Rare grazers born in Grand Forks pastures

Teeswater sheep are prized for their cascading locks of wool

ERIN PERKINS

Special to the Grand Forks Gazette

Grand Forks is the home of sunshine, borscht and now, the first Teeswater sheep to be bred in Canada.

On April 29, Monashee Maple and her brother August Rocky were the first Teeswater born in Canada, at Clausen’s Fibre Garden on Siminoff Road in Grand Forks.

The Teeswater is a rare British breed of sheep that nearly became extinct in the 1920s. Today, they can only be found in three countries – Canada being one of them thanks to Boundary residents Mark and Sue Clausen.

The Clausens, who have lived on their pastoral acreage in rural Grand Forks for the past five years, imported the rare flock in 2018. As a talented fibre artist and teacher, Sue Clausen came to the Boundary to live out her dream of pursuing her passion in fibre arts, teaching people how to do fibre arts and raising the sheep that would provide the materials for her artistic endeavours.

“For me it is all about sharing the passion of the fibre,” she said while taking a quick break from the busy lambing season. “There has been a reawakening of the hand arts.”

Besides her beautiful barn and pristine pastures, Clausen also has a complete studio in her basement where she creates and helps others fabricate works of art. People come from all over Canada and the United States to take her classes.

“I don’t do custom work,” Clausen said of her art. “If you want something made for you, come here and I’ll show you how to do it.”

Although originally raised for their meat in an area of northern England called Teesdale, Teeswater sheep set themselves apart from other breeds with their uniformly long, curly wool which cascades down their backs in ringlets. The wool is white, silky and lustrous, making it a very desirable fibre to work with. They are also rare, and were put on the Rare Breed Survival Trust in England in 1998.

Clausen first encountered Teeswater sheep fleece while working on her Master Spinner Program at Olds College in Alberta.

“I loved that fleece so much I used it at every level of my schooling,” she said.

Clausen isn’t new to sheep breeding either, having bred Romney sheep decades ago while living in the Upper Squamish Valley. But despite her experience, Clausen found actually acquiring live Teeswater sheep to be more challenging that working their wool.

She first encountered an Oregon breeder in 2016 while purchasing some Gotland sheep, a Swedish breed that also has uniquely curly and silky wool prized by fibre artists.

The Grand Forks artist saw the breeder also had Teeswater sheep but they was not prepared to sell the rare breed, until a few years passed and they became ill. The breeder needed a buyer to look after the animals and gave Clausen a big decision: take the whole flock, or get none at all.

“We jumped on it,” said Clausen. “It’s an investment – not something you can pay for out of last week’s pay cheque. But they are as close to breed purity as I can get.”

The two rams and seven ewes came across the border in Osoyoos on May 23, 2018.

“The fan fair at the border was over the top,” the artist said. An inspector from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and a veterinarian met them there to inspect the stock. They knew the significance of bringing the breed to Canada, Clausen said.

To protect Canadian sheep, imported sheep must be tested and vet checked. They must also come with a zoosanitary certificate. Some of the diseases they are tested for include scrapie, a fatal degenerative disease that affects the nervous system of sheep and goats. Clausen also needed to prove that her new flock came from a farm enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Scrapie Flock Certification program.

Clausen’s sheep passed with flying colours and now happily graze in Canadian pastures. As for the future of the flock – the shepherdess isn’t planning on selling her newest lambs yet. She is still building up her flock and building her fibre arts business.

Monashee Maple and her brother August Rocky have now been joined by dozens of other Teeswater and Gotland lambs being raised for their lovely wool at Clausen’s Fibre Garden.

For more information about Clausen’s farm, visit www.clausensfibregarden.ca.

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