Sheep May Safely Graze

Sheep in Bryant Park for Prince Charle's Campaign for Wool

Sheep in Bryant Park, just steps from swanky Fifth Avenue

“Where are the PETA people?”

The New York Post reporter looked worried. She was supposed to be covering the anticipated protests over Prince Charles’s multinational Campaign for Wool, which on this particular day happened to include an event with live sheep in Manhattan’s Bryant Park. If no protests materialized, she had no story—as if 26 Merino and 4 Southdown sheep grazing between the Avenue of the Americas and swanky Fifth Avenue weren’t enough of a story by themselves.

Poster for Prince Charles's Campaign for Wool.

A Campaign for Wool poster

The campaign originated a few years ago when Prince Charles learned that British sheep farmers weren’t fetching the same handsome prices they once did for wool, due to increased sales of synthetic textiles. He set out to raise the awareness of wool’s virtues—natural, sustainable, breathable, flame retardant (without the addition of toxic chemicals). The campaign has included other events overseas. But this was the first major US event, right here in Bryant Park, complete with crafts people combing and carding wool, plus spinners and a variety of sheep sculptures.

There is, of course, no way my urban gardening is ever going to extend to sheep. The rule of thumb is that you can have 5 sheep per acre. I could barely fit a pair of front hoofs in my tiny plot out front. The animals would munch their way through my flowers in a few minutes. But it does make me look at wool in a new light. Merinos, it seems, have been bred to produce fine wool, but they’re too scrawny to provide good meat. Southdowns, by contrast, are tasty meat producers, but not so good for wool.

Sheep in Manhattan are a novelty (unusual enough that their owner, Jeff Traver, had to obtain permits to bring them into the city and give them rabies shots before coming). But the real fun will be next weekend (October 20 and 21) at the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. Festivities will include livestock shows, classes in felting, dyeing, and rug hooking, as well as cooking demonstrations using sheep cheeses and lamb sausages, and even competitions (chop stick knitting, anyone?). It’s pretty safe to say the PETA people won’t be there.

The Bryant Park event didn’t even merit a photo in the next day’s New York Post.

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