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On-Farm Fiber Processing

Help Is Available


By Ross McSwain


What was once a prosperous farm operated by Bohemian immigrants in the late 1860s is now a profitable home to a fiber processing mill, yarn shop, and an equipment modification and manufacturing facility specializing in servicing small local fiber processing businesses.

Deb and Chuck McDermott bought the historic Stonehedge Farm in 1988 following Chuck’s retirement from General Motors. He was raised in the general area of the farm location at East Jordan, Michigan, and the couple had vacation property in the area for years.

Fiber Mill yarn Shop sign

Chuck McDermott notes that they bought the farm so they could have some horses and so their daughter could have a sheep raising project with the local 4-H club. The sheep project quickly grew to a flock of 100 Suffolks. Debbie, who had been knitting since early age, wanted to spin her own yarn so the flock of meat-type sheep changed to that of animals producing better and longer fiber. Better quality wool production led to processing their own fiber.

“We purchased our cottage mill equipment from the only manufacturer of that type of equipment at the time,” Mr. McDermott commented. Within a year, he said, they realized that the equipment was not capable of producing the quantity and quality of product that was required. As a result, Chuck started working to develop equipment better suited to light commercial operations.

Getting Help At Start-Up

Several years ago, the McDermotts secured funding from the National Livestock Producers Association’s Sheep & Goat Fund. The loans helped them to build onto their facilities and to purchase additional equipment that allows them to process other producers’ wool at an affordable, but profitable price.

“We have been very pleased with our experience working with the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund,” Mr. McDermott said. “Every person that I talk with about starting a mill I recommend they contact the NLPA or visit the organization’s website to see the services that are available,” he added.

“I also joined forces with Brian Stanek, owner of Northwest Fabrication Co. It’s a small operation employing his father, wife and himself. Brian has been instrumental in helping me develop and improve the equipment we make available. His facility is about five miles from our farm,” said Chuck McDermott. The McDermotts set up Stonehedge Fiber Milling Equipment, Inc., to merchandise the processing equipment. Since getting started modifying and developing new machinery over seven years ago, some 25 small mills are now their customers.

Chuck McDermott said their firm has not sold any of their equipment outside the United States, but hope to change that situation in the near future.

In addition to their custom work, the McDermotts manufacture about 1,000 pounds of their Shepherd's Wool yarns monthly.
In addition to their custom work, the McDermotts manufacture about 1,000 pounds of their Shepherd’s Wool yarns monthly.

“I am in communication with operators in Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Chile, the Himalayas and Canada. I receive probably 30 inquiries a month from people requesting information on starting a small mill. Of that number, we probably have 12 visits a year and of that 12 only one will actually start a mill,” he said.

Mr. McDermott also assists prospects in developing a business plan, including offering advice on operational costs, labor requirements, buildings, water resources and quality, waste water and trash disposal and other matters. He says for a beginning operation, machinery will cost about $120,000.

Since starting their fiber milling businesses nearly 12 years ago, Chuck McDermott noted that they have helped 28 farm-based mills either install or upgrade their equipment. There are about 100 farm-based mills now in the United States. The McDermott equipment can process 1,550 pounds of fiber or more a month. That is the production level they achieve at their Stonehedge Farm facility.

Processing Animal Fibers In Today’s Economy

In addition to machinery development and manufacturing, the McDermotts’ operation also produces its own line of yarns. The line, called Shepherd’s Wool, is merchandised at yarn stores around the country, particularly in the Midwest and Eastern states. According to Debbie McDermott, they manufacture about 1,000 pounds of Shepherd’s Wool yarn each month in addition to producing some 1,500 pounds of customer product. The Shepherd’s Wool yarn sells for $9 to $10 per skein and comes in a variety of colors in warms, cools and neutral shades.

Skeins of the yarn processed on McDermott machinery sell for about $9 to $10 each.
Skeins of the yarn processed on McDermott machinery sell for about $9 to $10 each.

Asked if the present economic downturn has caused problems, Mrs. McDermott said its impact has been “minimal. However, we can’t really say what the long-term affect will be.” At peak time, Stonehedge Farm employs about a dozen people: Four family members work at the farm, along with eight non-family employees.

At present, the farm processes yarn consisting of approximately 45 percent wool and 5 percent mohair. A portion of the rest of the farm’s processing production is alpaca fiber, because this is a growing trend in the yarn business and most of the people inquiring about machinery are alpaca producers.

In the past, the McDermotts have attended various yarn shows to publicize their products as well as make sale connections. They now have a yarn shop at the farm and also sell various yarn products over the Internet and limit time going to the shows.

For more specific information on the Stonehedge small-scale fiber processing and marketing program, visit their website at www.stonehedgefibermill.com.

For more information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund or an application please contact the National Livestock Producers Association at (800) 237-7193 or visit the website at www.SheepandGoatFund.com. The National Livestock Producers Association, founded in 1921, is an organization of livestock marketing cooperatives and credit corporations representing more than 150,000 livestock producers nationwide.



National Livestock Producers Association
(NLPA) Sheep & Goat Fund

    The National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA) Sheep & Goat Fund is a revolving fund with the sole purpose of assisting and improving the sheep and goat industries in the United States, and is strictly directed by people who understand those industries.

    The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund offers:

    Competitive loan rates, flexible terms, an in-depth understanding of the sheep and goat industries, extensive credit experience, with a focus on agriculture, the ability to service loans nationwide, often using local lenders.







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