AmericanFarm.com

Gift of orphan lamb leads to family sheep business in Va.

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

DUBLIN, Va. (Nov. 11, 2014) — The sun had set on an early November afternoon when local banker and sheep farmer Lynn White called his small flock to the feed trough.
Years ago a local sheep farmer, Cecil King, had given his youngest son, Heath, a Katahdin Hair Sheep lamb when the boy was 11 years old. King guaranteed the 11-year-old that he would take the lamb back at any time or at the end of the year sell it and send him the check. The lamb, named Curly, never got sold and became the White’s herd sire. Heath is now a freshman at Emory and Henry College.
Heath’s parents, Lynn and Cindy, remain at the farm with a flock of around 20 to 25 ewes. They said they hope to reach 30. The Whites will be turning Curly in with the ewes later this month for lambing in late April after winter has ended.
Lynn White said he likes the Katahdins because they are low maintenance, basically parasite free, do not have to be sheared and tend to lamb in the field without assistance. He said they have not had to pull a lamb in seven or eight years.
He said he calls them “a business man’s sheep.”
“I think it’s a fun, small business,” he said. “It’s a good business for children to get them involved.”
Heath and his older brothers, Will and Clay, were involved in the business as teenagers, Lynn said. He feels this experience taught all three boys where their food comes from and gave them useful life experiences.
But, Heath, the father said, was the one who was most involved with the sheep. Now that he is in college, Lynn said he plans to put off some chores until the weekend so he will have Heath to help.
The sheep business grew out of Heath’s frustration in trying to treat a sick calf in the middle of the night in the field, White recalled. He said several people were working with the animal when they looked around and saw in the lights from their vehicles a semicircle of sheep standing watching them.
“He asked me, ‘Dad, can’t we get rid of these stupid cattle and have sheep?’”
After two of their four calves died that winter, they sold the rest of their cattle, Lynn said.
Having experts at Virginia Tech nearby, played a part in their decision to go to sheep, White added. The school offers a strong program in sheep research and support to farmers who raise sheep. The White’s farm falls within the 40-mile radius served by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine which offers vet services to farms at rates comparable to other large animal veterinarians in the area. This provides hands-on experience to students who travel with their veterinary instructors.
The Whites had begun their farm, which Cindy has named Five Winds Farm because it is on a hilltop where the wind never seems to stop blowing, with two Holstein calves.
Now is a good time to be in the sheep business, White believes. Lamb is growing in popularity as an American food for several reasons. He noted the servings are smaller; the meat is very tender and can be cooked in so many different ways-as chops, rack of lamb, leg of lamb and burgers.
Compared to cattle, they can graze more sheep on the same amount of land, the sheep are easier to handle, Lynn said.
They are considering raising goats as well. Goat meat is the most eaten meat in the world outside the United States and is growing in popularity here, growers report.
In the past, the Whites have marketed their lambs by sending them to sales in New Holland, Pa. or selling them locally. With the recent formation of the New River Valley Sheep and Goat Club, Lynn said he expects to be able to sell his lambs within the club.
The new organization draws members from 11 counties in mid-Southwest Virginia, he said. It gives the members an opportunity for educational events and to share knowledge and experiences with one another, he noted.
One of their first speakers was Chad Fox who is in charge of predator control in Virginia. Fox usually deals with coyote elimination. Although the Whites are located in a community with a relatively high concentration of coyotes, he said they have not been a problem at Five Winds. He credits good fencing for keeping coyotes out but can’t say the same for black vultures. They have lost several lambs to these birds, which with turkey buzzards are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Act.
This effectively ties the hands of folks raising livestock as they cannot legally shoot the birds when they attack livestock, Lynn said.