Day in the life: A Romney Farmer
Posted on August 25 2021
Charlene Carlisle is an ICU nurse by night and an avid Romney shepherd every hour of the day. We're glad and grateful that she took time to tell us a little about her farm, Little Hooves, and her life with sheep.
First a little background: Your farm is a family operation. Can you tell a little of the history of the farm? When did you introduce Romneys? And why Romneys?
Our farm was previously a dairy farm and the cows left about 18 years ago. While the cows were still here, our middle daughter wanted to start a sheep 4H project. I had always loved sheep and didn’t want to deter her. So, in 1994 we started out with two lambs and a ewe from a local 4H leader who was trying to get Romneys more established with youth.
We loved their teddy bear look but didn’t know anything about fiber or fleece. So we began learning all we could by participating in 4H shows and joining the American Romney Breeders Association. We started traveling to larger and larger shows while expanding the flock. When our daughter went off to college she assumed that we would be selling the sheep, but by that time I was hooked and knew that I wanted to stay involved. When the cows left, the barns started filling up with sheep and soon there were about 300 Romneys looking back at me each day.
What’s unique about Romney? Please describe the sheep, its history, characteristics, what you love about it.
Romneys are the best of both worlds. They grow quickly whether you need them for shows, breeding, or fine-dining cuisine. Their fiber is highly sought after by hand spinners, crafters, and wool mills. There is nothing better than parting a fleece and seeing that crimp and luster! My favorite crimp is one that looks like a “crinkle-cut French fry with shine.”
Romneys are sturdy and thick with great personalities. I often joke that I like my sheep like I like my men. But, in reality, there’s just one man, Kenny, and I have been with him since I was 15. He’s the part of the equation that makes this all work. If it weren't for my husband, I would never have had this farm life, nor would I be able to travel to shows while he stays home and tends to the flock and the crops.
Tell us something about the life of a Romney. Are they outside mostly in summer? Do they exist on what they can graze? What happens in winter? What is lambing season like?
The life of a Romney here at Little Hooves is pretty great. In the spring, summer, and fall they have access to pasture and barn and go in and out as they please. They usually graze in the morning and evening when temperatures cool down. When pastures become dormant, they eat hay that we've grown ourselves. We also grow corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, and alfalfa hay so we produce most of their diet.
We also partner with a local brewery. The spent grain left over from the brewing process produces a great feed that is high in protein. We incorporate it into our feed ration. Using spent grain is our way of being “green” and recycling. Otherwise, the brewery would have to pay a large disposal fee to have it hauled away.
Lambing season is pretty busy with just myself and my husband. We don’t have any employees, but the grandkids love to help on weekends and last winter while they were doing school virtually, we had the best help ever. We usually lamb out about 100-120 ewes with many sets of twins and triplets and for the last 4 years, we have had a set of quads born that the ewe was able to raise with minimal assistance. Another reason to have Romneys: They are easy lambers and great mothers.
What does a day in the life of Charlene look like?
I work off the farm as an ICU nurse on nightshift and as a shepherd/farmer during the day. My husband farms full-time. It takes both of us to keep everything going. He does essentially all the field work on about 450 acres with help from me during baling time. I focus mostly on the sheep and lambs and the marketing of wool, breeding livestock, and farmer’s market sales, with him figuring feed rations and pasture management. It is a great partnership, and I’m not sure I could do it with anyone else.
What does a good fleece look like? What do you do with most of your fleece? You spin some into yarn and you sell fleece to spinners, too?
My favorite fleece is a bold, bright, lustrous one, in either white or naturally colored. Our fleeces are clean with minimal VM (vegetable matter). We shear twice per year, which works best in our farm management practice. I do have blankets woven to sell, and some yarn spun for us, but for the most part I sell raw fleece. I have a following of hand spinners who come and buy fleeces every year. I invite local guilds, neighbors, and spinners to come on shearing day, when they can pick what fleeces they want and take them right home. I also sell over the internet by providing samples and pictures. There is a fashion designer in DC that buys wool to blend with other fibers for some very exquisite designs. I also donate fleece to local 4H’ers or home-school moms for projects. I do pretty much whatever it takes to get our wool out there. Unfortunately, I do not spin myself but have a wide network of fiber friends who have offered to teach me.
Why do you raise sheep?
I've just always loved sheep. As the area we live in became highly developed, and we were getting older and our kids went off to college, sheep just seemed an easier fit than Holsteins. Less manure management, less labor intensive (no milking twice per day), and we could do it on our own. Our grown kids are always just a phone call away, but we try not to impose on them any more than is absolutely necessary.
Are you a knitter?
Sad to say I am not--at least, not yet! But there is still time.