Naper Settlement gets sheepish at Sunday event

  • A group of sheep is herded into position by Cap, a 10-year-old border collie from Heatherhope Farm in Sycamore.

    A group of sheep is herded into position by Cap, a 10-year-old border collie from Heatherhope Farm in Sycamore. Courtesy of Donna DeFalco

  • Suzy Beggin Craft talks to visitors Sunday about wool items she made using historically accurate techniques. Craft was one of the vendors at Naper Settlement's Sheep Sunday event.

    Suzy Beggin Craft talks to visitors Sunday about wool items she made using historically accurate techniques. Craft was one of the vendors at Naper Settlement's Sheep Sunday event. Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

  • Sheep farmer John Seraphine explains how he trains dogs to herd sheep while Nell, his 6-year-old border collie, waits for the chance to show her stuff. Seraphine and his wife, Connie, demonstrated sheepherding techniques at the Sheep Sunday event in Naperville.

    Sheep farmer John Seraphine explains how he trains dogs to herd sheep while Nell, his 6-year-old border collie, waits for the chance to show her stuff. Seraphine and his wife, Connie, demonstrated sheepherding techniques at the Sheep Sunday event in Naperville. Matt Arado | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/12/2014 5:54 PM

John Seraphine said he uses some of the same skills when teaching dogs to herd sheep as many parents use when teaching their children.

"You have to resist the urge to get angry and yell at these dogs," said Seraphine, who co-owns Heatherhope Farm, a working sheep farm in Sycamore, with his wife, Connie. "Losing your temper doesn't make them any better. Patience is what helps them learn."

 

The Seraphines' sheepherding demonstration was one of the highlights of Sheep Sunday at Naperville's Naper Settlement museum -- a day dedicated to the four-legged animals who help many of us survive our freezing Chicago winters.

There were woolly activities aplenty. Visitors learned, for example, how sheep wool is spun into yarn, which can then be used to make warm hats, scarves and clothing.

"I'll feel extra grateful when I put on my wool sweater this winter!" one spectator said.

There was also a sheep-themed storytime, along with other children's activities. And there were plenty of woolen products for people to buy.

The Seraphines' sheepherding demonstration attracted a crowd Sunday afternoon, primarily because it was a chance to see the animals up close.

"I figured my son and daughter would get a kick out of it, and they did," said Rosa Martinez of Naperville, whose children are 5 and 7.

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Spectators also appreciated the chance to see the border collies that the Seraphines train. The couple brought four collies -- Cap, Nell, Abbie and Betty -- and let them show their stuff.

The most boisterous of the four was the baby of the group -- 2-year-old Betty. At one point, Betty attempted to nip at a sheep while corralling it, a behavior known as "gripping." Connie Seraphine said it's one of the instincts that have to be trained out of young dogs.

"These dogs are descendants of wolves, and they have that predatory instinct," she said. "So we really focus on training them not to hurt the sheep."

Naper Settlement is an outdoor living-history museum that preserves and re-creates 19th-century life in Naperville. For information on other upcoming programs, go to napersettlement.org.

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