Cindy Had a Little Corriedale Lamb
Who's Fleece She Had to Grow
And how did Cindy Mackenzie find herself shepherding a flock of sheep? She made her dream come true.
As the daughter of two parents who grew up on traditional family farms, Cindy Mackenzie developed "farm envy" at an early age. The cure? One day having a farm of her own.
It didn't happen overnight.
Thinking logically about what sort of farm she would have, computer programmer-recently-gone-shepherd, Cindy considered what was important to her ? the idea of raising animals humanely, sustainably and for what they could produce, other than a meal. And she followed her heart.
As a girl, Cindy visited her family's farm during summers off and even raised chickens and a pair of orphaned lambs at home with her sister. Later, at 28, she left her job and traveled to Australia with the Peace Corps where she met her husband, who had grown up caring for his own family's small flock of colored sheep.
Cindy saw sheep in her future.
She wanted a farm, she loved the sheep she had raised as a girl, her husband had grown up tending a flock ? what other motivation did she need? There's more.
As a hobbyist who spun wool, she knew first-hand the demand for high quality fleece that could be handspun. She had even developed a lasting relationship with Dick and Gretchen Regnery, the owners of Whitefish Bay Farm, who began by selling her their premium wool and would later become the mentors for her own Observatory Hill Farm.
After buying an abandoned 47-acre dairy pasture with her husband in 2000 and slowly preparing the fields, building the barns, removing pesky invasive (and poisonous) plants by hand and installing the portable electric fencing; it was August of 2010, and it was time to give shepherding her full attention. The result today is a very busy Cindy and a flock of happy sheep.
Wearing jackets to protect and ensure the quality of their wool, this fluffy bunch lives to graze and stand in the shade. They eat within the boundaries of each of their paddocks, eating first the things they like and then picking at the things they'd rather not eat until Cindy has to mow what's left -- including her own front yard!
They move as one—the flock.
Split into groups, based on age and gender, the mini-flocks graze and think as one. On hot days they even breathe as one, panting to cool off. Like Cindy's shepherd dogs, her sheep don't sweat.
Protecting her flock from predators, mainly coyotes, are Cindy's two very large Anatolian Shepherds, Kara and Cazip. Using voices other than their booming bark, they mimic the coyotes to keep them distant. Thanks to this canine protection, the flock can eat, wander and sleep without worrying about a thing.
From spring and summer to sweater
The sheep's wool grows for a year before it is sheared in February. From there, Cindy sells it, and they all, including Cindy, start over.
Starting over means that Cindy stays busy increasing the edible acreage, growing the flock, developing the business -- and getting her processes down to a science so that someday she might get a little downtime.
Right now downtime is sparse, and that's all right. Because for Cindy, living her dream is so much more involved than sitting back and counting sheep.