The first biennial Southern New England Shepherd’s Forum was held March 5 at the Norfolk County Agricultural High School in Walpole, MA. A total of 108 attendees from all over New England came together for the opportunity to network with each other and learn about a wide range of topics within the sheep industry. The event offered plenty of activities to take part in for both adults and children including informative lectures, hands-on workshops and industry vendors.
The Rhode Island Sheep Cooperative sponsored the event. “Our goal with this forum is to be informative, elevate peoples methods of raising lambs, keep lamb production going forward, and to get kids actively involved”, explained Rhode Island Sheep Cooperative President, Robin Meek.
One of the main ways that children got involved at the forum was through four different workshops that took place throughout the day. They had opportunity to work in pairs and handle sheep during a sheep showing etiquette class led by experienced sheep judge Debra Hopkins.
Melanie Barkley of Penn State Extension Service led a lamb cut identification and cooking preparation class. Children in this class had opportunities to work in groups as they completed a lamb cuts puzzle activity and another activity that involved matching the different types of lamb cuts with the right cooking method.
Professional sheep shearer Joel Mariacher of Lee, NH provided a thorough explanation on shearing machine maintenance followed by a sheep shearing demonstration.
The last workshop of the day was a quiz bowl led by University of Rhode Island graduate and former 4-Her, Brittany Sederback. Children were separated into four teams and competed against each other by answering questions about many of the topics covered throughout the day at the workshops. It was a great way to close out the day and they came away with prizes such as halters, water buckets, feeders, and feed scoops.
Rhode Island Sheep Cooperative member Beth Fallon of Sterling, CT came to the event with her husband and two children after reading about it in a flyer.
“We sell lambs and my husband is learning to be a butcher so the lamb cut identification class was helpful. Both of my girls are also members of a 4-H group in which their main project is raising, breeding and showing sheep so they got a lot out of the show ring etiquette class and sheep shearing demonstration.
“We normally take a field trip once a year for our 4-H group,” said Pioneer Valley Young Shepherd 4-H organizational leader Shawn Thayer. “The program here looked really interesting and provided a good educational opportunity as well as a good way for the kids to work together as a group.”
There were also four separate power point lectures available for adult attendees. Topics included performance data usage in selection, applied sheep genetics and selection, sheep fencing and a 12-month sheep health plan followed by a question and answer period.
The Southern New England Shepherd’s Forum was funded through the Rhody Warm Blanket Project, an idea started in 2006 when 19 Rhode Island sheep farmers decided to find a way to turn waste wool into profit. With the help of funding from several organizations and local citizens, the Rhody Warm Blanket Project was born. Since 2006 over 125 wool producers have contributed to the production of quality wool blankets. The proceeds have helped provide funding for 4-H scholarships, donations to other local organizations, increased the amount of programs offered by the Rhode Island Sheep Cooperative and have brought more income to sheep farmers.
For more information visit www.risheep.org or call 401-578-2012.