Stay Warm with Michigan Wool: Shady Side Farm

Shearing Day at Shady Side Farm

Since 1992, Mike Bronkema and his family at Shady Side Farm have been raising grass-fed cows and sheep in Holland, Michigan. A first-generation farmer, Bronkema learned from his grandfather who was a gentleman farmer with just a few sheep in his pasture. Shady Side Farm raises Polypay sheep, a breed designed in the mid-’70s produced in South Dakota. A hybrid of 4 species, this variety of sheep provides a great combination of meat and wool production. When considering your end product, breed selection plays a significant role. Do you need meat, wool, weed control, or a mild-mannered pet?

Yearling Wool vs Coarse Wool

“We check for wool quality; the yearlings produce a much softer feel. Once they’ve had their first shearing, the wool after that will have a coarser texture. We pack each bag manually at 120 lbs of wool and we use a local processor that purchases some of our production,” said Bronkema.

Wool is graded by its quality and softness. Yearling wool makes fine clothing products and wearable accessories, whereas coarser wool might be suitable for carpet or insulation purposes. Michigan wool production is a small and local industry. The global market for wool is mainly sourced from New Zealand, where sheep graze in temperate climates away from the snows and grass heads don’t create extra particulates to comb out. 

The Michigan Wool Industry

According to Bronkema, the Michigan wool industry still has room to grow. Connecting with other wool producers in the Michigan Sheep Producer Association, you see many different approaches and segments of the industry. 

“Some sheep producers focus on Halal lamb slaughter for proper dietary and cultural preparations. Others offer productions of dyed yarn with their own color schemes, useful for crafting, and artistic projects.”

Find Shady Side Farm Wool

You can often find the Bronkemas selling their fine products at the Fulton Street Market in Grand Rapids or the Holland Farmer’s Market. You can also shop Shady Side’s online store, where they sell their special wool, as well as heirloom beans and grains grown on their farm. 

Neil Davey is a resident of Marshall, MI, and is the Southwest Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. This Hoosier turned Michigander can often be found writing his next book, fooling around in the garden, experimenting with his weekly CSA produce, or planning his next hiking trip somewhere in the pleasant peninsula.

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