Old tradition

This yearling ram, Stewart, was fairly calm while his wool was sheared at a living-history demonstration on Saturday at Middleton Place.

Matt Jackson admitted Saturday that he often dreams that sheep from the Middleton Place stable yards, where he works as the assistant manager, call to him.

But instead of “baaaah,” they say “Maaaaatt.”

After the annual shearing Saturday, Jackson — who sheared for the first time — may have had a rough night last night.

The sheep, for the most part, were accepting of the shearing, but a few let their displeasure known with plenty of verbalization. “Maaaaattt!”

Visitors to the plantation on the Ashley River were given a special living-history treat as staff members and two sheep shearing veterans from Historic Brattonsville in York County attempted to shear 15 grown sheep, mostly with old-fashioned manual shears, in five hours.

While they were at it, the sheep also got their hooves trimmed up, or what one visitor joked as a “pedicure, minus the nail polish.”

While some visitors just got lucky to happen upon the once-a-year program being held, Jim Russell and Karen Johnson of Mount Pleasant came out specifically to see the demonstration after reading about it in The Post and Courier.

Russell noted, “I’m surprised at how accepting the sheep are of being sheared.”

Meanwhile, Middleton Place volunteer Nancy Simpson, a Trident Tech psychology instructor, demonstrated how to clean and spin the wool into yarn, and was active in recruiting volunteers to “card” the wool by hand.

Sheep have long been a part of Middleton’s landscape, having been documented as being there in the 18th and 19th centuries. An agricultural census in 1850 put the population of sheep at 300.

Karen Cox, an interpreter at Historic Brattonsville, said the sheep at Middleton and Brattonsville are a heritage variety, the Gulf Coast breed, brought by the Spanish to the Gulf Coast and allowed to adapt to the conditions and pests of the hot, humid Southeast.

As a result, the Gulf Coast sheep are resistant to common parasites and hoof rot that other sheep are susceptible to in the South.

While helping shear a sheep known as “Poster Boy” with Cox’s husband, handyman T. Cox, Middleton Place potter Jeff Neal let a crowd of onlookers know that sheep’s wool is not a lucrative business in modern times.

“This is a labor of love,” said Neal, gently holding down Poster Boy and trying to ease his nerves.

“You will not become Bill Gates doing this.”