Rooted deep in family traditions

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It was a beautiful day for a road trip, and there was a lamb out there in the world calling my name. I was about to meet a new friend, all thanks to Farm and Dairy.

Mattie had placed an ad in the Farm and Dairy classified section a year ago after weaning her Babydoll Southdown lambs, but our response wasn’t quick enough. This year, she was considerate in reaching out to us, and we decided to take a day trip to see her small flock.

Natural beauty

Some of the most beautiful scenery lies between our home and hers, and I found myself saying, “That would make a perfect shot!” over and over, but as I reached for my camera, the moment of opportunity had whizzed on by. I didn’t have long to wallow in regret over missing that particular shot because it was quickly replaced by yet another breathtaking view.

The farmland was lush, open and rolling. It felt like old coal country to me, with lovely little villages lying in valleys along the way.

Cadiz, known as the birthplace of Clark Gable, has an elegant old feel to it, the hills and valleys and breathtaking drop-offs grabbing my attention. The hairpin turns kept it as interesting a drive as it could be.

When we arrived at the address in Martin’s Ferry, Mattie’s father greeted us and called for his daughter. As we discussed her flock of Babydoll Southdowns, it became clear to me that this young woman is rooted in the best of all things; family is at the root of every story she told.

Family tradition

This 17-year-old explained that she got into this breed because her grandmother loved them. She described how fun it was for her maternal grandmother, who lived just a couple doors down, to sit on the hill watching the lambs run and play, and it prompted a deep interest in her young granddaughter.

“My grandma is gone now, and I am so busy with college, so I need to cut back,” Mattie said.

She has been taking college classes full time for two years even though high school graduation is still a week away.

She showed me her turkey projects, under warming lights in the garage, for this September’s county fair. She explained the process of turkey-raising as she lamented the cool weather. Any money she realizes from agricultural projects all goes toward her college expenses. “The good thing is, I don’t get attached to the turkeys like I do my sheep,” Mattie said.

She introduced us to a wether Babyface Southdown that she had bottle fed after the mother rejected him.

“I even called on my aunt (who lives next door) to come bottle feed him when I had to be at school, my parents both at work.”

Because things looked mighty bleak for this lamb, she named him Iffy, and kept him in the basement, bottle feeding him around the clock.

Against the odds

Iffy not only survived, but loved his place in Mattie’s life so much he did not want to be a sheep. Now enormous but docile, Iffy roams the place, no fence necessary. He follows his people just like a family dog, offering his support no matter the project underway.

When Mattie introduced me to her mother, Paige, I complimented her on her impressive daughter, and the beautiful farm and home they’ve built.

“It was my Dad’s land, and it makes me feel great each time I say that,” she told me.

Mattie had spoken in much the same way, telling me her mother’s family made up the neighborhood and how much she loves this. As her mom talked with me, Mattie nodded in agreement, the family’s rescue dogs circling at our feet.

Diamond in the rough

We hear so much about teens who are lost or shiftless, entitled and going nowhere. There is nothing as impressive as meeting a 17-year-old whose values are so clearly reflected in her words and her works, so much of it rooted in her appreciation of her family’s connection to the land. A feeling of joy in being on that lovely plot of ground came through in each member of the family.

As we loaded the lambs we purchased from Mattie, her aunt next door came out to say hello to us and goodbye to the lambs. “We get attached, you know….”

I knew we’d met our kindred spirits. And I managed to get a few good pictures to mark the day.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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