Lots to learn at Heath Fair
Border collie Brynn herds three ducks around the ring at the Heath Fair Saturday. Brynn was one of three border collies brought by Jill Horton-Lyons of Leverett's Winterberry Farm for a herding demonstration at the fair.
Dylan Schnorr, 3, of Heath, watches Jill Ellis of Rag Hill Farm in Colrain spin fleece into yarn at the Heath Fair on Saturday. Other crafts being displayed or demonstrated at the fair included rope-making and carved wooden utensils and dishware. Recorder/Trish Crapo
Christopher Hansen, 3, of Georgetown inspects the steering wheel of a vintage International tractor before settling into the driver's seat at the Heath Fair on Saturday. Hansen wondered where he might be able to get a trailer to pull behind the rig. Recorder/Trish Crapo
HEATH — Nearing 100 years old, the Heath Fair offers a wealth of knowledge and experience for those who seek it.
“The agricultural tent and the exhibit hall are my favorite parts of the fair,” said Sue Wood of Rowe. “It shows you how people did — and still do — live a sustainable life.”
Under the shade of the tent Saturday, those at the 96th annual Heath Fair learned about rope making, corn shucking, woodwork and horticulture, just to name a few tasks.
Wood was stationed at the center of the tent Saturday, educating others on butter making, heirloom tomatoes and a variety of hot and mild peppers.
“Many people, especially those from the city, don’t know what heirloom tomatoes are,” she mused. Unlike hothouse and other popular hybrids, heirlooms are the purebreds of the tomato world, their lines carefully preserved through the years.
Another kind of purebred ruled the northwest corner of the fairgrounds.
“Border collies are closely related to wolves,” said Jill Horton-Lyons of Winterberry Farm in Leverett. She and her collies Maude, Sweep and Brynn showed onlookers what the working breed is known for during a herd dog demonstration.
Like wolves, dogs are pack animals. To get them to herd other animals, said Horton-Lyons, you’ve got to play on that pack mentality.
“The trick to training is to convince them that you and the collie are a team, and you’re in charge,” she said. “The challenge is that the stronger dogs want to be in charge.”
In a pack, Horton-Lyons said, you’ve got to lead or follow and the handler needs to assert that she’s the alpha dog.
While herd dogs need to be trained in herding technique, there are parts of the job that come naturally.
“Herding dogs have an instinct to protect the flock,” Horton-Lyons explained. They need to be taught just how to herd that flock to the right place, though.
“Their strongest herding instinct is to move the flock toward the handler and later in training, you teach dogs to herd them away from you,” she said.
Though collies and other herding dogs are usually used to corral sheep, cattle and other large livestock, on Saturday, they drove ducks across the field for the demonstration.
“Ducks will come together (in a flock) like sheep, but they’re easier to lug around,” explained Horton-Lyons. “If they head for the hills, they’re slower than sheep” and easier to catch.
They may be easier to handle, but herding ducks still isn’t trouble-free.
“These ducks have been herded a lot, but only by children,” she said. “We’re having a little trouble teaching ducks that dogs are as powerful as kids.”
Her collies still did their best to herd the flock, but each dog had his or her own dilemmas.
Sweep, a 6-year-old collie, came to herding a little later in life than many trained herd dogs.
“He’s a bit timid, and he decided that if he’s going to do something he’s afraid of, he’s going to go at it really fast, which can startle the flock.”
She had to constantly remind Sweep to slow it down a bit, as he ran full-tilt at the flock, spooking them a bit, though none of the three took flight.
All the collies have a little trouble with their final command, though.
“The hardest command is ‘that’ll do,’ which means ‘quit,’” she said. “It’s very difficult to get Maude to quit. When we taught her, I made a lot of flying tackles.”
Though her dogs eventually learned to call it quits, verbal commands don’t work for everything
Mike Smith, Heath fire chief and owner of Chainsaw Strategies, taught the crowd some saw safety, and finished with a demonstration of limb-saving chain saw chaps.
First, he strapped a pair of old chaps to a log, and set his saw to work on them. They eventually stopped the blade, but only after the log wearing them suffered some damage.
“The saw didn’t stop until the buckle on the chaps broke, and the fabric wrapped around it,” he said after destroying the protective duds. “If someone were wearing them, they’d be hurt pretty bad.”
A fresh Stihl saw in hand, he set to work destroying a brand new pair of chaps.
“The instant I hit the protective fabric, the fibers stopped the chain,” he said after a successful demonstration.
Fibers under the fabric’s surface quickly caught in the chain’s teeth, jammed its sprocket, and stopped the blade before it made it through the leggings.
Though confident in his gear’s ability to prevent injury, Smith still wasn’t putting his own limbs at risk for the demo.
“Nothing is certain in this world,” he explained.
Though Smith’s saw would run again after a thorough cleaning, a lumberjack’s chaps wouldn’t be the only thing in need of stitches if the blade cut through to the wearer’s leg.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279