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Wool products make a handy sideline at farm

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: April 03, 2014

  • HUNGRY: Jackie Payne in charge of feeding time for some orphan Jacob lambs. Pictures: Richard Howe

  • IN A SPIN: Jackie Payne spinning her own wool at Huxtable Farm.

  • SHEEP: Anthony and Jackie Payne with some of their Jacob flock.

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THE spring lambs in Jackie Payne's herd are growing fast. And before the year is out their fleeces could be warming a house as far away as China.

Or they will have been turned into a shawl, a furniture throw or a pair of soft, woollen gloves.

The Jacob sheep and lambs are a healthy sideline for Huxtable Farm, run by Jackie and her husband, Anthony, at West Buckland.

It's taken 30 years of attention to detail and imagination to develop the skills that make the farm's cottage industry.

Th couple run a mix of pure Jacobs and some Texels, which allows them to cross breed for size as well as easy handling and of course, the all-important wool colour.

They came to their home and what was to be their living when Anthony's parents bought Huxtable Farm.

They started off doing bed and breakfast on a small scale, but have gradually built up their on-farm visitor experience so there are now six units and families come to stay from all over the country and other parts of the world.

It was a gradual process, said Jackie: "We were both working outside the farm at the time. We bought some sheep at first just to keep the grass down. I've always been a knitter and I thought it at that time it would be nice to knit my own wool.

"We started with Charolais and Suffolks but I thought it was tough wool. And then I found out about the Jacobs' fine wool and bought our first Jacob in 1993. That was it, we've never looked back.

"I wanted the natural colours, dark and light, and you can get a variety of colours in between."

Anthony has a pragmatic view of the flock: "Sheep prices are quite good now but a few years ago I wasn't pleased if the sheep weren't making any money.

"At least the sheep were attractive for the guests. The children love feeding the tame lambs."

They have turned nearly half the farm's 80 acres into mixed woodland, reducing the size of their flock.

Jackie talked about her fondness for the breed: "The Jacobs lamb quite easily, they get on and do it themselves.

"And they're very good mothers so the lambs get up quite quickly."

Anthony said the Jacobs don't need much in the way of extra nutrition beyond their home grazing: "We've got the numbers right now, I don't start feeding hay until after Christmas and that goes on just until March.

"They're not touching the hay now, for instance.

"The Texels have a larger carcass and the Jacobs are quite lean, so we mix them together, getting flavour but also a plumper sheep."

Jackie, who taught science and maths at South Molton School for five years, described the scale of her mini-industry: "It's a sideline, not a big business enterprise, mainly for ladies interested in knitting, sharing my own interest.

"I started spinning when I gave up work. I went on a day course and read books, watched DVDs and the TV.

"We used to get American guests who just loved the raw wool and I couldn't keep up with the demand.

"I spent a lot of time separating the wool into dark and light with the ewes fleeces. "With the lamb's fleeces I don't bother separating and see what happens when you mix it up. It came out a nice soft grey."

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