Out & About: Hand-knit sweaters for lambs beloved tradition

  • Lambs will be among the baby animals at Billings Farm & Museum's annual Baby Farm Animal Celebration in Woodstock. The event takes place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. (Photograph courtesy of Billings Farm & Museum)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Wednesday, April 17, 2019

WOODSTOCK — Ann D’Anna is well aware that the sweaters she knits for baby lambs at Billings Farm and Museum are a little bit silly.

She started making them 4 or 5 years when lambs were born during what she described as a “very, very, very cold March.” Staff put cut up sweatshirts on the newborns to help keep them born.

“I said, ‘this is funny looking. I don’t like it at all,’ ” D’Anna, of Brownsville, recalled during a recent interview at the working farm nonprofit organization in Woodstock. “They said, ‘You’re a knitter. Do something.’ ”

D’Anna — a self-described “voracious knitter” who learned the craft during World War II by making squares that were stitched together to make blankets for soldiers — modified a dog sweater pattern she has knit for family members’ canines to better fit the lambs. She originally used acrylic yarn, but then switched to a different fiber.

“ ‘You can’t put acrylic on a lamb,’ my daughter told me, and I guess she’s right,” said D’Anna, who turns 87 on Thursday. She now uses wool.

And speaking of wool, aren’t lambs born with a sweater of their own?

Not entirely, said Chuck Deome, farm manager at Billings Farm & Museum. While the lambs have some fuzz on them it’s “not the big thick wool” that sheep have that time of year.

That being said, sweaters aren’t necessary.

“Sometimes, if the lambs are born really early and it’s a cold winter, then they can use them but most of the time we really don’t need it,” Deome said. “It’s one of those things that they can live without them, but people think they need them like a dog needs a coat.”

The lambs only wear them for a couple of weeks.

“I take them off as soon as I can because the lamb won’t grow its wool if it’s got a wool sweater on,” Deome said.

But since D’Anna began knitting the sweaters, it has become something of a Billings Farm & Museum tradition, like the many other sweet customs that are part of life on the working farm. The roving made from the wool collected from the sheep that are sheared each year is used in activities and demonstrations.

“They grow very fast,” D’Anna said. “It makes them more comfortable.”

Lambs weren’t born this year on the farm and likely won’t need any of D’Anna’s homemade knits. In order to diversify the herd, four new lambs are being brought in from another farm.

“We’ve been breeding the same ones and the bloodline was getting pretty thick here,” Deome said. “We’ll breed (the new lambs) with a new ram this fall when they’re ready to be bred.”

The new lambs will join the herd just in time for Billing’s annual Baby Farm Animal Day Celebration which kicks off the new season at the popular family place. The event takes place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Admission is $4-$16 and visitors can also interact with chicks, goats and calves.

D’Anna works one or two days a week at Billings. During our visit, she introduced me to a goat named Dolly who stared at a wall, not being her usual self around visitors. Dolly was in the process of being weaned off her bottle and wasn’t too happy about it.

“The goats are the smartest — by far,” D’Anna said of Dolly, who had become a staff favorite. “Much smarter than sheep or calves.”

D’Anna introduced me to the other two resident goats who share a barn with the sheep. One was standing on top of its pen, gazing down at us and D’Anna reached up to pet her.

“You like that, don’t you sweetheart?” she said. “You can see the intelligence in that face.”

The lambs are the only farm animals that D’Anna knits for.

“Calves are too big,” she explained. “They don’t need them anyway.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the Baby Farm Animal Celebration, visit billingsfarm.org/ or call 802-457-2355. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.