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Bruceton mills farm features rare breeds

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Kelly Anderson of Bruceton Mills holds Kalina, a rare Karakachan livestock guard dog, surrounded by one of her Giant Angora rabbits and some of her rare Leicester Longwool sheep. Kelly Anderson of Bruceton Mills holds Kalina, a rare Karakachan livestock guard dog, surrounded by one of her Giant Angora rabbits and some of her rare Leicester Longwool sheep.


For The State Journal

Hopping Acres in Bruceton Mills is a menagerie of rare breeds of animals.

Since 1992, Kelly Anderson has helped restore Colonial-era sheep to the United States. This year, to protect them, she has brought in a livestock guard dog bred for centuries in Europe. She even had rare chickens in her flock of egg-layers, but foxes got those — another reason for the dogs.

"I guess I have this thing about raising rare breeds and trying to save a rare breed," Anderson said. 

George Washington's sheep

But her love for sheep came first. Anderson received her first ewe, a registered Dorset named Barbara, from her aunt Jean Bishoff. Born, raised and still living in Preston County, Anderson raised and showed commercial sheep — those intended for market as food — in the 4-H program. 

From there, she became interested in sheep bred for their wool and in creating yarn from sheep fiber. Today she blends it with wool from her 10 Giant Angora rabbits, another animal breed considered endangered. 

In the early 1990s at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Anderson and her best friend, Joan Henry, saw Leicester (pronounced ‘lester') Longwool sheep exhibited by Colonial Williamsburg, the living history museum in Williamsburg, Va. "Leicester Longwools are a very rare breed of sheep that George Washington raised," Anderson said, explaining the museum's desire to exhibit animals that fit the period.

The friends set about obtaining their own flocks.

"A lot of the Leicester flocks that are out there have a lot of my bloodlines," she said. "It's reintroducing the breed. We're up to 800-900 animals now in the United States. 

"The U.S. is one of the second or third highest producers of Leicester Longwools in the world."

But as recently as 30 years ago, the Longwools were extinct in the United States due to cross-breeding to improve wool and meat production. Colonial Williamsburg had to obtain their original sheep from Tasmania, Australia.

In 1992, Anderson's farm became the site of one of Colonial Williamsburg's satellite breeding programs to re-establish the breed in America. Today it's the only satellite flock remaining after the organization discontinued the program to sell breeding stock itself. 

Bulgarian dogs

To protect her own little heritage breeds program at Hopping Acres, Anderson uses livestock guard dogs.

"Sheep farmers have to have livestock guardian dogs because we have no resources for losses to wild animals such as coyotes, bear, etc.," Anderson said. "If your sheep get killed by a dog, if your county has money in the dog fund, you will get fair market value.

"But if (they are) killed by coyotes you get nothing. Coyote kills are bad in the state of West Virginia, and shepherds have to take it upon themselves to protect their sheep. Raising a very rare breed of sheep, the first coyote kill at my farm cost me $5,000 in one night. Plus all those rare bloodlines are gone forever. This is why livestock guard dogs are a huge value to West Virginia shepherds."

Anderson has used Great Pyrenees for the job, but this year she introduced a Karakachan puppy named Kalina to Hopping Acres.

"They're also a very, very old endangered breed, and there's only as many as 600 or 700 actually left in the world," Anderson said of the breed raised by shepherds in Bulgaria.

Karakachans were nearly driven to extinction by Communists who decided they were unnecessary on collective farms. 

Anderson learned about Karakachans from a friend who has them who said they're a breed that needs saved and he likes how they work.

"Great Pyrs tend to wander. Karakachans are supposed to be real homebodies," Anderson said. "They are a little bit smaller dog than a Great Pyr. They're highly intelligent."

This fall, Anderson is getting a male puppy, a boy named Karaman, from a breeder in Bulgaria. Kalina came from North Carolina. One day, she hopes to breed Karakachans herself as another income source.

Not a hobby — a working farm

Anderson makes a living several ways at Hopping Acres now.

Anderson butchers and sells the meat of lambs that don't fit the breed standards.

She sells breeding stock — rams and ewes and Giant Angora rabbits, including one she shipped to Japan earlier this year.

"I was contacted by another breeder, an American Rabbit Breeders Association judge, who said a gentleman in Japan was searching for a Giant Angora," Anderson said. 

"He had her shipped over there. She went all the way to Osaka, Japan, from Pittsburgh and arrived safe and sound. He will use her for breeding rabbits and for shows. Rabbit shows are huge."

She collects wool from the sheep and rabbits. She sells some of it to other hand spinners and spins the rest into yarn herself. She sells yarn to knitters and crocheters and makes sweaters, hats and mittens to sell.

She has branded herself Lady Baa Baa at farmer's markets where she sells different kinds of breads she bakes weekly.

"I have a very small farm," she explained. "I buy all my grain and hay. Baking helps support the sheep."