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 July 90 edge of Arragnat. My father's lourdaise sheep.

Stories

A family story

My relationship with wool and knitting is quite simply a family story. My passion for knitting and yarn arts, but also for creative hobbies in general, is probably in my genes. I learned to knit with my paternal grandmother, when I was a child, my maternal grandmother was a seamstress, and my mother transmitted her taste for colors to me through painting. 

 

tricot aiguilles anneaux marqueurs de maille knitty and woolly, accessoires de tricot, laine française
Protéger la lourdaise
lourdaises ewes

And the wool in all this? About thirty years ago, my father, then a history and geography teacher and very attached to the local heritage, made the choice to become a breeder and to actively commit to safeguarding the Lourdaise, an emblematic sheep breed and local from the Hautes-Pyrénées, then on the verge of extinction. This is how, in parallel with his work as a teacher, he developed a passionate passion for the breeding of this very special breed of sheep. With about 1300 animals in 2023 (while the threshold for threatened breed status is set at 6,000 animals), the lourdaise sheep is today, and despite its remarkable efforts, still protected by the Unité Pyrénéenne Races Allaitantes  (UPRA ovine) from the central Pyrenees. My father also collaborated with the UPRA following a request to the Institut Technique de l'Élevage Ovin et Caprin  (ITOVIC) in a conservation program for the lourdaise breed by freezing semen from selected rams, including one from his herd. When I look back, I can only be admiring and proud of his work and am very grateful to him for having led me on this adventure.

So, since I was born, my father always took me with him to the farm. I have always liked contact with these animals, the lourdaise sheep being particularly gentle and affectionate. When the births didn't always go as planned, I was the one who bottle-fed the lambs, and I loved it! I have always been immersed in the world of breeding, and so it was only natural that I came interested in wool. It is an incredible material with many properties that deserves to be known and used for its virtues.

Pastoral stories

My reflections on the origins of wool and its transformation are undeniably linked to respect for animal well being. The breeds of sheep bred in the Hautes-Pyrénées live for several months of the year in high mountain pastures. As a child, I accompanied my father on the transhumance of his flock in the Hautes-Pyrénées National Park in the Marcadau Valley. What unforgettable memories! They will forever be etched in my heart, as they are such an integral part of my story.

Brebis lourdaises en estive

My father visiting his flock in the mountain pastures

Brebis lourdaises en estive

The lourdaise is also rather special in that, unlike other breeds, it feeds mainly on hay and regain, harvested by farmers directly in the valley, which limits the use of cereals and the environmental problems that are unfortunately sometimes associated with them.

The rest of the year, the sheep graze in the meadows in the low mountains and are sheltered in the sheepfold when the weather conditions are difficult in winter. Some herds even live outdoors all year round. The local sheep are therefore bred in semi-freedom. They are sheared once a year by professionals, with great technique and who master the art of shearing, conditions necessary for the good health of the animal. The lourdaise is also quite special because unlike other breeds, it feeds mainly on hay and regrowth, harvested by farmers directly in the valley, which limits the use of cereals and the environmental problems that unfortunately sometimes associated with it.

The challenges of the wool sector

The wool produced in France is very little and poorly valued. Before the COVID crisis in 2019, most French wool was bought from breeders by wholesalers at a derisory price, not even covering the cost of shearing, before being exported to China, to be processed there by industrial processes (with the ecological and social impacts that we know), then returned to the European market in the form of finished products. In 2021, barely 4% of French wool was valued on the territory according to the Tricolor collective. Worse still, this wool, although the result of considerable work on the part of breeders throughout the year, is increasingly considered as cumbersome waste that is difficult to get rid of. It is not uncommon to see breeders resolved to burn it, for lack of alternative solutions. In addition, French and more broadly European wool is subject to competition from merino sheep wool harvested in Oceania. The revival of the French wool sector therefore represents a solution for the future to relocate wool production and its transformation, to highlight the different wools of our regions and to revive ancestral know-how.

Niaux spinning mill

The Niaux spinning mill, a local player in the wool industry

Brebis lourdaises en estive

Flock of Lourdaises sheep in the summer pastures at Pic de Pan, Erwan Guyetand farm

Knitty and Woolly

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