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From Sheep to Shawl at Old Bethpage Village Restoration

Once a year, the sheep at Old Bethpage Village Restoration get a haircut - otherwise known as a shearing. On Saturday, May 29 and Sunday, May 30, the Restoration demonstrated old-fashioned shearing in an event called “Sheep to Shawl.”

While most modern sheep are sheared with electric shearers, at the Restoration they use the same kind of metal shears that were in use during the late 18th century. While it’s not the fastest method, shearing the old-fashioned way does have its benefits; the sheep aren’t shaved as closely, meaning they don’t have to be kept out of the sun for days after the sheering.

Since sheep are a prey species, they do not have to be sedated. The sheep sometimes kick (which can be dangerous for children who get too close during a shearing), but they do not put up much resistance. While they are believed to be in a state of terror during the shearing, afterward they feel much cooler without their wool to keep in the summer heat.

At the demonstration, in addition to shearing, Restoration personnel explained the plight of the modern farmer, and how the industrial food system currently in place in the United States continues to endanger traditional farming. At the Restoration, the female sheep do not receive names to keep workers from getting attached to them; because of the razor-thin profit margins (and sometimes, a lack of profit entirely), farmers usually cannot afford to keep animals once they are no longer useful, making names impractical. The sheep sheared at the Restoration this season may end up being sold for meat, should the herd get too big. The breeding males can be kept for longer, and as a result are more likely to receive names.

Once the process is complete, the average sheep will yield approximately 5 pounds of wool.