It was nice to hear from people about their responses to my "thought" piece, so I thought a bit more! But there are a couple of pictures this time, which I hope convey the words.
This is about our strategic thinking for The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns but also about British sheep.
We will also be producing a small item on the development of our logos and how they diverged and then converged in graphic terms and why.
We have recently made some important decisions, although of course we do this all the time!
- we will be discontinuing dyeing apart from longterm regular customers as we believe others can offer a better service for the one-off requirements
- we will focus our attention on organic and Herdwick processing in May each year - which is our low season when the additional work on cleaning and administration can be fitted in better - this was what Myra used to do when the mill was still in Wales
- we are currently running a waiting list so that we can regulate the inflow of fleece with orders as we have had increases of some 20% this year and we simply have no room to store more fleece at present
- we are carefully reviewing our fleece supply arrangements as we know that we are slow to sort and pay for bought in fleeces since they take second place to customer orders - we will try and manage the timing for receipt of incoming fleeces and will also need less fleece this year anyway as retail sales have been flat after several years of increases
- we currently have an inhouse training programme to help all staff understand not just their part of the process but the whole stream from fleece to finished yarns
- we are currently reviewing the ranges and palettes of Blacker Yarns to ensure that we can maintain stocks more consistently
- we are also gradually getting through our programme of updating all the Blacker Yarns patterns
- we are focussing on the important things - customers - and while we are still attending some shows we are also going back to basics here and limited the number and range of shows we attend this year - we recognise that this may limit our chance to meet customers a bit, so we are also hoping to do more by emails, newsletters and social media and of course we are, as ever, delighted to speak by phone.
These decisions are aimed at improving our quality and productivity, simplifying our business and ensuring we do better for our customers and suppliers in future. We probably should have made some of them sooner! Now that we are a bit older, in particular we need to build the succession and sustainability into the business so that it can continue to support wool, alpaca and mohair producers well into the future.
British Sheep and the future
We have of course also been thinking about the Brexit situation. This is particularly important for sheep farmers and there is a great deal of advice and discussion available from the National Sheep Association and AHDB, along with a broader discussion within the NFU. In particular because most of our sheep meat is exported to the EU, it is probable that sheep will be culled to reduce the flock size and this will mean both fewer sheep and, in the short term, a drop in the price of meat of possibly 30%. For the farmers, the culling may not balance the price falls and in the longer term the management of land may also suffer.
One important and unique aspect of sheep farming in the UK is that the stratified management structure, which puts the most appropriate animals in the most appropriate places from the hill tops to the valleys, could be at risk. And since it is a centuries old unified structure, the failure of one part of it puts the rest at risk too. See my book review of Counting Sheep by Phlip Walling or, better still, the book itself, for an excellent description of this system, which is also discussed in NFU Countryside magazine for March 2019 and in more detail in the NSA Sheep Farmer magazine for February/March 2019.
All of this comes against a background of variably researched and partial claims about everything from land management to husbandry, particularly focussed around the potential iniquity of using wool and getting it from sheep, without considering the balance between wool and possibly even worse (often plastic!) alternatives, which also wear out quickly.
It is vital that all of us make sure that we are doing this well and can justify how and why we do it - please therefore also see my in particular blog article in The Wool Journey which focusses on shearing and high welfare. However, the first four parts of The Wool Journey are also important in emphasising the importance of good husabndry, without which we will not have good wool - both morally and practically! The Wool Journey will shortly continue, now I have some of this off my chest!
Both photos were taken by our longterm photographer Sam Morgan Moore, one on a frosty day while we were doing yarns, and one of my Gotland sheep in early morning light.