Plum Blossom Farm is unique because all of the animals have a forever home here. Unlike other farms, no animals are ever sent to slaughter when they are done being “useful”. All our critters are sweet individuals and each one is like a family member to us. You can feel good knowing that your dollar is supporting a small compassionate farm.
One of the things I love most about my business is being able to support and give my animals the best care I can. These sheep are so dear to me and I feel very fortunate to be able to give them the care and respect they deserve. They are all individuals and contribute different dynamics to the flock. They each grow such different fiber as well which makes shearing time a fascinating phase. I also deeply enjoy having the sheep and working with the wool, as it connects me to a whole world of fiber arts and tradition. I love watching the wool grow and then ending up with a finished product in my hands. It is such a beautiful process and I feel it joins me and my sheep to history and to a fundamental way of being connected to nature.
Check out this video made for us by Abra Marketing. They were so generous with this project I just cannot thank them enough!
I have a lot of people ask me how I got into this business. Here is my story:
I was not raised on a farm. Shepherding wove its way into my life over several years. I was working at a job that left me stressed and unfulfilled. Waking up with dread every morning thinking about the day that lay ahead of me. I craved purpose and connection. I was longing for my calling.
That got me started looking around at my other options.
I love animals and being outdoors so I looked into different areas of farming. During my research I became interested in sheep. Sheep have personalities that requires patience and calm. In my search of different breeds I found Wensleydales. They have long, lustrous fiber and are hardier than many of the modern breeds. The plan was to buy a foundation flock of ewes and breed them. Wenselydales are a rare breed, expensive and hard to find. A Wensleydale lamb may have brought ten times the price of a regular breed. Breeding and selling is the typical business model as that is where the money is.
I am a solo farmer. I do almost everything required on the farm. During the year I may fix fences, move hay, clean the barn, carry grain sacks, trim hooves, give vaccinations and minor vet care when required. Also, I do everything the business requires as well. I built and maintain my website, handle all my print and packaging, apply to fairs, fill orders, respond to customers, stay active on social media, build relationships with wholesale and retail customers. All with a feeling of purpose and gratitude because this business takes care of me and mine. It seems to me anyone who loves what they do can get meaning from even tedious tasks when it is part of their dream.
Lambing season is wonderful, exciting and for me, anxiety causing! Watching a mother bond with her lamb is so rewarding. Although the moms don’t need much help, I am there to dip the umbilical cord in betadine, give the ewes warm water and molasses and get Mom and lambs into a separate pen to bond.
But that first lambing season a fatal flaw in my business model struck. I could not bear to part with the lambs! How could I sell a sheep knowing it would be going to someone who probably would not have the compassionate approach I did. Worse, I knew those lambs would end up in the slaughter house someday. These were my babies. How could I live with myself after sending them to slaughter?
Well I didn’t. I kept them all. I was so embarrassed. Family and friends knew my big sheep breeding plans. And here I was protecting those sheep. Now how was I going to make money? No one makes enough money to survive just by selling wool. Wool prices are so low, many sheep farmers don’t even bother to sell it and just sell the lambs to market.
My only alternative was to start making products from the wool. Felted soaps and wall art, scarves and dryer balls. All products I could make myself and sell online and at crafts fairs. It was tough. I really had no brand or way to get my products to stand out. The focus was on the individual items not on the sheep or on what made Plum Blossom Farm unique.
The first year I didn’t even get accepted by half of the craft fairs I applied to. I am sure it was the amateur quality of the photos I had. I was starting to feel like a failure. That my emotions led me to abandon my business plan and here I was working so hard and earning so little.
It was then that I had stroke of luck to find out about a way to brand my business. To stand out and get customers really engaged with what I am doing.
I needed to open up about my values, my appreciation for time-honored farm methods, compassion for animals, the traditional family farm. It is a throw back to a simpler time. Maybe it sounds simplistic and nostalgic but there are people who are attracted to this approach. My traditional farm is an antidote to the commercial large farms and big ag. People love that I am keeping these traditions alive.
I used a web-based graphic artist to redesign my logo more in line with my values of organic, compassion, love of sheep, and affordable luxury. Then I used that to update my business cards and packaging. One bold move was to make the sheep the front of the business. I am writing a story for each one and have them on the web site. I went further by identifying the sheep whose wool is in each product. Hangtags now identify the individual sheep and include a photo and link to their story. I have been working on improving my photography skills and the results are really paying off.
Customers have really noticed the difference. At fairs they tell me stories about their farm experiences and how my products are tied to these memories. They love the idea of my compassionate farm.
The results are the proof. Last year my income was twice the prior year. I would estimate that about 50% of my customers buy because they are interested in the products. But the other 50% buy because they are attracted to my stories and farm values. I don’t’ think it is a coincidence that my income has doubled since I began nurturing this new brand.
You know what else? I am actually making more money with this approach than I would have if I stuck to my original breed and sell business idea. And I sleep so much better knowing my sheep are well cared for and have a forever home with me.