Rhinebeck

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The Barn, Sunday Morning

Mom and I went to Rhinebeck last weekend to represent Bluefaced Leicester Sheep as best we could.  With my foot broken, this is largely a story of other people doing things for me.  Matt loaded Fannie the BFL lamb at 5:30 for my departure.  Down 91, picked up Mom in Brattleboro, across on 90 and down the Taconic and we were in Rhinebeck.  Again, wonderful helpers helped Mom unload Fannie into her pen, where her new friend Chloe was waiting.  I had reserved Chloe months ago from BlueLand Farm in Maryland.  I had a pleasant chat with Meredith as we signed over the papers for Chloe.

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Saturday saw steady waves of people coming up.  Most just wanted to see some sheep and learn a little, but a few were interested in becoming future shepherds.   By noon, people could barely shuffle by.  There were more people in that barn than live in my town, easily.   A big treat was a visit from the New England Border Collie Rescue folks and the chance to meet a few of the members of a Ravelry group I really love.

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Our fiber sample items.

Sunday was a little calmer, and we were able to have some one-on-one conversations with representatives of yarn shops and a few more members of the public who are considering sheep.  A lot of the questions I was asked concerned selecting breeds when you start your farm.  There are some misconceptions I want to address with that, so I am thinking of writing some posts about breeds.  What questions or thoughts do you have about selecting breeds of sheep?

SOON, as the popular meme goes

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SOON (as the popular meme goes)

Preparing for the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival

Every year has been a little different at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds in Tunbridge, VT, September 30-October 1.  Even if you don’t knit, it’s a ton of fun with great food and lots of opportunities to learn more about fibercraft.

In the past, I have brought natural-color Cormo X yarn – soft yarn in natural white, gray and brown shades.   Additionally, I’ve brought some hand-processed batts for handspinners and felters.

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This year is a little different.  The last run of Cormo X yarn will be for sale, available in eight (yes!) attractive and wearable colors plus three natural shades.  We will be debuting our Bluefaced Leicester yarn, which is soft and silky with a subtle sheen.  I hope you are as excited as I am to touch this awesome yarn.  Our BFL yarn comes in two natural colors and supplies are limited.

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We will also be offering raw fleece in several formats.  We have small packets of hand-selected Bluefaced Leicester and Border Leicester locks for crafting.  Border Leicester fleece is on offer in larger volumes.  I know many handspinners with they could sample more fleeces with a little less commitment to a whole sheep.  I have chosen to offer fleece in smaller purchase units so that you can enjoy a pound or three of quality fleece without being tired of it by the end.  I’ve been there.

Additionally, gorgeous and intriguing pelts made by Vermont Natural Sheepskins will be on offer in both white and natural shades.

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So please come by our booth in the animal barn.  Friendly lambs want to nibble you, and I want to hear what you think of this blog.

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We Went to the Festival

And I sold lots of yarn, batts and pelts.

Saturday started off with lots of visitors inspecting the goods, but few purchases.  I was anxious that no one would be in a buying mood!  But suddenly around 12:30, an unheard “buy-things-now” alarm went off and suddenly 4 pelts, a pile of yarn and half of my batts went to new homes.  Meanwhile, Matt was manning the sheep pen and chatting about Bluefaced Leicesters and Cormo with all comers.  The sheep who came this week weren’t as friendly as the 2014 crew, so they hung back while children reached for them.  Eleanor, Phoebe and Chickadee are happy to be home, but maybe a little braver than they were before their eye-opening experience.

Patterns were a huge seller. The Climbing Trellis Mittens and the Vermont Sheepscape Sweater were standout performers.  Unlike our festival experience in 2014, though, the pattern purchases didn’t seem to inspire yarn purchases – the yarn was bought generally after the customer made a few observations like”Wow, soft” and “Amazing quality.”  The yarn, made at Hampton’s Fiber Mill, was as good as anything at the show.  I did get to brag a bit about my mother’s pattern-design and knitting skill, as the samples she had knitted me were greatly admired.

With respect to our booth display, it was hard not to feel inadequate compared to other vendors.  My cobbled-together booth with materials lent to me by Mom and a coworker reflected our relative inexperience.  The fact that we arrived at 8:30 on Saturday morning and were still frantically searching for a screwdriver ten minutes before showtime probably reinforced that.  However, once people started milling more, the slightly disjointed character of my display seemed to matter less, and the presence of adorable sheep mattered more.

Saturday was devoted to sales, but Sunday offered lulls in the booth traffic that allowed Phoebe to shop and permitted me to cruise other booths and vendors to make and renew some contacts.   Shepherds don’t meet up often, so this was one of my few opportunities to meet friends from farms a few hours away.

Some familiar faces included Wing and a Prayer Farm, whose proprietor Tammy I admire tremendously for her fiber skills and her ability to share and expand fibercraft to new audiences with her activities and workshops.  We’ve got a pending phone date.  I caught up with Peggy at Savage Hart Farm, too.  She had sausage for sale, so we compared notes about having sausage made.  She’s been my go-to recommendation when people have contacted me about breeding stock, since I didn’t have any spare lambs this year or last year.  I also had a brief chat with Cindy at Ewe and I Farm.  We met years ago doing Holistic Management.  Perhaps most critically, I had a meeting with Hilary Chapin of Smiling Sheep Farm, which allowed us to conspire more about bringing more Bluefaced Leicesters to the Northeast from the Mid-West and West.  Hilary has an outlook on husbandry and  an understanding of sheepraising that I largely share – sheep must express both form and function, and we can’t excuse low quality, even in a rare or unusual breed.

The main takeaway may be that I finally feel a little like Sheep and Pickle Farm is on the right track.  People remember the farm, people have read articles in Vermont’s Local Banquet that I’ve written, and Matt is engaged in shepherding with me.  He is developing his own areas of expertise in haying and tractorwork while he also learns more about the science of sheep.  Phoebe has learned a great deal in her year-or-so of sheep education, and her help was invaluable as we hastily packed up at the end of Sunday, completely exhausted from smiling and chatting so much.