By KL Snyder
A sheep or goat or rabbit used to wear your favorite sweater. At the 20th Annual Shepherd’s Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival, you can meet fiber-producing animals, see each step in the sheep-to-yarn process, watch a fleece competition, give yarn spinning a whirl, see herding dogs at work and more.
Lamapalooza stars llama athletes vying for ribbons and points. It’s like a dog show—like several kinds of dog shows in one because it incorporates events similar to obedience, rally, conformation and agility. For llama handlers, Lamapalooza is an earnest effort. For spectators, it’s a lark.
This lively, woolly duo of fest and palooza will take place Mother’s Day weekend at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Lake Elmo.
Sheep and Wool Festival
The event bills itself as a fun, family-oriented, fleece and fiber fair. Animals and activities abound.
You’ll see sheep of various breeds. Each breeds’ fleece differs, and you’ll learn which makes the best yarn. (Like the fleece, the opinions will differ.) You can eyeball cashmere goats. You can watch a spinner spin the fur from a fluffy bunny as it sits in her lap.
One of the 25 or so demos will feature indigo dying. At another, kids can make yarn jewelry. Visitors to the 1812 Historical Encampment will see spinning wheels and
fiber tools from 200 years ago.
Sheep to yarn. And shopping.
“You can watch sheep shearing done by a professional and then learn what happens to the fleece afterwards,” says Jody Marx, coordinator of outdoor events. She’ll demonstrate skirting, the task of separating the filthy fleece from the good stuff. She’s also a spinner. Wool carders and spinners will explain what they’re doing and how to do it and let you have a go.
Upwards of 150 vendors will offer fiber-related goods and crafts—yarn, rugs, slippers, hats, jewelry, spinning wheels and more. Jody says the festival, with its livestock, exhibits, demos and food wagons, is like a county fair.
Llamas grow fleece, too; and in the fairgrounds cattle barn, Katie Mazac will shear “two, three, four llamas each day, depending on how many owners bring them for haircuts.”
Her mother, Julie Mazac, cards and spins the fleece. “It’s a whole demo across the board,” says Katie, secretary of the Midwest Lama Association (MWLA).
MWLA sponsors Lamapalooza, a two-day tournament sanctioned by the International Lama Registry. Judges evaluate the animals in performance and showmanship. During the good-weather months, a llama show takes place somewhere in the Midwest every weekend, says MWLA president Kim Schechinger.
The performance classes—obstacle, public relations and pack—will be held Saturday. In obstacle, llamas, led by their handlers, clear jumps, climb stairs, duck through tunnels, weave around cones, slosh through puddles and so forth.
Public relations is the llama version of the Canine Good Citizen exam and then some. It simulates situations llama and handler might encounter during visits to schools, nursing homes, libraries and other busy places. Llamas on public excursions are expected to behave themselves.
In the pack class, llamas show their backpacking skills. The test replicates a hike in a woodland or state park-like setting. Feats include wading, crossing a bridge, perhaps meeting a flock of ducks.
Showmanship and halter classes take place on Sunday. “In showmanship, the llama and handler must look neat and spiffy and show themselves off to their best advantage,” Kim says. The judge looks for style and poise.
Halter, says Katie, “is all about the animals.” Llamas are judged by their overall appearance and movement, much like an AKC conformation show.
About the spitting
Llamas’ reputations for spitting is overblown, Kim says. “It’s a misconception that llamas spit at people. They don’t.” The spewing relates to hierarchy among the herd at feeding time. “They spit at each other, and sometimes we get in the way.”
If you ask to pet a llama, its owner will probably say yes, and the llama will be delighted, and your kids will want to bring one home. “They’re darling, gentle animals,” says MWLA member Kathy Hanson.