Above photograph courtesy of Jonathan Young
The arrival of spring and warmer days often signals for us to pack up our big winter jackets and sweaters. This year, spring has been a bit shy in the Northeastern part of the United States but it has finally arrived! Animals also need to get ready for the warmer weather ahead. At Stone Barns Center, each year we host a Sheep Shearing Festival so the public can come see how the farmers help our sheep shed their winter coats and learn about the many incredible uses of wool.
This annual, customary part of the sheep farmer’s operation is an age-old tradition. Today, most sheep farmers pay a professional shearer to come in and shear their flock. At Stone Barns, we do it ourselves—something quite unique. Our livestock manager and sheep shearer Craig Haney says, “I like that we do it ourselves because I feel like it gives us a deeper appreciation for the process and more importantly, the sheep.”
Sheep’s wool is a valued natural fiber. It is warm, resilient, elastic, water repellent and even flame resistant. Sheared with skill and care, each of our ewes (female sheep) will produce about three to five pounds of raw wool—resulting in an average of two pounds of washed wool—which will be used for products like socks, sweaters and blankets. But shearing isn’t just about the benefits of wool. Sheared sheep are cooler, lighter and are alleviated from irritants that might get stuck in their fleece—so they appreciate it, too.
During our Sheep Shearing Festival, crowds watched our farmers’ handiwork with the shears, visited with the lambs, and learned how wool gets washed, carded, spun into yarn, knitted and felted to make an array of products! At the Center, we love providing educational opportunities for people to better understand farming and food. Do you have any farms near you that may shear sheep around this time of year? If not, check out our website or download our iPhone app for updates on what our flock of sheep are up to now! Hint: Sheep are ruminants, so they can only eat one thing. Do you know what it is?