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We were introduced to sheep about 20 years ago when Pete was operating a "pasture management" business. At an Agway Horse Day he had a tent where he talked to people about their pastures (it is amazing how many people who understand horses do not understand pastures) and pushed Agway products. A young couple approached him and said they were looking for pasture for their flock of 30 Hampshire sheep. He came home and told me about it - we had acreage that was "going to waste" at our recently acquired property. Kim and Mike came over that night and a deal was sealed - they would erect electric fence on 2 pastures in return for the use of the land for 4 years (and pay $100/year toward the electric bill). The fence was built, the sheep moved in, and so it began.

Since we live here and they didn't, even though they came morning and evening to do the chores, we got involved. One snowy late winter Saturday morning the first year, we discovered hypothermic lambs in the snow outside one of the temporary shelters they had put up. Toni ended up with 2 lambs on a blanket in front of the living room coal stove while Kim gave directions for "tubing" them by phone from work. Pete went next door to enlist our neighbor (a former farm boy) to help milk the ewe. Lambs began arriving fast and furious and by the time Mike got there at noon we had lambs all over, but the situation was under control, the new lambs were in the shelters, and Toni was hooked.

There was still a field area available, so she started looking for sheep that were more her size (Hamps are very big), and discovered a flock of small Cheviots only 5 minutes away. Five of these girls came to live on a new field up in front of the house. Naturally having lambs requires a ram, so a 4H ram lamb was bought for $50 from the son of a local shearer. Rocky was a lovely ram with a wonderful fleece. But after a year or so we realized that our "gentle giant" was producing lambs that were larger than their mommies - not a trend we wanted to continue! So we partnered with a Shetland breeder we had met at the Cooperative Extension sheep class and started cross-breeding with Shetland rams. The lambs were smaller and had wonderful fleeces - and we were not meat sheep breeders at heart, so that suited us just fine.

About that time the American Miniature Cheviot Sheep organization began - a group dedicated to maintaining the small size of what, up until that time, had been considered Border Cheviots. Border Cheviots, like many breeds these days, were getting bigger and bigger. Our sheep were small enough to measure in as a foundation flock. At that time a small miracle occurred and a flock of small Cheviots moved in "just down the road"! Through them we were able to breed to "Petite" - a manly little fellow, and we were able to move in the right direction size-wise. We thus had two foundation flocks working together, as we still do, and when the measurement option closed we had registered American Miniature Cheviots sheep with several different genetic lines. Toni hooked up (in an Ohio Home Depot parking lot) with a a breeder from Iowa - Lori got a white ram and Toni got a black one - Brian (with a bonus black ewe, Darra). This expanded the gene pool even more and brought black here, while the westerners acquired white "Oran", who has been a stud at a number of farms since then. In January, 2010 we had the opportunity to broaden our genetic base even further by acquiring a beautiful white ewe who originated in a Washington State flock, and produced 2 lovely ram lambs in February. Naomi and her son Boaz (can you tell I like The Book of Ruth) will be bred this fall, with Boaz replacing our sweet Isaac as he goes into retirement.

In regard to our farm name......Pete has a bit of the Scot in his geneology, and while at a Scottish festival we found the term "croft" in a book about Scotland. A "croft" was described as a small land holding (5 acres or so) on the edge of the moors. A crofter grazed his sheep on the moors, and the sheep were not enough to support the crofter, and so he needed a second job. That struck us as highly appropriate, and so we became "The Shepherd's Croft".

At the end of the 4 year contract with Kim and Mike their lives had changed - a house, a baby - and they decided to disperse their flock. It really was a shame, because their Hamps were truly impressive examples of the breed. We kept "Sweets" - named for her sweet disposition - and the rest moved out. This left us with lots of pasture and room to expand our flock, which has grown to about 20 adult animals - just about the right number for the available land. Toni had begun spinning, Pete learned to weave, and exceptional wool was our goal. Today we have a few crossbreds of various percentages and mostly purebreds. Our sheep are spread all over the map - one ram even flew to California, and that is a whole chapter in itself! We have started flocks in Ohio, West Virgina, Tennessee, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and Maine, as well as here in Pennsylvania. Every year we show at the Garden State Sheep Breeders show in New Jersey, and we are at the Breeds Barns in The Garden State Sheep Breeders show in NJ, in September, Rhinebeck, New York in October.

Somewhere along the line we both retired. Pete hasn't done much weaving lately - he has returned to engraving as a hobby - see his work at his website, www.ihandengrave.com. But he is still in charge of fields, fences, and equipment, while Toni is in charge of animals. As he says - "He was already tired - why does he have to "re-tire"?

 

See Pete's work on his website at www.ihandengrave.com