As wonderful as all the vendor goods and competition items are, the real stars of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival are the sheep! The festival has stayed very faithful to promoting only sheep and wool at their event. Since the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association is the main sponsor of the event and they don't want to dilute their promotion with other species it makes perfect sense. I did see some fiber bunnies in the Demo Area and a pair of alpacas near the Skein and Garment building but that was it - everything else was sheep-centric.
The Breed Display Barn is a swell collection of common and uncommon breeds here in the US. If you want to research which breed would fit your farm/fiber business this would be a great place to start. Breed association info (including producers) were available at each pen and a display of wool and wool products helped to teach what each breed was designed to do.
The Border Leicester display always blows me away. It's similar but different each year. I admit I was so amazed by the wool display that I didn't take a picture of the sheep. :-(
Some of the more uncommon breeds that caught my eye this year were:
Clun Forest - These medium sized sheep are a good fit for smaller homesteads. Easier to manage that some of the very large breeds, they are hardy, very maternal and lambs are vigorous.
This ewe had a pair of twins who were quite young but old enough to travel. It was really hot on that Friday and the family was exerting themselves as little as possible.
Kerry Hill - This breed is from the UK and has only recently been introduced to the US through an artificial insemination 'breeding up' program. Starting with an available, similar breed one uses imported semen to produce lambs (the first, "F1" generation which is 50% Kerry Hill or the breed you're introducing) and subsequent AI done on the F1s and their progeny (using more purebred semen) produces 75% then 85.5% then 92.75%, etc pure animals. This farm used Cheviots as foundation ewes. ( Not sure where the display animals here at Maryland were from but the lamb had very good coloration).
Leicester Longwool - This heritage breed was re-introduced to the US with some purebred sheep imported from Tasmania about twenty years ago. That was about the time the borders here were closed to live animal import and dedicated breeders have done a great job building distinct flocks from a very tiny original gene pool. The breed is in the same family as Cotswolds and Lincolns.
Shetland (I think - I'm embarrassed to admit I get them confused with Icelandics) - Small, friendly and coming in a ton of colors and patterns, these sheep are very popular with handspinners and folks who want fiber producing pet sheep. And these lambs were just too cute to pass by.
And the big draw this year of the Breed Display was the pen of Valais Blacknose Sheep (OK, two charming lambs) that came all the way from Oregon with Martin and Joy Dally. Martin has been at the forefront of sheep AI for decades and we acquired our British Cotswold semen from him a decade ago. These F1 lambs were very well marked and already good ambassadors for the breed as they led well in the Parade of Breeds wearing sweet-sounding little Swiss bells that sang ting-ting-ting as they walked.
They really are pretty stinkin' cute!
Next up - the showring!