Skagit County 4-H member Paige Allen is up to her ears in wooly cuteness and can’t wait to tell you all about it! Head to the Skagit County Fair to meet her and her adorable Shetland Sheep. Shetland sheep are a primitive breed – meaning unimproved by selective human breeding – and are therefore hardy and easy to keep. Developed on the Shetland Isles, they are also on the Livestock Conservancy List. Paige and her family are all about these docile, small sheep.
When they moved to a place with some land five years ago, the family knew they wanted animals, but they just weren’t sure what. “Two years later we were invited by one of my classmates to a Skagit Valley Livestock 4-H club meeting,” shares Paige who is 12 and headed into the seventh grade at Cascade Middle School. “From there we researched what animal we wanted to get and we continued to come to the 4-H meetings just to get a feel for what happens.”
That’s when they met a Shetland Sheep breeder in the area named Sally Tibbits. They visited her farm and the rest, as they say, is history. The family fell in love – no surprise, they really are adorable sheep – and got a bottle baby named Stormy. Then few a more.
But as those with livestock know, hard lessons are learned quickly. “Not even a year after that we had some incidents involving a cougar and ended up with two sheep left from our first flock and got three more sheep,” shares Paige. “I used two of these sheep, Gemma and Amethyst, for my second year in 4-H but first year showing animals.”
Her mom, Jean Allen, is also involved with the sheep. She took a drop spindle class at Stilly River Yarns and joined the local weaver’s guild. From there, she bought a spinning wheel. “We basically taught ourselves how to spin with a little help from YouTube,” Paige shares. “When it comes to washing and combing/carding the wool, we watched a lot of YouTube videos and tweaked everything slightly just to fit what wool and supplies we have.” It’s a lot of work to take raw wool and turn into yarn useable for all kinds of crafts, but it’s also very satisfying knowing it came from your sheep.
Visit Paige at the Skagit County Fair 2022
Paige is now in her third year of 4-H with Skagit Valley Livestock 4-H Club and couldn’t be more excited for Fair this year. “I will be showing two ewes, Rebel and Amethyst, and one surprise lamb – long story but basically, we got Rebel and didn’t know she was pregnant – named Ebony. I will also be entering Amethyst’s fleece and possibly a cross stitch, we shall see if I finish it in time.”
4-H has taught Paige valuable life skills. “The biggest thing I have learned from 4-H is how to speak in front of a group of people,” she shares. “The public presentations we do have really helped boost my confidence when it comes to public speaking and it is a really helpful skill when it comes to school and talking in front of my class.”
Fair means hard work and long days for the FFA and 4-H kids. “I would say the most challenging thing about fair is that Shetlands are supposed to be shown in a different way than most sheep,” Paige explains. “Because Shetlands are so short, you aren’t supposed to hold their head when showing. Instead, you lead them with a halter and kneel next to them when you are not moving and not being able to move really hurts my back when I am in the show ring for so long.”
Regardless of back pain and the long hours, Paige is excited for Fair. It’s a chance to show off all the hard work she has put in the last year. “I am very excited to get Rebel’s wool judged just because it is nice to know the quality of the wool and I would like to see if she wins over Amethyst, who last year did very well,” she says.
To learn more about 4-H, visit the Washington State University Extension website. Visit the Skagit County Fair happening August 10-13 at the Skagit County Fairgrounds in Mount Vernon to meet Paige and her adorable Shetlands. Be sure to ask questions, the kids love talking about their projects!