By Phyl Newbeck
Katherine Knox purchased her first lambs in 2007, when she got sidetracked on a trip to Fletcher by a girl walking a Jersey cow on Spear Street. Soon, more lambs and other farm critters took up residence at her home in Charlotte. Knox christened her operation Hands and Heart Farm, a name she still finds fitting. “As more time goes by,” she said “it really expresses who we are.”
Knox is a part-time reading specialist at Hinesburg Community School, and when the pandemic struck, she and her colleagues were sent home just days before the lambing season began. Her college-age daughters also came home. “It reminded me what a difference it makes having many hands,” Knox said. “I counted my blessings on a daily basis with the land and the animals and being together as a family.”
Knox raises Border Leicester and Romney sheep. The Border Leicesters are sheared every six months and the Romneys every eight months. “I try to plan the shearing around the seasons,” she said “so the fleece stays as clean as possible and the sheep are as happy as possible.” The sheep are sheered before the start of the summer so they stay cool. In the winter they wear coats to keep the hay out of their fleece.
Knox skirts, spins, cards and cleans the wool herself. Initially, she just used it to make blankets, but lately, she is doing more with yarn. “I’ve been having a lot of fun trying out different weights of yarn,” she said. Recently, she has begun adding Merino wool to her farm’s output. “The Border Leicester wool gives it shine,” she said. “The Romneys give it bulk, and the Merino adds another layer of softness. When I have a particularly stressful day at work I can think about the wool and it fills my soul.” Some of the yarn is sold at Must Love Yarn in Shelburne and Norwich Knits in Norwich.
There is a theme to the names of every year’s batch of lambs, and this year’s grouping is named for spices from Aleppo to Oregano. Last year’s lambs were named for trees, and several from that brood remain at the farm. All the lambs are halter-trained during the course of the summer so they get used to being handled.
Knox is proud that Hands and Heart Farm is entirely off the grid. The family just added a new solar array to complement the panels on the barn roof. They also have a small wind turbine. “We have a backup generator,” Knox said “but we haven’t needed it since we put in the newest panels. Hands and Heart Farm is committed to practices that protect the environment, improve land management, and foster animal well-being.”
The farm is a family affair. Knox’s daughter Faith is a UVM student who lives at home. “She’s invaluable,” Knox said. “She has a keen eye and spends a lot of time with the lambs and notices if there is something off.” Faith’s sister Lark attends school in Baltimore, but she also chips in. “She’s very tech savvy,” Knox said. “She created the website and keeps it updated.” Knox’s husband, Brian Thompson, recently retired from IBM. He got a commercial driver’s license and drives for Premier Coach but keeps his schedule open in the mornings so he can help with barn chores. “Sometimes it’s the only time of the day that we have to talk,” Knox said “so it’s been really nice to have that time together.”
Knox enjoys her work as a reading specialist, but is happy that it’s only part time since it gives her more time with her animals. “I have the best of both worlds,” she said. “I love the students I work with and love my professional life, but then I get to come home and put on my grubby farm coat and I love what I do with the animals.”
Hands and Heart Farm is on land that was farmed in the past so Knox is happy to be able to maintain its agricultural heritage. “I’ve been very grateful to have had the animals and this farm during a period when people were isolating,” she said. “Every sheep has a name and we have a relationship with every sheep. They make me laugh and I take a lot of pride in raising them well. That’s one of the reasons I don’t want to get too large. I don’t want to lose that connection with the animals.”