This past weekend was the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. My friend Julie and I made our annual pilgrimage there to see, buy and enjoy. SO much to see and do - everything is fiber related in one way or another.
Weather was great and it was crowded - I'm guessing the usual 50,000 for the weekend. This is one of two main thoroughfares, the other being parallel this one but on the other end of the barns to the right. You can't see the many barns lying farther up the hill. And of course it doesn't count the people within all the buildings.......
The Leicester Longwool
association was celebrating 25 years of the breed being back in the US. Having become literally extinct in America a group of seedstock had to be selected and imported in order to bring this historically important breed back to the US. A tremendous amount of effort and care since then has resulted in very good progress. They had a large tent to themselves and an excellent display of animals from several farms and many items made from Leicester wool showing its beauty and versatility. Some clever boots even made a flock of lawn sheep from some gnarly felted locks and corn cobs!
I had forgotten that the Leicester folks had asked permission to use a photo of some of our Cotswolds on their association banner which appears to be showing many of the breeds that originated in the UK besides the Leicester.
This majestic ram was quite photogenic.
There were ewes with unweaned lambs at their side too which is something you never see at a typical sheep show.
All the Leicesters were card graded which means they were evaluated by a team of three specialized Leicester judges and compared to the breed standard rather than to each other. Excellent animals received a blue card, Good were red, Acceptable were yellow and Unacceptable (I didn't see any of those) would have been white. I love this method of judging! Comments were listed on each card detailing the strong and weak points of each animal. There could be many blue cards, not just one, and breeders would have a much more meaningful critique of potential breeding stock than a ribbon for first, fifth or tenth place. Smarter matches could be made and extremes of type - which seems to lead show ring activity - is regarded with a wary eye since upholding the breed standard is the whole point of the exercise. I'd love to see other breeds do this once in a while, particularly any minor breeds.
While most of the grading was done in the Leicester tent, about a half dozen sheep were brought to the main arena so more people could observe the process. I also like that the animals are off lead and allowed to move around a small pen on their own - no one setting their feet or posing them to hide deficiencies. The three judges were very thorough and examined everything from the sheep's bite to their gait, fleece character, overall size with respect to present age, reproductive equipment, pigment on nose, ears and hooves, udder structure on females, growth of lambs if applicable and other traits. Here Dr. Phil Sponenberg
gives an explanation of this ewe's grade.
The weekend was busy with 'regular' sheep shows too. There were many breeds that warranted their own show - meaning they competed against only others of their own breed in each class - and some breeds didn't have enough entries to show alone and so they competed against quite different individuals. Here is the White Wool Long class. I saw Cotswolds, Teeswaters, Leicester Longwools (some of these chose to compete in the 'regular' sheep show as well as being card graded and did very well against stiff competition) and Scottish Blackface. The judge really got a work out comparing apples to oranges and kumquats. All combined there were over 600 sheep on the grounds for the various shows, exhibits, demonstrations and sales. A breed for every purpose and then some!
These stylish Border Leicesters were waiting for breakfast.
While some Cotswolds dug in.
Next time - more really fun stuff at the festival!