Saturday, March 17, 2012

Honeysuckle Farm Interview with Robin Hardy

Homeschooling creates unique opportunities for parents as well as children. Our particular homeschool, PACT (Pursuing Academic Choices Together), is a Natomas Charter School and avails parents many opportunities throughout the year to interface with one another. During one of these times I had the privilege to meet and talk with Robin Hardy. I discovered that she and her family had a small working farm that is slowly evolving.

As I have decided to get serious about my blog I thought she would make a good subject for an interview, my first interview.

K – Robin I visited your web site, Honeysuckle Farms and was very impressed with not only your site but how effectively you put to use your land.
What inspired you to embark on farm life?
Robin - We have always lived in the country and enjoyed animals and nature; however, the sheep farm came about unexpectedly. My husband and I have about two acres here and it was always hard to keep it mowed and the weeds down for fire safety. Every summer it seemed like a huge chore, especially when considering the fact that our property is situated on a hill and is not an even flat area. I had heard of using sheep or goats as an “eco-friendly” lawn mower and we started looking for a couple of livestock animals to purchase.

We saw an advertisement at a local market stating, “reserve your spring lambs now” with a photo of cute little black and white sheep. We ended up purchasing a ewe lamb and a wether (neutered male lamb). While we were picking out our lambs, we couldn’t help but fall in love with the baby goats and ended up coming home with two of them as well.

As we learned more about the Jacob Sheep breed, we become more and more interested in them and the many benefits that have to bestow upon farm and family life for the hobby farm and small producer. From that moment on…we have become more and more involved with farm life and efforts at preserving the American Jacob Sheep as a livestock conservancy rare breed.

K - What animals do you raise on your farm?
Robin - We currently raise the Jacob Sheep of course, along with Pilgrim/Buff geese, Nigerian Dwarf milk goats, and a variety of chicken breeds.

K - How long have you been raising Jacob sheep?
Robin - We started with our “eco-friendly” lawn mowers in August of 2008 and our farm has just grown since then.

K - Why did you choose Jacob sheep?
Robin - We chose Jacob Sheep initially because of their beautiful unique markings and medium size. However, we have grown to appreciate more and more their interesting history as a primitive/heritage breed and the fact that they have been basically unchanged by human intervention for the most part since their origins; which have been documented back to early Egyptian times and the ancient world.

K - How can you tell the difference between Jacob sheep and other spotted sheep?
(To read an article on Jacob Sheep I compiled from information I was able to find, please go to Earthsong, another of my blogs, to read about Jacob Sheep. 

Robin - Most sheep breeds seen today have been selectively bred for centuries for certain desirable traits, making them very different from their ancient ancestors.

Jacobs are truly a primitive breed seen most obviously in the male and female having multi-horns, but also in their more primitive body shape, ease in lambing and natural resistance to parasites and other common sheep ailments.
We are also finding great versatility and value in the Jacob’s wool. Each sheep has a unique spotting pattern; much like a fingerprint and the beautiful natural colors in the wool is valued by hand spinners.

Jacobs carry a rare recessive trait that causes a coloring called “lilac”. This is much desired and creates a beautiful milky gray color that is absolutely lovely in a shorn fleece.

Jacob sheep are unique and fairly easily identified by several physical characteristics. First of all, they are a multi-horned bred with both males and females having horns. Most Jacobs have either two or four horns.

The female’s horns are smaller and more delicate looking whereas the male’s horns are very large and impressive. Few other sheep breeds have horned females.

The spotting pattern of Jacobs is individually unique, but consistent within the breed. The sheep are white with black spots with a spotting pattern most often of about 60% black to 40% white. However, it may vary as much as 15% of one color to another color. Legs are either all white or white with black spots.

The Jacob face has “badger markings” with black patches around each eye, black nose and a white blaze down the middle of the nose. Jacobs do not have wool on their legs or forward of the horns.

Jacob dark colors are always black or lilac. The tips of the dark colors often look brown if the sheep are not coated due to the sun burning the tips. Sheep must have all of the Jacob characteristics to be a true Jacob. Some spotted sheep may look somewhat like a Jacob, but if they do not contain these traits then they are most likely a result of crossbreeding.

K - How large is your flock of sheep?

Robin - Currently, we have seven mature ewes, three yearling ewes, two rams and four locker rams.

K - Do you raise your sheep only for the wool?
Robin - Our sheep are raised primarily for their renewable resources such as wool, however we also use a portion of the male animals born each spring as “locker lambs” or sheep sold for meat or used for meat. We also tan the hides of the sheep used for meat and use the horns to make various hand crafts such as horn beads and buttons. I am interested in making soap and well as value added products such as cheese from the milk, but that is a distant goal at this point.

K - Do you expect to have lambs born this spring?
Robin - We have just begun lambing season with Zoe who lambed with one ewe lamb born February 29th - a little leap year baby! Morgan also lambed on March 3rd with twin ram lambs, one of which is a lilac! We expect more lambs, with five more mature ewes to lamb sometime in the next three to four weeks and well as at least one yearling ewe that is most likely pregnant.

K - How involved are your children?
Robin - Our children, Skyler 17, Dawson 10 and Emma 5, are very involved in the farm. Skyler is a junior member of the Jacob Sheep Breeder’s Association of which we are members, and has shown his lambs at the California State Fair. Morgan is actually his ewe, so the twin lambs born are his.

He is planning to wether the lilac ram lamb so he can keep him as a ”fleece wether” and he will show the other lamb at the fair this summer and then sell him.

Dawson is a natural with animals. He is always the helper when our livestock vet, Dr. Mora visits our farm. Both Dawson and Emma collect eggs, help care for the animals and participate in “lamb watch” during lambing time.

K - Your site mentions your fleeces won First Place and Best of Show at the Sacramento County Fair in May 2011. Do your children show the fleece?
Robin - Skyler was able to show his lilac ram, Wolfgang’s, fleece at the Sacramento County Fair in May of 2011. That fleece won Best of Show! The other fleeces shown were entered by my husband and me. Dawson was able to educate families at the California State Fair in July of 2011 by holding his lamb, ChewyBite, outside of the pen in the livestock barn and answer questions while families were able to pet the lamb. He really loved doing that!
K - What is the most significant thing you think has benefited your family from living on the farm?
Robin - The children have experienced so much science and general “life lessons’ in living on our farm. Some of the lessons are hard, such as when we had to put our goat wether down. But these lessons are helping them understand life and death a little more, and I hope, have empathy for all living things.

K - Do you allow people to visit your farm?
Robin - We welcome individuals that would like to visit our farm. Call or email us and we can set up an appointment. We are not set up to accommodate groups at this time, primarily due to liability issues.

K - You have some beautiful farm crafts for sell on your farm site.
Robin - We began by selling farm items and crafts from our website, but have transitioned to Etsy with a link to our website. It was just too hard to sell in both places and Etsy seemed to bring more traffic.

K - I noticed you that your Etsy store carries different crafts than your farm site. 
Who paints the saw blades?
Robin - My husband paints all the saw blades. He is planning to make clocks out of those hand painted saw blades.
K - Who carves and paints the wooden cigar boxes? 
Who made the unique wooden treasure box you have listed on Etsy? 
Robin - My husband makes craft items out of ram horn such as the beads and boxes. He also paints original Jacob Sheep art and creates greeting cards and cigar/treasure boxes with painted lids and felted wool interiors. We both enjoy hand wet felting the wool and cleaning and carding the fleece.

 K - When did you start selling your farm crafts?
Robin - We sold our first fleeces at the county fair and have just in the last few months begun offering the crafts for sale in the Etsy store.

K – Do you have plans to do anything new or different in the future?
Robin - Some future goals for the farm include breeding our milk goat does and using the goat milk for personal products or products we can sell, such as soap or cheese.

A future dream at a far distant time is to somehow use our animals as therapy animals for inner city children or children that are ill for positive emotional experiences and therapy. This is currently just in the thinking/dreaming stage.

There is a wonderful story about our ewe, Zoe, along this line that I will share with you in the future if you would like…time to home school the kids now! They have been digging in the pasture as I type this.
It is a happy messy life for kids!

One thing I forgot to mention, Jasmine Genevieve, our Pyrenees Mountain Dog came from Eriphos Farm in Missouri and is absolutely essential to the protection of our flock.  She bonds with the sheep and becomes one of them.  She has been amazing in her intuitive protection of the sheep and gentle behavior towards our children.  She is truly a "guardian angel".
On a personal note, I really enjoyed doing this interview with Robin and I look forward to having more interviews in the future.

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