Sheep have been part of the experience at Blackberry Farm for the past several years, but have been raised in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains since the turn of the last century. One old timer in West Millers Cove tells tale of the days before World War I when sheep were run from down in the cove to the balds or non-wooded fields high up in the mountains such as Gregory’s Bald, the path for which runs through the aptly named Sheep Pen Gap.
There are many classifications of sheep. At Blackberry Farm, two breeds were selected to create a cross ideally suited to this place. The flock is made up of predominately East Friesians. This breed hails from northern Germany and Holland. They are renowned for their milk production and provide lamb and wool as well. The high volume of milk produced from East Friesians requires more forage than the other breed in the flock, the Karakul. This breed does not make as much milk as the East Friesian, but eats proportionately less to produce what it does. So the Karakul is a more efficient transformer of pasture into milk. In addition, the Karakul breed is more resilient to disease. The intention of crossing these two breeds then is to create a flock of sheep that efficiently produce the most milk possible from the pasture available here while maintaining optimum health within the flock.
For 11,000 years, humankind and sheep have depended on each other. The livestock team at Blackberry Farm takes great pride in calling themselves shepherds, recognizing the heritage related to this alliance. The role of the livestock team as shepherds is to care for and milk the sheep. This care includes ensuring adequate supplies of food and water, trimming feet, shearing, and rotating the sheep on different pastures. Once the pregnant ewes have birthed in January and February, the team begins milking the sheep each day of the lactation period that generally lasts until late August or September. While here, you are encouraged to view the milking at the Dairy. What you may observe is that sheep are gregarious by nature
and have an established social network within the flock. They band together for reassurance and protection. They are very communicative, using their ears, stomping, nodding, and glaring, as well as using different tones in their "baaing” to convey their message, which a shepherd grows to understand. What you may not know is that sheep recognize faces for up to two years and have been known to recognize fifty different faces. Sheep have thirty-two teeth as adults with a hard palette on the roof of their mouth. Sheep live for approximately six to fourteen years and are ruminants - animals with a four compartment stomach. Once on the farm, spend some time with our shepherds and the sheep and ewe may just be one of the faces they recognize!