Shearing for spring: Darien sheep wool will contribute to state blanket

DARIEN — Nestled away in a Darien neighborhood, not far from the Post Road, sheep Chuckie, Belle Fleur and Bellina enjoyed a spring shearing last week, with their wool going toward the Connecticut blanket project. .

These Romney/Oxford cross sheep were born at their home in Darien and have been raised there by the Von Schmidt family. The sheep were shorn by Twist of Fate Spinnery, a Portland-based farm and wool service. Shearers Rick Trojanoski and Jeremiah Squier travel throughout southeast New England and New York shearing sheep.

Twist of Fate Spinnery also offers to spin sheered wool into yarn for sheep owners.

Though the sheep are likely the only sheep who live in Darien, they are far from the only sheep in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Sheep Breeders Association, created in 1893, organizes The Connecticut Blanket, a cooperative project open to members of the association, and includes the wool from Chuckie, Belle Fleur and Bellina. The effort adds to the sustainability of member shepherds’ farms by obtaining a value-added product from the wool of their sheep.

Based on the amount of wool contributed, the shepherds create an order for the sizes they want, and when finished the blankets are delivered to them to do with as they please. The wool is collected in early June at the University of Connecticut, where it is inspected for cleanliness, structure and length.

Once packed away in large wool bags, it is trucked to South Carolina where it is scoured (washed) and returned to New England for carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, napping and cutting into blankets. Each year a new pattern is chosen and named, but it is always a light and dark combination — the wool is not dyed. The pattern also gets a name, and the organization is still trying to come up for a pattern name for 2020.

Though the sheep appeared to enjoy the experience, the overcast sky led to a bit of chilly air on the newly shorn animals, leading to some extensive “Baa-ing” objections.

According to Georgia Von Schmidt, the sheep initially react with uncertainty after being shorn. The sheep don’t recognize one another at first without their heavy outerwear. In particular, Von Schmidt said mother sheep are upset that their lambs don’t recognize them at first.

The exposure to the cooler temperatures also adds to the stress. Von Schmidt said the “baa-ing” sometimes continues throughout the night until they become accustomed to their new look.

Trojanski said the breeders association expects to announce the new pattern of the 2020 Connecticut blanket and distribute it along with last year’s blanket, which was put on hold due to the pandemic.