02 Jun Looking for Sheep

Jill and I went to the Sheep and Wool Festival recently to look over the sheep we might get for our farm next year. We were surprised to find so many people there. Apparently, the Sheep and Wool Festival is a big deal. We sat in a mile-long line of cars for about half an hour, just to get into the Howard County fairgrounds.

If you haven’t spent much time around sheep, you’ll be a bit confused because many sheep look like goats, with horns and those deviled eyes. Some sheep are as big as ponies; others, like the Shetland, are the size of medium-weight dogs. We’re interested in the smaller ones that will be easy to handle. Also you have to select for the right temperament. Some sheep will act like pets; others will be as skittish as a feral cat.

We’re most interested in the heritage breeds: these are “primitive” breeds that have not been altered (crossbred) for commercial purposes. You take or leave these sheep for what they are and what they have always been. Although they may not offer as much meat or wool as the altered sheep, heritage breeds are usually hardier than newer strains–their immune systems have been tested by time (centuries)–and, as a result, they are more self-sufficient (don’t need help birthing, for example) and easier to care for.

Here’s the Jacob sheep, an odd-looking heritage breed: the strangest sheep you’ll ever meet

The attendees at the Sheep and Wool Fest can be divided into two groups: the farmers and the weavers. All of them seem to belong to that back-to-nature, natural fiber, granola-for-breakfast crowd. Jill joked that, if she died, this is where I should go to find another mate, there were so many groovy women there. There were as many varieties of wool on display as there were sheep. By the way, the best fertilizer in the whole wide world is sheep poop.

Jill is so excited by the prospect of owning sheep, she took a weaving class and then bought a new spinning wheel. She had bought an antique one, which wowed her fellow weavers (they took photos of the old wheel), but learned that it was a spinning wheel made for producing fine thread, not the heavy wool thread used for making sweaters. We’ve pretty much decided we want Shetland sheep. Right now, the plan is to get them next May, at which point we will also get our chickens and one or two livestock guardian dogs.