By Helen Brody (January 28, 2010)
Husband and father, David Lewis’s joy was raising Border Collies and the herding competitions that followed; wife and mother, Linda’s passion was the great outdoors; daughter Kaitlin was never happier than when she was working with animals. Clearly, for the Lewis clan there was something lacking with their congested living on Massachusetts’ North Shore. And so, after a trial run at living in a new house at the end of a cul de sac, they were of a single mind. Enough of this suburban living they concluded, and they up and moved to a 1790 shingled red farmhouse with 52 overgrown acres and what Linda, in welcoming guests, calls a “a rambling work in progress.” Since moving in they have tamed the property. They reclaimed and fenced 20 acres of pasture, built two barns, and removed all the overgrowth revealing a picturesque view of Crotched Mountain.
Beyond the house, another “work in progress” but a rather wooly one, is the raising of sheep, one that continues to this day. In the beginning, David bought a few sheep for his dogs to learn the art of herding. After that humble start, Kaitlin, then nine years of age, began attending a few 4H events, and thus was born a keen desire to master the techniques of caring for and showing of the sheep. Seven years later, one might surmise that Kaitlin did indeed master those techniques; she competes successfully on the national level.
This precocious young lady began her career by showing the Horned Dorset and the Cheviot breeds under the tutelage of many mentors, including: Thelma Curtis (retired 30 yr Merrimack County 4-H leader), Kathy Byam, Kenny Moore, and Mike and Kelly Wright. Initially she showed only at local fairs as she wanted to establish a professional showing style and to learn what physical assets were required to improve the sheep in her growing flocks. She then began attending regional and national shows. Today, as she is home-schooled, Kaitlin travels both in and out of state to competitions during the entire show season of July through November. In 2008, she made history by winning the coveted awards of Grand Champion Horned Dorset Ewe and Reserve Champion Cheviot Ram at the North American International Livestock Exposition(the largest purebred livestock show in the world) in Louisville KY.
In 2009 Kaitlin decided to put all her energies into perfecting her flock of Cheviots, rather than splitting her time between two different breeds as she had done in the past. The Cheviot is believed to have originated in the Cheviot Hills on the border of England and Scotland. The breed was introduced into the United States from its native Scotland in 1838. These sheep are known for their strong constitution, making them ideal for the New Hampshire climate. But also, says Kaitlin, “They’re pretty, elegant, and smart, and can be a bit flighty, but once they’re trained and on my show string, they settle down and are more easily handled.”
“A good Cheviot for show and breeding,” says Kaitlin, “is stark white and free of wool on the face and legs. The animal must be straight over its back and square over the “dock” (or rear), have good extension of the neck, and stand squarely on its feet and legs. It must have black points (nose and hooves) along with its short, straight-up ears.” These sharp characteristics draw the critical eye of the judges. In sum, she maintains that her job is to make her animals stand out from all the others. In shows, Kaitlin is faced with duel challenges of showing a single sheep, and then exhibiting her entire flock.
With the fervent help of her parents, Kaitlin grooms, vaccinates, and feeds her brood. Home for the sheep is a large hoop barn with clean shavings covering the floor. On entering, the visitor first meets Ethel, a Maremma livestock guard dog, a large white animal of Italian origin which is the KDL flock guardian. Shepherds in the mountains have used Maremmas for centuries. Ethel sleeps and pastures with the sheep, with a constant and devoted attendance. Linda notes that with her Maremma on sentry duty, woe betide any animal that sidles too close to the fencing.”
While Linda home schools Kaitlin, David has a successful chiropractic practice in Henniker and plays a key role in Kaitlin’s success. “Aside from doing all the funding, he does the farm management and research,” says Linda. He endlessly studies the breeding and nutritional aspects of Kaitlin’s flock of 30. For example, he will not settle for just any old hay. The KDL order comes from Wisconsin because of its consistency in high nutritional value. A balanced nutritional regime is key to happy, healthy sheep. And as for the animals that do not meet show standards, they help support the farm as grass fed meat sold through farmers’ markets, retail markets, and at the farm.
Evidence that this family effort is a growing enterprise is sitting in the backyard. Poised and ready to travel, where ever an important event beckons, are a large camper, a trailer for stock, and a three-quarter ton truck.
KDL Cheviot Farm
Linda and David Lewis
91 Dudley Brook Rd.
Weare, NH 03281
Retail Sales: Cheviot Sheep
Farm & Shows
Retail Sales: Meat Manchester Farmers’ Market A-Market, Manchester Newbury Farmer’s Market Henniker Farmer’s Market
At the Farm