By Allysa Dupont Rader

On a chilly day in April, my daughter and I had the pleasure of visiting the Walsh family’s sheep farm in Jordanville, NY. Jean Walsh, along with her husband Thomas, have been raising animals on this 38-acre farm for over 25 years.

On the day we arrived, the sun and a snow cloud fought for dominance, and a cold wind blew against us. Jean led us through a small opening in the barn door. Inside, the barn was warm and smelled of sweet hay. A few brave lambs scurried circles around our legs while their mothers cautiously watched the strangers in their home.

In a dark, sheltered corner of the barn, some newly born lambs eagerly sought out their mother’s milk. Jean had prepared bottles of warm milk replacer and handed them to us. She explained that some of the mothers who birthed multiples had rejected one of their lambs, while other mothers did not get their milk in to feed their young.

With a hint of pride in her voice, Jean said with a smile, “I get to be their mama now.”

One of the babies with slate gray curls persistently sought out our bottles, a male who was larger and stronger than the others.

“No more milk for this one. He’s had enough!” Jean exclaimed.

A calm hen nestled in a milk crate filled with hay while her flock-sister stood watch, keeping an eye on us while remaining steadfast on her perch. “A fox got the rest of our flock,” Jean explained.

There was a separated section for the rams, the studs of the farm which seemed twice as large as their female counterparts. Jean breeds her sheep and sells them as live animals, sometimes to those looking to use the animals for meat and others who are interested in starting a flock of their own.

“Recently, I’ve seen an increase in people reaching out since the COVID scare. People have not had access to products that they are used to having. They want to be a little more independent, even if they only have a little bit of land. People are growing their own food, maybe just a few tomato plants but still more than they grew before. And, people want to perceive that they have some control over what’s in their freezers, doing something to provide for themselves so they aren’t 100% dependent on big business and the supermarkets.”

Jean described the meat from her animals as “as natural as it can get. As good as we can get and better than most.”

Jean receives some calls from families looking for only two sheep and calls from others who are looking for more. “If I think they might be successful, I will go out of my way to help them.”

Jean offered some advice to anyone thinking of raising their own sheep, “Do your homework, just like when you are starting anything. Do some research into what you are looking for from your sheep. Do you want spinning wool or meat? Do you want a big or small breed? Choose a breed that will please you to look at because you’re going to be looking at them a lot for a long time. Choose animals that bring you joy.”

Jean has around 50 sheep on her farm, a mix of Suffolks and Dorpers. Their land is enough for the sheep to graze and for a small stash of hay.

Jean invited us into her farmhouse for cookies. Three rocking chairs sat by a wood stove, largest, medium, and smallest, resembling a scene from the bear’s home in Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Jean was raised on a dairy farm in northern Vermont, which sparked her interest in raising animals of her own. After starting her own family, Jean decided to keep sheep to have her own wool. When her children were small, Jean was knitting mittens out of acrylic yarn, but these mittens did not stand up to cold North Eastern winters. She had heard that homespun wool was not only much warmer but also naturally repelled water. When Jean went looking for hand-spun natural wool, she found that it was very difficult to locate. So, Jean found a spinning wheel and some sheep.

“That is how all of this started because I wanted the kids to have warm mittens,” recounts Jean.

Jean and Thomas moved to Jordanville from New Hampshire, where they had a small farm. The rural area where she had once lived in New Hampshire is now very developed, which Jean had foreseen and therefore sought out the rural hills of the Mohawk Valley.

“When we moved here, it was like stepping back in time.”

Jean is still happy they made the move all those years ago.

“Most of the people that I know who are farming are happy; content. It is a different lifestyle. But it’s a good way to raise children. These are the things that matter more.”

You can read more about what is going on at the Walsh family farm by reading Jean’s articles entitled The Mohawk Valley Shepherd in the monthly magazine The Shepherd: A guide for sheep and farm life.

Allysa Rader

Allysa Rader

Allysa was born and raised in the Mohawk Valley and returned after graduating from SUNY Fredonia in 2013.

Allysa spent ten years working full-time in the Human Services field, including domestic violence victim advocacy, social services, and a health homes organization. Allysa is now focusing on homeschooling her daughter and starting a small farm on the property she and her husband, Dusten, own outside Little Falls.

Allysa enjoys gardening, hiking, reading, and creating art.

She strives to write articles that give practical information on self-sufficiency and homesteading and pieces that focus on local farms, homeschooling, and family events in the area.