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Sheep, fiber festival has 1,500-plus attendees

AFP Correspondent

LAMBERTVILLE (Oct. 1, 2016) — The 22nd annual New Jersey Sheep Breeders’ Association Sheep and Fiber Festival drew curious area residents as well as sheep and wool enthusiasts from around the Northeast.
Held on Sept. 10-11, this year’s annual gathering drew between 1,500 and 2,000 people a day, even though temperatures were in the low 90s both weekend days.
Eunice Bench of Annandale is the current president of the New Jersey Sheep Breeders Association.
While the focus is on raising sheep for wool at the annual sheep and fiber festival, Bench said breeders who raise sheep for meat are also welcome in the Sheep Breeders Association.
“We started out very small as a one-day event with a couple of sheep and a few dozen people and it’s grown to the extent that now we have vendors coming from as far away as Massachusetts and North Carolina,” Bench said in between short competitions in a barn involving various breeds of sheep.
“We have between 25 and 30 different breeds of sheep here each year,” she said, noting the rings will show sheep raised for meat as well as for wool. The annual gathering attracts a number of farmers and people who are interested in buying wool-based products as well as fresh wool.
“I was raised in Frenchtown and visited my uncle’s farm as much as I could as a kid,” Bench said. “Then I bought my own farm in 1990. I’ve been actively raising sheep since 1993, for wool.”
Around the state, Bench estimates there are just over 1,000 sheep farmers.
“We’re always looking for new members,” and memberships are affordably priced at $10 and $15, she noted.
According to the group’s website, The Garden State Sheep Breeders is a non-profit educational organization promoting sheep and wool products in New Jersey.
The group’s meetings include speakers who talk on a variety of sheep-related subjects, including pasture management, color sheep genetics and making cheese from sheep’s milk. Meetings are open to the public.
“We keep an up to date website, we do a newsletter and we hold farm tours periodically to see how various farmers operate,” Bench said.
The annual Sheep and Fiber Festival started with gatherings at the Holcombe-Jimison Farm Museum, then went to the Warren County Fairgrounds and more recently the annual gathering is held at Hunterdon County 4-H Fairgrounds in Lambertville.
“We welcome the general public to our annual gathering,” Bench said. “We have a sheep herding demonstration with dogs, a sheep shearing demonstration, and various demonstrations from people who spin their own wool and fleece contests.”
“We draw between 2,000 and 3,000 people each year, so we are a whole subculture of people actively involved in breeding sheep in New Jersey,” Bench said, “there are more than a thousand farmers actively involved in raising sheep here in New Jersey.”