When Ann Herr's husband wanted to start growing vegetables, she decided that they should also get animals in order to complete the ideal small farm.
At first, they considered getting cows, but they were just too big. Then, Ann remembered how much she liked knitting as a kid and decided to look into getting sheep. Luckily, her father-in-law had grown up on a farm that had sheep and he was able to give the Herrs some pointers. In fact, Ann and her father-in-law both decided to buy sheep at the same time and raise them together as a single flock.
Ann says that she "lucked out" when it came to picking her sheep. Without much research, she bought a flock of sheep and was pleasantly surprised to find a great mixture of wool colors, something that's relatively rare when purchasing sheep. She also uses "traditional" methods for raising her sheep. And when it came time for her to purchase a ram, she decided to choose the old-fashioned way. She knew that a lot of science can go into picking a sheep with the proper color and softness; however, instead of relying on the micron width of the wool to help her choose, Ann simply went up to each ram and felt how soft its wool was. This method may not be scientifically sound, but for over 20 years it has served Ann well.
Today, Wisconsin Highlands Farms no longer sells any vegetables, and the majority of the 120 acres on the property are rented out to other farmers. The only part of the farm to stand the test of time is the wool business, which currently uses approximately five acres of grazing land.
The Herrs have been selling at the Dane County Farmers' Market since 1987, and this market is currently the only one that they attend. Each year, Ann sells approximately 70 pounds of wool at the market, available in multiple colors of yarn and a less refined form of wool that is cleaned and ready for customers to spin themselves.
The Daily Page: What's your favorite part of going to the market?
Ann Herr: I like talking to the people, and it is especially fun explaining things to the kids that come by.
How do you dye your wool?
Here is the "recipe" that I use:
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. vinegar
unsweetened Kool-Aid packet
Place the water, vinegar, Kool-Aid, and wool in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Heat on high for 5 minutes. If the plastic wrap is steamy, take it out, otherwise microwave again until the plastic wrap becomes steamy. Let the bowl cool and then hang to dry. If done properly, the colors should not bleed.