Friday, December 8, 2023

Wool in a class of its own

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Sheep farmers Eric Laurenson and Lynsey MacIntosh are walking the wool walk in a farm fleece to home floor initiative that has fibre produced from their own sheep flock in the carpets on the family’s homestead floors. Annette Scott reports.
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Fairlie sheep farmer Eric Laurenson says it is a great experience having his homegrown wool carpeting the floors in the family homestead. 

“And an even better story to tell guests that all the wool fibre on the floor was produced on the property,” Laurenson said.

Brought up on the family’s 2,200-hectare hill country property at Paerau in Central Otago, of which he is now a 50% equity partner, Laurenson has long had a passion for good quality wool.

Farming now on his 170ha property at Fairlie in South Canterbury, where he runs 800 Romdale ewes and 170 Romney stud ewes, there has been a focus shift from producing quality fine wool to producing quality strong wool.

“My upbringing in fine wool and producing quality wool is something that has been instilled in me from my father,” Laurenson said.

“My father sent me off to Lincoln (University) to do a wool classing course and for 40 years now I have been classing my own wool.

“I’ve always had an interest in wool and (after) starting my Romney stud in 1983, the fine wool qualities of having good wool crossed over to the Romneys.”

But in the current wool climate he says the returns are not there for the quality wool he strives to produce.

“Making carpet from my own wool was a necessity really when the 50-year-old carpet in the homestead on the Paerau property needed replacing,” he said.

“I thought last year was a bad year and the income from wool wouldn’t be missed.

Eric Laurenson | September 30, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

“I knew Colin (McKenzie), he was in my wool classing course, so I went to him and to see what NZ Yarn could do with my wool to make carpet for the homestead.”

From there, the farm fleece to farm floor carpet initiative was borne.

“We just organised the colour and NZ Yarn has taken care of the rest,” he said.

“If I had to go out and buy wool carpet for the homestead it would have cost a lot more money.”

Laurenson knows he has only the best fibre in his carpet.

“It’s all body fleece, no bellies, no crutchings, all good quality, eight-month second shear fleece wool.”

Laurenson says getting the value back in producing quality wool is currently frustrating.

“We are just supplying into a market that is chocker block full,” he said.

“If I am brutally honest, farmers have a lot to blame themselves for with the current state of the industry.

“They have brought genetics into this country in the Texel, the East Friesian and the Finn for meat, milk and fertility.

“It’s sad that while they have white stuff on their back that people call (it) wool. All the (wool) genetics have been dispersed in preference to make more money out of meat than wool.

“As a nation of strong wool growers, we are producing a lot of inferior quality wool compared to what we produced 30 years ago and that’s a result of the genetics that have been brought in.”

But that will not deter Laurenson in his passion to produce quality wool.

“It’s instilled in me, I’ve always had an interest in wool and producing good quality wool won’t change,” he said.

NZ Yarn, an arm of the Carrfields Primary Wool group, has developed the opportunity for sheep farmers to lay their own bespoke carpet.

Group chief executive Colin Mckenzie says now realising the opportunity, interest from sheep farmers wanting to make carpet from their own wool is growing by the week.

McKenzie says NZ Yarn is in a unique position to provide the custom service and manufacture yarn and carpet of virtually any colour and any style imaginable from farmers’ own homegrown wool fibre.

“We are being contacted weekly by clients taking up the opportunity to make their own carpet,” he said.

“We have completed two custom carpet projects for sheep farmer clients and have another three on the books at present.” 

Farmers supply the greasy shears to specification and NZ Yarn manages the entire process, including shade matching, yarn construction and carpet style.

Minimum order quantities mean that a batch of yarn, depending on weight and construction, will make three or four average house lots of carpet.

“Some groups of farmers are working together, and others are carpeting their homestead and several cottages on their properties,” McKenzie said.

The opportunity to lay your own bespoke carpet is not just being embraced by farmers, but also by commercial operations. 

NZ Yarn believes its homegrown fleece to home floor business is one of just a handful in the world.   

“We think we are probably one of only a few companies on the planet able to offer an end to end bespoke custom carpet service for individual farmers to make their own carpet from their own wool,” McKenzie said.

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