From sugar to sheep at A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm

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SUMNER — You know what they say: When it comes to business, it doesn’t pay to be sheepish.

Unless, that is, your business happens to be sheep.

At A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm on Black Mountain Road, a change is under way. Bubba, the three-quarter European Belgian draft horse won’t be hauling his sleigh full of sap out of the woods to the 100-year-old sugarhouse next year. The building is to be taken down to prepare for a fiber processing facility that will have solar thermal hot water.

This is where the sheep come in.

Owners Marty Elkin and Mary Ann Haxton recently celebrated the birth of their first purebred Finn sheep. Venus was born this week at 3½ pounds and is pure white. The ewe was bought last year already bred, and this was her firstborn. Haxton said they are hoping for multiple births in the future.

Finn sheep, from Finland, are popular animals with people who appreciate good wool fiber.

“The hair is very soft and fine,” Elkin said. “It blends nicely with Angora.”

And this is where the business side of it comes in. So many people are into fiber arts, Elkin and Haxton believe there will be a greater profit in sheep than in sugaring.

“People who spin, people who knit, people who felt and people who weave,” Elkin said, naming a few potential customers. “We’re really creating a fiber community.”

The fiber processing building project is partially funded by the federal Rural Energy for America Program and the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Farms for the Future. Haxton and Elkin have received grants totaling more $32,000. They have received loans for the matching funds.

The sugarhouse will be replaced by a larger building, measuring 25 by 54 feet, which will house a workshop for teaching, dye vats, a wash and card area, a drying area and a shop for selling wool from their flocks of sheep and Angora goats.

“Ninety-nine percent of our fiber is from our own animals,” Elkin said.

Next month, the “fiber community” will get together for what is billed as the First Annual Mud Season Fiber Event.

“Brighten up mud season with a rainbow of color,” suggests the announcement on their Web site. “There will be ‘thyme’ for experimenting with dyes, create, wander around the farm, complete fiber projects, to rest and eat.”

The other Finns on the farm are not purebred and have dark brown wool. Wool varies with different breeds. The farm has 19 ewes and one ram and six Angora goats. Haxton said they were able to shear 17 sheep in January because the weather was so mild.

The move from sugaring to sheep farming was brought on, in part, by weather.

Haxton said it had not been a good year for sap because the nights were too warm, but they are hoping there will be enough sap to make syrup for Sunday when the farm will host an open house. Their evaporator boils off 15 gallons of sap per hour and will make a batch of syrup in about four hours, Elkin said.

“We have only made 12 gallons so far,” Haxton said. “It takes 55 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup because our trees are red maples and the sap is not as sweet as sugar maples. We tapped over 200 trees this year, which was less than last year.” Last year they made 30 gallons of syrup.

Haxton thinks the wool industry will be more profitable than the syrup, but there is a plan for a smaller sugar house to be built farther away from the first site next year as part of the funded project. Pasture and flock development is included in the project, as well.

“We want it to be self-sustaining,” Elkin said, “or even profitable.”

What: Maine Maple Sunday

Where: A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm, Sumner

When: 10-4 Sunday

What: Spring Fiber Arts gathering

Where: A Wrinkle in Thyme Farm, Sumner

When: April 16-18

FMI: 212-4058; AWrinkleInThymeFarm.com

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