A visit to Bah Bah Blacktail Farm in early December provided an excellent opportunity to talk with Tess Hahn about her sheep farm business. Winter is a quiet time of rest for the sheep; they spend their days outside in the pastures, their heavy, wooly coats provide a thick insulation from the cold. The farm has 52 sheep currently in residence, most of which are Katahdin. Also residing on the farm are the guard animals; a Great Pyrenees, a donkey and a llama watch carefully over the sheep and keep them safe from predators.
Tess gave me a tour of the sheep barn where all of the action takes place starting in early spring. There is a veterinary table, a work table, and a white board covered with the names and breeding data about the sheep. Tess keeps meticulous records about every sheep and a calendar of important dates in the yearly operations of the farm.
What does “grass date” mean?
The grass date is the beginning of the grass rotations. From May to August the sheep are moved every day throughout the 60 acres of our farm. The idea is to mimic what nature would do, which is to have a big herd coming to a place and then moving on. Grass date is when you want the sheep on it. Our grass date is May 1, sometimes in April if we are really lucky. The lambs are born 6 weeks before the grass date. When a baby lamb is born in March, it might be 9 or 10 pounds. Baby lambs can’t digest grass until they are 6 weeks old, so by the time grazing starts, that baby will be about 40 pounds.
You spent many years as a medical practitioner; running a sheep farm is very different from that. What got you interested in farming, and why did you choose to raise sheep?
What motivated me to start this farm is that I wanted to do right by the land and I was really impressed by how sheep can convert sunlight into meat. Sheep take the sunlight that the grass provides and make it more beautiful. When we first got this farm it had been left in a state of disrepair. The sheep came in and took care of all of the weeds, and our farm becomes more productive every year. We are farming because we want to make quality food. We know what is in the food and it is safe.
You have been very successful in this venture. To what do you attribute your success?
My ethical approach to the farming is why we are succeeding. We are working with nature, not against it. We are working with science to give the best health care to the animals. Our girls are producing triplets and producing milk for us, and they are healthy. They have done it all on grass because we go with the flow of nature.
Where do your customers come from?
We have so many different customers. We have some that have acreage and want to put our sheep on their land to graze it, and then we have customers who want to buy a freezer lamb at the end of the grass year. Customers come from word of mouth. We do not have to do a lot of advertising. For many of our customers as soon as they taste the lamb it becomes repeat business for us.
What are your future plans?
To streamline my approach. How I have been progressing is that our land is getting better and better. The biggest cost as a farmer is the grass and the grass substitute that we feed our animals, so choosing wisely and getting more farms on board to grow without pesticides so I can buy their whole field and know that it is a secure origin. Our grass and farm is getting better because of the management, and our stock is getting better. As we continue, the selective breeding continues to improve and thus the meat is getting better. We are making perceivable changes based upon our principles of using nature. The sheep are happy and content; I like to say it is happiness you can taste.
To learn more about Bah Bah Blacktail Farm or to purchase their lamb, visit: bahbahblacktailfarm.com
Interview by Juliana Anderson.