Thank a Farmer: Silver Valley Farm

WFeller LRWendy, tell us a little about your farm and family. 

We are both Oregon transplants and Wabash College brought us to Indiana in 1998. Scott teaches chemistry at Wabash, an all-male college of 900 students. Wendy has been working part time for a caterer, The Juniper Spoon, since 2009. Silver Valley Farm started in 2001 when we purchased 13 acres with a barn northwest of Crawfordsville, Indiana. We wanted our children to have the experiences of growing up on a farm and learn the responsibilities that come with raising livestock. We started out raising a few sheep, adding some meat and Angora goats and a horse. In Montgomery county, the 4-H program expanded those experiences for our children to showing livestock, learning lifelong skills and making valuable memories. Our son, Jake-the entrepreneur as we like to call him, started the laying hens on pasture, selling their eggs and marketed Jumbo Cornish Cross broilers by word of mouth to save money for college. After our daughter and son completed ten years in 4-H, we had acquired 38 Registered Hampshire and Border Leicester ewes, two flocks of 25 laying hens and a Border Collie . When our son Jake went to college, Wendy took over the care of the hens, began selling yarn from her sheep and increased the marketing of our lamb to the Farmer’s Market in Crawfordsville. In 2012, she added the West Lafayette market on Wednesdays to expand our marketing area.

Your husband, Scott, grew up on a sheep farm in Oregon, right? How has his background affected your farm today? 

Scott is a third generation sheep farmer. He grew up in town and spent time on a farm much like the one we own today. Scott grew up participating in 4-H showing sheep and Great Pyrenees dogs. He worked on several farms in his youth learning a variety of skills that would help him run his own farm someday. So when the opportunity arrived, we chose sheep for our children to participate with in 4-H. The demand for selling lamb direct to consumer came later with the growing interest of eating locally grown food.

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And you were a cattle girl growing up. What first got you interested in sheep instead? 

Wendy, the youngest of five children, grew up on a large farm just outside of Silverton, Oregon. Her family raised Charolais (sp) cattle, grass seed and other small grains in the fertile soils of the Willamette Valley. She grew up working on the farm at a young age and has always had an interest in working with animals and enjoys growing vegetables. My interest in sheep began in 1993, when we attended the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival. I was intrigued with the variety of fiber animals, the beautiful yarns produced with exotic fibers like mohair from Angora goats, rabbits and alpacas. Watching the Border Collies herd sheep into a small 10 x 10 pen was truly fascinating! From that day on, I dreamed about living on a farm with a herd of sheep, learning to spin wool into yarn and having a Border Collie by my side.

Of the three breeds you’re raising right now, do you have a favorite? What pros and cons stand out the most about each of them? 

I can only judge the two of the three breeds at this point, the Polypays have only been on the farm since February of this year and they are a bit of an experiment to test out and see how efficient they will be. Lambing will start around April 20th. As for the other two, the Hampshire’s are my husband’s favorite. Scott grew up with this breed of sheep and we started off with a few from his family’s farm in Oregon. They are champions at producing high quality lamb and converting their pasture diet into meat. The drawback is we were breeding for large frame type show lambs and this took away from the efficient, mothering traits that make lambing easier. Some days we spend a lot of extra time checking on ewes with young lambs to make sure they are up and drinking on their own. I’d call it more handholding. The Border Leicester’s are less common breed found her in the U.S. and you won’t find them in many show rings. My brother-in-law suggested a breeder in Oregon with excellent stock so we started with a few bred ewes from him. They are excellent mothers and their lambs grow quickly but the finished lambs are not as large as the Hampshire lambs. These are easier sheep to raise and they take less feed than some of our Hampshire ewes. If all the mothers were like the Border Leicesters and all the lambs were the size of the Hampshire lambs finishing at 5-6 months of age – then we’d be in a perfect world.

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In the past you were raising sheep more for shows than for production and now, with your kids being older, you’ve switched gears a bit. As you move more towards production do you find yourself making many changes in your operation? 

One thing I’ve learned in farming is that it’s good to be diverse. It’s important that our sheep have two purposes – breeding stock, market lambs and wool. We will always raise registered breeding stock to sell off the farm. As we get away from showing the large type frame sheep, we are aiming for a more productive type of ewe. Earlier, we were always looking at the biggest lambs but now our priorities have shifted to the faster growing, efficient lambs. We look for ewes that produce twins, have excellent mothering skills, produce lambs that are up and drinking on their own and have excellent rate of gain. We used to just lamb once a year, from January to March. Now we’re lambing three seasons a year so we have lamb to sell to our customers year round. This past winter was hard on everyone in the barn to keep warm and raise lambs so we did cull more ewes than we have in past years.

Is there anything in the sheep business you wish you could help consumers better understand? 

It is hard for some customers to understand the cost of producing a uniformly high quality product. People tell us regularly that our lamb is the best they have ever had but they don’t always realize that it costs a little more to produce quality.

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You’re a regular at the farmer’s markets in your area. What do you like most about attending markets? Anything you could do without? 

First of all, I love the market atmosphere. If I wasn’t a vendor then I would be a shopper. I enjoy educating customers about the food we grow. I love hearing the compliments from the returning customers about how delicious the lamb was or what recipes they tried out with our beets! I wasn’t a big vegetable lover but since I have been working for a caterer I have learned how to prepare them and I enjoy sharing these healthy, simple recipes with my customers.

And last but not least, do you have a favorite lamb recipe you’ll share with us?  

How about two recipes?

Recipe from Silver Valley Farm
Marinade for Lamb Chops



1 tablespoon olive oil 

1 lemon, zested (about 1/2 teaspoon) 

1 lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons) 

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano 

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

8 (4-ounce) lamb loin chops, trimmed of all visible fat 



In a small bowl stir together the first 7 ingredients. Put the lamb chops in a sealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over them. Move the chops around in the bag so the marinade coats them well. Marinate for 1 hour. 
Grill or broil the chops for 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to prevent over cooking.

Silver Valley Grilled Lamb Pizza

One handmade pizza dough, or focaccia bread will do
1 pound of ground lamb, cooked and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 cup of sautéed eggplant with olive oil and za’tar seasoning
½ cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup of feta cheese
½ cup of pickled peppers (see recipe for pickled peppers)
¼ cup of chopped red onion
¼ cup fresh arugula
Sprinkle with Sumac (seasoning)

Start with a layer of mozzarella on pressed pizza dough. Then add lamb, eggplant, red onion, feta, peppers and sprinkle with Sumac. Bake on a pizza stone for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Top with arugula and serve.

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Saturday Swinetacular: Find That Duroc

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Sometimes, when I’m avoiding more important work, I dig through the Library of Congress online database for vintage pig and hog pictures. This one is undated, but I’d place it mid-1900s if I had to wager a guess. And on the later end of “mid,” at that.

It was taken inside the South Omaha Union Stockyards to show off the facility’s covered hog pens. If you look closely you’ll notice electricity, concrete floors, professional mill quality lumber and posts, and many other hallmarks of the quickly-modernizing ag industry of the day. Of course the hogs themselves are a clue, too. They’re thinner than we usually see in pictures from the early 1900s and prior, and taller too. There are notched ears here and I even spy what looks like a plastic ear tag on the pig in the lower left hand corner. And can anyone out there find the duroc? Durocs were developed in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1950 that they started really beefing them out and using them for show pigs. And with his bear-like build, I’d say this particular duroc is quite the show-type. As is the Hampshire in front of him.

As a fun aside, the Berkshire in the center, halfway back, with his head hidden behind that yorkshire’s tail? Looks an awful lot like our Berkshire boar, Geoff Petersen. Lots of folks might say there’s not much to brag about in having pigs that resemble pigs from fifty years ago, but this is the era of pigs with which I’m rather smitten, so I’ll take it. They were still fat enough to be flavorful, fast enough growing not to put the farmer out of business and those long, strong legs meant they could get around outdoor terrain without darn-near dragging their bellies on the ground. I like a hog with a little daylight, even if it means I have to feed them a little extra to put that height on ‘em. Also? Hog hocks!

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On Being “More Humane”

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Recently I sat in a meeting where I had to talk a lot about our farm. I hope to be able to give you more details about it soon, but for now there’s not much to say. Except that part way through as we were talking about our operation, a person on the other side of the table spoke up and said, “and this is more humane, right?”

To which I kind of stammered until The Man, having tagged along for moral support, jumped in and saved me. The truth is, there’s a very fine line here; one that depends wholly on a rather subjective definition of the word, “humane.” And, since I’m being honest, for all the thousands of words that pour out of my mouth and fingers on a regular basis, I can’t say as though I’m confident I have the right words for that definition myself. [click to continue…]

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Monday Miscellany on a Tuesday

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It’s National Ag Day. I should probably be commemorating it in some special way, but I’ve got nothing. I’ve been mistaken about what day of the week it is twice in the past month, so I suppose I should just be glad I managed to remember it was a Tuesday, let alone that it was some sort of commemorative holiday.

We’re in a farrowing lull that will last about a month and a half, until we start back up again in May. There will be a time in the not too distant future that farrowing lulls no longer exist for us here, so I’m enjoying it while I can – though I look forward to that time heartily. [click to continue…]

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I’m never quite sure what to say when people ask me what it’s like to be a woman in agriculture. It’s a lot of things; which, I imagine, is akin to being a man in agriculture. It’s all at once easy, difficult, tiring, exhilarating, thankless, rewarding, frustrating, motivating and… overall, kind of awesome. Sometimes it’s cold; sometimes it’s hot. It’s virtually always dirty.

The truth is, I don’t consider myself all that much different. It’s like when people ask me what it’s like to be a small farmer or an alternative farmer. There was a time when I was hyper aware of the ways in which I diverged from the majority, but as I’ve become more confident in myself, my grasp on this industry and my experience both in and outside of it, that hyper awareness has largely melted away.

Sure, sometimes it’s lonely. Being a female producer is different than being a farm wife or an agribusiness employee, and there are very, very few women who understand and can relate to that experience. Which means I don’t have the same community and camaraderie that my male counterparts do. [click to continue…]

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