Baa Baa Black Sheep

Since starting our "green acres" adventure four years ago, we have added livestock as our knowledge, courage and infrastructure would allow. We started easy with three laying hens that we housed in a small portable chicken coop, commonly called a chicken tractor. Anxious as a kid at Christmas, I went out everyday to check for our first egg only to be disappointed. Several weeks went by with no eggs. However one day after returning from a weekend in Portland, I checked the coop and found two of the largest eggs I had ever seen. I told Kitty that we had hit the mother lode but upon close examination I found that one egg had the word "ouch" written on it and the other, "Happy April Fools Day." A neighbor had stuck a couple of peacock eggs in the nest. Well, those hens never did turn out to be productive layers but since then we have had as many as 30 hens and have been amply rewarded with more than enough eggs.

After some experience with laying hens we graduated to chickens that were raised strictly for meat.

As part of our continuing education about where our food comes from, we learned some butchering skills.

One of the best things we learned here is that chicken feet make the best stock.

Pigs were next and by now most of you know of our hilarious pig chase. We look forward to getting our third batch of pigs around the end of May. So far they have been the most delightful animal to raise.

Last year we added ducks, a delicious addition to the farm.

For the past couple of years we have been working on fencing our pastures and now have at least one pasture that could contain some sheep. Although we have not done much research on sheep we have acquired enough confidence and courage to take on our first flock of sheep. Admittedly much of that courage comes from the fact that our neighbor Andrew Emlen who sold us the flock has pledged to mentor us.

Andrew Emlen teaches the fine art of shearing

The breed is known as Black Welsh Mountain Sheep. They are a small hardy heritage breed, obviously with black wool that may be of some interest to spinners and weavers. Of course as their name implies, they originated in Wales and were first introduced to the United States in 1973. There are several characteristics of this breed that especially appeal to us. One is that they are resistant to hoof rot, a common malady for sheep here in the rainy Columbia Pacific Region. The second is that they seldom need human intervention when they are lambing. Sticking my arm up a sheep's bum in the middle of the night is not high on my bucket list. Third, they are great mowers. I'm always excited when I can get one of our animals to help with the chores. They're quieter than a tractor and leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Last but not least, they are a good source of meat, especially as mutton. While mutton has had a disparaging reputation over the years, it is being rediscovered with a new found appreciation. Mutton is loosely defined as lamb over two years old. My limited experience is that it tastes like lamb but just a little more so. In other words, it's more flavorful. This makes me think that people who do not like mutton either had some really old mutton, improperly cooked or perhaps they just don't like the taste of lamb.

As novice farmers four years ago, the "yolk was on us," but we have learned a thing or two so you won't be "pulling the wool over our eyes" quite so easily now.

We have not decided just how big a flock we will raise and how many will be for meat and how many to keep as mowers. So we would like to hear from you. Do you have experiencing raising sheep? Do you enjoy eating lamb? How about mutton? Are you a spinner or weaver with any interest in black wool?