Sheep Shearing with Jim McRae and Liz Willis

Recorded at North Country School in Lake Placid, NY – late February 2007
Produced by North Country Public Radio (1:10)

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Three bags full: Pittsford shepherd hosts flock-focused festival

October 11, 2004
By Allan J Keays Rutland Herald Staff

PITTSFORD — Many people turned out Sunday for a hair-raising good time at James McRae’s home in Pittsford.

RAWLP_2005_028 (web)McRae hosted the ninth annual Pittsford Sheep Festival on his property off Route 7, putting on demonstrations of sheep herding and sheep shearing.

“Shearing is difficult work,” McRae told the several dozen people gathered around his red barn to watch him shear a sheep. “Sheep don’t always stay where they’re supposed to.”

He kept the sheep in place by squeezing the animal between his knees and, starting with the belly, he gave the wiggly ewe a haircut.

At one point, as McRae was nearly done, the sheep suffered a slight knick similar to one a person might get from shaving.

“This is why, kids … you shouldn’t jump when you get a haircut,” McRae said.

The haircut was soon complete and McRae had plenty of wool to hand out to the many children watching the display.

“The wool market is not so good right now,” McRae told them. “All you people need to go out and buy wool.”

He said there is just not a strong demand for wool, mainly fashion driven.

But, McRae said, wool has many other marketable properties.

“It’s warm. It breathes better than synthetics and lasts a very long time, so it’s easy to take care of,” he said, putting on a fresh pair of wool socks.

One child asked if the sheep would be cold now that its thick wool coat had been sheared.

McRae said it wouldn’t be a problem, the wool grows right back.

“This ewe will be ready for the coldest winter in Vermont in about a month,” he said.

Wool sweaters and other decorations as well as several spinning wheels were on display Sunday throughout the grounds of McRae’s property. Many of the exhibitors did their best to pitch both sheep and wool, talking about the many uses for each.

A sign on one of the fenced-in pens read “Have a sheep as a pet. Even have them as a lawnmower.”

McRae, a native of eastern Long Island, N.Y., has lived on the farm in Pittsford for 30 years.

He didn’t always shear sheep.

“My kids went to see some little lamb someplace and the rest of history,” he said. “My kids are grown up and I still have sheep.”

He said learning to shear is an ongoing education.

“I get better and better each year,” McRae said.

The event Sunday was sponsored by the Rutland Area Shepherds.

“This gives the community and neighbors a chance to come in and see the place,” he said.

McRae’s property has a lengthy history with sheep.

One of McRae’s neighbors said sheep and woolen goods had been on the property well before the Civil War.

McRae said he heard the story of Henry Peabody, who lived on the property until he died in 1950 at age 90.

“The family tells the story that he was put out of business by an upstart in Maine who found out how to put rubber soles on leather,” McRae said.

That upstart in Maine, McRae said, went by the name L.L. Bean.

© 2004 Rutland Herald