Passionate Pursuits: Ruth Olmsted “Celebrating 25 Years of Raising Sheep”
3/6/13 12:38 PM
By Alicia Jacobs, Excelsior Life News Staff –
Ruth Olmsted, Excelsior College’s associate executive director of the center for educational measurement, has a diversified background of lifelong learning. She is an enthusiast of traditional dance and music. She is also an owner of Shepherd’s Hey Farm in Saratoga County (NY). Excelsior Life sat down with Olmsted to learn about her passion for farming and how she balances her life outside of work.
Excelsior Life: Where did your interest in farming begin?
Olmsted: As a child, I certainly was exposed to farming through visiting my mother's relatives in Ohio during the summer. I didn't really get into farming myself until my husband-to-be, purchased a portion of UAlbany's old Mohawk Campus recreation center in 1986. We began exploring what to raise there and decided on sheep. We acquired the first ones in 1988. Later that year, Larry's job took him to the Adirondacks for extended periods. I began living at the farm to provide daily care for the sheep. The rest is, as they say, history.
Excelsior Life: I understand you raise American Sheep and Toulouse Geese. How did you learn to take care of them?
Olmsted: Actually, the sheep aren't "American," they're mixed-breed (mutt) sheep combining several classic Old World breeds to get good mothering characteristics and colored wool for spinning, as well as good meat. We both attended training sessions provided by Cornell before bringing the first sheep to the farm. We continue to learn from our fellow shepherds and from the sheep themselves. In addition to the geese, we also have two rescued guard llamas and a flock of assorted chickens acquired from kindergarten teachers.
Excelsior Life: Your farm sells natural/chemical free meat, wool, yarn and preserves. What motivated you to make sure eggs and lamb have no added hormones or antibiotics, and are pasture raised?
Olmsted: I guess I'd say we're both hippies at heart, so we like to keep things natural, and our friends and customers appreciate that. We haven't gone to the extra effort and expense of being certified organic, but the grain our sheep eat is human grade -- primarily spent grain from the Albany Pump Station and Druthers microbreweries, and we use portable electric fence to allow them to graze on pasture and brush.
Excelsior Life: Where did the name Shepherd’s Hey Farm come from?
Olmsted: Larry and I met through the Pokingbrook Morris Team (English dance performing group). Shepherd's Hey is the name of one of the dances, and we thought it would be a clever name for the farm.
Excelsior Life: What responsibilities do you have as a farmer? Do you find it difficult to balance farming with your day job?
Olmsted: Every morning before I come in to work, I spend about an hour feeding the animals. Sometimes, if it's muddy or snowy or someone has an emergency, it takes longer, so my day at work starts later than most and extends into the evening to make up for any late arrival.
The responsibilities of a farmer include making several trips a week to the breweries with our truck to pick up the grain. Then there are the “Olympic” events in March and April. The lambs are born, an activity that requires someone to be checking the barn for new arrivals every couple of hours, lots of moving sheep around as they go through the stages of mothering, extra feeding, and sometimes obstetrical emergencies.
Shearing takes place in the spring. It is a one-day event where Larry and I have to lure all the sheep into a tight space and move them one by one to the shearing floor, where their wool is shaved off and bagged, and then they are released back to the herd.
We also haul hay-wagons from a local farm to fill the barn with about 600 bales of hay to last us the winter. During the grazing months, moving the fences can also take significant time. In September, we host hundreds of visitors during the open house event known as Clifton Park Farm Fest. All these activities except the feeding, I share with my husband, which helps to make it possible.
Click here for more information about Shepherd’s Hey Farm.