It was a damp, chilly morning, the kind of weather that inspires one to bundle up in extra layers rather than shed them. But for Shelby, one of about 50 sheep in Shelburne Farms' flock, the weather was a moot point. Livestock specialist and shearer extraordinaire Chet Parsons was waiting.
Preschoolers and their parents - clad in flannel, Gore-Tex and, of course, fleece - gathered in the Farm Barn. Parsons, in suspenders and decidedly elfin moccasins, dispensed wool history and trivia and whetted the audience's appetite for the main event.
Kids were then hoisted to parents' shoulders as the morning's headliner was led on to a wooden platform. Shelby jostled a bit as Parsons maneuvered him onto his back, but the animal became surprisingly complacent as the electric shears did their work. The fleece came off in one large strip. It took Parson only a few minutes, but then, he's been shearing sheep for 20 years. "He makes it look really easy," said Sam Smith, who runs the farmyard. "But it's hard."
As a bald, pinkish Shelby blinked out at the audience, several squeals and giggles emanated from the crowd, calling to mind that ubiquitous dream where you're on stage and realize you're naked.
But the sheep are actually happier sans fleece, Smith explained. He likened it to wearing a wool sweater with hay underneath, dousing it with water every once in a while, and keeping it on all winter. It feels good to get rid of it.
As part of the celebration, stations were set up at which kids washed fleece, made felt balls, and saw a spinning wheel in action. According to Family Programs Educator Susie Marchand, most of the fleece is used for farm programs; some is sent to the Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, where it's made into yarn sold in the gift shop. As for the lambs, most meet a more morbid fate: Look for them on a dinner plate at the Shelburne Farm's inn, accompanied by a side of eggplant purée.