It all began in Iowa a long time ago...
I was born oldest of eight children on a small farm that had cattle, hogs (lots of hogs!), chickens, dogs, cats and kids and later ponies and horses! And you notice no sheep! It was a good life and I learned about animals from my dad and mom, but not about sheep!
My Dad would never let us have sheep as his father did not like sheep, so of course we could not have them. And I think therein lies part of the issue of my love for sheep, if you tell me I cannot, I will. Then again, there are those that say it is from my past lives. As for past lives, I will leave that to greater minds.
Knee High to a Lamb’s Eye
When I was small someone read me the story of Rupplestiltskin. That is the story of where the elf spins straw into gold. And perhaps sheep are my gold as ever since I heard that story I wanted to have sheep, to learn to spin and to weave. But had no sheep! Every time that one of the little old ladies in my home town that had looms would die or move, I would beg my mother to ask if they wanted to sell their looms. And either my mother did not ask or their families never wanted to sell.
Life went on as it does and I acquired a degree in Animal Sciences from Iowa State University taking all of the animal nutrition and sheep classes I could. That beginning lead to a Master’s of Science in Ruminant nutrition (cattle and sheep) and then a move to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska. In Lincoln I acquired a PhD in Animal (again Ruminant) Nutrition that lead to a move to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1990. During all of those years (I was a late bloomer) I never forgot the dream of having sheep, spinning and weaving. It became my mantra, “When I retire I will have my sheep…” In the following years I taught animal nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences and the vet school at Colorado State University. In my “free time”, I became the consulting nutritionist at the Denver Zoo, in the process becoming a comparative nutritionist working with all animal, bird and reptile species.
In 1994, I took nineteen undergrads on a three-week Ag travel course to Australia. For the first time in my life I saw over four thousand sheep in a paddock at one time! I was enamored and this only served to keep the fire in my heart burning. In 1998 I returned to Australia on my sabbatical studying marsupial nutrition with Dr. Ian Hume, the leading marsupial nutritionist. Ian did not teach me about sheep but he did teach me to appreciate a fine glass of Australian red wine. My time in Australia changed my life, tempering me for the years ahead and creating a depth and patience I did not know could exist.
Fast forward to the year 2002. I had the privilege at that time to accompany a group of students on a study abroad program to New Zealand. New Zealand is the country where there are far more sheep than people (I think this is called Heaven…). It was in New Zealand that my sheep dreams began to come true. I was walking through a second-hand shop in a small South Island town, when I found a spinning wheel! From that fateful moment, my dreams began to come alive. As it happened, I was living within 45 km from the Ashford plant in Ashburton, NZ. Ashford just happened to be the company that made the spinning wheel I had found. With a quick phone call I found someone there to repair the spinning wheel, teach me to use it and also how to weave. Five months later I left for the States with the spinning wheel, two looms and a dream that burned in my soul.
A New Beginning
Upon my arrival back into the States, I immediately put my house on the market and began looking for land for me and my sheep. Retirement was too far away (being just short of fifty) and I knew that I would not ever be as physically strong as I was then. If I waited too long I would not have the physical strength that I would need to handle sheep.
I found forty acres in northern Colorado and was in the right place at the right time to buy it. The house sat on a wind swept ridge looking out over the mountains of northern Colorado. I moved in with the spinning wheel, two looms and a lot of dreams. Two months later after building fences, a barn and putting in a water supply, I brought 12 sheep home! Eight were from a disbanded flock in Wyoming and four ewe lambs from a couple that I have called Mama and Papa Sheep since then, Roy and Myrtle Dow of Black Pines Sheep (Eaton CO). Even with just twelve sheep, I had five breeds represented including Lincolns, Karakuls, Wensleydales, Teeswaters and Romedale CVM’s, all rare wool breeds. Mama Sheep had told me that hand spinners like to have diversity of fiber and I need to have all types available (more on that later).
My whole life has been spent around animals, initially learning about cattle and hogs at my father’s knee. I had originally intended to go to Vet School like so many of the students I see even today, that know little of what life has to offer in the way of careers in animals other than veterinary medicine. It was in taking the first few nutrition classes that began to change my mind that led to a career in nutrition. I have worked with domestic food animals, companion animals and zoo animals, but always animals have been the mainstay of my life. Thus, “ANI” for animal.
My time in Australia impacted my life by fanning the fire that burned in my heart and soul, but slowing me down to give me depth. Thus “ROO” for kangaroo and my study of marsupial nutrition.
My time in New Zealand was the catalyst that gave me the initiative to sell my house and to buy land for my sheep. Thus, “NZ” leading to the name of my or our farm, ANIROONZ.
I say “our” now, as it was within two years after buying the land and the sheep that I re-met my now husband Steve. I had met him 30-plus years before at Iowa State and had not seen him for twenty-eight years. Fate? Who knows? But we are happy here with all of our sheep at ANIROONZ in northern Colorado. Who knows what is ahead… All we know is that there is a spinning wheel, three looms (they propagate when you are not looking), more than one-hundred sheep, a llama, two burros, nine horses, a plethora of cats and two dogs – Blue and Mille.
There are many reasons for my husband and I to have these sheep! The first and foremost is that we LOVE them and take great joy in working with them and our associate sheep people! The other is to help young people get started in wool sheep. What we have found is that most young men and women – if they have worked with sheep – have only worked with meat breeds the Suffolk and Hampshire breeds. For the most they have no concept of the wool breeds and what can be done with them. So we – my husband and I – rationalize having all those sheep just to help young men and women get involved! We work closely with interns and those just interested. We help them get started and answer their questions. That is the way of sheep people!