Iowa Gets Wild & Wooly at 11th Sheep & Wool Show
Sheep Industry News Editor
I tried to escape the smell. But the Jasper County Fairgrounds in Colfax, Iowa, just wasn’t big enough. I wasn’t alone; plenty of people attending the 11th annual Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival noticed it.
Eventually, we all ended up in the same place – the lamb cooking demonstration by Phil Cummings of Dizzy Daddy BBQ. On a relatively nice Saturday afternoon in Central Iowa, there was no better place to be than under the large shade tree that served as the backdrop for the day’s cooking exhibition. Cummings served up Mediterranean lamb pops, a stuffed Tuscan leg of lamb, and just for fun some lamb Scotch eggs with a curry dipping sauce.
The Mediterranean lamb pops picked up the top award in both lamb and overall barbecue competitions at the 2014 Iowa State Fair, but it was the fragrant aroma of the Tuscan leg of lamb that wafted its way through every building on grounds and swelled the demonstration’s turnout by the time samples were ready to be served.
“I think we all have the older relatives that have to cook everything until it’s just way over done,” said Cummings, who like most chefs prefers his dishes more on the medium to medium-rare side. “Watch your temperature. That’s the biggest thing with lamb and any of the more delicate meats. Those USDA guidelines are there for your protection, obviously, but also they happen to be in the temperature ranges that the meats work best in. If your personal taste is to cook it until it’s dead, then that’s fine too. Cook it until it’s dead.”
Cummings won the Iowa State Fair’s lamb competition in his first attempt.
“I’ve been cooking with lamb as long as I’ve been barbecuing, but last year was my first time to compete in that category,” he said. “I’m always looking for something a little different and a new challenge.”
Ask anyone on grounds that day and they’ll agree Cummings has mastered his latest challenge. The only person disappointed in the demonstration was ASI’s Alan Culham, coordinator of the Let’s Grow program. Culham’s Let’s Grow presentation overlapped the demonstration and then he had to catch a flight out immediately after, so he didn’t get to enjoy the samples.
Seriously, the weekend was all about education. From producing a flock and cooking lamb to showing and shearing and even spinning wool, there was something for everyone in the industry.
The festival needed two buildings to house all of the fiber vendors, who offered everything a craftsman might need when it comes to wool projects. Those putting on the demonstrations in knitting, spinning and weaving during the weekend didn’t have to look far if they forgot a necessary supply.
But the highlight for many during the weekend was the Hall of Breeds, which included sheep from a half-dozen breeds for the public to interact with. While some preferred the back walls of their stalls as they got used to the crowds shuffling through the alleyway, Jason Seelow’s Rambouillet rams were happy to greet passersby.
An Illinois native, Seelow’s full-time job in the seed business brought him to Iowa in 2007 and he’s since gotten married and started a family.
Sheep and helping his wife’s family on the farm take up most of his free time, so fortunately the festival was just 20 miles from his home in State Center, Iowa.
“It’s nice to be able to come here for two days, but still sleep in my own bed at night,” he said, taking a quick break to show a variety of fleeces to interested craftswomen. “When I can market my wool for someone else to use and put into something that they take a lot of pride in, then that’s very satisfying for me. And, it supplements my income. I’m not selling just breeding rams or ewes, but also the wool, which has become a pretty nice cash crop for us. We have some people coming here who are interested in the rams, but we mainly sell the wool here.”
Seelow grew up showing sheep alongside his brother and sister, but each had their own breed.
“I had Southdowns, my brother had Rambouillets and my sister had Corriedales. It didn’t make sense for us to show against each other, so we got into three breeds,” he said. “Eventually, my sister went to college and got out of sheep. I took hers, then my brother did the same and I took his sheep. Rambouillets took over everything eventually for me. Obviously, the wool is a nice commodity over some of the other breeds.”
Sheep Dog DemoJake was tired, but he wasn’t interested in slacking off. At least not until he was instructed to anyway.
After spending a few hours in a dark barn watching a young dog in training learn the ropes at the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival, Jake helped herd a handful of sheep out into a nearby field and went to work. As a crowd assembled, Jake put on a show. Following directions from Wayne Bamber of Leaning Tree Cattle Dogs & Border Collies, Jake expertly manuevered sheep across nearly every inch of the field.
Eventually, the veteran dog was instructed to take a well-deserved water break as Deb Meier of Leaning Tree moved in with one of the company’s younger border collies. But even as he drank from a pool of water in the field, Jake’s eyes never strayed from the sheep in the field. He even attempted to jump back into the fray a few times, only to be called back to rest.