The 40th Mass Sheep and Woolcraft Fair

CN-MR-3-FortiethMassby Laura Rodley

Showing lambs, fleece, sweaters, yarn — the family-friendly 40th Sheep and Woolcraft Fair had it all.

Each year, 4-H members learn that positivity, striving for perfection and hard work gains results at the fair, which was held at Cummington Fairgrounds in Massachusetts over Memorial Day weekend. Proceeds benefited Massachusetts 4-H Clubs.

According to fair co-chair Cummington resident Shawn Thayer, more than 1,050 cars were parked over the two day event by the Pioneer Valley Young Shepherds, who earned a percentage of the parking fee. The Western Massachusetts 4-H Exchange Club ran the food booth, raising money for trips to stay with other 4-Hers in a different state or host other members. The Good Shepherd 4-H Club ran trash detail and will use money they earned from the fair committee to fund their 4-H sheep projects.

New this year was a $500 fair scholarship given to Lauren Rizzitano of Medfield, MA for the study of the sheep industry or sheep farming at college level.

Adult exhibitor Lynda Hutchings, of Moonlight Acre in Hanson, MA, traveled three hours to show her 10 Cheviots at the fair. She started in 4-H member at nine years old. As a teenager, she sent her wool in a box to be exhibited at the Mass Sheep and Woolcraft Fair. It was mailed back to her with a silver cup. “I guess it was a good fleece,” she said humbly, as she trimmed the fleece of her Cheviot, born April 1, in preparation for showing.

She returned with her children as they grew up and “stuck with the sheep” for the last 10 years. She and her daughter, Sandra Hutchings,  filled eight stalls — Sandra with her black faced Hampshires and Lynda with Cheviots. “They are a meat type with a nice wool. They’re a very hardy breed, native to Cheviot hills which border Scotland and England, so they’re very, very hardy.”

She keeps her 50 sheep, including lambs, on an acre at her Moonlight Acre Farm.

Other people rent space to house their sheep. Exhibitor Sandy Ray keeps her seven natural color merinos at Brattle Farm in Pittsfield, MA, a short walk from her home. The farm’s owners, Donna and Bill Chandler, have 38 sheep. Sandy started keeping sheep when her daughter was in middle school. She picked merinos, “because of their fine fleece. We sell the fleece and sheep.”

Meanwhile, in the show-ring youth exhibitors were judged by Duckey Chute of Leominster, NH. Overall, she judged the contestants as “excellent” and had a hard time choosing the placement of the winners, checking the thickness of fleece, conformation and the ease of relationship between handler and sheep and the sheep itself.

Fifteen-year-old Shannon Reifowitz of Rutland, MA won intermediate class with her Shropshire. Her friends, brother and sister Jess and Jake Greenslit, placed third and fourth.

Nine-year-old Faustyna Jaracz of Cummington’s Sugar Valley Farm won the junior class. Katelyn Poitras of Brimfield, MA placed second, and Madelyn Syme of South Windsor, CT placed third.

Fair founder and Shawn’s father, Cummington resident Clifford Thayer, was close at hand, watching the judging. “It’s been good so far. Don’t need the rain. It’s stayed up so far,” referring to the drenching showers that came and went during the fair. No matter; diehard knitters like rain showers, so they can stay inside and indulge in knitting without guilt. The rain only reminded them to buy more yarn from the bounty at hand amidst the 60-plus vendors.

Inside the 4-H building, people paid to take a class taught by Theresa Drouin-Guerette and learned how to spin a fine lace shawl on a spinning wheel. There were sheepdog trials, classes in Kool-Aid dyeing for kids, natural dyeing, dyeing for stripes and effects, spinning on a drop spindle, weaving, making wet felting flowers and rug-hooking, as well as a fleece-to-shawl or speed knitting contests for adults and youth. There was also shearing, lamb cooking demonstrations, fleece sales, woolcraft and photography exhibits. On Sunday, children led their sheep during the Lead Line Pageant.

In the crafts tents, yarns were made of multiple sources of fiber, such as the Angora rabbits owned by Andy and Penelope Conklin of Cobblerock Ridge Farm. Penelope held a large Angora as passersby asked questions. When asked what the rabbit’s name was, she answered, “for sale.” Which is the whole point of the fair — to help people, adults and children alike, to raise money working with their animals, and to pass on the tradition of farming as a way of a viable way of life.

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