Published on April 30, 2020

Virtual Sheep & Wool Festival

Support Our Flock

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Since it wasn't possible to host Wachusett Meadow's annual Sheep & Wool Festival this year due to COVID-19, we wanted to bring the festival experience to you—virtually! 

We welcome you to learn a bit about the sanctuary's resident flock, view some shearing in action, connect with the local vendors that participate each year, and to find out how you can help support the conservation of this property and our agricultural tradition.

History of Sheep at Wachusett Meadow

Herding sheep with a dog at Crocker Farm in the 1920s

The sanctuary's sheep flock began when Cauliflower arrived in 1984 from a farm in Royalston. Wachusett Meadow has been a continuous home to sheep ever since—with just a few in some years, and up to about 25 in other years.

Keeping sheep on the sanctuary today continues a historic tradition that began when Wachusett Meadow was a farm. The Crocker family, for example, not only raised sheep, but Shepherd Luke Pasco also raised and trained sheep dogs. Luke and his dog Laddie won a National Championship in 1929, and Luke repeated a National win with Jean in 1932!

Sheep at the Sanctuary Today

Sheep flock grazing in one their grazing plots on a hill

The sheep at Wachusett Meadow are raised for wool. The current flock includes a combination of Romney, Merino, Coopworth, and Shetland breeds. All are good stock for New England weather and wool production.

Aside from the sale of raw fleece and yarn, our sheep also "earn their keep" by helping manage the meadows at the sanctuary. Portable electric fencing allows the staff to rotate the sheep through various grazing plots throughout the growing season. 

This kind of "patchwork" grazing has many benefits for both wildlife and the environment:

Sheep flock grazing in short grass meadow
  • Allows many stages of plant growth to occur at the same time
  • Extends blooming times for plants such as Common Milkweed
  • Less destructive to insects and snakes than mowing
  • Sheep also fertilize the land while they graze
  • They "mow" without burning gasoline or creating noise pollution

Grazing plots are selected in conjunction with Wachusett Meadow's wildlife management goals.

For example, during nesting season, sheep are grazed deliberately in some areas to keep the grass short for foraging Eastern Bluebirds and American Kestrels, but simultaneously excluded from other areas to keep the grass long for ground-nesting species like Bobolinks.   

Why Sheep are Sheared

Alex Messiner shearing one of Wachusett Meadow's sheep

Sheep have been domesticated over thousands of years, and as a result almost all modern breeds have lost the ability to annually shed their fleece.

Shearing is critical to the health and comfort of sheep. Unshorn wool can contribute to discomfort, overheating, skin diseases, difficulty for nursing lambs, and even difficulties in movement.

Even when there is no need for the wool, sheep should still be sheared. In addition, sheep raised for their wool produce a far superior product through regular shearing.

Watch a shearing demo >

Interested in purchasing a fleece?

Please contact us by email to get more information about purchasing a fleece from one of Wachusett Meadow's recently-sheared sheep!

Fun Sheep Facts

Lambs born in the "mushroom" year at Wachusett Meadow
Sheep flock outside the barn at Wachusett Meadow

How We Name Them

Lambs born at Wachusett Meadow in a given year are named according to a "theme," which helps us remember who was born when. Our current flock includes Finch (born in the bird year) and Willow and Hickory (both born in the tree year). 

Every once and a while, though, a name is given for another reason. That was the case with Skunk, whose dark black color and bright white streak could not be ignored despite the fact that she was born in the mushroom year. We're sure you can find her in the left picture above!

Favorite Snack

Sheep love to eat poison ivy! As does their wild cousin the White-tailed Deer, plus a variety of other animals.

Memorable Faces

Sheep have memories and they recognize other members of their flock and their shepherds. Wachusett Meadow sheep certainly know the staff members that care for them (and even their vehicles!). Interestingly, they sometimes don't recognize each other after they've been sheared—it can take them a day or two to become re-acquainted.

Better Than 20-20

Sheep have rectangular pupils that give them amazing peripheral vision—a great asset to keep an eye on their surroundings and possible danger.

Taking the Weight Off

The weight of a sheared fleece varies by breed and factors such as the age and condition of each animal. For our flock, fleeces usually weigh between 5–10 pounds. However, much of that weight is dirt and grease that will be lost when it is washed. A clean, dry fleece is usually only half of its original weight. 

Horns or No Horns?

Male Shetland sheep are generally horned, which grow and spiral with age. Female Shetlands occasionally have short horns, but more often have none at all. Horns are permanently attached to the skull of the sheep its whole life, unlike the antlers of deer and moose that are grown and shed every year.

A Wonder Fiber

Wool is a remarkable natural fiber that insulates in cold, protects in heat, and wicks away moisture. It's also non-allergenic, biodegradable, elastic, and highly durable. Not to mention wool is also antimicrobial, UV protective, and fire resistant.

Vendor Marketplace

Jen Niles Art

Sheepish Handspun Yarn by Judy Uckerman

The Mused Maker Studio by Emily Giroux

Andean Dawn Alpacas by Lisa Prozzo

Support Our Flock

Wachusett Meadow's flock of sheep running down a hill

Sheep care expenses are usually funded by annual programs and events—especially the Sheep & Wool Festival—and by the contributions of our visitors, members, and sanctuary friends.

However, since the sanctuary has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these reliable sources of funding have come to a standstill. Donations in any amount are welcome and incredibly appreciated!

Make a donation >

Average annual expenses for our flock include:

Portable fencing is bought in 80ft rolls, and we typically have to replace one section of fence each year due to normal wear and tear.
→ You can sponsor fencing for $150/roll or $10/share.

Batteries are used to energize electric fencing are replaced annually.
→ You can sponsor battery replacement for $50/battery or $10/share.

Paddock Fencing
Permanent fencing of split rail and wire is used for overnight protection, lambing protection, and would improve long-term efficiency of daily grazing in some locations. It would also allow for later grazing in fall and earlier grazing in spring (thus less hay to buy) because portable fencing is impeded by freezing surface soil.
→ You can sponsor split rail for $1,500/paddock or $50/section; or sponsor wire for $500/paddock, $100/roll, or $10/section.

Winter Hay: Each animal eats about a bale/week and we typically are feeding only hay from mid-November through mid-April.
→ You can sponsor hay for $1, 000/year or $8/bale.

Grain: Year-round diet supplement that's especially helpful for nursing ewes and any animal that needs an extra boost.
→ You can sponsor grain for $300/year or $15/bag.

Festival Slideshow