Over the years, Caroline Clark of Thurmont has seen many of her friends participate in a very special contest, with a unique prize awarded, at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. This contest, run by the Youth Conservationist Program (YCP), is open to all interested in raising and preserving special breeds of sheep. Winners get the opportunity to experience the joys and responsibilities of raising and conserving heritage breeds of wool sheep that may not be common in certain areas of the United States. It’s made possible by breeders who are willing to mentor youth, donate a yearling ewe, and assist the youth with establishing their own flock. This year, Caroline entered the contest and won a wonderful award.
As part of the contest, youth are required to submit an essay, outlining why they want to preserve a heritage sheep breed. Each year, the breeds change and the youth can review what might be available before deciding to enter. Caroline became interested in the YCP program several years ago, but waited to enter until the right breed came along—the Leicester Longwool. In 2018, Caroline learned a Longwool ewe might be available, and she decided to enter. She had already started her flock, so it was very exciting waiting for the essays to be evaluated. A few days before the start of the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, Caroline received the phone call she had been waiting for: Her essay had been selected, and she would be receiving a registered yearling Leicester Longwool ewe. Her ewe would be from Stillpoint Farm, donated by Carol McConaughy. Carol and her husband, Tom, have a lovely farm near Mt. Airy, Maryland, where she raises Leicester Longwool sheep and boards horses. Caroline bought her very first Leicester Longwool ewe from Carol and became attached to the breed instantly.
Leicester Longwools are very calm and are excellent mothers. They are also known for their beautiful fleeces, which are prized by hand spinners. According to the Livestock Conservancy, the Leicester Longwool was highly prized in America, especially for its use in crossbreeding to improve “native” stock. During the 1800s, however, the breed lost favor to the Merino and other fine wool breeds. After 1900, the breed fell into decline and was likely extinct in the United States during the 1930s or 1940s. A very small population remained in Canada. In 1990, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a historic site in Virginia, reestablished the breed in North America by importing sheep from Australia. Several conservation flocks have now been established, and the population of Leicester Longwool sheep in North America is increasing. This is important, given that the breed remains rare globally. Caroline’s new ewe, Bonnie, has a beautiful white fleece.
Caroline is no stranger to raising sheep. She is just twelve years old and has fourteen ewes in her commercial flock and four Leicester Longwools. She is a proud five-year member of the Rocky Ridge 4-H Club and the Frederick County Beef, Sheep & Swine Club. Her projects include market lambs, breeding sheep, sewing, crafts, cooking, and field crops. She has been very active in 4-H Fashion Revue, Skillathon, Livestock Judging, and Shepard’s Line Lead events across the local and state level. Caroline is a third-generation farmer, taking care of all the needs of her growing flock. She gets up early in the morning, prior to school, and tends to them when she gets home from school.
So, not only will Caroline be preserving a heritage breed, but also the art of hand spinning. Caroline was bitten by the wool bug when she was taught how to process her own fleece into roving and then to yarn. At first, she borrowed a spinning wheel from a local artisan—who is a wonderful teacher to the local 4-H youth—Patty Sanville of Jefferson, Maryland. She spent a day educating Caroline on the wheel and how to spin properly. Just a few months later, Caroline had made lots of skeins of beautiful cream colored 2-ply yarn, which will soon be transformed into something spectacular. Caroline has even participated recently in a spinning demonstration, in conjunction with an event held at Rose Hill Manor in Frederick. She sat with local spinners and educated the public on the beauty and versatility of wool.
This year, you may be able to see Caroline and her flock of Leicester Longwools at one of several shows: The Wills Fair, The Great Frederick Fair, and The Maryland State Fair. The YCP program can open up opportunities for youth who are interested in preserving heritage sheep breeds. If you are interested in participating in the program, please contact Elaine Ashcraft at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline participates in the Shepard’s Lead Contest with Bonnie, receiving a second place award. The entire outfit and scarf the ewe is wearing was made from wool by Caroline.
Caroline receiving her new registered Leicester Longwool ewe from Stillpoint Farm at the MD Sheep & Wool Festival