Jami Beintema, co-owner of Cooke Creek Sheep Farm and all around lovely lady, took a few minutes out of her busy day to answer a few questions – read on!
Do you have a favorite breed?
This is a little like asking a mother which of her children might be her favorite. Each breed is unique and has attributes different from the others that make it so. I like Texels for their calm temperament, great milking ability and how they turn grass into a fantastic carcass. You can put a Texel ram on a bunch of raggedy ugly, skinny ewes and get some really decent lambs. They stamp their muscling on crossbred lambs like no other breed I’ve experienced. I like Coopworths for their incredible mothering abilities and ease of lambing and they are long-lived and reliable and sensible ewes. They also have wonderful wool. I love the Texel/Coopworth crosses.
How big is your flock these days?
We currently have 19 ewes, 3 adult rams and 5 ram lambs growing out. We worked our way up to 50 ewes and a handful of rams until last year when we sold a large number of adult ewes and ewe lambs in our registered and crossbred flocks. We’ve always sold quite a few breeding rams every year but didn’t let go of a lot of ewes. This will probably be our last year for marketing purebred rams. In 2011, I began working off the farm again after a few years of working from a home office and it made a big impact on our collective time to deal with 80+ lambs every spring and then marketing 80+ lambs every summer after weaning. Marketing breeding stock is very time-consuming and takes lots of phone calls, emails and buyers want pictures and stats and blood testing for different things. For every sheep sold out of state, a vet inspection and health papers must be done. So, we thought we’d just sell meat lambs to the commercial buyer so we did more crossbreeding and less breeding of purebred stock for a year or so. Prices fell sharply last year for commercial lambs, so we re-prioritized and decided to downsize. My husband wanted to ride his horses more and I wanted to go to some sheepdog trials with my Border Collies and work on putting a hand-spinners flock together that I could work my dogs on and still raise enough lambs to fill our yearly direct-market customers for locker lambs. After working so hard on a really nice breeding program, it was hard to let so many wonderful ewes leave the farm but with them being in their prime, we were also fortunate that others appreciated the quality of our ewes so they sold in large groups which made us happy.
What’s your favorite part about keeping sheep?
Lambing is a blast. It’s exciting, exhausting, frustrating, exhilarating all in a 3 1/2 week span of a sleepless time-warp. Baby lambs, like puppies, have a special smell and they are so sweet and cuddly until they are too fast to catch, which takes about a week. It’s like running a maternity ward and it’s bustling around the house. There is always a load of towels washing or drying, bottles drying next to the sink and my hands are chapped from washing them over and over and we are out “checking butts” at regular intervals. If it’s really cold and windy out, there might be a lamb in the house warming up temporarily before going back out to mama.
Another favorite is shearing time and the wool clip. It’s like getting a big beautiful gift from the ewes every year. With the exception of a few purchased elsewhere, every ewe we have was born on our place and I met them within minutes of birth or may have helped them come into the world and know them well. My husband always asks me which sheep is which and I don’t understand why he can’t keep track of the individuals. I am more attached to the sheep than I’d like to admit. I know they are “livestock” and yes, we eat a lot of lamb in our house, so we are practical about why we have them, but still it’s very rewarding to be a good shepherd and provide them a good life. Humane treatment is really important to us and has been from the get-go.
Lastly, I so enjoy watching them out in the fields in the spring and summer months when it’s green and they are belly-high in fresh pastures grazing.