Arianna McCann, 14, of WoodSong Farm and her family won a free sheep through the (YCP) Youth Conservation Program for Heritage Breed Sheep.
The YCP gives a helping hand to youth (9-18) who are dreaming of being shepherds, McCann said. Youngsters must write an essay about why it is important to preserve heritage sheep breeds to enter the contest. Entries are collected and sent to farmers who in turn select the recipients.
The program helps to preserve heritage sheep to maintain their important and diverse genetics.
“When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a shepherdess and care for my own sheep,” McCann said. She added that one of her favorite books was “Ida And The Wool Smugglers,”
by Sue Ann Anderson, “because I felt that I was Ida protecting my sheep.
“One day, we were at Tractor Supply, and my mom called me to where the magazines were displayed. Excitedly, we both read an article entitled, ‘How to Win a Rare Breeds Sheep.’ We wrote down the information, called the director to learn more about the program.”
McCann then “immediately wrote a big essay, helped make a milk/shearing stand with my dad, helped build a pallet barn, and did a lot of fencing,” she said. “That year (2013) I didn’t win anything, but I tried again, and won my very own ewe. My family and I have been attending ever since, and this year, we won an unexpected Finnsheep ewe.”
Last year, McCann said she was among the YCP donors, and did not compete in the program.
“None of us expected that one of my old essays had been read, and had started a surprising chain of events,” she said, and added that a shepherdess who submitted an essay for a Finnsheep was unable to pick up her new ewe, “so the beautiful and shepherd-less ewe, Bandit, was gifted to us. We were beyond delighted and honored. That was such an exciting day getting such a precious new black Finnsheep, and I hope this year that we will be able to meet our surprise donors from Fair Winds Farm in Quarryville, Penn.”
Bandit was named from a mask that she had when born, McCann said, adding the sheep “comes from a fine line of mothers that produce quadruplets after their first lambing year. Finnsheep are unique and wonderful because they are able to lamb in litters. Finnsheep can have 6,7,8, even 9 lambs at a time,” she said, adding that nine is rare, but quads are normal for the breed. “You can imagine why shepherds from around the world are interested in preserving the unique genetics of Finnsheep and using these traits to improve their own flock’s productivity. As you can imagine, we will have plenty of Finn lambs to find new homes. Bandit did her fair share of mothering this year by having triplets, and babysitting everyone else’s lambs with her own,” McCann said. “She is a fine example of the breed producing large quantities of milk, stellar fleece, with amazing mothering skills. Finnsheep are also known for their friendliness, making them easy to manage with a very nice soft fleece. We love our new Finnsheep.”
“Each and every one of these rare and sometimes endangered heritage breeds of sheep are important to preserve because of their unique genetics. Some of these important traits are good mothering (as in the Karakuls), heavy milk production (as in the Finnsheep), easy lambing, soft and strong wool (as in the CVM), parasite resistance (as in the Gulf Coast Native), unique horns (as in the Jacob), fast growing lambs (as in the Tunis), large litters (as in the Finnsheep), intelligence (as in the Icelandic), and so much more,” McCann said. “Wouldn’t you want such benefits as these in your flock? By preserving these sheep, the YCP is promoting the health and welfare of many sheep flocks to come.
Last year, McCann said she and her family participated in the Patrick County Fair and demonstrated how to process wool, basically taking the raw fleece and making it into a finished clothing article.
“We told others about the program, and we were delighted to hear that one of the youth from the year before was now a participant and had his own heritage Navaho Churro ewe. It was great to see his enthusiasm as he explained how they had made her fleece into yarn.”
This coming year, “we are excited to partner together demonstrating our heritage wool sheep, and how to use their fiber. Maybe you can come and meet Bandit and her lambs at the Patrick County Fair,” McCann said. “Sheep are wonderful, and I invite you to write to win a sheep of your own. The first year, I did not win anything, but the blessings have just continued to stack up just like the sheep. I am now a shepherd of my very own herd, and I would not change a thing. I am so thankful for this program and the opportunities I have been given and to my loving sheep.”
Those interested in trying to win a “free Heritage breed of sheep must write an essay (preferably two pages or less) explaining where you would keep your sheep, what your chores would be, your experience with livestock, and then what your interests are in a heritage breed of sheep. You will also need to send a letter of recommendation from your FFA adviser, veterinarian, clergy, teacher, or 4-H advisor,” McCann said.
To specify if a certain breed of sheep is preferred and include a phone number, age, email, and address. For other information, visit www.sheepandwool.org/festival/youth-conservationist-program/