Manchester Veterinary Clinic

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Todd and Peggy buy a sheep farm

By Kate Allen, DVM

In 2012, I entered my third year of vet school. It was also the year my parents decided to become sheep farmers.

My mother has always loved sheep fiber. She began handspinning wool into yarn when she was in college, buying a spinning wheel and dragging my father (then her boyfriend) around to wool collectives and farms to buy the raw materials. She fell out of it when she fell into her career as a television producer. By the time I was in vet school, my parents had been comfortably installed in a suburb of Chicago and at desk jobs for over a decade. Thinking of Todd and Peggy Allen as sheep farmers would have been like thinking of Donald Trump as the guy who sells Sno-Cones at Coney Island.

In the summer of 2011 they vacationed at the San Juan Islands and spent time at a bed and breakfast there which was also a small sheep farm. The elderly couple who ran the B & B had 100 sheep, all named, and they sold their fleece, yarn, and meat from their home. “You’re living my wife’s dream,” my father joked to them. But my mom and dad realized it was less of a joke than he had intended. “We could do this,” Peggy said. “I’d do it with you,” Todd said.

One year and 42 property searches later, my parents were ready to move into a house on the top of a 32-acre hillside in White River Junction, Vermont. The home wasn’t set up to be a sheep farm; it had hay fields so there wasn’t any forest to clear, but no fences, no gates, and no barn. Before moving in, my mom called me up and asked, “are we crazy?” and it took all of my daughter-skills not to say, yes. You are absolute lunatics to leave your city lives, buy a dozen sheep, and hope you can learn enough to keep everything going okay. I said no, it was a great idea.

They arrived at the house about a month before their flock arrived on the hillside. They had spent the months before not only selling their house and closing on the new one (no small task), but also learning everything they could about sheep farming. Where does the fencing go? What fencing do we get? What do they eat? Do they need vaccines? What about parasites? How do we know when they’re sick? And, of course, they wanted to have the sheep breed to increase their flock size, bringing reproduction, breeding season, lambing, and the rearing of lambs into the mix as well.

They joined me at Cornell for a weekend Sheep Symposium, and after my classes we all went out to dinner to recount the day’s events. As my mother talked about uterine prolapse (don’t Google it, you won’t be pleased), a mix of horror, disgust, fear, excitement, trepidation – literally every emotion you can think of – passed over her face. She knew she was so new to this field and so foreign to the gritty world of farming, but she wanted to be a part of it so badly and she wanted to do it right. What’s more, I wasn’t much help to her because I had spent every moment of vet school preparing to be a dog and cat vet. I signed up that night for “Sheep and Goat Management.”

Of course, from the moment they moved in on July 4, 2012 to now, there have been stories: stories about the sheep, about the farm, about my parents’ journeys as new farmers. There are sad stories and happy stories. One of those stories is how I got married on that farm one year later. But even as the stories vary, the overwhelming theme is how happy my parents are with their farm and how they’d never trade it for the world. You can read those stories at their website.

Maybe you’d like to be a sheep farmer, too. 

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