Sunday at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

Sunday at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is always quieter than Saturday. It’s still plenty busy and crowded. A lot of people who did their reconnaissance on Saturday are making final evaluations for (and completing) major purchases. I’d guess that more spinning wheels depart the site on Sunday than on Saturday, although I saw a lot of demos and test runs going on yesterday.

But on Sunday it’s easier to choose where to go, rather than being pushed by the crowds or—my choice—retreating to the location of least population density.

Today I went to a few more short classes on specific aspects of wool, but the highlight of the day was the annual Parade of Breeds. As one of the handouts for one of the classes pointed out, "there are more breeds, types, and varieties of sheep than of any other domesticated livestock." This year’s parade included significantly more breeds than the last time I was here in 2000—I’d guess somewhere between thirty and forty.

It’s really hard to take photos at the parade. Lots of people want to see the animals, and there are lots of critters and people to coordinate to pull off this event. I got a few photos, mostly of the breeds in the earlier part of the alphabet. I caught the best photos while several of the sheep were waiting their turn in the ring. My camera has a delay between when I click the button and when the photo is snapped, so lots of other images that should have been sheep-heading-into-ring ended up as sheep-butt-moving-away-from-me.

Here, however, are a few of the photos that worked (more or less). If I’ve misidentified any breed and someone else knows what it is instead, please drop me a line. When the sheep have been shorn—which is true of almost all the animals at a show in early May—I, as a spinner, have lost access to one of my primary clues to identity: the fleece. (Yes, of course they announced the breeds as they went into the ring, but I was hunkered down in a corner, poking my camera in between people, mostly avoiding getting stepped on by sheep, and did not quite manage to write down legible reminder notes as I grabbed shots.)

This is a Black Welsh Mountain, ready to be first into the ring. It took me a number of years before I realized that the sheep paraded in alphabetical order.


I caught this Border Cheviot while it was waiting its turn:


Here’s a California Red:


And a Clun Forest:


And the Columbias are always so massive . . . they look like ponies, especially next to the Black Welsh Mountains, the Icelandics, the Shetlands, the smaller Jacobs. . . . This guy’ll gain another several inches in height when his wool grows in:


And a Cotswold, one of my favorite faces, with the start of a lovely fleece to go with it:


I wish I hadn’t missed the white Icelandic ewe and her two spring-loaded tiny black lambs. Well, I got a photo, but it wasn’t very good. They were so wonderful I’ll put it here anyway. The mom still has some fleece on her.


And I caught the Merino rep within the ring:


Again, the wool’s just starting to grow in for this year.

The thing about these sheep is that as varied as their appearance and personalities are, their fleeces are equally diverse. That continues to fascinate me. That and the fact that a number of these breeds embody a cultural treasure that is, in many ways, at risk of being lost. So I especially love seeing individuals from the rare breeds come into the ring.

Later in the day, I went over to the breed showcase barn and visited the Hog Island sheep that came to the festival from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Garden. They’d been in the parade, but about at the point that I lost my photo vantage point entirely.

Even among the rare breeds, Hog Island sheep are especially uncommon; there may be two hundred of them. Here are two, one of whom has been newly shorn and one of whom still has her coat:


The dark one enjoyed having her head scratched, right between the horns, please.

At the end of the day, she and her buddy headed home in a truck with this license plate:


Anybody who feels inclined toward a good cause: if you can’t conserve some of these animals by keeping them yourself, find a place like Mount Vernon that’s doing the crucial work of being sure that these living resources stick around and earmark a contribution for the livestock program.


3 thoughts on “Sunday at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival”

  1. Sorry I didn’t see you there! Thanks for the nice photo essay. It’s fun to see MD from different perspectives.

  2. Dear Deborah,
    This really isn’t about sheep. But it’s May 22, and I wanted to thank you for your postings last year about Deborah Pulliam’s death. I worked with her at Jamestown over twenty years ago and formed a friendship that was about history, and knitting, and costume and cooking and many other things. I live in Ohio and was feeling very alone in my grief. Your wonderful comments, the postcard (of which I have my own treasured collection) and the suggestion to sit and knit with a cup of tea, warmed my heart and helped dry my tears. I kept meaning to add my comments to that posting, but could never find the words. Thank you for sharing your grief so eloquently with those of us who were (and are) also grieving.
    Betsy Wilson
    bwhousehistories [at]

  3. I have spent a lot of time over the past month thinking of Deborah Pulliam: my trip to Maine to help out with some of her last days, her leaving us too soon, the birthday she missed celebrating, the sheep and wool festival we would have chatted about. . . . Thanks for writing, Betsy.

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