Welcome to Signal Rock Farm - a dream come true for my husband and I - Kevin and Marianne McCarthy. We purchased the 245 acre farm in August 2005 after many years of looking and dreaming. Kevin wanted a place where he could make lots and lots of hay so of course he could have all the tractors and attachments that go with that and a big barn to store all the hay in. I just wanted to live on a farm, always thought it would be a wonderful place to be, with lots of room for riding horses and keeping some other animals too. Neither of us grew up on a farm but Kevin had spent summers in Wigtown, Scotland on his Aunt and Uncles farm and loved it. I grew up in a small town with a small yard but loved to visit my friends who lived out in the country - little did I know all the work that went into those lovely farms!
We started farming in North Kingstown, RI on the 3.5 acres that was left of the original Signal Rock Farm. We updated the 1860 farm house and improved the land, fixing stone walls and fences, planting perennial flower beds and clearing brush off what had once been pasture. We kept a horse and dogs and had a very large vegetable garden, selling the surplus vegetables at a small farm stand in front of the house. We both had jobs in the IT field but craved the great outdoors.
Although we both enjoyed the vegetable garden, I really wanted to work with animals and Kevin wanted to make hay. As our dreams evolved a plan developed where I could work on the farm too. I would milk sheep and have cheese made with the milk, sell grass fed lamb meat and wonderful wool products. We decided to try this out on a small scale, while still looking for a farm to buy. I purchased 3 wet dairy sheep and a ram lamb to use in the fall for breeding, and began milking them by hand. We drank the fresh, raw milk daily and froze what we couldn’t for later use. The raw milk being especially high in protein and vitamins A and D is a wonderful energy drink. Sheep milk is naturally homogenized so it can be frozen in small quantities. By the end of the season I had decided this was what I really wanted to do. I spent the next several months putting together a business plan for a sheep dairy operation. I pored over numerous books on the care and feeding of sheep, milking sheep, lambing sheep - which was particularly scary to me. I called sheep and goat dairy farmers and picked their brains, went and visited those that had the time to spare.
Grass fed dairy sheep requires a lot of open land for grazing and haying which is in short supply within an hour radius of Boston – which was our target location. We had a very difficult time even finding farms to look at in Rhode Island, central Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut, much less one we could afford. The plan was for Kevin to keep his day job in Boston for a few years, while I gave up my day job and went full time into farming. In the end, we were both full time farming it seemed while Kevin was still working in Boston. We found a flock of dairy sheep we could buy with excellent genetics for producing lots of milk with great butter fat and great tasting quality lamb meat. The farmer asked us to rent her 30+ acre farm, located in Colrain, MA, two and a half hours from Boston. This was not in our target location, it was just too far away from Boston and the farm would be too small for our needs after two or three years.
However, after much frustration in not being able to buy or lease a farm closer to Boston, the decision was made to at least get started in Colrain, we bought out the flock, all pregnant and ready to lamb in April of 2005. I quit my job and moved to Colrain, MA. The farmer agreed to provide assistance, knowledge and support to us during lambing and for a few months after. Kevin worked in Boston all week and came to Colrain on the weekends to help me.
We soon purchased additional ewe lambs from another farmer with excellent dairy genetics to increase our flock size and have these ewes ready to lamb in the spring of 2007 for the milk line. A few months after moving to Colrain we were able to purchase the perfect farm in Charlton, MA, just one hour from Boston.
For the next 10 years or so we were busy pasture raising about 100 Ewes and their offspring, 200 plus lambs. Both of us have been haying the fields and selling to the local horse, llama, alpaca, goat and cow community in addition to filling the barn to feed our ewes for the few months in the winter when grazing is limited. We finished building the milk parlor and milked the ewes one summer in 2007, producing fully inspected Grade A sheep's milk that a local cheese maker turned into cheese for us and then we sold at the farmer’s markets along with lamb and wool products. The farm had a rough board horse boarding facility in operation when we purchased it. We turned this into a full board operation with a horse barn manager, ensuring that each horse was well cared for. The barn manager was then available to lend a hand with making hay and caring for the sheep.
Now, after 13 years, we have fine tuned our farm to reflect the changing world around us while continuing to improve on it all the time. We no longer operate a sheep dairy, haven’t in years, but we do still breed about 50 ewes and raise about 100 grass-fed lambs, moving them to fresh grazing daily along with their guard llama. We have improved our hay fields from 5,000 bales a year to between 10,000 and 12,000+ bales a year from the same fields. We actively manage our land by soil testing, fertilizing as needed, hay testing and getting the hay off in a timely manner. We now board only a handful of horses verses the 18 that were here when we arrived. We enjoy providing what every horse deserves - large paddocks, unlimited grazing or slow feed hay, run-in sheds, stalls for inclement weather. We love having horses on our property and enjoy all their individual personalities.
Farming is far more difficult than we envisioned when we started down this path. It has more heartache and worry, with more risk than I could have ever imagined. There is so little that one can control and really manage, it is easy to get overwhelmed. It is hard not to constantly worry. It is also far more rewarding and fulfilling than our previous occupations. It is worth doing. It is worth all the work and all the worry. It is important. I believe how our food is grown matters. What our animals eat, how their lives are lived, matters, it affects us all. We are what we eat, and we are what they eat. If farming were easier more would be doing it. Yes that’s true, but the real truth is that if farming paid the bills better, more consistently, with some left for savings; if farming had a profit margin that was even a small fraction what other businesses and professions make – something to make up for all the risk, loss and investment required then more people would be farming. Our society needs to value our food, our farmers, our land and be willing to pay what it really costs to sustain it.
We hope you enjoy visiting our website and are welcome to come visit our lovely farm. Please just give us a call at (508) 248-1845 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free tour.