Barre boy, 9, raises and donates heritage sheep
Hog Island sheep is nearing extinction
By Sue Cook, staff reporter
BARRE – Heritage breeds are a look back at the yesteryear of the way farm animals used to exist for our forefathers. One farm in Barre has taken on the responsibility on raising some of these animals that may otherwise go extinct.
Nine-year-old William Trembley is the registered farmer for a flock of Hog Island sheep. The breed originated from their namesake island in Virginia. They have been rated as critical by The Livestock Conservancy. This means that there are fewer than 200 annual registrations of the breed in the United States and they are estimated to have a global population of less than 2,000. The Hog Island sheep that William has are one of only two flocks in New York state.
“These are a breed from 1600,” said Julie Trembley, William’s mother. “You can make socks like the colonists had. You can make blankets like them, too.”
She has found that many people are interested in the wool from heritage sheep that allows people to create period pieces of clothing and goods that existed long ago.
This Friday, two of the sheep will be taking a trip to their new home in Washington, D.C. There, the Accokeek Foundation will take them in as permanent residents of their Colonial farm to become a part of their flock of Hog Island sheep from around the country.
The family originally connected with the foundation when Julie called for assistance to ensure they were taking care of the breed correctly. They spoke with Polly Festa, the livestock manager. She asked if they would be willing to donate couple lambs to the foundation for the sake of furthering the breed. William agreed that it would be a great idea and the family will begin the transport of the sheep before dawn on Friday.
The two sheep that will be going will be a female named Frost who was born on a bitterly cold day to Martha, named after Martha Washington. The male lamb they are sending is Supersheep, who got his name from his black mask like a superhero’s. He was born to Betsy, named for Betsy Ross. The family picked the historic names in honor of the fact that they are a heritage breed. William was given the privilege of naming the sheep and his parents loved what he chose.
Julie saw an advertisement that simply read “Six sheep, need a home.” The owners, who could no longer keep them due to the need to relocate, discovered through questioning Julie that the older Trembley boys each had half of the family’s flock of American Tunis, which is another heritage breed of sheep with red coloration that date back to when Thomas Jefferson kept them. Tunis sheep are classified as rare, which is a better standing than critical. The owners felt comfortable giving the sheep to a family that already understood a heritage breed.
This year around the first week of March, during the bitter cold, little lambs were born. Eight of the nine were abandoned by the mother. The family thinks it was due to the bitter cold, but also because the flock is feral and behaves somewhat different from modern domesticated breeds, though they do remain an overall close-knit group.
“They’re like a synchronized swimming team. They don’t look left or right without being in sync with each other,” said Julie.
The lambs’ care needs were extensive at birth. They were already freezing, and some had begun to suffer from frostbite. On top of that, they also needed to be fed every three hours and kept very warm. Julie said it was not only hard, but nearly impossible. Todd Eick, Medina’s agriculture teacher, recognized the breed when he first saw them and immediately wanted to help.
After transporting them to the school, the ag students assisted in the care of the sheep as part of their class studies. Julie said that the family made the decision that three of the sheep will be given as scholarships to Medina students that participated in their care. The family will be at the 4-H Fair in July with some of their remaining Hog Island breed, where they will show the sheep in an attempt to win ribbons.
Julie is deeply grateful for the help that the Medina students provided and that Mr. Eick was willing to reach out. Taking care of the lambs was so difficult that many helping hands made all the difference in the world.
“I really want to thank Mr. Eick, and the Medina Ag classes because they helped us bottle feed when we had eight bottle babies,” Julie said. “They’re the reason these babies survived and thrived and can go to D.C. I want to thank them for their help. We were exhausted!”