Fiber Festival, State Fair, and an Inordinate Amount of Readings

Most of this month has been reading: lots and lots of reading. I’m trying to get through a book a week, which is a tall order for someone who is usually super slow at reading. But I’m reading about animals! So of course I’m enjoying myself.

As a very refreshing break from that, though, I got to go to two animal-filled events: the Montpelier Fiber Festival (a fair of fiber-producing animals, bulk wools, yarn, and things made of yarn or for yarn crafts) and the VA State Fair. My goal for these adventures was to see these activities and subcultures to myself and observe human-human and human-animal interactions within these agricultural contexts.

The Fiber Festival showed me a lot of great examples of people who care deeply for their work, as well as the animals that are eventually sold or eaten. What stood out to me most about this day was the role of names. A seller of angora rabbits responded, when asked the names of her bunnies, that they don’t name the ones they sell. Another man, whose sheep are used for wool before eventually being slaughtered for meat, talked about one of his ewes by name and personality, adding that, obviously, she would “be around forever.” This very wise and self-aware take reflected what, through my research, has already been made clear: naming something, giving it personhood, is frequently mutually exclusive with eating them.

That being said, enjoy some adorable wooly creatures.

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Baby goat for sale!

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The softest bunnies of all time: Angora babies

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Sheared alpacas!

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Wooly cuties!

At the fair, I explored the bird and small animal competition barns, where many beautiful (and frequently hilarious) birds, bunnies, and guinea pigs sat in small but comfortable cages with labels and assorted ribbons. Then I got to see my first livestock shows, watching youth and junior divisions of meat goat and beef cow showmanship. I even got to milk a cow! I talked to a very interesting cattle farmer (beef farming, dairy education) who talked about the minimal engagement required with beef cows, and watched a young teenaged girl kiss her beef cow on the nose when the cow performed well in showmanship. No profound observations came from this adventure: it was more just the opportunity to see what I’ve been reading about play out in real life, and see the interactions that surround it. Again, have some pictures of cute animals!

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I was at the fair all day, but I never was able to stop laughing at these birds! And I learned that pigeons are popular pets!

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Educational display animals! From left to right: A zebu, a mama pig with piglets, and a baby longhorn!

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Beef cattle show. I had no idea so much went into this, including washing and blowdrying the cows! (that’s why they’re so absurdly fluffy!)

I’m extremely excited about the place my research is at right now, and I hope you enjoyed this update!


  1. Thank you! I really enjoyed the festival, and it was absolutely a nice break!

    The politics of naming are indeed really interesting. I found that a lot of times the specific animals who received names were given a higher level of personhood, but that naming one animal of a type did not seem to inhibit the farmer’s ability to detach from other animals of the same type. For example, I encountered one man who had a whole flock of sheep, but only a few favored ewes had names. Those animals he freely admitted would never be sold or eaten. As another example, the people I met selling bunnies only named the ones they intended to keep. This is very different than say, dogs. Most people in the US wouldn’t eat a stray dog, even if it didn’t have a name, because dogs as a group are more personified. But for the sheep farmer, the only sheep that couldn’t be eaten were the specific individuals he’d named. Wild stuff!

    I’m really glad you’re enjoying following my work!

  2. Hey Madeline!

    First of all, I absolutely LOVE all of the pictures that you uploaded ☺ The animal photos are adorable and entertaining, and make me want to explore your topic, too!

    It’s pretty awesome that you got to attend both of these festivals/fairs in light of all of the reading you have to do. When trying to cram all sorts of information from books into your head (especially on a time-sensitive schedule), it can get really stressful and definitely take the fun out of learning and engaging with your project. It was probably really gratifying to travel to these events and get to experience your research playing out in the real world!

    One of the most interesting observations that I noticed in your post was about how the sellers at the fiber festival named their animals. Even though most of these animals were going to be sold or slaughtered, they still received names that add to their dignity and uniqueness as creatures. The particular sheep-seller you mentioned, who talked about his ewes by name even though they would be sold for their wool and eventually their meat really complicates and disproves the idea that naming/giving personhood to an animal is mutually exclusive with eating it, as he obviously does both. I hope that observation you made is helpful in your project!