WINDSOR — One by one, Jeff Burchstead wrestled the fickle creatures out of their enclosure and onto a mat.

With motorized shears, he removed a blanket of fleece from each of the bleating sheep, then moved onto the next. After 22 minutes and 35 seconds, all five were back in a different enclosure. Without their winter coats, it was hard to tell if they were feeling cool, confused or indifferent.

“They were a little tough,” said Burchstead, a Wiscasset farmer who had worked up a sweat and would soon be declared the victor in his heat.

Burchstead, like dozens of other sheep farmers and shearers, had come to the Windsor Fairgrounds on Saturday for the 18th annual Maine Fiber Frolic, a two-day festival celebrating wool, the animals that provide it and the products that can be made from it.

While the festival’s organizers have previously offered shearing demonstrations with sheep and alpaca, this was the first year that they hosted a sheep-shearing competition.

It was the idea of Edith Kershner, a fourth-generation sheep shearer from Waldo County who attended the festival last year and wondered why there wasn’t such a competition. Now, she says, it’s the only such contest in Maine.

Kershner also emceed the event for the audience members eating hot dogs, clam rolls and fries in the nearby stands. Speaking over a loudspeaker, she made clear that shearing the animals was harder than it looked.

“Emily makes it look like stepping out of bed,” she said, referring to Emily Garnett, a Jefferson shearer who was competing head-to-head against Burchstead in the heat for expert professionals.

The participants also won points for how smoothly their sheep had been shorn and how many cuts they’d made on the animals. While Garnett finished shearing her five sheep after Burchstead, the judges did award her more points for the presentation of the animals.

Jeff Burchstead of Wiscasset removed a blanket of fleece from five sheep in 22 minutes, 35 seconds to win his heat in the shearing competition at the Windsor Fairgrounds. Staff photo by Charles Eichacker

The sheep were mixes of a couple of different species, including the black-faced Suffolk and the all-white Corriedale, which are generally raised for meat, said Ben Young, the Albion farmer and livestock distributor who donated them for the event.

Their wool, Young said, is coarse and not very valuable. He offered to sell bags of it for $5, but was otherwise planning to leave the rest with Kershner.

After Garnett and Burchstead competed, they both agreed that the sheep were hard to shear given how thin they were and how much grease is in their wool. That grease, which is called lanolin, is partly what held the fleeces together in a blanket-like shape as they were removed from the animals.

Jeff Burchstead of Wiscasset removed a blanket of fleece from five sheep in 22 minutes, 35 seconds to win his heat in the shearing competition at the Windsor Fairgrounds. Staff photo by Charles Eichacker

As the competition progressed, Kershner told the audience on several occasions that the sheep are strong, stubborn animals who can handle being wrestled into place by the shearers. After Burchstead and Garnett had competed, there would be additional heats for intermediate professionals and for competitors using traditional, non-motorized shears.

Kershner also said that removing the animals’ wool helps them avoid parasites and stay cool. If stuck with a heavy coat during summer, they can suffer heat stroke.

“They’re firm and in control the whole time,” she said of the shearers, who were getting full-body workouts on Sunday afternoon. “The sheep don’t want this done. It’s for their health, but they typically don’t stand there for you.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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