Sheep help make farm dream a reality
RINER, Va. — Checking the ewes this time of year can sometimes mean a trip back to the house with a newborn lamb for Jennifer McClellan, a Montgomery County, Va., farmer.
And that is what happened on a brisk March morning as McClellan worked her way through the barn.
McClellan and a visitor were talking beside a pen assigned to the mother of triplets when the ewe began butting one of her offspring away, keeping it from nursing.
McClellan tried to convince the mama to take her third baby, but the ewe was not having it.
She lifted the unwanted lamb from the pen and began cuddling it assuring the little animal she would feed it.
With the chores finished in the barn, the lamb got a ride to the house and promised bottle being cuddled by the visitor as its human navigated the four-wheeler on a rough path between barn and house.
While McClellan and her husband Phillip have a diversified farm that includes meat goats and Charolais cattle, she said the sheep are her favorite.
“I love sheep,” she declared, cuddling the little outcast.
McClellan said she gets her love of sheep from her late father.
Even after he had become wheelchair bound the two of them planned to own a farm and raise sheep.
She said she did not get to do it with him, but she is grateful to be living their dream.
McClellan runs about 50 Katahadin ewes, a breed of hair sheep used for meat.
She said her father had wool sheep but the meat sheep are where the money is these days in the sheep industry.
She direct markets the meat, selling it by the piece at the South County Farmers’ Market in Roanoke and to two local specialty restaurants.
She sells some breeding stock and sends market lambs to auction at New Holland, Pa., several times a year.
The market lambs are sold through the efforts of the New River Sheep and Goat Club, which ships the lambs to the market there. McClellan was recently named vice president of the group.
Getting the meat processed is a challenge for McClellan as it is for others who direct market meat in the area. Approved processing plants are few and far between.
She uses a facility in Washington County, two and a half hours away.
While this is a long haul for livestock, she said it fits her needs.
Animals on the McClellan farm graze on pasture and she sells her meat as grass fed.
Three llamas guard the animals. Quin, an animal with a royal demeanor, takes care of the ewes and lambs. Lilly guards the yearling ewes. Jeb guards the goats.
In a neighborhood where coyotes roam the llamas play an important part in keeping the livestock safe.
The llamas on her farm are easily the biggest animal in the flock so the role of guardian comes to them naturally, she said.
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