I returned late last night from a whirlwind trip to the West Coast — what fun! My travel companion was my good friend and fellow shepherdess Melissa of Oak Creek Farm, who is also interested in all things sheep and wool. We flew out to Oregon last Thursday, meeting at the airport there in the evening, and spent Friday through early Sunday at Black Sheep Gathering (BSG) in Eugene, OR. On Sunday morning, our travel took us to visit my good friends Maggie and Carol at Tawanda Farms, about a four-hour drive away in northern California. We spent a very fast thirty-one hours there and then headed back to our hotel in Eugene so that we could each catch early flights yesterday morning. It was a crazy trip, but oh, so much fun!
Our original purpose for the trip was to mingle with shepherds and sheep people on the West Coast. Melissa had never gone, and it had been a few years since I had attended this show, so we decided earlier this year that we would make the trip. I wanted to re-establish connections with other breeders, while Melissa met many of them for the first time. BSG has one of the biggest fleece-and-wool competitions in the nation, and Melissa was curious how her fleeces would stack up against others from the West Coast. Since Oregon and the surrounding region is definitely Romney country, she decided to bring a couple of her Romeldale fleeces for the competition, stuffing them into her luggage and thereby reducing the clothing she could bring — a true shepherdess, through and through!
We drove directly from the airport to the BSG venue to check in the fleeces, and then went to find our hotel and a bit of dinner before turning in. Of course in spite of our best intentions to turn in early because of the time difference, we ended up talking for hours about sheep and the color genetics of our flocks. We had each brought pages of color photographs, hoping to figure out some curious discrepancies in this year’s lambs. As you might expect, sharing this information suddenly seemed much more important than sleep, and we talked and shared photos long into the night.
We were up bright and early the next morning, however, because the fleece show began at 10 a.m., and we wanted a chance to look around before settling in to watch the judging. The fleece competition was judged by Martin Dally of Super Sire, Ltd., and it took most of Friday and part of Saturday morning to judge all of the hundreds of fleeces. The spectators were able to not only see each fleece and hear about the pros and cons of the entries in each class, but were also entertained by the many short stories and factual tidbits that were interspersed amid the judging. Overall it was a great show, and those who attended came away much better informed about all things sheep and wool.
Melissa and I also had the good fortune to see many friends, old and new, among the visitors to BSG. We watched a good friend, after many years of working to improve his white Romney flock, do quite well in the show ring (we did not have time to stay for the colored Romney show). We also had some lovely conversations including (1) learning about the color genetics of Teeswater sheep and helping a new friend try to figure out a breeding strategy to increase her color genetics while producing increasingly pure lines (this breed is being developed in the US by the importation of semen from abroad), (2) discussing the color genetics of Romney sheep and the importation of moorit genetics from New Zealand (something that has not been available in the US members of the breed, but now will be), and (3) a lively discussion about what does and doesn’t make for a good Romeldale/CVM fleece. The show was lots of fun, and it was hard to pull ourselves away — but we had a lot more to fit into our visit west!
On Sunday morning, we quickly loaded up and headed for our friends at Tawanda Farms in northern CA. Although Melissa had talked to Maggie and Carol and had bought sheep from them, she had never met them in person. As a good friend of theirs, I was looking forward to seeing them again. We arrived just after lunch on Sunday. We knew we couldn’t stay long — our flights home left early on Tuesday — but even a day was enough to reconnect with friends!
As always, my visit there was a packed thirty-one hours of talk that had one focus: sheep! With all four of us in the sheep business, the conversation flowed and switched directions as topics came and went — from parasite control to dark color in fleeces, and from yearling size to protection from predators. Everything was fair game.
Much too soon, our time together was over. We had hoped to come away from Tawanda Farms with some direction for this fall’s breeding groups, since Melissa and I have been trying to identify a new color pattern in the Romeldale/CVM breed. Happily, I think we’ve made some headway — and shared a whole lot more, too!
As always, I have lots to do now that I’m back home: sheep to move, fields to mow, coats to change, and more. Yet the many interesting conversations that took place during this trip linger in the back of my mind, churning up new ideas and potential future options for how we might do things. It’s always helpful to share ideas and compare techniques — and this past week has included much of that! I have plenty of food for thought!