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Eugene Weekly : Feature : 8.18.11

A Fair to Remember

For a Good Time, Call Tommy Tutone dials up the Lane County Fair

Plug Into EW’s New Community Stage Local musicians rock the fair

Recyclers at the Fair

Snout and Snout The thrill of pig races

Black Sheep of the Family Natural colored fleece at the fair

 

Black Sheep of the Family

Natural colored fleece at the fair

Lane County’s livestock in all its glory will be proudly displayed at the fair, from rabbits and horses to pigeons and poultry. For those of us who somehow missed the Black Sheep Gathering in June, it’s time to grab your chance to check out the “natural colored” animals of the ovine variety.

One of Marybeth Bullington’s ewe lambs

Marybeth Bullington, who breeds natural colored Shetland sheep at Shady Oaks Shetlands in Creswell, says that these sheep, which can come in 11 different colors, are the “Einsteins of the sheep world.” Shetlands are a primitive breed, she says, and they are smart and personable because they haven’t been bred for other purposes like commercial sheep have. 

The black sheep as a metaphor for the quintessential bad kid, out of step with the world, probably got its start from the fact that black sheep used to be culled from the flocks. Bullington says this was because the black fibers would contaminate the white ones, devaluing all the wool it was packaged with, and the black wool was difficult to dye.

These days, black or “natural colored” wool is prized by breeders like Bullington who show their sheep not only at fairs but also at fiber festivals. Bullington says at the fair, a sheep is judged 60 percent on confirmation (its body and build) and 40 percent on its fleece, but it’s just the reverse at a fiber festival. A good sheep, she says, is “biomechanically sound” with a “leg at each corner” and a strong, straight back. The wool should be “pleasing to the touch, with luster and brightness — something that you want to get your hands into.”

Bullington says she got into breeding her prizewinning sheep — her rams took home champion and reserve at the recent Black Sheep Gathering — because the Shetlands “looked up and wanted attention and wagged their tails.” She adds, “I got my hands on their fleece and I was doubly hooked.”

She says not only can fairgoers come meet her sheep at the fair, they can see a display of Shetland “fleece on the hoof,” fleece that’s been prepared and processed, and clothing that’s been made of the wool, and the sheep breeders are happy to answer questions. 

In addition to Shetlands, the Lane County Fair will feature other breeds of natural colored sheep such as Jacob and Romney sheep, and of course white sheep as well.

Sheep judging begins at 9 am Thursday, Aug. 18, but the sheep and wool display will be there through the fair.

Camilla Mortensen