Monterey sheep farmer mentors 4-H students

Published 12:10 am Sunday, December 4, 2011

Raylyn Harkins, 9, of Vidalia, plays with one of her show lambs at Brandy Lipsey’s sheep farm in Monterey on Wednesday.

MONTEREY — Brandy Lipsey does not want a single one of her lambs to go astray, but if one does, she has a few good shepherds to help bring it back to the fold.

Approximately 30 Hampshire and Suffolk ewes live at Lipsey’s farm in Monterey. Lipsey said while most people get up close to livestock and goats, sheep are more foreign to these parts.

Lipsey, at top, mentors Concordia Parish 4-H students in sheep showing. Lipsey showed sheep herself, and has passed on her knowledge through the community outreach program she created, called Flock of Faith.

“Most people don’t get much exposure to sheep,” Lipsey said. “You might have to drive hundreds of miles to see real sheep. And lots of kids have never felt real wool.”

Lipsey started Flock of Faith as a personal community outreach project last year, but she has been showing sheep through 4-H since she was 8 years old.

“I did until I was 19 and couldn’t show anymore,” Lipsey said.

On the business side, Lipsey makes a profit by selling the sheep to market, but six students in Concordia Parish show lambs through Flock of Faith at no charge to the families.

“The kids do this for their 4-H projects,” Lipsey said. “They tend to them — feeding, watering and bathing the sheep.”

Lipsey said two of her students, Raylyn Harkins, 9, of Vidalia and Emily Guillot, 10, of Monterey, have taken their education further, as they have learned to give medicine and even antibiotic shots.

“Giving shots is a little scary,” Harkins said.

Because Harkins lives in Vidalia, no farm animals are allowed in the city limits. Lipsey said her flock is a good opportunity for children to get a sense of farm life.

“Emily didn’t want to touch the sheep at first,” Lipsey said. “But now she is 10th in (sheep showing) standings in the whole state.”

Lipsey said she calls her lambs the Flock of Faith because the sheep are a blessing to her. She said Bible stories are everywhere.

4-H students Emily Guillot, 10, and Raylyn Harkins pet their show lambs after feeding them Wednesday. The students are given multiple responsibilities at Flock of Faith, including feeding, watering, bathing and administering medication for the flock.

“Like the Bible story where the one sheep went astray and the shepherd found it,” Lipsey said. “We have lots of those lessons.”

Lipsey said one day she pulled up to the farm to find a local pastor staring at the sheep.

“He was comparing a Bible (lesson) to my flock,” Lipsey said. “It’s been a blessing, not only to my life, but in many other ways.”

Lipsey said the pastor went on to preach a series of sermons on sheep, using her flock as an example.

Bandit, Lipsey’s sheep dog, is also integral to the flock.

“He protects the mamas and even cleans the babies when they are born,” Lipsey said.

Part of the 4-H project includes sheep shearing. Harkins and Guillot said they are both proficient using the shears.

“It’s like a man’s big, automatic razor,” Guillot said. “You shear them straight.”

Guillot demonstrated on her lamb, Gracie, by dragging her hands vertically down her back.

“The wool feels like carpet,” she said. “We shear them in the summer to keep them cool. When we are done, we spray (conditioner) on them and they are so soft.”

Lipsey said one of the most rewarding aspects of having children tending to the sheep is hearing the laughter.

“It’s fun for them, but they are also learning responsibility,” Lipsey said. “Now I don’t even have to tell them what to do. They take tasks upon themselves, and the sheep depend on them.”

Lipsey said through 4-H, the students also have an opportunity to befriend other children with common interests.

That is what Harkins likes the most about Flock of Faith.

“It’s fun to be able to meet new people and interact with animals,” she said. “I used to be more of a rabbit-hamster-dogs kind of person.”

Lipsey said the community has been supportive of Flock of Faith. She had help welding the barn together, and a state trooper friend made her sign.

“When I go to the store, they don’t ask how I am, they ask, ‘How are the sheep?’” Lipsey said, laughing.

Upcoming shows include the Ag expo in Monroe, La., in January and the state show in February. In June, the students will be showing every weekend.

approximately 30 Suffolk and Hampshire ewes live at the farm. Director Brandy Lipsey said families might have to drive hundreds of miles to see a flock of sheep.

Students train to show the sheep by using a halter, or leash that wraps around their heads. They practice bracing — a show technique where the students hold the back of the neck and under the chin, causing the lamb to stretch and pose for the judges.

“It makes them look prettier, more eye-appealing,” Lipsey said. “They tense their muscles and show off for the judges. But when they are showing, there is no halter.”

Lipsey said that is where student/lamb trust comes in.

“There is a bond that the kids and sheep make,” Lipsey said. “They have to trust each other.”

The students have won belt buckles, money and prizes at shows.

Lipsey said sheep live about 10 years, and are considered lambs until 17 months, but the mortality rate for baby lambs is very high.

“Some people say sheep are the only animals that are born looking for a place to die,” Lipsey said.

In lambing season, it’s usually cold, and Lipsey said she and her mother take turns checking on the lambs every two hours throughout the night.

“They get too cold, they get stepped on, they don’t nurse,” Lipsey said. “It’s hard to get away, especially during lambing.”

Lipsey said the farm has an open door policy for anyone who is curious to learn more about sheep. This summer, Lipsey said she plans on opening a showmanship workshop to teach young people who want to learn.

For more information, visit www.fofshowlambs.com or the Facebook page called Flock of Faith.