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Fine Fibered Friends

Camels, Yaks, Goats and Llamas Are “Family” at Tregellys Fiber Farm

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Camel Picture Tregellys Fiber Farm

Tregellys Fiber Farm owner Ed Cothey greets Peter the camel.

(c) 2002 Kim Knox Beckius
I know mothers of two who can't keep their kids' names straight. So, I was wildly impressed as Ed Cothey affectionately greeted camels, yaks, goats, llamas, sheep, donkeys, pigs, turkeys and dogs by name as he introduced us to the 150 or so animals that share his home at Tregellys Fiber Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts. Yes, I said camels!

Cothey and his wife, Jody, bought the 1806 Dodge farmhouse in 1994, and the picturesque former potato farm overlooking the rolling hills of western Massachusetts is now home to a menagerie of fiber-producing animals and the largest organic natural dye studio on the East Coast, Shades Natural Kettle Dye Studio. The property's transformation began with a seemingly innocent gesture. The Cotheys traded a wood chipper for a few dairy goats, and Tregellys, a Cornish word meaning "hidden homestead," was born. The dairy goats didn't last long--"I didn't want to milk every day," Cothey said. Their replacements were three llamas, two pigs and two Merino sheep. "It sort of skyrocketed from there," he said.

This "hidden" working farm and its exotic animal residents, weaving studios, dye studio and retail shop featuring yarns, raw fiber for handspinners, sweater knitting kits and finished handwovens is well worth a turn off the beaten path or even a special trip. Accessible from Route 2, the Mohawk Trail, Tregellys Fiber Farm welcomes visitors most days from spring through fall between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but you'll need to call ahead, (413) 625-9492, to let the owners know you're coming. School and other group visits can also be arranged by appointment--kids will love seeing such a variety of animals in a non-zoo setting. On weekdays, you can often watch dyer Jody McKenzie at work in the dye studio.

Anyone who loves to knit and who appreciates fine textiles will go ga-ga when they see the vibrant yarns McKenzie creates. Skeins of yarn and clumps of raw fiber in a rainbow of botanical hues line the walls of the farm's retail shop, which also features handwoven blankets, shawls, scarves and rugs, knitting and weaving supplies and even complete kits with everything you need to create sweaters using these unique yarns. Ed Cothey was a farmer and a deep sea fisherman for 28 years before coming to America, and during the winter of 1996, he transferred skills learned as a commercial fisherman to the task of weaving. His handwovens are one of the farm's most unique products, and that's saying a lot, considering that you can't buy camel fiber just anywhere.

Actually, the majority of the fiber produced at Tregellys is mohair from a tribe of Angora goats. Most of the mohair is blended with wool and spun at Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont. More exotic fibers are produced by the farm's resident Navajo Churro sheep, Icelandic sheep, llamas, yaks and Bactrian or two-humped camels.

Ed and Jody Cothey rescue many endangered animals and seek to breed rare species, including many that aren't furry fiber producers. Tregellys Fiber Farm is home to Baudet du Poitou donkeys, believed to be the oldest and rarest donkey breed in the world, and rare birds including Mandarin ducks from China, black swans from Australia and Shetland geese that are extinct in the Shetland Isles. Bess, a camel that appeared on film in the Antonio Banderas movie "The Thirteenth Warrior," was malnourished and toothless when the Cotheys brought her "home." Each animal has not only a name but a unique story and role in this "family"--even the little, excitable dog, whose job, it appeared, was to keep the yaks on their toes.

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