We raise both hair sheep, which naturally shed their coats, and wool sheep, which are sheared for their wool, on pasture. Some of the genetics in the flock go back to when Bonnie first began raising sheep in 1977. When Bonnie and Craig decided to raise sheep organically, the shift was made to Katahdin genetics for the meat sheep and Shetlands were brought into the wool flock. Since then, we have also bred in Dorper and Clun genetics. These breeds all have the genetic potential for organic production. They are good mothers and have innate resistance to disease and parasites.
Lambs are born on pasture in the spring. After a summer of grazing and milk from Mama Ewe, they are weaned and put on the best forage the farm can offer in the fall. When cold weather comes in the fall, lambs are given free-choice hay to provide them with the energy they need.
Lambs are sold when they reach their mature grass-finished weights of 75-100 pounds (depending on breed). This is between 10 and 14 months of age. The best lambskins are selected after slaughter and sent to Bucks County Fur Products in Pennsylvania or Vermont Natural Sheepskins to be tanned. The wool sheep are shorn before lambing and the wool is taken to regional fiber mills for cleaning and spinning.
Sheep are a joy to raise, especially in a natural, low-input system such as Pine Knob’s. The Pine Knob ewes are vigorous and fertile and lamb easily on pasture. They rarely require birthing assistance and there is a very low lamb mortality rate. We do not need to use vaccines, instead maintaining their health through preventative natural methods. Tail docking is performed only on wool breed crosses that need docking to keep them clean. The sheep are closely monitored for internal parasites–the biggest challenge of organic production–and rotated on pasture to limit parasite exposure. If needed, we will administer copper boluses to diminish the parsite load. If the animal is so overburdened organic-approved methods are no longer effective, we will administer synthetic parasiticides to ensure the well-being of a lamb and live up to our personal standards of ethical husbandry. Any lambs treated with non-organic approved parasiticides give up their “organic status” and are not sold under the Pine Knob brand, instead being sold to conventional markets. While we pride ourselves on our organic practices, we believe in always acting in the best interest of our animals, even if that means forfeiting our traditional markets.
Sheep need protection from “external parasites” too. Although the presence of the cattle is a help (coyotes
don’t mess with a 1300 pound cow!), we have a Maremma livestock protection dog to keep them safe from coyotes and roaming dogs.
After a few years reprieve, we’re excited to have cattle back on the Pine Knob Farm. In the spring of 2017, we introduced a small herd of Scottish Highlanders. These shaggy-haired cows stand out on the field with their long locks and striking handlebar horns. These highly efficient foragers are extremely mellow and well suited for our small-scale pasture-based farm. Known for their lean and flavorful beef, Pine Knob will be excited to introduce their meat to the market by summer of 2019, when our first steer calves are raised to maturity.
Our calves are born at Pine Knob from early spring through fall. They’re born on pasture and graze with their dams, the rest of the herd, and the flock from day one. The calves are separated only for weaning, which happens in time for Mother Cow to gather her resources to nurture next year’s unborn calf. We wean using a low-stress fence line method, allowing calves to see and even touch noses with their mothers across the fence instead of separating them across multiple pastures.
Steers, and heifers not being kept as herd replacements, are sold when they reach mature grass-finished weights of 1100-1500 pounds at 24 months or less of age.
The cattle are selected for organic production and given the preventative care and supplementation they need in the form of Redmond mineral salt and kelp. When needed, organically approved treatments, and inputs are used. If an animal cannot be maintained in good health through preventative care and natural treatments, conventional medications are used and “organic status” is given up. This happens only in rare situations and these cattle are not sold for meat under the Pine Knob name. We believe in beyond-organic standards when it comes to our production methods. However, our commitment to ethical treatment means we’ll do everything we can to maintain the health of our herd even if it means we can’t sell it in our typical markets.