AgriCulture: Karakul Fever

Green E-Market Bulletin March 1, 2019
Awfully placid sources of fever Karakul Fever Hi All, Mark here.
The world confuses me some times. For reasons I may never understand, after raising them for eighteen years our Karakul sheep suddenly seem to be a hot commodity. Was I wrong, I wonder, to think of phasing myself out of farming and transferring the operation to Troy and Victoria, when I may have finally hit the jackpot? Should I switch gears and give up my law practice to devote myself full time to mining this mother lode?It’s not unusual in this season to get inquiries or orders for slaughtered lambs, as Easter and Passover approach. What has been unusual in the past couple of weeks is to get four different requests for Karakul breeding stock. Troy has been talking about reducing our herd by about half to fit in with his and Victoria’s plans as to where to devote their farming energy. Remarkably, despite the birth of a couple of dozen lambs since last month, thanks to this level of interest it seems they will be able to achieve that goal.As with all other aspects of life, I am constantly struck by the variations in human desire. The first request we received was from a professor in New Jersey who wants to start raising a small herd of heritage breed sheep on her property, starting with four ewes and a ram. I’m presuming a lot here, but based on her academic profile and the scale operation she contemplates, I assume her desire is driven by something akin to what motivated us to start with our four matriarchs, Bridget, Myra, Kybele and Marina, back in 2001. Call it the romance of sheep keeping.My late partner, Peter, and I had seen some Karakuls at the Sheep and Wool Festival during our first year on the farm. This fat tailed breed reminded Peter of the sheep he had seen grazing all over Turkey in the forty preceding years he had spent living and traveling there. They produced the rough type of wool that was used for weaving the Turkish flat weavings (kilims) and making the felt products that he sold in his business. After researching their history he was entranced by the romance of their being possibly the ur-sheep, the first breed bred by humans from which all the other breeds branched off. Hence our choice of Karakuls.I have viewed myself as just a sidekick to Peter’s projects and desires, but this morning realized I already had a certain romance regarding sheep in my own mind as well. My senior year in college, my friends and I rented a house in a ritzy Philadelphia suburb, Gladwyne, from a professor on sabbatical. Though his house was no mansion, it was on a road overlooking the Schuykill River across the street from an estate owned by the Dorrance family, of the Campbell Soup fortune. We never actually saw the house, to my recollection, but their front gate was in fact in the midst of a sheep pasture, where the site of a grazing flock, quite a novelty to me, gave me great pleasure. In retrospect, I think it may also have made me associate grazing sheep with gentility and privilege. I wonder if my sense of satisfaction now, when I look across our pasture and see the sheep peacefully grazing, doesn’t have some element in it of that unconscious association, giving me a delusion economic success.Our next inquiry came from a fellow who had purchased about fifteen sheep from us last year, and wants more. He is, I believe, of Uzbeki ancestry, and his desire appears to be more in the nature of establishing a culinarily oriented business. Central Asians seem to enjoy eating the meat of the Karakuls when they get to mutton stage. But for many, especially the Jews and Muslims for whom pork would be anathema, the special attraction of our breed is the sheep’s fat tails, which when rendered was a critical source of cooking fat in a region far from other good sources of such fats.Following within hours hearing from last year’s buyer came a call from a second Central Asian fellow, getting back in touch after intermittently calling me for months. While he shares with the first caller a desire to satisfy the taste of a particular ethnic market for fat tailed sheep, he is far more industrially minded. He’s been offering a partnership, or investment into our infrastructure, if we would ramp up our herd from its current number around 70 to something in the realm of 1000 to 2000. When I told him that Troy and Victoria, after some consideration, had decided they would rather reduce the herd than increase it to such an industrial scale (far beyond the capacity of our property), he said in a panicked tone “Don’t sell to anyone else. I’ll take them all. I’ll buy the entire herd.”And then, two days ago came an inquiry through our website from a foundation, the SVF Foundation in Newport, Rhode Island, which is seeking 6 to 8 mature Karakul rams and 20 to 25 mature ewes as part of a Biodiversity Preservation Project started last year in conjunction with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The stated purpose of the project is “to strengthen rare and endangered livestock breed conservation through the preservation and study of frozen germplasm (semen and embryos), cell lines and other biomaterials from rare heritage breeds of food and fiber livestock.” The project recognizes that heritage breeds carry valuable traits such as “resistance to disease and parasites, heat tolerance, mothering ability and forage utilization.” They are building a bio-repository and cryo-preservation laboratory at the Smithsonian’s facility in Front Royal, VA, from where they think they will be able to re-establish breeding populations of critically endangered or disappeared heritage breeds in a single generation.

The SVF Foundation, I learned, has been operating for nearly twenty years, and has already been working on preserving a very impressive array of endangered sheep and other rare livestock breeds. They want to expand their mission to Karakuls this year.What struck me, however, was the identity of SVF Foundation’s founder and presumably chief benefactor, none other than one Dorrance Hill Hamilton, heiress to the Campbell Soup Fortune. As I was reminded of my earlier encounter with shepherding, I couldn’t help wonder if the particular interest of this foundation in sheep was something that was part of a family heritage of the Dorrances, or perhaps just inspired by the same flock I so enjoyed watching in my senior year of college.Romance, food tradition, saving the world, and big bucks industry. Such different paths to Karakul fever. Should the buyers’ motivations matter, or in the interest of the farm’s economic viability should the sheep just go to the highest bidder? A test of our character may await us.
THIS WEEK’S OFFERINGSFROM LAST FALL’S GARDEN HARVEST:FROZEN SQUASH (SHREDDED, TROMBONCINO), GREAT FOR FRITTERS, $2/LB.EGGS: Back in full production. We can handle all your orders. $5/dozMEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezerGEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.TURKEYS: A few small ones left over and frozen $11/lb .GUINEA FOWL, frozen $7/lb (half the price of the Union Sq. Farmers Market). These are excellent 3 lb. or so birds.ROASTING CHICKENS – Freedom Rangers, $6/lb, range of sizes, mostly in the 4 to 5 lb. rangeLAMB: Loin chops at $14 a pound, riblets $8/lb, rib rack roasts $14/lb, small leg roasts $14/lb, We will soon replenish our lamb supply as it’s time for several to go to market.PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb, 
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb 
baby back ribs $8/lb 
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb 
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) $12/lb 
smoked bacon, $12/lb 
ground pork $7/lb 
Kielbasa $8/lbBEEF 
the last of our diminishing stash 
Sirloin steaks, $14/lb. 
kidney, heart etc. $1/lbDUCKS: Last year we did Pekin ducks. The males are not so different in size from the females, and these are nice meaty birds, most between 5 and 7 lbs. Also $7/lb. We have to retrieve these from the big freezer, so please order a week ahead.
FARM PICKUPS:Email us your order at, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.
HEAR OUR SHOWIf you’d enjoy hearing these bulletins out loud instead of reading them, we broadcast them on Robin Hood Radio, the nation’s smallest NPR station. You can find it on FM 91.9, AM 1020, WBSL-FM 91.7 “The Voice of Berkshire School” or streaming on the web at, where podcasts of past broadcasts are also available under the title AgriCulture in the “On Demand” section. FM 91.7 “The Voice of Berkshire School”can be heard from just south of Pittsfield to the CT border. You can hear the station on WHDD FM 91.9 from Ashley Falls, MA down through the Cornwalls and in NY from just south of Hillsdale down to Dover Plains. You can hear the station on AM1020 from Stockbridge, MA to Kent and from Poughkeepsie to Pawling to Kent, Goshen, Torrington, Norfolk, and Ashley. And the big news is that you can now get Robin Hood Radio in our own neighborhood of Southwestern Columbia and Northwestern Dutchess County, as it is being broadcast from Annandale on Hudson, 88.1 FM.


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