairs services for previously sold equipment.
Many people enjoy getting out in the countryside and back to nature. This has sparked interest in walks with animals. Alpacas are one of the most popular walking options, but sheep and goats have also been used.
You would need to train your sheep to walk well on a head collar/halter with a lead so that the customers could enjoy walking them on a route around the farm. As long as the sheep are not leaving your property this is not a movement order issue, but reasonable bio-security and health & safety measures should be taken into account.
Ideally, it is useful if the customers can also pet/groom the sheep as part of the walk. It can add to the experience if you can educate the customers on the history of the breed or of sheep farming as they experience the animals.
Hand-dyed yarn is growing in popularity and crafters are increasingly looking for ethical, sustainable and artisan yarn options. Dying yarn doesn’t need to be complicated, and you can use natural colours if that fits best with your ethos.
If you decide not to dye yarn yourself, you may wish to look at joining forces with an indie dyer for a collaborative farm diversification. For example, you may be able to offer the dyer a working space on your farm and then sell the yarn and share profits in some way.
Examples of indie dyers on Instagram include:
But there are many more out there.
If you are a keen knitter or crocheter, you may be able to add an income stream by designing knitting or crochet patterns using your own yarn/wool. This is a technical skill, so if you don’t have these skills on farm, another option could be to team up with an established pattern creator. Often pattern creators will work with a specific yarn brand to produce patterns and then recommend that specific yarn to be used for the pattern.
In recent years, there has been increased demand for pet livestock in rural areas. This trend increased further following the pandemic as more people looked to move to rural areas and follow the “good life” lifestyle. Producing sheep for this market can provide a lucrative income and could offer an ideal opportunity to support a rare or native breed of sheep that you are particularly keen on.
Pet sheep sales are an ideal farm diversification to run alongside a commercial sheep business or as an additional income for a smaller herd of specialist wool sheep. This is particularly effective if you are a social person who will enjoy educating potential customers.
Choosing the right breed/s is important for this option, and you may benefit from going to events/shows or advertising through local societies to reach newbie sheep owners. These hobby owners typically want an easy-to-care-for breed that is pretty to look at and has a good temperament. Popular breeds are Ryelands, Southdowns and Valais Blacknose, and these breeds could make you a small fortune. For example, it isn’t unusual for Valais Blacknose to sell for £1,000-2,000.
To take this farm diversification from a side business to a fully-fledged income stream, you need to ensure you can provide the best possible customer service. This could include offering farm tours, providing a welcome pack with each new sale that offers guidance and key information, or offering complementary husbandry services such as shearing or the loan of rams at breeding time.
Craft courses cover a wide variety of things, so the key is to pick a craft that you love and has local demand. This farm diversification is unlikely to provide a significant sole income, but it is an ideal option for extending your wool business and adding another income stream. This could include offering courses in:
You may decide to run courses on a seasonal basis to fit around your other wool business commitments. Or you could further extend this farm diversification through offering online courses. You could simply provide the tuition online, or you could sell a starter pack of equipment and materials and then run an online course to go with this.
Ensuring you have a clear marketing strategy for your wool business is central to getting the most value from the business. We have a range of blogs specifically on marketing for wool businesses that will help you to consider your farm marketing options:
And if you want to create a detailed farm marketing strategy, you can download our free guide here!