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Langstaff named Md. Shepherd of the Year
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
FREDERICK, Md. (Nov. 3, 2015) — Working at a mediation firm in Washington in the mid-1990s, Lee Langstaff called herself a “weekend warrior,” going to the farm her brother had bought in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve, to tend sheep and help with farm work.
After a few years, the needs of the two families shifted and her brother’s family moved to a more urban area and Langstaff moved to the farm full time.
“Over a period of about six years, we switched places,” Langstaff said.
A longtime knitter and wool spinner, living and raising sheep on the 120-acre Shepherd’s Hey Farm in Dickerson, Md., put her on a path of heavy involvement in both the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association and Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.
For her service to the organizations and sheep industry, Langstaff was named the 2015 Maryland Shepherd of the Year at the MSBA’s annual meeting on Oct. 25.
Presenting the award to Langstaff, Colleen Histon who, with her husband Michael, were last year’s award recipients, said Langstaff was “the first person who came to mind” in discussion of who to honor this year as she “exemplifies the meaning of what it means to be a true shepherd” in raising her own sheep and helping others in the industry.
Langstaff is in her second term as a member of the MSBA board of directors and had been the group’s secretary for two years until she was elected president at the recent annual meeting.
She said she’s been involved with the group since 2004 and credits it with teaching her a lot about raising sheep and networking with other breeders.
“It’s a very generous community when it comes to sharing knowledge about raising sheep,” she said. “That’s what inspires me to go ahead and step up, because it helped me.”
She sees the association as helping breeders choose what they can specialize in.
“If you don’t have a focus, you’ll end up going all over the place,” she said. “There’s such a wide range of what you can do with sheep, that’s what’s so wonderful. Everyone has to find their place on the continuum. My place on the continuum is really making these fleeces and raising these animals.”
Before becoming a breeder, Langstaff said she “started out a knitter like a lot of people,” and then took a spinning class with a neighbor in 1982.
“That was when I first put my hands on raw wool and I was smitten, absolutely enthralled with this natural fiber,” she said.
Langstaff has about 35 breeding ewes on the farm, some replacements and five rams. She uses qualities from the Corriedale, Romney, Border Leicester and Romeldale breeds to make dual purpose lambs with high quality natural color fleece and good carcass characteristics. The fleeces are her main product, she said, but she also sells yarn spun from the fleece and 20 to 30 lambs for custom butchering each year.
“Her attention to her own flock is exemplary,” Colleen Histon said. “Their wool has improved with dedication to genetics spotlighting the value of sheep products. Her natural colored longwools are making an impact in the show ring.”
Her focus on fiber has also kept her involved in planning the annual sheep and wool festival as a co-chairwoman of its fleece show and sale committee with two other people working with about 50 volunteers.
She said there’s been a steady increase in fleeces coming to the festival for judging and sale and they’ve had record high set the last three years.
“This festival is really known for getting really good hand spun fleeces and we had over 900 fleeces for sale last year,” she said. “I don’t think I would be in sheep if it weren’t for the festival. It’s just an incredible resource.”
Since that first spinning class in 1982, Langstaff has had her hands on more fleece than most people ever see. As a Level 2 wool classer, Langstaff has classed more than 200,000 pounds of fleece, helping at the festival and the annual Maryland Wool Pool. There is a third level certification for classers which requires work in other regions to get experience with a wider array of fleeces. Langstaff said she hopes to reach that level at some point amidst all the other duties she maintains.
“It’s one of those things, I just need to get it on the schedule,” she said.