On Saturday, March 17th, the Field School took a field trip to Clover Creek Farm in Jonesborough and enjoyed ruminating over small ruminants. Chris Wilson, the farm’s owner, shared her story of how she came to raise her flock of Katahdin/Dorper cross hair sheep.
Chris grew up around cattle and originally intended to raise registered Charolais cattle on her 50-acre farm, at one point having a herd of 25. However, she found that sheep were more practical for a one-woman farm and bought five ewes and a border collie in 1989. She fell in love with sheep and (expertly trained) sheepdogs, and her flock has since grown to 500.
Clover Creek is an Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) farm, and Chris’s priority is to humanely and respectfully shepherd her flock. Lambs are allowed to wean naturally, never separated from their mothers, and free range finish on native grass. She uses a grass-based rotational grazing system and breeds specifically for parasite resistance and peak muscle quality, which has resulted in both superior breeding stock and meat. Chris knows sheep, and she knows her sheep.
Anthony Shelton from UT Extension also joined us and shared information on the ins and outs of small ruminant production. He highlighted several resources for the aspiring ruminant farmer, including www.sheepandgoat.com, which is an extensive website run by the University of Maryland. If you are thinking of someday owning sheep and/or goats, this site is incredibly helpful and informative. Anthony also shared the TN Department of Ag’s TAEP (Tennessee Ag Enhancement Program) Cost Share for farmers. Any farmer can qualify for the 35% cost share rate, or you can complete the Master Small Ruminant Class to obtain the 50% rate. These classes are held periodically in various countries, and there is a three day conference held every other year (the next one is in 2019).