MORE THAN a hundred happy sheep were given a second chance at life when they were picked up by farm animal rescuer Linda Mira-Bateman.
The menagerie of rescue animals - from sheep, cattle and ex-racehorses destined for slaughter to others who were neglected, abused or simply found themselves without a home - live in greener pastures at her property near Ballarat.
Each animal has its own story to tell. Some found themselves rescued by Honey's Pledge as they had been abandoned or unclaimed at the pound and others because they were surrendered.
There are also several with miraculous stories of falling off trucks travelling to the abattoir, who were saved and rehabilitated by Ms Mira-Bateman.
Each animal has a name and lives among a vibrant group of more than 200 animals including more than 150 sheep and lambs, more than two dozen horses and cattle, goats, donkeys, alpacas and a squad of chickens, duck, geese, fowl and Ryan the turkey.
Read more: Rescue spreading love for farm animals
The registered rescue is mostly self-funded. Some of the cost of caring for the animals is covered by visitors staying at a bnb on the property, Moorakyle Retreat, while another source of funding is a small side business, called EWE ethical wool.
Though it is often seen as contentious in the animal rescue world, Ms Mira-Bateman is one of only a handful of rescuers who sends the fleece from her rescue sheep, after they have been shorn, to be spun into what is known as 'ethical wool'.
The wool is ethical for several reasons. Firstly, the lambs under Ms Mira-Bateman's care are not mulesed (a process where the skin is cut off the back of a lamb, without anaesthetic, to prevent flystrike down the track).
Mulesing is very common in Australia.
"But the reason why we feel we can say that we are ethical is because we don't breed our sheep. So we are not bringing new sheep on and our sheep will live out their lives with us and won't end up going to slaughter at any stage or ending up on a live export ship, which a lot of commercial wool sheep do," Ms Mira-Bateman said.
"And they will get vet attention as they need it, so they are looked after for life."
It is clear to see upon visiting the property that the sheep there are big. A sheep's natural lifespan is about 10 to 12 years and many of the animals there are older than you would see in a normal paddock.
Recently Ms Mira-Bateman lost her original rescue sheep, Trudy, who was aged 14.
The sheep's fleece, Ms Mira-Bateman said, is a by-product of their rescue - they have to be shorn to be happy and healthy.
"Sheep have been selectively bred, by humans, to have fleece that's not manageable. So they have to be shorn, there's no doubt about that," she said. "You cannot rescue sheep unless you're prepared to shear them."
She started on her journey in discovering how her sheep's wool could be used when she was looking at replacing a couple of doonas.
Knowing she didn't want to buy any down products due to the cruelty involved, she found herself thinking that it would be great if she could use the wool she had laying around from her rescue sheep.
But in deciding that she wanted to utilise the wool from her sheep, Ms Mira-Bateman discovered a number of problems, given that processing wool from a small-scale farm is not as easy as it used to be.
In the early 1990s, the wool growing and processing industry in Australia was booming. As outlined in a submission from the Australian Council of Wool Exporters to the Inquiry into Manufacturing in Victoria, the reasons for the decline included drought and better returns from other farming enterprises such as cropping.
Processing wool involves a number of steps from scouring the greasy wool, carbonising it and combing it into tops, ready to be spun into yarn and then woven into fabric.
When the industry started to decline, small-scale scouring plants across Victoria and Australia began to close, causing a ripple effect through the whole industry.
But Australia's loss was China's gain and now, around 97 per cent of Australian wool is sent to China for scouring.
Due to the difficulty in finding a small-scale scourer, Ms Mira-Bateman began handwashing her fleece in the sink and then hand spinning it to sell. The process was very time consuming and not very sustainable.
But then, by a stroke of luck, after a small resurgence in local operations, she found a small scouring plant in Victoria and a knitting mill located near Bendigo called Goldfields Mohair Farm, which has brought old machinery - some of which is 100 years old- back into use to spin yarn.
"I thought, well, I have wool from sheep that I've saved and I can either throw it away or make it into fleece that people can use and enjoy knowing where it has come from.
"It's made locally - so there isn't that mileage to send it to China - and we do everything ethically."
In 2018, knowing that she needed at least 100kg of wool to have it scoured, Ms Mira-Bateman pulled together all of the fleece that she had, to be spun into three different plies of yarn.
Her yarn, dyed with only natural, plant-based dyes, is now being ordered all over the world.
Recently, a Rabai in California ordered a package as he was in the process of making a prayer shawl and wanted the wool it was to be made from to be from an ethical source.
It has also been sent to Canada and England - to a ballet dancer who needed wool to place in the points of her ballet shoes.
A lot of the fleece on the sheep taken into the rescue can't be used to make yarn, but that is not Ms Mira-Bateman's objective.
Ms Mira-Bateman had to personally outlay a lot to make the products but all of the profits made are injected back into Honey's Pledge, to food and veterinary bills for the animals.
The sheep are shorn by a gentle and considerate local shearer, aged 78. The sheep are only ever shorn in late spring or early summer so they have their fleece to keep warm in winter but are nice and cool in summer.
And there is no waste product. Any leftovers are made into other products like fleece dryer balls or sold off as stuffing for toys.
"We aim to use all of the wool that we have productively," Ms Mira-Bateman said.
And the wool is nothing less than impressive; it has won numerous awards.
Last year the wool placed first at the Bendigo Wool Show and this year, it won second price. Last year it also received second place at the Royal Melbourne Show.
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