They already owned the land and a barn. The building needed repairs and the land needed clearing, but it was nothing Laurence and Natasha McCrary couldn’t handle.
No, they had never run a farm before, but Natasha’s father was a botanist and Laurence’s father had worked on a farm.
And how much trouble could a couple of Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep be?
The idea sounded so simple.
“We wanted to teach our kids to appreciate the land and the importance of being self-sustaining. We wanted to raise a couple of sheep and grow some crops,” Natasha McCrary said. “We had no idea it would turn into this.”
Just south of Interstate 565, on the edge of Limestone County, Natasha McCrary slogged through the grass, damp from a recent rain, to the grazing fields. Her children Waggoner, Gamble and Eliza trailed behind her.
The day had begun at 6:30 a.m. — milking the goats, feeding the sheep, watering the gardens and collecting eggs from the chicken house.
“I guess we have about 40 or 50 chickens,” McCrary said, looking at the ground to take a quick count of the black and yellow animals scurrying around her work boots.
Add to the chickens the four sheep, seven goats, two dogs and two cats, and the animals on 1818 Farms — a nod to the year Mooresville was incorporated — outnumber the town’s 53 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“Having a small, profitable farm was not the plan, but it is now,” McCrary said. The McCrarys imagine selling the wool from the sheep, eggs from chickens, bouquets from a garden and teaching classes on cooking and sheep-shearing.
The original plan, circa November 2011, was simply to raise four Babydoll sheep.
“Gamble had seen sheep at a farm and was so excited about the idea. We thought raising a couple of lambs would be a fun project to do as a family,” McCrary said.
The family made a list of to-dos: survey the land, create rotational grazing, clear vegetation, repair the barn, stain and paint the structure, build fencing and find a guard animal.
Bordering the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the farm needed an animal to protect the sheep from coyotes. After debating between a llama, a donkey and a dog, the McCrarys shipped Kroaker, a Great Pyrenees, from California.
“The first day we had him, he slipped his 125-pound body between the fence wires. We think he heard something like a goat near the refuge and was looking to guard it,” McCrary said. “So we got two goats.”
The animal explosion began, and the idea of a profitable farm emerged.
The to-do list grew: erect two chicken houses and a classroom, till the land, dig irrigation ditches, plant crops, adopt another Great Pyrenees to learn from Kroaker, buy chicks and build a brooder to keep the chicks warm at night.
“One night, the goats Socks and Gilley accidentally switched off the brooder,” McCrary said. “Only Frosty, Chickadee, Midnight, Bon Bon, Sunshine and Julio Jones survived. After that we stopped naming the chicks.”
The farm became a refuge for animals. When a cat abandoned two kittens and goats squeezed through a neighbor’s fence, 1818 Farms adopted them.
“Everyone gets along real well here,” said Shirley McCrary, Laurence McCrary’s mother. “We got the two cats when they were kittens so they would grow up with the chicks and not try to eat them.”
The education Natasha McCrary wanted to share with her children is taking root. They know Ameraucana hens lay blue eggs, Nubian goats give creamy milk and the Babydoll sheeps’ wool is like cashmere.
“We had Eliza’s kindergarten class out here. They had no idea where their food came from. They thought broccoli grew on trees,” she said. “I hope this is a place where children can become reconnected with the land.”
As Waggoner, Gamble and Eliza set out watermelon for the chickens, a squawk erupted.
“That chicken better not be turning into a mean rooster,” said Shirley McCrary. “If so, we’ll have to give it away or eat it.”
McCrary’s not kidding. One of the roosters already suffered that fate. This is life on a farm.
“He was very aggressive to the other hens,” Natasha McCrary said. “We couldn’t sell him because he was so mean and we didn’t want to be wasteful, so we ate him.”
“He was tough. He didn’t taste that good,” Gamble said.
After 10 months of planning, building and acquiring animals, are they done?
“Oh, no. I have my eye on a piglet. And, what they say about Babydoll sheep is that they’re like potato chips. Once you start you can’t have just one,” McCrary said with a smile.
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