My travels brought me to a small town Esquièze-Sère in the Hautes Pyrenees, in the heart of “le Pays Toy”.
La Carde is a beautiful place laid with blankets, plaids, comforters, pillows, garments, pelts, slippers, rugs and other made of wool products.
After my eyes adjust to the warmth and beauty of it all, then my brain wakes up and the questions start flowing. La Carde is the story of a place, a family and a skill: Working the wool from the raw wool to the finished product. It has been passed from one generation to the next since the late 19th century.
If you visit their website, you will find all the history and the full story of the processing, their specialty being to weave fabric to turn into beautiful woolens.
The flocks in that area are composed of La Lourdaise, which is a meat breed, whose wool is harvested at least once a year. It is thought to be a cross between “la Bearnaise” and the Merinos from Spain. La Baregeoise, another meat breed, whose wool also gets shorn once a year. It offers more diversity in color with some brown and black coats. The wool is finer but sparse. And la Tarasconnaise, another meat breed. These 3 breeds will send their wool to be processed and turned into wool garments, blankets and so forth.
These flocks are kept in the valley during the winter where they eat hay harvested in the summer. When spring comes around, they are released in the prairie, then moved en “moyenne montagne”. In the summer they are moved in “haute montagne” where they roam free. The flocks are marked heavily with marking fluid which definitely alters the ability to optimize how much of their wool will be used. As expected there is a lot of waste after the wool is washed on top of it all.
While walking in Gavarnie, we could hear bells, signaling the proximity of sheep and cows alike, often catching glimpses of part of the flock.
Take away, we are not talking about fine wool sheep here, but meat and milk breeds turned into dual purpose breeds, where the wool gets harvested and skillfully processed to be turned into useful warm products. That resonates with what we are trying to do within our flock.