Maryland's Sheep and Wool Festival
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The first thing I saw when walking into the entrance of the Thirtieth Annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival -2003 (Website: was a stand used for performing sheep maintenance. Sheep stand I won't get into the things that you need to maintain on a sheep. I suggest you read magazines such as Sheep ( for the details. I knew that the rest of the booths would have other items for sale I had glanced through the 182 page catalog that the Maryland Sheep Breeders Associations had produced for the show. I was looking forward to the sheep dog and sheep shearing demonstrations, as well as the music.

The Festival fills the Howard County (MD) fairgrounds with sheep, sheep products, products for sheep, and related products. It has the air of a state fair that ignores other livestock, although a few Angora rabbits and several llamas sneak in. It occurs the first weekend in May. On Friday, the vendors and the sheep arrive. On Saturday, the crowds arrive to buy up everything from yarn for knitting to sheep covers (for protecting the wool while it is growing on the sheep). On Sunday, the crowds are still present, but in lesser numbers. If you raise sheep, shear them; spin with wool, knit with it, or make sheep cheese, then you may already know about the Festival. If you'd like to learn any of the previous or how to eat them, then it's the place to be.

There are plenty of sheep on display. Sheep judging covers both days of the festival. You have to opportunity to buy a sheep - from a miniature for a pet to a full grown one for the wool. If you're confused by the variety of sheep, the parade of breeds shows and explains the differences between the English Rambouillet, Romney, Black Romney, Cotswold, Corriedale, and thirty other breeds including ones from other countries such as the Spanish Marino.

The working sheepdog demonstration showed how man and Border Collie interact to herd sheep. The dogs respond to the human's verbal commands and whistles. They circle around the sheep and then come up to pressure them in the desired direction. They can herd them into pens, through gates, and in figure eights. An eight-month-old Collie in the beginning of training was shown. He was a little too anxious and managed to run one of the sheep out of the arena. An older more experienced Collie was called upon to retrieve it.

You may have seen a sheep sheared with electric cutters - clippers that are a large version of the ones barbers use to give crewcuts. The old fashioned way to shear a sheep is with scissors. Not your ordinary house scissors, but something that looks more like grass trimmers. The wool isn't cut as close to the skin as with electrical clippers. But the wool that is left will be there next year. The demonstrator, Kevin Ford can sheer about 180 sheep a day with hand shears versus 300 a day for the mechanically aided.

The vendors sell some finished products, but the emphasis is on the raw material so you can do it yourself. You can start with the raw fleece, just as it was sheared off the sheep. It runs around $10 to $12 a pound with 12 pounds or so in a fleece. However, that includes the weight of the lanolin (grease), which is usually washed off before using the wool. You can buy roving (thins rolls of wool) for spinning or batting (flat hanks of wool) for felting). Dyed wool from single color to rainbow is available for the both the spinner and the knitter. And if you're not craft minded, you can purchase sheepskins for your car seats.


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Maryland Sheep and Wool

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