Shepherds lead the way at annual Sheep and Wool Festival

Union Leader Correspondent
May 14. 2018 8:09PM
Taylor Lucas of Deerfield poses with Rose, her 1-year-old sheep. (Travis R. Morin/Union Leader Correspondent)

DEERFIELD — For the organizers of the 42nd annual New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival, it was all about the shepherds.

Andy Rice, a livestock fencing and sheep-shearing consultant who’s been involved with the festival since its beginnings, says seasoned shepherds have an obligation to teach younger generations whatever they can.

“As you get up in years, it’s sort of your responsibility to pass on what you know,” he said. “You learned it from someone, now it’s your job to teach other people.”

Several thousand attended the event at the Deerfield Fair Grounds over the weekend.

The festival is the largest yearly event staged by the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Grower’s Association (NHSWGA), a non-profit organization that focuses on teaching sheep management skills to new shepherds, educating the general public, and providing a forum for sheep wool and alpaca fleece artisans to meet and exchange ideas.

Rick Young, the president of the NHSWGA and shepherd to a flock of 20 horned Dorset sheep, has spent the greater part of the last two decades working in the Granite State’s sheep industry. Previously a carpenter who specialized in the restoration of Colonial homes, Young moved back to his Strafford family farm in the 1990s to take up shepherding.

“In 1997 we moved to the family farm where my grandfather had previously kept sheep,” said Young. “I was familiar with sheep, but I didn’t start raising them on my own until 1999. It seems to be in my blood, I really enjoy the animals.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture census data from 2012, New Hampshire is home to 618 sheep and lamb farms, with 541 of them having a flock of 1-24 sheep.

David Kennard, whose Wellscroft Farm in Harrisville has several hundred sheep, is one of the three founding members of the festival. Together with Bruce Clement and Bill Weston, Kennard has strived to maintain the organization’s commitment to supporting up-and-coming shepherds, including funding an annual scholarship for at least one student who is dedicated to working in the sheep industry.

“Farming is on the uptick, there’s no question,” said Kennard. “People are realizing that local food is so much better for you. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Celebrating the New Shepherd,’ because that’s really what we’re all about.”

In addition to shepherds, the festival boasted more than 80 vendors with goods like handspun wool, alpaca fleece, knitted clothing and dairy products made from sheep’s milk.

Trixie Vasquez of Manchester said she first visited the festival a few years ago when she was learning to handspin her own yarn. On Saturday she purchased a pound of fleece from an alpaca named Nymeria.

“I’m going to spin it, but I don’t know what I’m going to make it into yet,” said Vasquez.

Her boyfriend, Andrew Dysart, said that the alpacas were his favorite part of the festival.

“Alpacas speak to my soul,” said Dysart. “They have these huge eyes that feel so very expressive.”


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