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Legacy Of Lambs — Summer 2008 | Out Here Magazine

Kim Cogley dotes on Arctic, her Navajo Churro ewe, the oldest breed of sheep in the United States.

Program conserves heritage breeds while uplifting youngsters' self-confidence

By Hannah Wolfson
Photography by Ken Brooks

Kim Cogley dreamed of raising sheep, but thought she'd never be able to afford it. Thanks to a program that links young people with the owners of heritage breeds, she didn't have to.

Kim, 13, was one of 16 teenagers chosen to participate in a recent round of the Youth Conservationist Program. Now her two sheep — Arctic, a donated Navajo Churro ewe, and Norman, a young Navajo ram she bought — will be the foundation of her own heritage flock.

They're also two of her best friends, says Kim, who loves to spend time in her family's small barn in Swanton, MD, a 4-acre home where she also breeds rabbits.

Developing that bond with animals is among Youth Conservation Program's goals, director Elaine Ashcraft says.

Virginia residents Richard and Donna Larson started the program 10 years ago when they decided to share one of their Karakul sheep with a youngster in need.

"They felt there were youth out there that would like to raise a purebred animal but their families were financially strapped and could not afford to go out and buy that animal," Ashcraft says.

It's also a way to help promote lesser-known heritage breeds such as Kim's Navajo Churro — the oldest breed in the United States — as well others such as Jacob, Hogg Island, Icelandic, and Leicester Longwool. And it helps the students, who often make presentations when they show their unusual animals, learn confidence and public speaking, Ashcraft says.

Now, applications come from as far away as Alaska and dozens of breeders are involved, including Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate.

Since 1998, more than 100 students have received sheep, and several have been successful enough to give some of their own stock back to the program.

Kim hopes to do that some day. Her application letter was among 50 considered by breeder Linda Cummings for one of her Navajos. In fact, several breeders who read the applications themselves, were vying for Kim's participation, Ashcraft says.

She picked up Arctic at last spring's Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

"I didn't care what breed it was; I was just so excited that I got one," Kim says. "I spent the whole day looking for her."

At the festival she also found a generous and conservation-minded breeder willing to sell her a young ram for $350 — far less than the $1,000 such sheep can fetch.

Her father, Norman, moved equipment out of an outbuilding to make room for the sheep and built fences for them.

"I figured the way this world wouldn't hurt her to mess around with animals. She loves them," says Norman, for whom Kim named her ram. "She'll go down in the pen, and sit there and read to her sheep and that's so neat to watch."

Hannah Wolfson lives and works in Birmingham, AL.