Katherine Knox: Accidental sheep farmer tends flock with hands, heart

Photo by Faith Thompson
At Hands and Heart Farm in Charlotte, a couple of sheep get in close to Katherine Knox looking for a favorite treat of alfalfa cubes.

Oddly enough, it was a cow that led Katherine Knox to raise sheep.

A decade ago, the Charlotte resident had been travelling all the way to Fletcher to buy raw milk and was looking for a vendor closer to home. While driving on Spear Street in 2007, she saw a girl walking a Jersey cow in her backyard. Knox and her daughters stopped and discovered that, in addition to the cow, there was a flock of Border Leicester and Romney sheep.

The lambs were adorable. Believing that one of her callings in life is to nurture and care for others, Knox said she researched the two breeds at home and learned they could be raised for wool and meat. Add to that a desire to teach her children about responsibility and compassion and the next day, she returned and purchased two bottle-feeding lambs.

Initially, Knox didn’t have a shelter for the sheep, so she kept them in her garage and in a screened-in enclosure. She ordered some portable fencing and her husband began to quickly build a shed. Two days later, Knox returned to the Spear Street home to ask a question about one of the lambs. Another little one began tugging at the coat of her youngest daughter, Lark, who responded by tugging at her mother’s coat.

Learning that this lamb was destined for the freezer, the family soon became the owners of a third sheep and Woolie headed home with them to join Willie and Daisy. As the farm began to grow, Knox realized it needed a name and a friend suggested they find something that represented the family.

“It takes a lot of hands and a lot of heart to do what we do,” Knox said. “That’s what came to mind.” Thus, Hands and Heart Farm was born.

Although others have suggested that she try raising different breeds, Knox is set on the Border Leicesters and Romneys. She describes the Border Leicesters as tall and elegant with pointy ears, while the Romneys have more lustrous and fluffy fleece. Knox shears the Border Leicesters every six months while the Romneys only need haircuts every nine months.

She skirts, spins, cards and cleans the wool, but sends some of it to be processed. When her daughters, now 18 and 20, were younger, they used to show the sheep at fairs.

These days the farm has roughly 40 sheep and each season there is a get-together where friends and family come up with names for the new lambs, in alphabetical order based on birth and centered around a theme. Last year’s theme was singers, starting with Adele and ending with Queen.

The lambs are all halter-trained so they can be sold to other families as pets. “We try to develop a personal relationship with them so we know they will be friendly and manageable in their new homes,” Knox said.

When Knox moved to Vermont in the 1990s, she and her husband settled in Richmond but they wanted to send their children to the Lake Champlain Waldorf School so they bought land in Charlotte in 2001, building a house in 2003. They set the house at the end of a long driveway and decided to go off-grid, relying on solar and wind to power their home. “I feel like this is my sanctuary,” she said.

In addition to raising sheep, Knox is a part-time teacher at Hinesburg Community School. “These are two different jobs that I absolutely love,” she said. “My only wish is that there were more hours in the day.”

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