Herding sheep | Living the Country Life
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Herding sheep

A few colorful Karakul sheep and an Anatolian shepherd guard dog make Kathy and Joe Donovan's Virginia acreage a mountaintop dream come true.
  • Finding the right fit

    A few years ago, Kathy and Joe Donovan moved from suburban Washington, D.C., to a small farm in the mountains of Virginia. Kathy spent her childhood in Ohio and had a love for farm life, but Joe was a city boy. "It's in my genes," Kathy says. "But it's not in Joe's!"<br>Kathy wanted to raise animals, but wasn't sure which kind. Horses and cattle were too big for her 10 acres. Bees were a possibility, but with black bears in the neighborhood, she decided against that. She eventually chose Karakul sheep, a rare breed that comes in white, black, red and brown. They are hardy, adaptable, calm, intelligent and inquisitive.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012
  • Guarding the sheep

    Now, Kathy is a shepherd, but she does have a helper. Erin Claire, the family's very loving Anatolian shepherd, guards the sheep against black bears, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, and cougars, which have all been seen in the area.<br>This breed of dog dates back more than 1,000 years. They are bred to watch flocks of sheep or goats, and are raised as puppies with the animals to bond with them. They are trained to sit, come and stay, but the know-how to guard sheep comes naturally.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012
  • Fruits of her labor

    The long wool from Karakul sheep is often spun into carpets and footwear. It's ideal for felting as well. Although the sheep were first imported for the fur pelt industry, they are now recognized for their wool, meat and tallow. <br>Kathy shears the sheep twice a year, in the spring and fall. The wool can be hand-carded or sent to a mill for color blending, washing and drying. Kathy spins some of her own yarn, and is experimenting with using indigenous plants for dye. "Look at this (yarn), just look at it!" she exclaims. "From my sheep that I birthed, that I fed, that I raised!"<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012
  • Country living

    Although the Donovans get the benefits of living in the country -- solitude, fresh air, amazing views -- Checkmate Farm is close enough to the city that they can enjoy those benefits as well.<br>They are still within commuting distance to jobs in Washington, D.C., and the Washington Monument is even visible from their living room window on a clear day.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012
  • Walking through history

    Checkmate Farm is more than just a pretty piece of property. It's a piece of history. The land is ringed with stone fences that have been bordering properties here since the Revolutionary War.<br>"I feel like we're just custodians traveling through this house," Kathy says. "I feel so honored just to be here."<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012
  • Adding a spot of color

    Kathy enjoys adding color to the farm by planting flowers around the old outbuildings and house, build in the 1800s. This stone shed blends in perfectly with the surrounding hills and trees, and it provides storage for tools and gardening supplies.<br>"We are caretakers of this property," Kathy says. Her goal is to take care of the farm and preserve it further into history.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012
  • Keeping it natural

    With such a beautiful backdrop, there's no need for extravagant gardens and landscaping. Kathy selects plants and accent materials that accent the property's beauty without taking over. This keeps everything looking as natural as possible.<br>The traffic and congestion of the city have been replaced with gardening, sheep, and country living. "I have a whole new life of my own," Kathy says.

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    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: May 3, 2012

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