I got back home late yesterday afternoon after a really great weekend at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. There are many similar festivals for all things sheep from coast to coast over the summer months, but few offer as many things to see and do as this particular festival, held the weekend after Labor Day each year in Jefferson, Wisconsin. From sheep shows to wool and meat vendors, from shepherding classes to discussions about parasites and wool production, and from the used equipment auction to the fleece competition, there are always multiple activities happening at any one given point in time. If you are bored at this show, you haven’t yet opened your eyes!
Like always, I spent the bulk of my time at the festival helping out at the Open and Junior Fleece Competitions. This year’s fleeces were judged by Holin Kennan, who has run the show for years and this year shifted into an entirely new role as judge. With over fifty fleeces entered in the Junior Show (for youth up to 21 years of age), it was obvious that Wisconsin is doing something right in sharing a passion for sheep with its youth! The Open Show began immediately following, and included nearly two hundred fleeces in four divisions. As I looked out over the tables of wool, it was immediately obvious to me that the biggest classes within each division were those in which our breeds would enter: the finewool for the Romeldale (both white and colored), and the longwool for the Romneys (again, both white and colored), each class having at least 25 fleeces entered!
Looking a bit closer, I realized that the majority of the fleeces in each class were entered from farms that have picked up at least some of our bloodlines – and that made the competition a lot of fun for me to watch! It was honestly the very best way to watch this type of competition – with none of the nerves that I used to experience when we showed our own fleeces, but with all of the joy of winning when I was able to congratulate those who were awarded ribbons! Among the flocks we connect with that won awards at the competition are Oak Creek Farm, Kim Specht’s Romneys, Celtic Braes Farm, Cristow Farm Sheep, and Brodeur Family Farms – congratulations to all! Even better, when it came time to award the Best of Show award, the honor went to my very good friend, Melissa Wubben, who has been doing wonderful things with her flock at Oak Creek Sheep! Good job!
We had a big group of about fifteen people at dinner on Friday evening, discussing all things sheep. There is nowhere else I can go where everyone is interested in discussing the science and art of raising sheep, so I took full advantage! We got a late seating because of our crowd size at dinner, and that worked well, since we were there until closing – and then continued to talk a bit in the parking lot until we got way too cold to continue! Even though we intended to return to the same restaurant the next evening at a bit earlier hour with even more people, our plans fizzled a bit when the judging of the fleece competition on Saturday continued late into the night. We continued to delay our reservations until we finally went with a small group at 8:30, enjoying the conversation once again, and then returning to the competition at 10 for two more hours of judging before it was all completed. It was a late night!
Honestly, as I think back over the weekend, much of it is a blur – so many conversations with so many different people about so many different aspects of keeping sheep, my hands in so many fleeces that I was asked to look at and evaluate, and such a variety of vendors and items for sale that I wandered past – it will likely be days before my thoughts turn from revisiting the festival to preparing for this coming weekend’s work of setting up breeding groups.
If you for some reason missed me at this year’s festival, there will always be next year! This is one even that has found a permanent home on my calendar on the weekend after Labor Day – next year on September 7-9. I’m already looking forward to it!