By Lydia Smith | Contributor
As Charlotters, we take great pride in our legacy, striving to leave behind a world better than we found. Some select a “greener” car or use only reusable shopping bags; that is their contribution. Me? I raise sheep—heritage sheep, to be exact. Heritage breeds are breeds that retain the majority of their traditional characteristics. They are the sheep you find in paintings of English hillsides. The genetic diversity contained in the dwindling numbers of these breeds is astounding. They are amazing sheep, known for their hardiness and beauty.
I have the pleasure of working with two heritage breeds—Border Leicesters and Lincoln Longwools. Together, they make up Echo Ridge Flock. I started Echo Ridge Flock in 2012 with two Border Leicester lambs. I exhibit my flock at several local fairs. Between showing sheep, shearing sheep, training sheep, and trimming sheep I am quite busy in the summers. It is worth every minute of it. The fairs are an opportunity to educate the public about sheep while having fun with a great group of kids. My sheep have gained a reputation for being quite friendly, and they love all the attention at the fair. There is nothing better than watching a small child discover the wonder that is sheep kisses for the first time.
Like in many aspects of the farming industry, farmers are aging. Some breeders are looking to inspire the next generation of shepherds; many youth struggle as they attempt to build their own flock. The Youth Sheep Conservationist Program is designed to connect the two. Youth walk from the program with not only a purebred yearling ewe, but a mentor to guide them.
The first weekend of May brings donors and recipients together at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. To apply, applicants must be between 9 and 18 years old and submit a short essay describing themselves and their interest in heritage sheep. Essays are due April 1. This is an opportunity to honor the past while being in the present and protecting the future.
Contact Elaine Ashcraft for a list of this year’s breeds and more information about the program at firstname.lastname@example.org.