“Immigrant” has become a dirty word in this country. This is pretty ironic, since most of our forebears were immigrants. But many of us have forgotten that there is a right way, as well as a wrong way, to come to this country. We recently were privileged to see the fruit of immigration done the right way.
About 18 months ago, a young couple drove down our 400-foot driveway and looked at the sheep grazing on either side of them. This is not an unusual event for us.
This family asked about the sheep and indicated that they were interested in having sheep. Well, we are always interested in talking about sheep so we were off to a good start.
They wondered if we had any land available, and, as it happened, we had lost our beloved quarter-horse rather recently and there is nothing more empty than a field without a horse.
When I asked how many sheep they were interested in having, the wife replied “Oh, about 50.”
At that moment I learned two things: First, English was not her first language, and second, they knew nothing about sheep. So that was the beginning of our first conversation.
This small family had been in the U.S. for about six years, coming from Uzbekistan. The couple had two children, a young teenage daughter and a firecracker of a 5-year-old son.
I suggested that they contact the Penn State Ag College for guidance and they did. They ended up with a sheep breeder in Lancaster County who sold them four (not 50) sheep — a meat sheep breed called Dorpers. They bought three ewes and a ram, which was very appropriate for the size of the field we provided.
Then the fun began. My small flock of Cheviot sheep are wool sheep, not meat sheep, and they are about half the size of Dorpers. Much of the care and breeding of sheep is the same, regardless of the breed. But not all of it. Fortunately, a friend of mine who is very sheep-wise, stepped in and aided me, becoming the main mentor of the new shepherds.
Amet, the husband, spent five days a week traveling the Eastern U.S. in his 18-wheeler, and the other two days transforming our empty pasture into a perfect example of a sheep farm. He pruned trees, he repaired fences, he invented feeders, he mowed. There was nothing this man didn’t do. Especially when you find out he was no farmer — he was a city boy with a farmer-dream.
His wife, Amira, did her share of the work in her boots and gloves, and became the amateur veterinarian that every flock needs.
It was so great to watch, reminding me of all my years in the sheep world.
There were highs and lows — the birthing of the first five lambs was such a joy. The discovery that Dorpers are subject to an evil stomach worm that must be eliminated as quickly as possible was the most difficult.
Since many meat sheep breeds are able to breed year-round, they quickly had two batches of lambs — a total of 14 animals.
We invested in a flock of 10 chickens that Amet picked up on his way through North Carolina so we could share the eggs.
Then we got the good/bad news. Amira had been offered a great job in Winston-Salem N.C. and they would be moving there within a month.
They were able to take the sheep back to the breeder to be sold, I found a new home for five of the chickens and our adventure was over.
It was so sudden. We had become an extended family and I was the American Grandma. It was a blow to all of us in different ways. No more shared Fourth-of-July picnics. Not another Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas together. The end of the swimming parties on hot days. Never again would Amira show up at the front door with goodies from Wegmans.
They were moving on to the next step in their adventure and again we had an empty field.
But that has been the story of Immigration in America for several centuries. One step leads to another, as it should.
We are so thankful that we had our part of their adventure and wish them all the best down South.
Their field is very quiet. All of Amet’s projects are still — it just cries out for animals. Hopefully we will be able to make them available to others again — the present plan is to invite some 4-H kids to make use of it all. But it was great while it lasted and we have had 18 months of wonderful memories to savor.
These young people re-introduced us to sheep and introduced us to the wool world. We have spent many happy years tending our flock of Cheviots and using their beautiful fleeces.
But now age caught up with us and we have small group of ewe pets and a helpful shepherd. And an empty field.
Who knows what the future holds?
Toni Kellers is a retired math teacher and a semi-retired farmer. She lives in Bedminster.