A little bit of the Estes Park Wool Market

Estes Park Wool Market took place in the Rocky Mountains last weekend. It's relatively near my home, so I drove up for the few hours that I could carve out of my current editing schedule.

On the way up, I wondered at the near-complete-stop slowdown of traffic in the Big Thompson Canyon. Minor slowdowns are normal. This is the main road from the east into Rocky Mountain National Park. The narrow road twists a lot, and people from outside the area or in large vehicles get apprehensive and appropriately (for the unfamiliar) cautious. This line-up was far beyond that normal clogging, and I began to worry that there'd been an accident.

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Nope. Here's the other reason things slow to a crawl in the canyon:

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Those are bighorns. I have no idea why, with all the rain we've had, they thought the scraps of vegetation on the roadside were tastier than the bright green stuff farther from the road. But lots of people had to either shoot photos from their cars or stop on the narrow shoulder and get out their cameras. I only took this photo because I was stopped anyway and figured folks from out of the area would like to see.

It's much more common around here to see elk close-up than bighorns. There are often bighorns in the canyon, but they normally blend into their background so well that they're easy to miss. Imagine these critters up higher and against those rocks. They pretty much vanish.

Here's what the wool market up here looks like—quite different from, say, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival!

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In the photo below, you can tell it's a little windy. We also got some rain, but not enough to put a damper on things.

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There were yaks, always a crowd-pleaser.

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And I like noticing textiles that are not as obvious as those offered in the market:

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Which is here. It's much smaller than Maryland, but there's never a problem finding wonderful things to admire and, often enough, take home. The collection of vendors at Estes Park always seems unusually fine—both regulars and newcomers.

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Here's one of the regulars, Sue McFarland, of Susan's Fiber Shop in Wisconsin. She shows up at a lot of festivals, including Maryland. Those who see her in her booths at the festivals, always teaching people on the spot how to do the next thing they want to learn, may not know that she's even busier than she looks (and she always looks very, very busy, usually doing a demo or connecting people with the equipment, books, or materials they need).

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Fortunately, with that hat and shirt she's easy to spot:

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She ducked out of the booth to show some sheep she'd brought with her (in addition to all the goodies from her shop):

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While I was watching, it was a little hard to figure out what group of sheep was being judged. On-site announcements of show classes were perfunctory at best. These were obviously young rams, but of several different breeds. When I got home, I looked up the catalog and discovered this was the "White Handspinning Sheep" show, and its category was one of two, the long wools, grades 48 and below (the other was medium and fine, grades 50 and above). No wonder there was an array of types!

Susan's sheep has a significant percentage of Teeswater genetics. The Teeswater is one of the breeds being produced in the U.S. through what is called "upgrading."

The whole business of working to recreate Teeswaters and Wensleydales in the U.S. using imported British semen on a variety of longwool ewes is controversial in some quarters, because the ewes being used are often from other rare breeds that also need conservation. The specified, acceptable breeds for the U.S. Teeswater upgrading program are registered Border Leicesters, Bluefaced Leicesters, Cotswolds, Leicester Longwools, Lincolns, and North American Wensleydales. The breeds of greatest concern in that list are the Cotswolds, Leicester Longwools, and Lincolns, where the breeds are also rare. (Wensleydales are rare, too, but the ones listed have also been upgraded.)

In Susan's breeding program, she is using her base flock of Romneys (which are not rare). She's not using one of the specified foundation breeds for upgrading—although there's an exception in the upgrading guidelines for North American Teeswaters that is in effect for Romney-based ewes born through June 1 of this year.

Here's what Susan's website says about her Teeswater-heritage sheep: "My base flock started with a 87.5% Teeswater ram. . . . We then
are upgrading the breed using the base flock of Romneys. . . . The % of Teeswaters
we have for sale now is 43.75%." Note that the percent now for sale is half that of the original ram—half the Teeswater genetics from the imported semen, and half the Romney from the ewe. An excellent and proficient crafter, she's breeding for sheep that grow wools that have the qualities she wants.

This upgrading business can make it hard to identify some of the sheep! I was told the ones in the photo below are U.S. Teeswaters and Wensleydales. British Teeswaters have characteristic face markings that aren't showing up consistently here, most likely because of the upgrading process. Wensleydales have blue faces (black skin under white wool; UK and US).

All controversies aside, these critters are really nice sheep with great wool. They're just starting to grow this year's fleece.

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3 Responses

  1. Joanne

    Thanks for taking me to the wool market with you! I saw some of that Teeswater flock in Maryland. Beautiful animals, but not-quite- Teeswater yet. 🙂

  2. Kit

    Dang! I forgot all about it or I would have made the trip up… I guess there’s next year.

  3. catena c

    There’s a small pool right before a culvert at that point – no wonder the bighorns gather there! They don’t need to cross the highway to access the river. Up canyon a bit, the bighorns cross the road to get to the river – I always worry someone is going to zip around the corner and crash into a flock.

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