Future Farmers of America member Ripley Bellio, a Moffat County High School senior, demonstrates how to snag a sheep’s leg with a hooking tool for the purposes of shearing or other care of the animals.

Photo by Noelle Leavitt Riley

Future Farmers of America member Ripley Bellio, a Moffat County High School senior, demonstrates how to snag a sheep’s leg with a hooking tool for the purposes of shearing or other care of the animals.

Craig Sheep Wagon Days are here again

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Ripley Bellio holds a sheep that she hooked so children from Sandrock Elementary School could feel its wool.

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Rylee Villard kisses Prince the llama at Sheep Wagon Days.

If you go

What: 15th annual Craig Sheep Wagon Days

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

Where: Wyman Living History Museum, 94350 U.S. Highway 40

Details: This salute to area agriculture is a free event with displays and activities for all ages. For more information, visit www.sheepwagondays.com.

If you haven’t already made plans for the weekend, there’s at least one source of entertainment happening that won’t leave you feeling sheepish or with the sensation that you got fleeced.

All ovine puns aside, prepare yourselves for a pretty good time.

The 15th annual Craig Sheep Wagon Days public event takes place Saturday at Wyman Living History Museum. The event is a celebration of the agricultural heritage of Northwest Colorado complete with demonstrations and displays for all ages, including a blacksmithing station, a hay maze, a petting zoo and more.

By hook and by crook

Students from Craig elementary schools attended Sheep Wagon Days on Thursday and Friday to further learn about the kind of work that has gone on in the past and present among farmers and ranchers in the region.

The children of Allison LeWarne’s second-grade class at Sandrock Elementary School quickly crowded around the pens of the petting zoo, which contained llamas, goats, a pony and, of course, plenty of sheep.

Future Farmers of America member Ripley Bellio, a Moffat County High School senior, demonstrated for the kids how to snag a sheep’s leg with a hooking tool for the purposes of shearing or other care of the animals, explaining the difference between the hook and the larger crook, used around a sheep’s neck or chest.

LeWarne also reminded her pupils about all they had learned in the classroom about the different breeds of the animals, such as which are used for wool and which for meat.

“They learn about all the different products that come from sheep,” she said. “We talk a lot about how important this is to the community.”

Having a visual aid like Sheep Wagon Days helps along the learning process, LeWarne said.

“I think it’s the best way to teach them about it because you can read books about something, but when you go and see people who are doing it within the community, it sticks with them for a lot longer,” she said.

LeWarne’s students, Jasmin Hershiser and Logan Kunkle, both 7, were delighted by the experience of getting up close and personal with some new furry friends. Jasmin was one of the few who dared to kiss one of the llamas, Prince.

“It was really soft,” she said.

Logan, on the other hand, said he liked the sheep more than the llamas, receiving an unlikely souvenir of lanolin on his hand after petting one.

“I liked watching her grab one with the hook,” he said.

The second-graders also attended the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials last week. Besides not having to sit on a bus for a two-hour round trip, Jasmin and Logan said they preferred Sheep Wagon Days.

“There’s a lot more to do here,” Jasmin said.

Shake, shake, shake

Among the hands-on activities available to kids during the week and Saturday are leather-working, weaving and butter-making, with students given a small container of cream to shake consistently until it became their own personal pat of butter.

Requiring five to 10 minutes of vigorous motion, some kids said shaking the cream was too tiring, but others stuck it out. While mixing his butter, Sean Smith, 7, recounted what he had learned about the nourishing material.

“We learned about how animals feed their babies and how they drink" milk, he said.

Smith’s teacher, Shawn Steele, said the butter station always is one of her students’ favorites.

“They get to make and do and see and hear stuff here,” she said. “They love it.”

Another activity is weaving, using yarn and Popsicle sticks rather than a full-size loom. Gerry Vassek, of Mesquite, Nev., was one of the volunteers overseeing the exhibit Thursday.

“It’s not quite a spinning wheel, but I think it gives them some kind idea what weaving is,” she said.

Vassek said she enjoys returning to Sheep Wagon Days each year because of the educational part of the event.

“In Nevada, people have no idea where their food or clothes come from, and even if they live in a place like this, there are still so many kids who are never around it,” she said. “This way, they learn more about it.”

Vassek’s niece, organizer Melody Villard, said the intent of Sheep Wagon Days is to inform all ages about the traditions of ranching.

“My generation remembers the idea of the family farm, and some of the older folks maybe spent some time in a wagon working, but the younger generation, this is something they’re not going to get to see without something like this,” she said.

Lambing it up

Although agriculture may be something that becomes further removed from the consciousness of younger residents of Northwest Colorado, it’s alive and well nonetheless.

About a half-dozen wagons are on display at the Wyman Museum as part of the event, and the members of the Villard family have immediate experience with most of them.

Villard's son, Kelton, 13, has spent a lot of time in the well-outfitted wagons while working on behalf of Villard Ranch that are used for traveling to areas like Black Mountain and Elk Springs.

“It’s pretty fun to stay in them because you don’t have to wake up and turn on the heater,” he said. “The stove in there stays on all night, and it’s nice and warm,”

Kelton has spent his whole life surrounded by industry ventures like lambing and herding, so Sheep Wagon Days is hardly a novelty for him.

Even so, he enjoys educating less rurally inclined kids about the ins and outs of agriculture.

“I like teaching them new stuff,” he said. “They come out here and say, ‘What’s that?’ when they’re looking at a cow, but for us, it’s just normal.”

The spirit of ranchers who get their job done no matter what is reflected in the event itself. Although attractions like a tractor pull might be canceled depending on weather, the majority of Sheep Wagon Days will happen regardless of how dark the sky gets.

“Leave it to an agriculture event to go rain or shine,” Villard said.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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