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Local Directory for Ottawa, ON


Sharing the shearing

Ottawa has got to be the festival capital of the world, and we’re heading into festival season. We have non-stop, overlapping, frequently obscure, outdoor festivals throughout all the months with tolerable weather. You name it, we’ve got a festival for it.

This weekend there were at least two that I know of: The Victoria Day Festival at Carling and Preston, and the Sheep-Shearing Festival just down the road at the Experimental Farm.

VD Festival I don’t know why anybody would go to the VD Festival. Seriously. Look at the advertising. They don’t give anybody any reason to want to go to this festival. Their advertising poster does little more than identify their sponsors. I happen to know they have a ferris wheel and some other kiddy rides and food booths, which isn’t enough to entice me down there, but maybe a family with kids might go if the poster went out on a limb and hinted at some fun.

I did go to the Sheep Shearing Festival, because the Experimental Farm is the very best thing in Carlington and practically makes up for the fact that we still don’t have a coffee shop or a grocery store in the neighbourhood.

Besides, when you really think about it, aren’t you just a little bit curious about how they shear sheep?

Knitters are an interesting breed. Lots of us start with yarn and needles, and then we start working our way backwards. We want to dye our own yarn. We want to spin and weave. Eventually we develop an urge to raise sheep so we can shear the wool ourselves*.

In my case, the buying of the loom seemed to forestall the backwards progression towards total yarn self-sufficiency. The loom is in my basement. I have never used it, because it’s not the kind of thing you can just start using. You have to figure it out, and it looks really complicated. It’s big, too. At any rate, it has kept me anchored at the stage that precedes sheep acquisition, so it’s probably a good thing.

I had no idea what to expect at the sheep shearing fetival, other than maybe some sheep shearing.

Dog through tunnelThe first thing I saw when I arrived was a border collie agility competition! I loved this. The border collies loved it too. My dog Sam was a border collie mix, and they’re so smart and focused. They have tremendous energy and agility and they love a challenge. They took turns running an obstacle course through tunnels and over see-saw things, weaving through posts and jumping over hurdles. (It was hard photographing them: those dogs move fast!)

plastic bag knittingAfter the agility competition, I checked out the knitting, spinning and weaving demonstration. The Ottawa Knitting Guild was there, and they had some interesting samples of their work. For example, they had a woman who knits using plastic bags as her yarn (see the picture on the right? Those were knit with plastic bags). You can knit with just about anything. There was a book open to a page in which a Waterloo woman had knit a functional boat. Here it is.

hand-knit boat

And here’s a weaver and a loom, much like the one in my basement.

Then I went to the sheep-shearing demonstration. First they clip the sheep’s nails and give her a drink of medicine, then they shear. They try to get the coat off in one large clump because it’s worth more that way. Guess how much a sheep’s coat is worth?**

The sheep didn’t seem to enjoy the shearing much, but I think they liked being all naked afterwards.




One of these things is not like the others:
One of these things is not like the others

After the sheep-shearing, I went to the sheepdog herding demonstration. I always thought the farmer just trusted the herd to the dog, and the dog took care of the herd and kept them from wandering off while the farmer milked the cows or something. But actually, the dog is the sheep-herder’s tool, and they work closely together. The sheep-herder controls the dog via voice commands and whistles, and the dog controls the herd according to the sheep-herder’s instructions. The dog never takes his eyes off the sheep or his ears off the human.

Sheep herding

Flyball RacerMy last stop was the border collie fly-ball demonstration. The dogs ran relay races over hurdles to retrieve balls from a wooden thing. At one point they gathered six kids from the audience and had the kids compete against the dogs.

The Sheep-Shearing Festival continues tomorrow – I highly recommend it. Take kids if you have some, but they’re not essential. The cost is $13 per family or $6 for an adult and $3 for a kid, but I accidentally got in for free. I wasn’t trying to sneak in, but I guess I did by approaching from the west, at The Driveway and Morningside.

*Or maybe it’s just me who wants to raise a sheep.

**A sheep’s coat typically weighs about three pounds, and fetches about $2.70 on the market. It costs about $5 to pay someone to shear a sheep. The sheep are shorn primarily for health reasons. Sheep are raised for their meat: there’s no money in wool.


16 comments to Sharing the shearing

  • Carmen

    Zoom, I didn’t see you, but I was there today also!!! The fact that a sheep can be shorn in five minutes just boggled my mind (it takes me two days to do the Schnauzer…). I, too, have a loom. It’s actually quite easy to set up…..all you need is another pair of hands. It’s more fun that way….

  • Gillian

    I used to have a loom, but I wasn’t using it, so I sold it off. It sure freed up some space. Carmen is right. It’s more fun working with an extra pair of hands.

  • wow I can’t believe how undervalued wool is in canada. it’s a multimillion dollar industry here in australia and even mor important in nz where I grew up.

    ever sunday afternoon when I was a child they televised sheep dog trials – it was one of the most watched shows all week.

    guess that’s why there are so many sheep jojes about aussies and kiwis :-)

    here’s a news release about wool exports

  • Its part of the 5 year plan to get pygora type b goat here :-) cashmere and angora on one goat!

    I have a nice stinky Jacob fleece sitting here waiting to be cleaned picked free of hay and washed so I can card it, and use it for felting.

    I want a romney sheep JUST to save money on buying batts – a nice clean drum carded batt equivilent to a single fleece is 35.00! Romney’s produce about 10 kilograms of fleece a year

  • We may have spoken yesterday, and didn’t know it. I was there all day with the Knitting Guild. I did sneak away to watch the agility competition (my dog was also a border collie mix, and although she didn’t look anything like one, she was all border collie in character and behaviour) and the sheep shearing. But other than that, I sat and knit.

    I just checked the web site of the Victoria Day Festival, since it is so close to my house. The web site is about as inviting as the poster.

  • Ellen

    Handspinners pay a lot more than that for a clean covered fleece, and it’s worth every penny. I’ve paid as much as $10/pound for a really nice fleece.

  • Malva

    We went Saturday morning. I enjoyed the sheep herding the most I think. The lady with the loom was very nice too and my daughter had fun trying the loom that was setup for kids to try out.

    We also learned that the world record holder for sheep shearing did it in 48 seconds. Insane.

    And while I’m talking insanities, I think dog owners who compete with their dogs are a different breed of humans.

  • Carmen, Malva and Leanne – I can’t believe you were all there! Leanne, maybe i have a photo of you – I did take one of the knitters.

    Carmen, I was thinking of hiring the sheep shearer to come over and trim Duncan’s nails for me. He was pretty efficient about it. I’d give him $5 and he wouldn’t even have to shear Duncan.

    Carmen and Gillian – the loom is for sale, in theory at least. One of these days I should list it somewhere. I have more hobbies than I have time.

    Nursemyra, maybe NZ sheep have nicer fleece or something? The only thing I really know about NZ sheep is that they’re the biggest polluter in New Zealand because they burp and fart so much methane gas.

    Mudmama, now I know what to get you for Christmas.

    Ellen, do you actually go out to farms and inspect the fleece you’re buying?

    Malva, where were the dog owners competing with their dogs?

  • oma

    All agility dogs compete with their owners, don’t they?

  • Zoom, I even know the same of the sheep I got my jacob fleece from! I have his picture and everything :-)

    Depending on the type of fleece and how it is looked after you’re really looking at anything from 16.00 a fleece to a 100.00 *a pound* – alpacas with super fine fleece (20 micron wide LONG fibers)!

    Romneys and other heavy wool sheep aren’t as valuable but I’d love to find a place to get *cheap* fleeces – I want to do really large scale felting eventually and it takes about 400 fleeces to cover a small yurt in traditional felt. You don’t need long fibers for felting so stuff spinners wouldn’t like would be great, in fact nice silky spinning fiber is too fine for wetfelting a lot of the time.

  • Dammit dammit dammit. I forgot that the sheep-shearing festival was this weekend.

  • Sorry that was NAME of my sheep, which I can’t remember offhand right now.

  • sheila

    It seems like most of my life I’ve been in love with wool and sheep. When I was a newly married 26 year old, my husband and I talked about getting a small farm where I could raise sheep and a few chickens and he could raise a pig or two. But we had babies and bought a house in town and we went to work every day and life just happened. He left and I finished bringing up the kids. Now I’m nearly 50 and I’m planning on learning to spin and I wish I had a loom, too. And I never get to go to sheep festivals, either. They usually come along when it’s not possible for me to go. There’s one here in Maine in early June and I have to work. Damn, I gotta make some changes…

  • Malva

    About the dogs and their owners: they had frisbee (disc) and agility demonstrations. In agility, the owner runs the course with the dog, frisbee is where it gets weird: the handler uses its own body too AND, it’s done to music. The choreography has to match the music.
    Here is a video of it I found thanks to Google:

  • This is why I read so I can live vicariously through her.

    I went last year but this year, I went to France. :)

  • Bethany

    A good team of sheep-herder and his (her?) dog can do some pretty amazing stuff – I was blown away when I saw this video. All other “extreme” sports pale in comparison.