As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the sheepdog trials, the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival was held this last weekend in Jefferson, Wisconsin. I’ll give an audio tour of this festival in an upcoming podcast (October 6th), but today I wanted to provide the visuals. The festival had many events going on, from sheep shows to yarn-spinning classes. One barn was full of informational installations, like a sheep shearing station and a large sample of sheep breeds.
Three barns at the Jefferson Fair Grounds were given over to sheep shows. Handlers crimp, primp, and clip their sheep into their best shape. Like a dog show, handlers lead their charges into a ring and position their feet to accentuate their form. Unlike a dog show, the judges (at least at this event) gave feedback out loud to each contestant: “I wish her ribcage was a little wider,” “he has powerfully built shoulders,” and “maybe trim up this backside a little closer next time,” were some of the comments I overheard. In many cases, kids were involved in the handling and prepping of the sheep.
David Kier was on hand to demonstrate sheep shearing to an appreciative crowd. Three times throughout the day, benches packed to watch lambs born this spring get sheared. Each animal weighed between 130 and 150 lb but the shearer was able to flip them over on their backs with ease. He said he learned to shear sheep when he was 24 in New Zealand, and now he travels the Midwest shearing sheep for weeks on end during the season.
Each “haircut” starts on the stomach, works down and across one flank before the animal is flipped over. Its neck and head is shaved, followed by its back and the second rear flank. David says he can usually do a sheep in about a minute and a half.
Hall of Breeds
For those new to sheep, the Hall of Breeds was a nice way to learn about the different breeds of sheep available here in Wisconsin. About two dozen breeds were represented, with sheep in pens with signs describing their attributes. In most cases, breeders were on hand to answer questions and make connections with potential customers.
The festival had nearly a hundred classes. Most were fiber arts classes, ranging from felting and knitting, to dying and spinning. Kids could attend the “Wooly U” sheep and fiber camp to keep them busy and learning over the weekend. A “Sheep 101” class designed for beginning shepherds on Friday was followed by open workshops on dairying, foraging, shearing, and other topics on Saturday and sheep health on Sunday.
Vendors and Others
Three barns were given over to fiber and sheep vendors. Other areas held a silent auction and competitions: sheep photos, make it with wool, and others. A food court had typical fair fare as well as some lamb- and sheep-focused dishes.
The festival has plenty to do and see for young and old alike. It is certainly worth a visit if you’re at all interested in one of the oldest professions since sedentism and agriculture came on the scene 8,000-10,000 years ago.