How long have you been practicing the traditional art of growing “historically significant” apples? We…
Farm Craft: Sunbonnet Farm
What is the name of your Farm, Ranch, or Homestead?
Where are you located?
Paauilo, Hawaii (Big Island)
How and/or when did life as a farmer, rancher, or homesteader begin for you?
Growing up on a ‘pocket farm’ in Laupahoehoe valley, my family raised Nubian milk goats, a milk cow and laying hens. Plus a few other species at different times. For as long as I can remember I have loved animals and was interested in farming. As a 4th generation dairy farmer, I started milking at an early age, I can’t remember when I first started helping hand milk our goats and cow. By the time I was 7 years old, I was a pretty accomplished milker, though.
My interest in fiber animals and wool crafts, started when I was around 11 years old. My grandmother had a flock of Clun Forest cross sheep and as she grew older, my mother took over shearing, deworming and vaccinating the flock. I helped out with what I could and learned about sheep care. I liked the sheep and grew interested in how I could help the ‘sheep pay for themselves’.
Both my mother, ‘Sharon’, and my Grandma, ‘Leah’, learned to shear sheep in New Zealand. My Grandma was a very talented craft person. She did everything from shearing (and she was still shearing up into her early 80’s) to spinning, to the finished project. Whether it was a beautiful hooked rug, cushion, or something knitted. She had many beautiful items handmade from her flocks wool.
Inspired, by both my Grandma and Mother, I learned to wash, pick and card wool. Following my Mother’s instruction and using hand tools. When I was about 13, my mother taught me to shear sheep with blade shears, and I taught myself countinuous-strand weaving, on a Triangular shawl loom.
The first sheep I sheared was an ugly old ram and I sheared him with sewing scissors. I wasn’t fast and it wasn’t the classiest job, but that ram looked a lot better when I was done! In 2012, my family moved to our current farm in Paauilo and I inherited managing the sheep flock.
What do you grow or raise?
My family raises Jersey Brown Swiss dairy cows, Register Clun Forest sheep (as well as Clun crosses), laying hens and Guinea fowl. Plus an assortment of ‘companions’’; horses, dogs and cats.
We are also adding some crops to our farm. Currently, we have several acres of MacNuts trees and a few pineapple patches.
Dairy farming has been in the family for quite a while, I am a 4th generation dairy farmer. Starting with my great grandfather who had a herd of registered Guernsey cows. Our current dairy herd has also been in the family for quite some time, over 30 years ago my mother bought her first cow, a Brown Swiss named ‘Swiss Lady’, the founder of our current herd.
My Grandma and mother were some of the first people to import Clun Forest sheep to Hawaii, in 1985. I inherited the Clun cross descendants of those sheep in 2012.
A long time dream came true for me, in 2016, when my family imported 4 registered Clun Forest lambs from Three Willows Ranch in OR. And again in 2019, when we imported 3 more lambs.
The imported sheep come from the top flock on the west coast, with genetics from the top flocks in the USA.
What traditional methods do you use on your farm to grow crops and/or raise your animals?
My family uses a range of traditional farming methods, from hand milking cows to hand shearing sheep and hand operated wool processing equipment, such as spinning on a spinning wheel. The continuous-stranded weaving method I use to weave my shawls, is a medieval method.
Our cows and sheep are pasture raised year round and we use rotational grazing.
We raise more ‘heritage style’ livestock, such as our cows that are part Angus, to add hardness for grass dairying and this also makes them better duel purpose cows. Unlike, the overbred commercial dairy cows of today.
Clun Forest sheep are a rare heritage breed, originally from the board of Wales and England.
We drink and make cheese with our cows milk. We feed the whey to our laying hens, along with any extra ‘Farmer Cheese’.
What is at least one farm tradition you uphold?
Family farming, community, sharing farming knowledge and the age-old agreement, between shepherds and sheep–that I will defend and take care of them, no matter the hour or weather. And, in turn they will supply me with milk (from the cows), wool and companionship.
What inspires you to continue a farm lifestyle?
I love my sheep and other animals, and wouldn’t ever want to live somewhere I couldn’t have animals. I also love living in a ‘ranchy’ area, with lots of open pasture land and amazing places to ride my horse.
Besides being an animal lover, one of my interests in farming, is genetic improvement for my sheep (and our dairy cows). I am dedicated to doing my best to improving my sheep flock, to promoting and maintaining the quality of the Clun Forest breed. And, to supply quality breeding stock to small famers and homesteaders, in order for other farmers to achieve their dreams, of raising quality multi-purpose wool sheep.
Besides being quality wool sheep, Cluns are excellent meat sheep for 100% grass fed operations and have very rich milk, so they have some dairy potential and are great for crosses with dairy sheep breeds.
My sheep are raised for wool, breeding-stock and grazing in our MacNut orchards, but I always look for a sheep that is hardy and has the qualities that make Cluns such a versatile breed.
What words of inspiration or uplifting wisdom do you hope to impart on future generations of farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, and homesteaders?
The most important piece of advice I always give new shepherds, is know your sheep. Check them often and know whats normal, then you will know when something is wrong. Almost all problems are easily treated, when caught early.
Be a do-it-yourselfer when you can, you can achieve a lot that way. I certainly have. But when it’s your animals life, don’t be afraid to ask someone knowledgeable. Read everything you can, never stop striving for better.
Where can people find you/your products online?