Haircut time for the ovines

Jim Quigley and son Tano, 3, of Erdenheim watch Jim Nichols as he prepares to shear a sheep at the public park in Lansdale on Sheep Shearing Day. About 1,000 visitors attended.
Jim Quigley and son Tano, 3, of Erdenheim watch Jim Nichols as he prepares to shear a sheep at the public park in Lansdale on Sheep Shearing Day. About 1,000 visitors attended. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)

Peter Wentz Farmstead hosts Sheep Shearing Day, with other spring flings.

Posted: April 14, 2014

LANSDALE On the first beautiful spring weekend of the year, it was hard to tell who was enjoying the day more - all the kids running around from one activity to another, or their parents, just glad to be out of the house.

"Being inside all winter was not the best," said Gena Ortega, 34, of North Wales, who came with Lily, 6, and Laila, 22 months, to the Peter Wentz Farmstead's annual Sheep Shearing Day.

About 1,000 visitors came to see the farm's five ewes and one ram get their spring haircuts at the public park in Lansdale. They watched, and sometimes helped volunteers spin wool, cook 18th-century fare - currant cakes and chicken potpie - and craft items from the period. There were even old-style games and a puppet show.

"It is the first nice weekend after what seemed to be a never-ending winter, or at least a very cold spring," said Mark Turdo, curator at the farmstead. The event is the second most popular at the site; December's Candlelight Tours come in first, he said.

In 1744 the farm was owned by Peter and Rosanna Wentz, who erected a large Georgian-style stone house on the property. Wentz was a wealthy farmer and sawmill operator. In fall 1777 the house served as headquarters for Gen. George Washington. The county bought the 100-acre property in 1969.

Friends Sarah Cooperman and Sophia Jarrar, both 10 and from Fort Washington, thought it was "really cool" to help the wool get processed into yarn.

The two practiced combing wool fiber through hand carders until it was "soft and fluffy," said Jarrar, who sometimes knits with her grandmother.

"We are beginners at it," Cooperman said of their newfound skills.

It was the sheep that stole the show for most visitors.

As farm manager Jim Nichols took the shears to a docile ewe, he kept a running commentary about what he was doing for the crowd.

The eight-year-old ewe's fleece would produce about six pounds of wool after he was done. The yellow color in the wool comes from lanolin, a natural oil. The more lanolin, the heavier the fleece, Nichols said.

Once the wool is off the sheep, it is gently washed and sorted for spinning.

"The older ones feel better when it is done," he said when asked if the sheep like or just tolerate the procedure. In the wild, the wool would become brittle and the sheep would rub against brush to break it off, he said.

To keep the sheep still, Nichols said, all he does is make the creature think it's trapped in place between his legs.

"They are not the Einsteins of the animal world," he said Nichols.


mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111 @MariSchaefer

More information on farmstead activities at http://www. peterwentzfarmsteadsociety.org/

or visit on Facebook.

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