Idaho Fiber Mill

Fiber Mill: A Spring update

April 6, 2015

This week I’ll be taking a break from the podcast to wrap up work projects, and get ready for two weeks away at our ranch. Next I’ll be back with episode 18, and another amazing guest who has such a great story and a unique pasture management approach I think you’ll love hearing about, as much as I did.

On another note, now that all the snow has melted, things are beginning to ramp up at the ranch, along with our plans for the mill. Although as I’m writing this I just received an update from my mom that it is indeed snowing again, haha. There’s so much ground work that must be done and my hope is to share as much of that here, because as boring as some of it might be, they’re critical steps in the process.

When we first began looking for property, our number one priority and requirement is that it must have excellent water sources. We had heard far too many stories from farmers and friends who hadn’t considered the importance of such and it had cost them at one point or another. We are so blessed that we have multiple water sources across the property which will create great opportunities for the mill, our homes, animals and growing. The well that currently exists is a hand dug, shallow well, created by the original owner. Because the land sat vacant for a good amount of time, the well was often used by wildlife and has a number of contaminants in it. The water is perfectly suitable for showering and doing dishes, but must be heavily filtered for drinking and cooking. It’s also quite small and the flow and reservoir are not sufficient for anything more than two people, let alone a fiber mill. In November of last year we had someone come out and locate a better water source on the property and in the next month or so we’ll finally be able to drill the new well now that the ground is no longer frozen. There are many factors that go into drilling a well and this is my first time being a part of this process so my knowledge is limited, however it is expensive and the deeper you have to go, the more it costs. Our land is riddled with rocks and boulders, so this should be a fun challenge. After the well is drilled, it then needs to be completed to enable its use for in the home, mill and shop.

The other big project we’re beginning work on at the ranch is for a shop. We’ll be building (mostly ourselves) a shop with an apartment on top which will serve as our home while we setup the mill and until we eventually build our own home. We imagine we’ll live there for several years, so we’re doing our best to plan for what that looks like in terms of space and our family. This too is new for us and will be a great learning experience in building and help us plan better for the type of structure we plan for the mill building. The shop will also allow us to get work done during the cold and long Winter months, with a warm place to work on projects and temporarily house animals that need it until we have a barn someday.

As for mill specific updates, we’ve finally come to the decision to pursue a large loan for the mill equipment and setup. Our original intention was to explore more grants, but for a number of reasons we’ve decided to limit the grants for certain things and use a loan for the bulk of it. This decision was made after many conversations with mill owners, other agricultural business owners, advisors and our gut. We hope this will allow us to move a little more quickly…and by quickly I mean 2 instead of 5. 🙂 The mill will not be a cottage or mini mill, but a medium sized one that can handle a larger output. A mill of this size requires additional planning around the business and operational sides. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to launch with solar power, but that is our eventual goal. We’re also exploring more conservative and renewable scouring systems that will help, along with a grey water system. When I sit and think about all the moving pieces, I’ll be honest, it’s quite overwhelming and a bit nerve wreaking, but what dream becoming reality isn’t?!

Lastly, farm updates. We are very excited to begin getting animals on the land. Currently we have 30+ chickens, a few barn cats and a very sweet, yet wimpy house dog. When we’re there this next week one of our goals is to build a three sided shelter in one of the pastures so we can bring a small flock to the ranch sometime later this year. We’ve been talking with a farmer whom we’ve gotten to know very well and if all goes as planned, we’ll be getting our starter flock from them.

One of the challenges here is predators…wolves, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, etc. Our area is the perfect paradise for them and we have to have several types of protection in order to introduce more animals. We’ll be starting with a couple LGDs (Live stock guardian dogs) called Maremma’s and a yak. Yaks are great guard animals, have multiple purposes and are less resource intensive than cattle. We went and met a breeder a few months back and although we’ll start with one yak, the hope is to eventually have several. Another important part, if not the most important part of getting animals is fencing. We have adequate perimeter and separate pasture fencing with a few spots that need repair, however no electric fencing has been installed…so this will be a big job and expense. We’ll start small and work our way from there.

And who am I referring to when I say “we”? David and I, along with my parents who live at the property. You can catch up on what I’ve shared of our journey thus far, HERE.

So what does this all mean? We’ve got a very busy Spring and Summer ahead of us! This, along with some fun updates I’ll be sharing more about in the coming months has us grappling for more time…as always. I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to continue to grow the Woolful podcast while allowing time for building the mill. I’ll be making some small updates, starting with one next week. Most episodes will now begin featuring one guest, along with the Man on the Street segment, episode sponsors and some new segments I’ll be introducing soon. I did this for a few reasons, but the main reason being that I’m learning! I’d love for the episodes to be a length of time that is better for everyone, so this will bring them to just under an hour or so. It also enables me to spread out my interviewing schedule a bit more, taking less of my precious weekend time with my family. I’d like to give more individual spotlights to each guest, and while I have loved the format thus far, this new format allows more for that. And lastly, as the podcast continues to grow, having shorter episodes allows for better scalability, say if in the future I am able to do this more as a side job and produce a couple episodes a week. Like I’ve said before, I really hadn’t expected things to grow this fast, and while I’m eternally grateful for all of your support, I realized I better figure out the next big steps sooner rather than later!

Thank you for allowing me to share all of this, I hope it is as cohesive as it seems to me at this late hour that I’m writing it. 🙂 Can’t wait to post updates during out time in Idaho, when we’ll be working on the dyeing for the Spring Natural Dye Club and all of our other projects! xoxo -ash

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13 Comments

  • Reply Nancy Tait April 6, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Loved your update Ashley! Hoping one day Amanda and I could come and see you on the farm it sound like such a great adventure.

  • Reply Susan April 6, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    SNOW………Oh yes!! Good luck. Loved your last Pod cast.

  • Reply Marci April 6, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    so fun to be a part of this, Ashley! Keep your eye on the prize, girl – you can DO this!!! truly inspiring in so many ways – keep us posted.

  • Reply Claire April 6, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Loved reading your update Ashley and I wish you and your family the very best with these next large steps. I continue to look forward to your podcasts and more updates on your progress

  • Reply Leslie Eaton April 7, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Great update!…looking forward to the changes to woolful (fun to see/hear it evolve) and have a blast over the next few weeks (building, assessing, engineering, plotting and planning………and yarn dyin’)!

  • Reply Alina April 7, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for the update! I love how open you are about all the challenges and difficulties that go along with building your dream! I wish you and your family all the best on this amazing life journey!

  • Reply Ama April 7, 2015 at 8:52 am

    What a beautiful photo! No wonder you can’t wait to get back there. It’s so rewarding to watch you pursue your dreams. xo

  • Reply Melissa April 7, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    What amazing news. Following through on such a big dream is so exciting to watch from the sidelines! It’s too easy to say something is too hard or too big or too expensive. I really admire you!

  • Reply Kim Goodling April 7, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Ashley,
    It is so awesome to read about your plans and progress. You will have an exciting summer!

  • Reply Zindaginha April 7, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Sounds a little overwhelming, but also very exciting. Glad you’re aiming for a mid-size mill. It’s exciting to see how many people are working to bring back the US fiber industry and do it in a sustainable, socially ethical way. I look forward to knitting up some of your homegrown, home-milled yarn in the not too distant future!

  • Reply Tonya April 9, 2015 at 6:05 am

    It is so exciting to see you work towards your dreams – as each step brings you closer. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Connie April 13, 2015 at 9:30 am

    I’m really enjoying reading about your journey. Thanks for sharing. I love listening to your podcasts and am glad that you are making the scheduling work for you and your family. Best of luck!!!

  • Reply Rebecca April 19, 2015 at 1:00 am

    Hi Ashley, Thanks for another great episode. I’m and Aussie and I have been using White Gum Wool that has been dyed by and indie dyer recently. I am in love with it softness.

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