Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sheep Shearing at the Fair

Judging the sheep at the Ks St Fair 
Kansas is best known for several things--Cowboys and Indians, being the Sunflower State, Dorothy & the Wizard of Oz, "amber waves of grain."  However, most people do not associate sheep with Kansas.  That is unfortunate, for not only are sheep raised in Kansas today, they are also a part of Kansas history.
The sheep shearing demonstration

In the early years before there were fields under cultivation, great herds of sheep were driven across Kansas to markets in the east.  Increasing cultivation and the railroads ended that practice.  Few farmers in the area near where Isaac once lived raise sheep today, although I do know of at least one; however, sheep were being raised in this area in Isaac's time.  He mentions in his journal buying mutton from my great grandfather, Aaron Beck, a surprise to me since I had not known of sheep ever being raised by my family.  In the Blizzard of 1886 Isaac recorded in his journal that a neighbor named Blanch lost about 800 sheep and that Neelands Ranch lost a great many too, although he did not know the number.
There were sheep raised in Pratt County when I was young, for the Sheep Barn at the Pratt County Fair was a popular place to go when I was in 4-H.  Most of the kids that I knew raised cattle as their 4-H project, however.

Students watch the shearing 
A friend who was accompanying a school group that was visiting the fair mentioned that they were on their way to the Sheep Barn to watch the sheep shearing demonstration.  We decided to follow them there, and it may have been my first opportunity to actually watch a sheep being sheared, although I have seen the job done on television.  The children were mesmerized.  The task was finished surprisingly quickly, but the size of the pile of sheared wool from one sheep was an even bigger surprise. 

Nearly finished
After the shearing demonstration, the woman who had provided an interesting narrative during the shearing, filled with facts about sheep and wool, moved to a nearby spinning wheel for her own demonstration.  She showed the audience how the wool was spun into yarn, pausing often to answer questions from the interested audience.  Later, when we visited the Oz Gallery where antiques are judged, we saw an antique spinning wheel. 

Students learn about spinning wool 

You never know exactly what you might see when you go to the State Fair!


The Blog Fodder said...

Isaac never mentioned any range wars between cattle and sheep ranchers?
Sheep were popular in western Canada until WWII. Legend has it that Canadian soldiers stationed in Britain until D-Day ate so much mutton they swore they'd never eat it again. Lots of people I know have never even eaten lamb. I think I was in my 20s when I first tasted it.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I have this philosophy--I don't eat things that didn't get to be a grown-up! No veal or lamb ordered in a restaurant or purchased at the meat market, although I do break my rule if I am served such meats as a guest. After all, the animal is already gone and my declining the dish can't reduce the market for that particular animal. I do love lamb and have no taste for mutton! I do realize that my philosophy is odd for a former farm gal!!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

To answer your comment about range 1878 when Isaac arrived on the prairie, farms were pretty "civilized" and both sheep and cattle ranchers had fenced pastures. Most also raised crops, so they all had reason to keep their stock at home and hope their neighbors did the same. Isaac had to do fences around hay stacks and gardens to keep a neighbor's hogs out and wrote in his journal that it might have been simpler to go over and repair his neighbor's poor fences!