By Ashley Rader
Rocky Mount Museum in Piney Flats is home to 11 sheep that are used in educational demonstrations throughout the year. The sheep are also the star attraction for the museum’s annual Wooly Day, which will be held Saturday, April 13.
The public will get a chance to see the Cotswold sheep herd, along with its newest member, during the Wooly Day event that focuses on the hand-shearing of the sheep and 18th century wool processing techniques. The Cotswold sheep are native to England, and the herd at Rocky Mount is one of the few Cotswold herds in America.
Education Director and sheep caretaker TJ DeWitt, a 14-year employee at the museum, is one of a small group of professionals able to hand-shear a sheep. He will demonstrate the hand-shearing process at Wooly Day by shearing some of the sheep of their winter coats.
“The experts can do it in under five minutes,” DeWitt said. “It takes me around 20 or 30 minutes to completely shear a sheep but I do talk and explain what I am doing while I do it.”
After the wool has been sheared from the sheep, the festival will detail how the wool would have been processed, starting with carding the wool into straight fibers, spinning the fibers into yarn and then weaving or felting the fibers into a final product.
“The sheep only get sheared once a year,” DeWitt said. “They don’t like it while it is happening but they like how they feel when it is over. They can carry up to 10 pounds of wool that grew during the winter.”
Wooly Day will also feature exhibits in hearth-side cooking, gardening and 18th century toys. Tours of the Cobb House and buildings will be given throughout the day.
DeWitt, who has been caring for the sheep since 2005, said Wooly Day is scheduled to correspond with the arrival of the new lambs at the museum. The herd added its 11th member at 2:05 a.m. Monday, April 8, when a new ram was welcomed to the world.