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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 14, 2008

Old friends, new activities keep the animal barns “alive and kicking”

By Jo E. Prout

ALTAMONT — The sheep barn at the Altamont Fair will be a busy place this week. Competitions for some breeds were held Tuesday, but classes, kids’ crafts, and spinning demonstrations will go on each day. Weekend fair-goers can also catch the Costume Class on Friday night.

Noreen Laviska, one of the co-superintendents of the sheep barn activities, said that she shares a big job.

“We try to bring a little bit of agriculture to people who aren’t exposed,” she said. During competitions, she said, the sheep are judged against the standards of each breed.

“We don’t have a class unless there are a couple of breeders to show,” she said. “We have quite a few rare breeds at this fair.”

Romney, Hampshire, and Scottish Blackface sheep are joined by several others in the barn this week. Laviska has a small farm in Guilderland Center. Her daughter is a Scottish Blackface breeder. Laviska said that the Romney and the Scottish Blackface sheep are old English breeds rarely seen in the northeast. Most of them in this country are found in Virginia or in the northwest, she said.

Judges look at the sheep’s structure, head, legs, and body.

“It’s supposed to be a commercial endeavor. We can’t just have pets,” she said. Sheep are also judged on their ability to reproduce and the quality of their wool.

New Scotland resident Christine Lehman is known for her work with the Albany Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc. housed on her property. During fair week, Lehman takes a break from her work with horses and concentrates on her sheep and bird entries.

“I entered a Romanoff, a natural-colored Cotswold, and two natural-colored sheep — a Border-Leicester cross and a Romney cross,” Lehman said.

Registration at the fair in the natural-colored classes are for sheep of any color other than white, she said. “They don’t have to be purebred, but they can be. But, if you have a purebred, why would you register them?” she said.

Some wool spinners, she said, do not use natural-colored wool because the wool cannot be dyed.

“If you want a purple sock, you have to dye white wool purple,” she said.

In recent years, Lehman said, hand spinners have begun to use the naturally-colored wool.

At the sheep barn, Laviska said, spinners will demonstrate their craft, and knitted and crocheted wool items will be available for people to see.

Fair time

  “I’ve been showing for quite awhile, but I’m still a novice at it,” Lehman said. She has shown her sheep at the fair for at least 15 years, she said.

“Considering it’s just a hobby flock, I’ve done pretty well,” she said. Most breeders show animals that are two years old or younger, she said. Because she doesn’t breed her sheep, Lehman has shown animals much older than two.

“I enter not necessarily to win, but it’s a busman’s holiday. Because my focus is horses, it’s nice to be different once in a while. It’s a great outlet to sit and talk to people and get a different outlook” on how one’s animals should be, she said. “It’s nice to win to get your entry fees back. The Altamont Fair is geared toward people who breed sheep, but [entering] is more for the fun of it, at least with me.”

Lehman shows her sheep in Altamont, but her birds at other shows. She has 63 birds entered at the Altamont Fair this year, including chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons, she said.

“It gives me a chance to be sure the birds are all clean, and free of lice, and to evaluate what birds I’ll take to a stiffer competition,” she said. At other competitions, she might enter only 10 or 12, she said.

While she knows many of the local entrants, she only sees several of them at the fair or other competitions.

“It gives me a chance to talk about something other than horses. And, then you’re kind of refreshed to go back,” she said.

 Lehman said that fair-goers can “see a lot of different breeds of sheep and ask questions of the people there, and the same in the poultry barn. They can ask the superintendent how easy the chickens are to take care of. Birds with crests and feather legs are more difficult to take care of than birds without.”

Laviska said the same.

“If they have any questions, they can ask,” she said.

New fair fun

“Our birthing center has been a huge success,” Laviska said about the Miracle of Birth display in the cow barn. She praised veterinarian Stuart Lyman for his work on the project, which features a live calf birth each day of the fair.

“We’re getting some feedback in the sheep barn,” Laviska said. “It’s been kind of exciting for all of us. Even for some of the older exhibitors. Even the shepherds, they haven’t seen a live birth because most lambs are born at night.”

Laviska said that suburban or city residents are not the only ones who have not seen a live animal birth.

“Some of the country kids never have, either,” she said.

Sheep and their owners will be judged in the costume class on Friday night at 7 p.m. in the sheep barn. The competitions are broken down into age groups, from under 7 years old to adults, Laviska said. Sheep and humans will don costumes, and the humans will explain their costumes to the judges.

“The kids have to talk,” Laviska said. Asked how many adults enter the costume contest, Laviska said, “It’s always a big secret.”

Goats are housed in the sheep barn, which is close to the Gate 2 fair entrance, Laviska said. Several goat varieties are entered this year, she said, and helpers will be available in the barn for those with questions.

Laviska was pleased with the new activities at the fair this year, she said, concluding, “We need to keep the fair alive and kicking.”

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