Early in December of 2017, Rick and I bought a home in Hillsville, Virginia, in hopes of retiring there later this year. At the time, the decision was rather impulsive; we had decided to retire “someday” nearer to our children who live in North Carolina and Florida, but we had been browsing the real estate market for quite some time without actually buying anything. When we made the offer on the house in Hillsville, we had no reason to believe that it would go any further than the offers we had put in on many previous homes — but this one was different. In the end, we bought this one, and that fact nudged us into actually thinking about what our retirement would look like and when it might occur. We’ve been working to figure it out ever since, with fairly firm plans now in place. We’ll be moving this summer.
There are many parts to this relocation, since we are moving not only ourselves and our three working dogs, but also the llamas, at least some of the sheep, and a couple of barn cats. There is work to be done on the new home before we move in, fencing to erect, and a barn to build, and we’ve been working hard to get all of that put together in time for our relocation. Although I’m not planning to retire from shepherding, we decided that we’ll need to reduce the size of the flock by about half — both for transport and to reduce the workload once we arrive. Shepherding is hard enough, and neither Rick nor I are getting any younger. If done right, fewer sheep will mean less work, and that sounds like a good step towards semi-retirement.
I will admit that I’ve struggled with this decision to reduce the flock. The sheep are not only my work and my income, but over the years, many have become my close friends. We’ve birthed lambs together and survived crises. We’ve lost good friends and welcomed new ones. Shepherding is a way of life for me, and it wouldn’t be possible without my ovine friends. Yet I understand the importance of cutting back, and I’ve tried to balance two different aspects: reduce the flock to create the least work for us in our semi-retirement, yet keep enough sheep to supply our fleece and lamb markets and to continue my work in sheep color genetics.
After a bit of thought, I realized that cutting each breed’s numbers in half was not the answer. Reducing in this way would still mean keeping the same number of rams and running the same number of breeding groups each fall. Yet it would leave us with few breeding lambs for sale each spring, since we only sell a small percentage of our lambs as breeders. Cutting each breed in half results in too-small numbers for much of anything. Even my work in color genetics would be severely impaired due to the low numbers that I’d have available for testing my ideas.
No, the better option is to sell off one of our two breeds and keep the other. This will allow our small business to continue in that remaining breed — lambs, fleece, and research into sheep color genetics. The next decision is which breed would stay and which will go. I purposely approached this decision without thinking about specific sheep; the generalities make the decision easier, while the specifics make it nearly impossible.
In the end we made the decision to sell off our Romney flock and to move the Romeldales to Virginia. Although this was not an easy decision, it’s the right one for us. I have about thirty Romneys in our current flock, plus the breeding lambs they now carry (and will begin to arrive starting this week!). They are a combination of white color carriers and colored sheep of various patterns. All will be sold off over the coming months, except for one or two who I know won’t sell — either because of age or genetics — and will therefore move with the Romeldale flock to Virginia. Because I want to continue my work with color genetics in the Romneys, I will maintain my membership in the American Romney Breeders Association and my work on their associated Science Panel, at least for the time being.
This decision was not an easy one. There is nothing lovelier than a contaminant-free high-luster Romney fleece that opens into finger-sized staples as it is rolled for sale. There is no sheep mellower than the stoic Romney, many of whom will stand calmly as I change their coats without having to hold them in place. I love the breed, and I love the individual Romneys in my flock. My decision was based on many factors and considerations, and it was only possible because I know that my Romneys will all go to good homes where they will be appreciated for what they have to offer. Thankfully, we have enough of a reputation for quality breeding that I needn’t be concerned for their futures.
I’ve begun a waiting list for people looking to buy our Romney sheep. This posting is the first public announcement of our decision, so I expect that list to grow. This year’s skirting has been bittersweet as I prepare our Romney fleeces for sale — they are the loveliest ever, and this will be the last shearing at our farm for nearly all of these ewes. This lambing, too, will be a combination of both excitement in seeing the exceptional lambs our Romney flock produces, and sadness in knowing that they will be good productive sheep elsewhere — not here, and not for us. I will end by saying this: I love my Romneys, and I hope that some of you will too!