The 43rd Annual Massachusetts Sheep & Woolcraft Fair took place May 27 and 28 at the fairgrounds in Cummington, MA. The long-standing fair has been drawing sheep producers and woolcraft enthusiasts since 1974. It features a wide range of activities for people of all ages and skill levels such as sheep shows, sheep dog trials, fleece auctions, fiber workshops, and more.
Fair co-chairperson Shawn Thayer, who has been overseeing the fair for the past seven years, says the event helps to promote agriculture in Massachusetts.
“The main goal here is to showcase Massachusetts sheep and fiber products and give the producers a chance to interact with consumers,” Thayer said. “This event gives people a chance to buy Massachusetts grown products. A majority of vendors here are Massachusetts residents and its part of their livelihood.”
Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture John Lebeaux, who paid a special visit to this year’s event, agreed with Thayer’s assessment of the fair.
“This show is the essence of agriculture in Massachusetts,” Lebeaux said. “Our department is very actively involved in the fair. We try to make an effort to get out to as many farms as possible. This is where we get to talk to farmers.”
In addition to touring the fairgrounds and corresponding with sheep farmers, Lebeaux had the privilege of presenting three actively involved students with special awards.
Alexandra Springstube of West Stockingbridge, MA and Alyssa Weld of Warwick, MA were the winners of the Clifford Thayer Scholarship. Each girl received $750 to help with their collegiate studies in agriculture. Katelyn Poitras of Brimfield, MA was the winner of the Arthur D. Holmes Award. She received a prize for her active involvement in a 4-H sheep project.
Youths who are involved with 4-H or FAA play a special role at the fair. Their involvement not only enriches the experience for other fairgoers but also allows them the opportunity to network and take part in various agricultural activities.
High school senior Emma Figueroa participated with her school selling Angora rabbits she had raised throughout the year.
“At Smith Vocational [and Agricultural High School] we have an FAA chapter where you must have a supervised agricultural experience,” Figueroa said. “I’m also working on getting into the fiber industry. I would like to continue breeding Angora rabbits and shearing and selling their fiber.”
Figueroa’s booth was set up in the children’s agricultural education area which was one of several places where children activities were occurring. These activities included free of charge workshops on spinning, dying, felting and weaving. There were ongoing demonstrations which taught children about sheep and what to do with wool. Children looking for some competition were able to sign up for speed knitting, drop spindle and spinning wheel contests.
There were plenty of other competitive activities for more experienced youth to participate in such as a photo contest, lead line pageant and fitting and showmanship contest. The fitting and showmanship contest was open to youths ages five to 20 and was made up of four classes. Participants were judged on their sheep’s appearance and their ability to present their animal. The senior showmanship winner was Jakob Leary of Oakham, MA. The intermediate showmanship winner was Megan Higgins of Coventry, CT. The junior showmanship winner was Madelyn Syme and novice showmanship winner was Morgan Syme, both of South Windsor, CT.
Adults were able to enter a separate purebred sheep show. According to Thayer the number of registered sheep was on par from previous years and for the first time in the show’s 43-year history, out-of-state exhibitors were eligible for premiums which included cash prizes.
“We have about 300 sheep,” Thayer said. “Our sheep show may not always grow in number but it does in quality. This is the first year we have encouraged out-of-state people to come and participate.”
This show consisted of 12 separate classes which culminated in a supreme champion ram and ewe for both meat and wool breeds. The supreme champion meat breed ram was a Southdown yearling owned by Alyssa Weld of Warwick, MA. The supreme champion meat breed ewe was a Dorset lamb owned by Evan Syme of South Windsor, CT. The supreme champion wool breed ram was a Cotswold yearling owned by Fred Schauwecker of Plympton, MA. The supreme champion wool breed ewe was a natural colored yearling owned by Morgan Syme of South Windsor, CT.
Both youths and adults were eligible to compete in annual fleece show which was made up of nine separate classes based on different types of wool. Ribbons were awarded to the top three places in each class with trophies going to the grand champion and reserve champion. Sean Mallinson and Sara Niccoli of Marsh Mallo Farm in Fort Plain, NY took both champion and reserve champion trophies with their Cormo crossbreed and purebred Jacob fleeces.
The North East Border Collie Association and the United States Border Collie Handler’s Association sheep dog trials were another competition which took place. Thayer says the sheep dog trials have grown in popularity over the years and even expanded this year by an additional day. The sheep dog trial results can be viewed at www.nebca.net.
“The [sheep] dog trial is an event that has continued to grow and improve in quality,” Thayer said. “This year they were able to offer trials on three days instead of two. It was expanded…for the novice dogs.”
There were plenty of activities for adults to take part in which were not competitive in nature. There were a wide variety of adult workshops with such topics as basics of fabricating a lamb carcass, using charts for color work and lace, introduction to nalbinding, using oil and handcards to prepare rolags for smooth spinning, spindle and distaff spinning and fiber and color blending on the drum carder.
Other popular adult areas drawing a lot of foot traffic were the buildings which housed the commercial vendors. There were over 55 vendors selling various colorful and creative handcrafted items such as naturally dyed and handspun yarns, wools, art work, jewelry, ceramics and other textile items.
Even with all these available activities Thayer says the fair experience would not be fully complete without visiting the 4-H food booth area with its various lamb menu items highlighted by the signature lamb bits.
For more information go to www.masheepwool.org.