Delhi Township program produces socks, hats, gloves from local sheep wool

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By Beau Hayhoe
Holt Journal staff writer

Jim Lenon was just looking for a way to keep the grass cut.

Delhi Township’s sheep feed outside their barn across the road from the wastewater treatment plant. The sheep are sheared every spring before their wool is sent away to be made into socks, hats and other products for sale.

Lenon proposed the idea of keeping a sheep in a large, grassy area across the street from the township’s wastewater treatment plant about seven years ago to cut mowing costs.

Even after the township purchased the animals, Lenon – a township maintenance supervisor — never thought the sheep would be useful for something else: their wool.

What started as eight sheep has grown to a flock of 34 white, fluffy animals, Lenon said.

The township has sheared the sheep for the past three springs and sent the wool for processing into winter accessories to be sold to residents.

“At (the time I proposed the idea), there was not much thought put into what we could do with the byproducts from the sheep,” Lenon said. “Then the idea came up again.”

Customers can purchase yarn, fingerless gloves, crew socks, beanie hats and Peruvian hats, a type of beanie with strings and tassels on either side.

Prices run from $12 for a beanie hat to $24 for a pair of thick hunter socks.

More information about the clothing can be obtained by calling 517-699-3874, and products can be purchased at the Delhi Department of Public Services, 1492 Aurelius Road, in Holt.

Officials were looking for a way to recover costs from owning the sheep by selling wool, Lenon said, but the program proved more popular than they thought.

To increase the  flock, the township brought in a ram to mate with lambs about three years ago.

Socks from the wool sold out in the first year, and the township added other items, Lenon said.

This year, nearly every product besides a few pairs of socks sold, Lenon said.

“Overall, it’s been a really good experience as far as being able to sell those (items),” Lenon said.

Delhi Township has made about $11,963.99 from sales of the products, said Eva Walcavage, a township administrative secretary.

Township resident Linda Huber has purchased multiple items each year of the program, and said she gives socks and hats as gifts to family members.

“They support my community,” she said “My son lives in San Francisco. I showed him the article (about the sheep) I had read in the local paper. He thought it was great, so I got him a hat.”

Huber said she sends information to her friends across the state regarding the products.

The wool goes through an extensive production process, Lenon said.

After the township hires a shearer to cut the sheep each spring, the wool is sent to two locations: Zeilinger Wool Company in Frankenmuth, MI, and Artex Knitting Mills in Westville, NJ. Zeilinger produces socks, while Artex produces hats and gloves.

Kathy Zeilinger, owner of Zeilinger Wool Company, said wool is cleaned with hot water in bathtubs before it is dried and sent through machinery to pick out materials.

“The cleaner the fiber, the better the product,” she said.

The fiber is then processed into yarn for producing socks and other items at the factory, including blankets and wool-stuffed comforters.

One sheep can produce about seven pounds of fiber, Zeilinger said.

To make about 200 pairs of socks, the factory needs about 30 pounds of fiber, she said.

Since the program has started, Delhi Township has had 500 pairs of socks made, in addition to 243 pairs of gloves, 264 hats and 72 skeins of yarn, Walcavage said.

Lenon said the flock is self-sufficient.

Workers check on the sheep a few times a day to feed them.

The rest of the time, Lenon said the sheep are mostly free to wander the 20 acres across the road from the treatment plant.

Despite the free range, Lenon said there are few problems with sheep interfering with the small generator shed or other equipment near the sheep barn.

Lenon said community support for the program has been a big factor in its success, and anticipates the program will continue.

“We’ve basically done it through word of mouth,” he said. “It’s about public service.”

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