Terra Madre delegates & Slow Food Twin Cities members Steven & Jodi Ohlsen Read lost nearly 600 head of sheep in a barn fire early in the morning of January 24th. Arson is suspected.
Any amount of help you can provide would be welcome. Please send checks and letters of support and encouragement to:
Shepherd’s Way Farm
Steven & Jodi Ohlsen Read
8626 160th St. E.
Nerstrand, MN 55053
The Slow Food Forum has also shared with us a news report of the fire, from the Star Tribune
After barn fire, newborn lamb is a symbol of hope
Donna Halvorsen and Tom Sweeney
NERSTRAND, MINN. — With her neighbor’s barn in flames early Monday, Lynn Reeck was there, trying to push sheep out the door, when she felt something bump against her feet. It was a lamb, newly born, with its umbilical cord still attached.
Reeck took the lamb home, warmed it and fed it from a baby bottle. When she brought the lamb back later, it was cuddled and fussed over as a kind of miracle baby–the only one of 225 lambs to survive a massive fire that killed about 550 sheep at Steve and Jodi Read’s farm in Rice County, about 45 miles south of the Twin Cities.
It was a bright spot in an otherwise grim day.
The Reads’ Shepherd’s Way Farms is the largest farmstead raising dairy sheep in North America. They turn sheep’s milk into award-winning cheese, which they distribute throughout the country. But on Monday, most of the animals and a big chunk of the barn were gone.
The state fire marshal’s office and the Rice County Sheriff’s Office are investigating. Arson has not been ruled out, said Rice County Sheriff Richard Cook. Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the Minnesota Arson Hot Line at 1-800-723-2020.
More than 100 sheep were burned but survived. As neighbors stopped to offer condolences Monday, veterinary students from the University of Minnesota and the farm’s staff examined the animals to decide which could be treated and which would have to be destroyed.
It was the second fire at the farm in five days. A fire Thursday night burned 30 huge bales of hay that were in a field close to the road, not far from the sheep barn that was burned early Monday.
The Reads and their four sons were roused from sleep about 2:30 a.m. Monday when a neighbor called to tell them about the fire. The barn, made up of several attached buildings, was engulfed in flames when the Nerstrand Fire Department and sheriff’s deputies arrived 15 minutes later.
Firefighters from Fairbault and Kenyon helped battle the blaze, but two of the barn units were a total loss, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Steve Read said he has insurance but didn’t know how much of his loss will be covered. Replacing the sheep will cost $350 each, he said. The feeding operation, the cheese factory and an office were spared, as was the family’s house behind the barn.
The Shepherd’s Way sheep are not like most sheep, which are typically raised for meat or wool. They were all born at the farm and are tended constantly. Because the ewes’ milk is used to make cheese and butter, the lambs are bottle fed twice a day, and staff and visitors become attached to them.
“Our sheep are very socialized and very tame and very good girls,” Steve Read said, adding that the loss is “terrible. You put your head down and go to work. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
What the Reads do is very specialized. Most cheese is made from cow’s or goat’s milk. “There aren’t a lot of people who are milking sheep, and even fewer who are making cheese [from it],” Steve Read said.
He said their farm is part of the “slow food movement,” made up of people who want to know where their food comes from–and who have palates for specialty cheeses, such as the Big Woods Bleu, one of three of Jodi Read’s products that won top awards from the American Cheese Society last year.
“They have a lot of people who believe in what they’re doing here,” said the Rev. David Lechelt, the Reads’ pastor at East Union Lutheran Church near Chaska, who stopped by to offer prayers and support. “They’ve worked so hard, and this is such a beautiful place.”
The surviving baby lamb became the symbol of the day. She was named Esperanza, which is Spanish for hope. Her ears and coat were singed by fire, but otherwise she seemed fine, drinking from a bottle held by Reeck, the neighbor who rescued her.
“She was a brand-new baby amid all that chaos,” Reeck said. “Somehow she managed to get free of all the fire.”