Feeling a little warm out in the spring sunshine? You can always change into shorts.
Sheep, however, don’t have that option. Even though winter is over, their wool will continue to grow.
In a 2013 interview in Modern Farmer magazine, Dave Thomas, head of sheep studies at the University of Wisconsin, explained why wool will just keep growing if humans don’t cut it off: It’s evolution triggered by selective breeding.
“Primitive sheep like bighorns in the West still shed most of their wool every year. And domestic sheep, the ones raised primarily for their meat, will do some shedding,” Thomas said. “But for the majority of sheep, there is continual, year-round wool growth” – and there’s a down side: “Full fleece can be bad in very hot weather, sometimes leading to heat stress.”
You’re not expected to know this stuff because you’re a metro Charlotte city slicker, right? But consider: That essay on “Will a sheep’s wool grow forever?” was published in Modern Farmer magazine!
Back in the day, farmers didn’t have time to ponder such things. When spring came, ewes (female sheep) were shorn to keep them cool – and because their cut fleece was so highly prized.
Next Saturday, you can get a handle on this at Historic Brattonsville, when Sheep Sheering Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Historic Brattonsville, in McConnells, S.C., is a half-hour and 200 years from uptown Charlotte. William Bratton bought frontier land southwest of Rock Hill in the 1760s and became a man of prominence. By the Civil War, the family’s plantation consisted of thousands of acres.
Ownership gradually splintered over the following century. In the 1960s, descendants and others began to reconsolidate key parcels into a historic district of about 800 acres now owned or administered by York County Culture and Heritage Museums. Historic Brattonsville holds more than 30 structures – original, reconstructed or moved there from elsewhere in the area. Walking trails extend through woodlands and clearings. There’s a demonstration farm with rare breeds of cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens.
Living history events are scheduled throughout the year. And on April 9, interpreters dressed in 1800s style will be shearing their Gulf Coast heritage sheep.
By the time a sheep is trimmed, the animal will appear much smaller and its mound of wool will be ready for humans to work. Throughout the day, there will be demonstrations on how raw fleece is processed for carding, spinning, dyeing with natural indigo, and weaving into finished garments.
Wasn’t that a lot of extra work, given that the Brattons were living right in the cotton belt?
Wool has its advantages. It absorbs and releases water vapor as humidity rises and falls, which is why it works so well as a natural insulator, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s a fiber that’s durable, versatile and naturally flame-resistant. Wool has a fatty substance called lanolin that people still prize as a skin ointment.
There will be another timeless crowd-pleaser to see at Historic Brattonsville next weekend: baby animals – five or six cute spring lambs. And the piglets are due any day now.
John Bordsen: 704-358-5251
Want to go?
Historic Brattonsville is at 1444 Brattonsville Road, McConnells, S.C., about 17 minutes southwest of Rock Hill via S.C. 322. Admission: $6; $5 for 60 and older; $3 for 3 and younger. Details: www.chmuseums.org.