There is nothing quite like getting your hands dirty and enjoying the earth and its creatures purely as they are. Separated from honking horns and quick feet clicking down concrete, natural life lives on as it has for ages. Jeanette Larson and her little family of humans and larger family of livestock are nestled in their little patch of solitude, otherwise known as Havencroft Farm.
Larson has spent the last four decades cultivating practical skills and figuring out which direction to shepherd her farm. “I started raising dairy goats in 1981 for the milk. Because I had excess milk, I started raising bottle baby lambs – that was the start of the sheep flock,” Larson shares.
The sheep that came to the farm have become an integral unit in her little livestock community. In 2002, she and her life partner, Shawn Hoefer, began raising Jacob sheep together. “They have wonderful black and white wool that is fun to spin, they have great mothering ability, it’s easy handling them (they are small at 80 lbs for ewes and 120 lbs for rams), and they’re parasite resistant,” she says.
Her daughter, Lena Larson, shepherds with her mother. “Lena and I are the shepherds, with Shawn’s help for the heavy chores. We raise Jacob sheep, and have a few Alpine and Angora goats, an alpaca, and a llama,” Larson says. “Lena and I do all the shearing by hand, and I use the wool to spin yarn and weave rugs, shawls, and scarves. I use the cloth I weave from our animals to make the occasional vest, pillow, or bag.”
The process of shearing to spinning to weaving is undoubtedly an art form. This practice has been used for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and the Larson women have mastered it. “When we shear, we get a good feel for the softness of the fleece (wool). We store each fleece in a pillowcase and put the sheep’s name on it, the date sheared, and the best use for it. So most of the pillowcases say either “Spin” (softer) or “Rug” (coarser or wild texture). A few say “Dryer ball” because I can tell they would feel well. I spin and weave almost every evening, and mostly with raw fleece, right out of the bag. I love the feel of the lanolin,” Larson says.
When picturing a spinning wheel, you may imagine one powered by the rhythmic pumping of the foot much like a sewing machine pedal, but Larson says those days are behind her. “I mostly spin on a Spinolution Firefly electric wheel anymore. Twenty some odd years of treadling foot-powered spinning wheels has left me with arthritis in my hip and ankles. I can spin a lot more with the electric wheel, but it is still spun by my hands, with all the interesting colors of Jacob Sheep wool and the texture that raw fleece gives,” Larson says. After spinning the yarn or weaving a piece, she washes either by hand for the yarn or in a front loading machine for larger items. “They come out clean, fresh and soft.”
Havencroft Farm animals are each unique and loved in their own special way. Much like pets, only with more practical purposes, Larson shares how she keeps up with so many animals and how she distinguishes the different generations. “We name all of our animals. We used to pick a theme for the year, like cheese names, or herbs, or Beatles songs, but finally we decided to just use the alphabet. It makes it easy to figure out how old someone is, so my Alpine dairy goat Latte was born at 5-years-old. This year is “Q.” We have Quince, Quill, Queenie, Quasar, Quimby, QED, and more,” Larson explains.
The three farmers can’t become too attached to a few of their animals because they might find a new home somewhere down the road. “We try to keep the Jacob sheep breeding flock at 25. Every couple years we sell our ram to another breeder and buy the best ram we can afford to continue improving the quality of the wool, keep the genetics fresh, and improve the horn set. Our current ram is Morgan Farms Dane from Morgan Farms in Kentucky,” she says. Larson goes on to say that some of the lambs are sold in June to people looking for breeding stock or fiber pets. “We keep five or six of the best replacement ewes. We mostly keep our older ewes for the rest of their lives. We have a “retiree pasture” where they live in a little group of old ladies, eating, and sunning and enjoying life. We lost two of our old girls at 16 years old and 18 years old this winter.”
Dairy, yarn and articles made from fleece aren’t the only products produced on the farm. Hoefer and Lena are both expert broom makers, something Larson has no trouble being proud of. “My life partner Shawn Hoefer and my daughter are many times national champion craft broom makers. She dyes the broom corn, finishes many of the handles, and they both tie, stitch and plait more than 20 styles of brooms. They produce more than 4,000 brooms a year,” Larson says.
The brooms, along with Larson’s shawls, blankets and rugs are sold to those interested. “We started selling on eBay in 2004, and turned to Etsy in 2006. We had a few good years, but it was never a big part of the business until 2020. Our sales took off and we were selling everything we could make,” she says. With her dairy goats, the animals that got the farm going, Larson sells the milk from the farm. “I also make cheese, though I do not sell it as we are not a licensed dairy,” she explains. She does, however, teach beginning farmstead cheesemaking at the Ozark Folk Center State Park for those wanting to learn how to make their own cheese. Other instructional lessons can be found on the Havencroft Farm website ranging from “How to Make a Broom” to “How to Finish a TriWoven Project.”
The farm has seen its ups and downs through the years, but Larson and her close-knit community of fellow homesteaders are grateful for what they are able to gain from their hard work. “After the two years of the tornado, flood, and ice storm in Mountain View, Arkansas, several of us who homestead, yet live in the modern world of internet (when the power is on), use motor vehicles (when we aren’t flooded or iced in), and go to Walmart, started discussing the idea of being able to provide for ourselves within a day’s walking distance. Where can you get quality produce? Dietary protein such as milk, eggs, beans, and meat? Where can you find clothing, or blankets? Who makes or grows all this? With Covid, the focus was not so much on being able to get it within walking distance, but how can we support each other? It may be your local community, or it may be a small business on the other side of the world, but let’s support the people who make, grow, and help each other.”
Find Havencroft Farm products on their Etsy page here.