QUICKSBURG — As a child, Barbara Salisbury always looked forward to the trips to a farm owned by her uncle in West Virginia.
“About three times a year, we would go over there, and I would be in heaven,” she said. “That was my dream when I was 6 years old.”
Now, 16 years after moving to the Shenandoah Valley, the rare sheep Salisbury raises allow her to keep living that dream, even at the age of 72.
“This was always my dream,” the Shenandoah County woman said in her sheep barn Sunday as the blustering wind roared past outside occasionally and the sheep fed from troughs.
Salisbury raises St. | Croix hair sheep, a rare breed for the East Coast, to sell their meat, and she was also recently named the eastern director for the St. Croix Hair Sheep International Association.
The sheep are originally from the US Virgin Island of St. Croix. Most of the St. Croix hair sheep raised in the continental US are raised in Oregon and Washington, with a few in Texas, according to Salisbury.
On St. Croix, you’re lucky if you can find a blade of grass,” she said. “So they evolved eating [whatever they could find]. They’re great foragers.”
They are also hardy, yet gentle and precocious animals, according to Salibsury. Previously she had some cows, but at her age, handling them became more and more difficult.
“If you’re going to work around animals like this, it’s nice to know they’re docile,” she said. “They’re very easygoing.”
Her small flock has one ram, a couple of wether and multiple ewes. The sheep can breed up to two times a year, but that is not ideal since it is hard on the mothers, according to Salisbury.
According to studies from the US Department of Agriculture and Virginia Tech, the breed is highly resistant to parasites that are one of the leading constraints to mass sheep raising.
Due to the pandemic and other world events, there is a different and growing kind of market for the animals, according to Salisbury.
“I’ve never had trouble selling these sheep, but people want to have a small amount of acreage to have control over their food and their meat,” she said. “And so they’re buying these to raise on their small acreage to supply themselves with meat.”
Salisbury first got into sheep while trying to keep a baby llama alive. She was taking care of the llama inside her own home, until it got too large and was eating off the countertops.
Salisbury then put the llama out into the field, but Salisbury realized, the llama was restless and needed something to do. So she got sheep for the llama to look after.
“These guys were the best thing I ever did because they’re just charming,” she said.
In Sailsbury’s sheep barn, the fold-out chairs are a choice spot for to take a load off after a long day. The chairs face the small pens where ewes and their offspring can be together to bond after birth.
“It is truly the most relaxing time of the day when your chores are done and you can just sit an down and commune with these little guys for a while,” Salisbury said.