I. Counting Sheep

— Ongoing project. Received a Student Research Award from The New School to further the project, 2019.

Human production and consumption have a large impact on biodiversity. The wool industry directed the rise of the Merino sheep breed and led to the endangered status of other sheep breeds. Counting Sheep documents different sheep breeds with their wool properties, proposing methods and new purposes to create a diverse and sustainable production and consumption of wool. The project led to the creation of a series of ottomans stuffed with wool and covered with a woolen woven textile.

A flock of ottomans, filled with wool of endangered sheep and covered with textile made from these specific wool types.

background research.
In both developed and developing countries, diversified farming based on adaptation to local conditions is being replaced by the trend to make agriculture the same everywhere on earth. This approach requires standardised feeds, confinement of animals, and the selection of breeds that produce the best in such systems. This has caused the long trend of agriculture toward development of more breeds, each better adapted to specific climates and purposes, to be reversed. Rare breeds, with their rich genetic diversity, are now disappearing rapidly. The rich genetic legacy carried in these breeds is however essential to the future of sustainable agriculture. Changes in agriculture are certain to occur in the future, whether caused by new consumer preferences or climate change. As the climate turns more extreme in many regions of the world, the ability to produce in a challenging environment becomes essential to food security. Every time a breed is lost, another genetic resource for adapting to future challenges is also lost. To secure the future, we have to conserve the past.

Could we avert the extinction of endangered breeds, by finding new purposes for wool? Consumers have the power to increase the count of endangered sheep by creating a larger demand for the renewable materials they produce. This would increase the need for specific breeds that would otherwise have been led to extinction. Demand for unique wool makes a breed important to the health of a local economy and assures the breed’s survival into the future.

The Jacob American sheep, here at the Heckscher farm, Stamford in Connecticut.

The thresholds of The Livestock Conservancy indicates which breeds will be addressed in the study. There are several categories to indicate the relative level of both numerical and genetic threat to a breed. Critical, an estimated global population of fewer than 2000 animals, and threatened an estimated global population of fewer than 5000 animals. To create the first product, an ottoman, I decided to focus on the Jacob American sheep. 

The goal of the project is to raise awareness and stimulate reproduction of endangered livestock, to foster an effective partnership among the various small farmers and natural fibres industries and to promote the biodiversity and sustainability of the natural fibres industries. Successful farmers make for successful breed conservation and biodiversity.

ottoman design.

Design details showcasing the texture of the wool through the roving and the woven fabric.

© Juliette van Haren 2019    ︎  ︎