Last spring, we made the decision to reduce our Romney flock of sheep and to begin a process of switching to Gotland sheep. Last summer, we began selling our breeding ewes and finding new homes for those sheep who could no longer be bred, making room for the new flock of Gotland sheep that would arrive to our farm in December. I found the process difficult, as these sheep were born here on our farm and had become part of our farm family. By August, I only had a small number of Romney sheep left, some were my top breeders and a couple were my “old girls,” retired from breeding. I decided to hold on to these ewes, trying to keep my feet in both the world of Gotlands and Romneys.
Then, I received a phone call from a man who said he wanted to purchase my sheep. At that moment, I had to make a decision about whether to move forward with Gotlands or hold back my Romneys. This man and his wife were just starting out with sheep, I could hear the excitement in his voice. I knew my Romneys would be well loved and cared for. So I made the decision to sell.
As soon as Amanda and Alberto pulled into our drive, I knew they were kindred spirits and that I had made the right decision. I want to introduce you to this couple and their farm, Prado de Lana, because I know you too will love hearing their story and will want to fill your knitting bag with their yarn!
Tell us about your farm name.
It took us forever to think of a name. Since Alberto is from Mexico, we thought that a Spanish name might be unique. “Prado de Lana” means Wool Meadow.
Tell us about your fiber journey. Do you and your husband have experience with farming?
My name is Amanda Barcenas and my husband, Alberto and I have started our very first flock of sheep! Both of us come from an agricultural background, mine in animal science and his in agronomy. We have successfully raised chickens for egg production and have grown an organic vegetable garden for the past couple of years. There’s just something about growing your own food and working the land. We have two children, Sammy (6) and Noelia (almost 3). They are involved with everything that we do. Sammy is in charge of feeding Meadow, our Great Pyrenees, collecting eggs, and is our official lamb snuggler. Noelia is my little helper. She goes with me everywhere to do whatever needs to be done. Her love of animals reminds me of myself when I was her age.
My grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, but I never kept up with it until I was put on bed rest while pregnant with Noelia. It was something that I could do to keep my hands busy and my mind from wandering. That’s probably when I really fell in love with yarn and the clicking of the needles that produced something that I could actually wear! From there, I picked up crocheting. I have to say that as of late, I tend to favor crocheting over knitting because it’s so fast! And with two kids running all over, fast is what works. Slowly, I have moved into needle felting and love it. My head spins with all the possibilities and things that I can make.
Tell me about your experience of picking up your sheep and bringing them home.
We put our bags away and Kim took me into her fiber studio. Awesome! Colors and textures filled the room. She showed me some yarn from one of the sheep that we would be taking back with us. The color and feel were exquisite. From there, they took us out to the pasture to meet the sheep. Hazel, the gray colored ewe that we would be taking, came right up to us, as if we were old friends. Even on our farm now, she is still the welcome wagon. Holly, her twin sister, soon followed after her. That’s when it hit me, touching them and rubbing their backs, scrunching my fingers in their fleece, coming nose to nose with them, my dream was coming true! I fell like at that moment too, Kim realized that these girls, along with one more, would be leaving her farm. The dynamic of the flock would change and they would be missed. It’s amazing the relationship between the shepherd and her flock. It’s unlike any other relationship with any other type of livestock.
So the next day, we loaded them up onto our truck. I gave Kim a huge hug. That hug was filled with “thank you, you’ve just changed my life for the better.” (Tears) I promised Kim that I would email her when we got home to let her know of our safe arrival. And off we went, back to Pennsylvania to start our own flock.
Is this your first flock of sheep? fiber animals?
This is our first flock of sheep and it has been such a rewarding experience. I love my sheep and their quirky personalities. Even though sheep are a flock animal, their individuality definitely is apparent. Everyone knows their place in the flock, and if someone is out of turn, they will definitely be put in their place! I love that!!! There’s no beating around the bush with them. They are straight shooters, which reflects my own personality. I wish more people were like that! Ha!
Why did you choose Romney/Lincoln sheep?
I knew that I wanted to raise sheep mainly for wool. The mainstreamed Merino was definitely a turnoff for me. I wanted a sheep that was weather resistant, big bodied, and hearty. After doing a lot of research, I knew the Romney was the breed that I wanted to raise. I love the fact that Romneys are resistant to foot rot, because it can get pretty soggy here. It’s just one less health issue to have to worry about. The versatility of their wool and the variety of colors that they come in brings about endless possibilities. And I just love the look of them.
I can’t take all the credit for the Lincolns that we have. Alberto found a man selling them at a good price, so we began doing our research on them. They, too, are a long wool sheep, but their wool is completely different from the Romney. Their fleece grows long locks of tightly curled ringlets. Each lock is smooth and lustrous, without much crimp. We also were intrigued by the fact that we would be the first registered Lincoln breeders in the state of Pennsylvania.
What role do you see your farm playing in your lives?
I see our farm as something forever. It will be intertwined into who we are. We are the farm and the farm is us. My hope is that it will be a great teacher for my children, growing their character and values, teaching them responsibility and accountability, and nurturing their compassion and love for nature. I’m hoping that I can make this my full time “job” at some point, so I can do something that I really love. How many people get to say that they do something that they really love? I’m thinking not very many, but I want to be one of them!!!
You have recently purchased your first flock of sheep. What advice would you give to others wanting to get started in sheep?
Do your research. Find the breed of sheep that you fall in love with and that fits into your life. Really make sure you know what your intent for your flock is. Go to as many workshops, classes, seminars, Ag shows as you possibly can. Penn State has been a great resource for us, as far as workshops and seminars. Also, find at least one person that can be your mentor/go to person. Kim has definitely become my go to girl for just about everything!
Thus far-have there been any surprises in shepherding?
Lambing has been probably the biggest surprise for us. We have an idea when a ewe is going to lamb, but we never really know. So it’s constant checking and looking and watching how she behaves. We’ve had three ewes lamb, so far. And we’ve only seen one of them! They’re sneaky little ewes. But, I think they like their privacy and the quiet. Luckily, we haven’t had any issues. All three ewes have lambed on their own without any problems or needing assistance from us. Such a relief!
What role do your children play in your farm?
Sammy, who is six, has become our certified lamb caretaker. He plays with the lambs, holds them, checks on them. Anything lamb related, Sammy is on it. Now that he is getting better at writing, he also helps me with the record keeping on each lamb.
Noelia, who will be three at the end of April, is my little shadow. She follows me everywhere and pretty much does what I ask her when it pertains to the sheep. She helps me feed and helps muck out the barn. I think once she gets a little older, she’s going to be my right hand girl.
What are your dreams and goals for you farm?
Our first goal and will always be a goal, is to constantly maintain a healthy and thriving flock. Great genetics, vigorous lambs, and a disease free flock are always high on our priority list. A definite goal this year is to at least make back what we have put in to this business, through the sale of wool products and lambs. A personal goal for me is to be able to replace my current income, with income from our business. I’m not looking to get rich, but I would love to be able to quit my job and be able to live this life full time, raising sheep and selling wool products.
I would love to see our farm get increase in number, but not to the point where I don’t “know” my sheep. I would love for us to find our niche and for our business to take off. I also hope that we can bring about more awareness and education about agriculture, sustainable living, sheep in general, and the fiber arts to our community.
What has been your best moment and what has been your worst moment in shepherding?
I have two best moments! The first one would be holding our first lambs. Actually, holding every lamb, so far, has been a best moment. The sheer miracle of it all is beyond words. Our second best moment was when we got our first batch of yarn back from the mill. My husband practically ran down the postal worker getting the box from her! It was such a moment for all of us to hold that 2 ply worsted weight in our hands!
So far, I haven’t had a worst moment. But I’m sure my day will come and I’ve just got to be as prepared as possible to handle it the best I can at that moment. Amendment – So that day has happened. We had two twin lambs born to one of our Lincoln ewes. The delivery went great. She lambed completely on her own. But these two little ones were just that…very little. Most of our lambs have been around the 10 – 12 lb range, with some as much as 15 lbs. But these little ones were barely 8 lbs and just not vigorous like all the others. I like to give lambs a chance to figure out nursing and bond with their mom before I intervene. But these little ones just couldn’t figure it out. We tried holding them up to suckle off of the ewe, but nothing. We eventually started to tube feed, but even after that, they weren’t making any progress. They both ended up dying a couple days later. I think the ewe even began to “unbond” with them. She knew something wasn’t right because she didn’t even look for them when they were gone. I think I’ll always wonder if there was something more we could have done for them.
You can follow Amanda and Prado de Lana Sheep Farm on facebook or on instagram @pradodelana. Support this new shepherding family and fill your knitting bag with Amanda’s yarn. Purchases may be made at her online store.