|Sheepish and Proud of it
By PAT VAN DEN BEEMT
Reprinted from North County News
(June 1, 2006) This time of year, there are no typical days for sheep farmers David and Nancy Greene, who never know how many wobbly-legged white bundles of wool will greet them each time they check on their flock.
But Feb. 21 was even more unusual than most days for the White Hall couple. After spending the morning tending to new lambs, new mothers and soon-to-be mothers, the Greenes changed clothes and drove to Annapolis to meet Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
During a ceremony at the Statehouse, Ehrlich gave them a plaque from Maryland’s Century Farm program which honors families who have farmed the same land for more than 100 years. Of the 11 farms honored, the Greenes’ and two other farms were designated bicentennial farms because the land has been in the same family for more than 200 years.
The Greenes had previously been named the 2005 Baltimore County’s 4-H Family of the Year and also Maryland’s 4-H Family of the Year at the state fair.
“It was a very nice ceremony down in Annapolis, but this time of year we try to stay around here because you never know what will happen with the lambs,” said 64-year-old David Greene. “We had one new lamb when we left for Annapolis. By the time we got back, we had four more. That makes 105 lambs so far, and we’ll probably get up to about 160. Luckily, most of them arrive without any help from us.”
The Greenes care for the lambs through the winter, but when each May arrives, some are “adopted” by 4-H kids. The animals will continue to live at the White Hall farm, and the 4-H children will come twice a week to care for their new charges.
The 10-week project ends when the kids show the lambs at the Baltimore County 4-H fair in July.
“David and I both feel this is our way of giving back to 4-H,” said Nancy Greene, 64. “We don’t have children of our own, so this project allows us to help kids who don’t have the financial resources or land to have their own animal. It helps more kids get involved with 4-H.”
The Greenes and Baltimore County’s 4-H started the Lamb Grant program 11 years ago. The 4-H participants are asked to write an essay on why they want to take part. The Greenes interview the youngsters to make sure they understand the commitment.
The children learn how to care for an animal, train it to a halter and show it at the fair. They keep records on the lamb’s growth as well as the cost of its feed and medical expenses.
“I was a little nervous when I had my first interview, but the Greenes are so nice,” said Beth Chapolini, 13, of Phoenix, who joined the program two years ago. “They let you pick out your own lamb. The first year, I just pointed to one. The second year, I knew to look for the best one. I looked for lean muscle and length of loin.”
And she picked well. That lamb won two first-place ribbons at the 4-H Fair.
“We go to the fair every year and watch like anxious parents,” Nancy Greene said. “We get nervous for the kids, and we’re so proud when they get out there in the ring and do well.”
Chapolini said she was upset the first year when she had to sell her lamb at the fair.
“I was thinking of it as my cute little lamb, but I finally started thinking of it as a market lamb,” she said.
David Greene said the lesson about where food really comes from is an important one.
“They see that a lamb’s life cycle is shorter than a human cycle. They get a life education,” he said.
Once the lambs are sold, the youngsters pay the Greenes back for the price of the lamb, its feed and any veterinarian bills. The kids keep whatever money is left.
For Lisa Wheeler of White Hall, that money has helped her buy her first car. Now 19, Wheeler joined the Greenes’ first Lamb Grant program.
“I was just getting started in 4-H and this was a way for me to see if I liked it,” she said. Wheeler now has 30 of her own lambs – including one she bought from the Greenes years ago.
In all, 70 youngsters have adopted lambs. Interviews for each year’s crop of lamb adoptees are scheduled in March.
“We enjoy being around the young people,” David Greene said. “It brings a whole new aspect to our lives. We know about things like iPods now.”
I LOVE EWE
It is no wonder David and Nancy Greene want to give back to 4-H. After all, they wouldn’t be celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary if it weren’t for 4-H.
David Greene and Nancy Liebno were 18 when they met at a 4-H Club Week, a leadership course held at the University of Maryland-College Park in 1960. Nancy lived on a farm in Rockdale. Her parents grew vegetables, loaded them onto a truck twice a week and made the rounds in Baltimore. The family also sold eggs and raised pigs.
At the time, boys and girls belonged to separate 4-H clubs and only the boys were allowed to care for and show animals. The girls had to be content with making clothes and growing flowers and vegetables. Nancy was a member of the Randallstown Girls 4-H Club for 12 years.
David Greene’s childhood was spent on a farm near Jarrettsville. During his 4-H years, he showed sheep, dairy cows and chickens at county and state fairs.
His mother’s cousin, who lived on the family farm in White Hall that David and Nancy now own, gave him a ewe and two lambs when he was just 10.
David later went to the University of Maryland, where he received his bachelor’s degree in entomology and his master’s in education. He then spent the next 27 years as Carroll County’s cooperative extension agent.
After graduating from Milford Mill High School, Nancy worked for eight years for an advertising firm in Baltimore.
“My parents were farmers, and I didn’t want to farm,” she said. “I wanted a real job.”
The couple married in 1964. They set up housekeeping in Ellicott City, working weekday jobs in their fields - she in advertising and he in animal science research - but spending weekends helping with the sheep operation on David’s father’s farm in Harford County.
In 1973, they moved into David Greene’s family house, built in 1823 on 100 acres in White Hall. His great, great, great grandfather Robert Gillis bought the land in 1786. Gillis, who emigrated from Ireland and fought in the Revolutionary War, named his farm “Gillis Garden.”
David and Nancy bought the farm in 1979 from David’s second cousin, Grace Moore. The next year they introduced sheep and began growing alfalfa and hay for the flock. They now run a direct-marketing meat business, selling fresh or frozen lamb from the farm. They also have a thriving sheep-breeding business.
“After all those years of not wanting to be a farmer, I’m doing it full time,” Nancy Greene said. “But I wouldn’t be any other place than here.”
In recommending the Greenes for Baltimore County 4-H Family of the Year, David Martin, the county’s cooperative extension agent, wrote, “Baltimore County considers itself very fortunate to have David and Nancy Greene as 4-H volunteers. They are active in supporting the church; community, county and state projects; spending countless hours and days toiling for others, and asking for no rewards other than the pride of a job well done. ‘I’ll Be Glad To’ is the motto they live by.”
LIVING OFF THE LAMBS
With lambs being born every day, the Greenes are in constant motion this time of year. They own three breeds - Polypay, Southdown and Katahdin. They keep watch over 85 ewes and expect almost twice that many lambs this year.
Sheep about to give birth are monitored. Newborn lambs and their mothers are kept together in pens until they bond. Older lambs scramble around in larger pens with their mothers close by. And lambs that have been weaned at eight weeks are separated from their mothers.
The only time of year that isn’t totally hectic is late summer and early fall, when the lambs are gone and the ewes are out in the pasture.
And what do the Greenes like to do on vacation? Go see other sheep farms. They’ve spent a month at an Idaho sheep ranch, and another month visiting New Zealand, where David Greene said there are 10 sheep for every person. One of these years, they’d like to go to Scotland.
“Doing what we do has real advantages and real challenges,” David Greene said. “But we can’t imagine not being involved with sheep.”
© Patuxent Publishing Company 2006