Everyone loves the signs of spring: daffodils and forsythia blooming, trees budding, grass a brighter shade of green…….But those who travel on US Route 11 toward the Town of Pulaski, passing Pulaski Elementary School on the right and heading up the small incline toward LewisGale Hospital-Pulaski on the left, are blessed with another beautiful sign of the new life which represents spring: the fields are dotted with a growing number of baby lambs!
This lovely spring sight is a part of Colonial Farms, a family farm belonging to Cecil King, his wife Tina (head of the local Agency On Aging), and their daughter Laura Beth. Because he enjoyed working with animals, King started farming cattle in 1994 and added sheep in 1998. The Kings purchased the first 20 acres of their farm in 2000. Since that relatively small beginning, the Kings have expanded to currently farming a total of 500 acres, a combination of owned and rented land. In addition to the ever-expanding number of baby lambs during lambing season, there are now 400 ewes, 20 brood cows and 130 stocker cattle. In addition to the care of the animals, King and two part-time employees grow hay.
A few of the lambs are sold to 4-H and FFA members in Virginia and North Carolina for their market lamb projects to be exhibited at county and state fairs. Colonial Farms sells lambs, feeder calves and cattle ready for the Midwest feed yards. Their lambs are sold at the New Holland, Pennsylvania Livestock Market in a cooperative effort with the New River Valley Sheep and Goat Club. Calves are sold locally from brood cows and stockers are sold to a feedlot in the Midwest.
King says that the biggest change he has seen in his years in the agriculture business is that farms are getting larger and using more technology. Changes that he has made on his own farm include having more stocker cattle and fewer brood cows, and changing the sheep flock from black-face sheep to white-face sheep. The white-face sheep have proven to be much more productive and are more caring mothers to their baby lambs. Farms have also become more involved in consumer education and are constantly working to become more efficient and detail-oriented.
Besides being “home,” King credits being located in Pulaski County as an asset by providing good access to their major consumer markets.
When asked to comment on something he would like for people to understand about farming in today’s world, Cecil King stated, “Farming is becoming more difficult as people without a clue as to what takes place on a farm seek to have input on how we go about our business. This is the same as in many other occupations. People who think they have so much knowledge need to walk a mile and spend a week in another person’s shoes before passing judgment. As long as our population continues to expand, and as we have less land available to produce food, there are going to be problems for society to overcome.” He believes that fewer people are going to “take the risks, and give up their weekends and holidays, to become farmers to produce a product we sell wholesale and pay the freight both ways.” Although farming is a challenging occupation, anyone who is acquainted with King can tell that he loves what he does and would feel lost without his land and animals.
A major event at Colonial Farms is an annual sheep-shearing in early May. On that day, first graders from Pulaski Elementary School walk through the field from their school to the barn area of the farm. Upon their arrival, they are treated to milk and cookies. Then they are allowed to ride a pet cow, bottle feed orphan lambs, and watch for an opportunity to pet the fainting goats which fall over upon becoming startled. Then they get to watch the sheep shearing! It is amazing how quickly each sheep is sheared and how quickly the piles of wool accumulate and are bagged for sale.
The writer of this article has attended this event several times and can attest that even adults who are not exposed to farm life on a regular basis find this day very educational and enjoyable. This is a special day that the first-graders are likely to remember fondly for a very long time, and the Kings are to be commended for hosting this annual event.
There is one thing that the community now misses seeing at Colonial Farms: Lester the Llama! Lester was probably the best-known animal in Pulaski County and perhaps the surrounding area for many years. With his white coat and regal demeanor, whether sitting on a hillside or standing in a field, Lester presided over the farm for fifteen years and carefully watched over the sheep under his care! Although Lester passed away while doing what he loved best, guarding his sheep, he is not likely to be forgotten for a long time. There are two young llamas on the farm now that are in training to help guard the sheep, but they have some big hooves to fill! RIP Lester—you were loved by many and are greatly missed!