Without superior wool, the Helle family couldn’t have created Duckworth. Here are a few ways Evan Helle says it creates some of the country’s finest fleece.
Watch the Wool
There’s no scratch factor with wool from Helle sheep. The family bred the itchiness out with the help of the OFDA 2000. The Optical-Based Fiber Diameter Analyzer measures wool’s average fiber diameter, which affects how soft it feels. The OFDA 2000 can cost $60,000 or more, but Evan says its use was critical to his family’s success. Able to identify which sheep had good wool, the Helles bred them with each other. In 10 years they had a flock of sheep with fibers soft enough to lie next to the skin.
The Helles favor the canine breeds Akbash, Great Pyrenees and Kangal to guard their sheep from mountain lions and wolves. Border collies are an irreplaceable asset for getting the band where they need to go, and Evan says you have to let them do their job. On one hike up a mountain, he had to do just that. “The band of sheep was hot on the tracks of another band and they were nearly going to mix,” so he turned to an 8-month-old dog. “I had no other option than to trust her, so I gave her the command. She ran a quarter-mile in deep snow, turned the lead and brought the whole band back to me just in time.”
Keep it Clean
Contaminated wool fetches a quarter of the price of clean. So the Helles practice wise wool management. “Don’t use polyester twine on your hay bales,” Evan says. “Little fibers from it can make it all the way to the yarn stage and break the yarn, or even get into the garment. The biggest contaminant is hair, so keep your dogs, horses and cattle away when you’re shearing.”