Publicly-owned sheep provide a local way to stay warm this winter

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The sheep grazing across the street from the Delhi Wastewater Treatment Plant are keeping warm.

By Austin Short
Holt Journal Staff Reporter

Residents of Holt can combat the harsh winter conditions with local wool products, thanks to the publicly-owned sheep at Delhi Township’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

When the sheep were first purchased they were intended to graze on a grassy lot across the street from the wastewater treatment plant. Then members of the Delhi Department of Public Services came up with the idea to use the sheep wool to keep local citizens warm.

Tristan Knowlton, Asset Management Specialist for Delhi Township, said “It tends to be people looking for gifts with a local connection during winter.”

Gloves, hats, and socks are for sale ranging from $12-$24. Roving and yarn are also for sale. Roving, dyed roving and pin draft roving are $1.25/ounce, $1.50/ounce and $2.25/ounce respectively. Yarn is $15 per skein.

The thick hunter socks are so warm they make you sweat just thinking about putting them on.

Sandra Diorka, the Director of Public Services in Delhi Charter Township, was one of the leading voices in bringing the sheep in and she has learned a lot about them along the way.

“Since we got the sheep, I began to learn about them. I also began to spin, weave, knit and crochet,” said Diorka. “So I buy the roving, that’s the stuff that looks like a furry rope; that’s what you make yarn from. Then you knit with that or you can weave it and can make a scarf, or hat or an afghan.”

The process of turning sheep wool into a finished product is not a simple one, and is something Diorka had little knowledge of when they first purchased the sheep.

“When I first started working with Delhi Township, they didn’t know much about sheep. They have come a long way,” said Sy Caryl, owner of Sy Caryl Shearing in Davison.

Around the end of April or early May the Department of Public Services calls up Caryl, who has been shearing sheep for 15 years and has competed in sheep shearing competitions in Michigan, South Dakota and Denver, amongst other places.

“I’m a third-generation sheep shearer,” said Caryl. “We have had sheep on our farm for over 100 years.”

Once Caryl shears the sheep the wool is sent to Zeilinger’s Wool Co. in Frankenmuth to be processed.

“Zeilinger’s is a wool processor and you tell them what products you want. Then they have to wash the wool, which is quite difficult to do,” said Diorka. “That’s why it’s a specialized process and that’s why you have to send it to a processing company.”

A map of the the Delhi Department of Wastewater Treatment Plant. Map courtesy of Google Maps

A map of the the Delhi Department of Wastewater Treatment Plant. Map courtesy of Google Maps

When the wool returns it is in the form of gloves, hats, socks, yarn, and roving.

“One person that I work with, her son used to work at the Meijer warehouse. Some of those guys work in the freezer. He would wear his socks every day and she would just get him more and more socks so he would always have some to wear because they are super warm,” said Diorka.

Everything from the sheep, to the shearer and the processing company is from Michigan, which is important to locals.

“I think it’s a good way for the people to feel a part of the community. The people they like to see the sheep when they come to the recycling center and that’s one way they can support the sheep,” said Diorka.

The sheep have done a lot of good but not everything has been smooth sailing for those overseeing them. A ram, now deceased, charged Diorka and broke her leg.

“This dog was teasing him and I didn’t know,” said Diorka. “I wasn’t paying attention, I was trying to get the dog. The dog hid behind me and bam he hit me right in the knee and broke my leg.”

Even through injury, learning about castration and surprise litters of sheep, Diorka has nothing but kind words for the sheep.

“They’re really nice. Except the ram, he was pretty dicey, but I’m pretty impressed with how nice they are. I don’t know what I thought about them before, but they’re actually pretty sweet,” said Diorka.

The products are sold at the Department of Public Services building at 1492 Aurelius Road in Holt and they can answer questions about the products by calling 517-699-3874.

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