I dedicate this book to my father, Walter Edward Schoenian, Jr.
We called my dad a "frustrated farmer." He raised chickens and sold eggs when he was a teenager. When he enrolled in the University of Maryland, he wanted to become an agricultural engineer, but his father wasn't in agreement, so my dad quit and joined the US Army. My dad became an electronics engineer, a career he did for more than 30 years and dearly loved. He achieved his dream to farm, first through his three kids, some sheep, and 5.5 acres in Howard County, Maryland.
My mom likes to tell the story of when he bought two ewes and a ram -- Rascal, Little One, and Whiskers -- instead of buying corrective shoes for my brother. Little did she know the influence those sheep would have on her youngest child. My siblings and I participated in 4-H, another big influence on our lives. Dad was a 4-H club leader. We showed sheep at the county and state fair. We won prizes with our sheep and accolades from 4-H. In 1980, I was one of four national winners in the 4-H sheep project area. I won a free trip to Chicago and earned a college scholarship.
One of my favorite stories about growing up on a little farm involves my dad and Angie. Angie was a Black Angus heifer that my parents got me for my birthday. She was bottle-fed and the only bovine on the premises. She thought she was something special, often leading the sheep astray. My dad used to scold us kids for leaving the barn lights on. One night when he was leaving the barn -- obviously he had turned out the lights -- the lights suddenly came back on. As if to say, "I'm in charge!", Angie pulled down on the string, illuminating the single light bulb in her corner stall. Needless to say, he didn't get mad at us again for leaving the barn lights on.
My dad taught us the fundamentals of raising livestock. Clean water and clean feed. He had us weigh all the feed. He believed in good records. I had the best 4-H record book! We had a chalk board in the barn, on which we wrote lambing records. We paint branded the dam's number on all the lambs. We weighed lambs frequently. After picking out our show lambs, we marketed the rest to the ethnic market. The customers for our lambs were generally Greek. They butchered the lambs on our farm. It wasn't always easy, but we learned the hard lessons of life and death.
I knew from an early age that I wanted to go to college and have a career related to animals. Everyone thought I would become a veterinarian. I thought about it, but decided to pursue a career in animal science (husbandry) instead. I loved farm livestock and wanted to have a career working with them. My dream was to do something related to sheep. I chose two universities that excelled in sheep production: Virginia Tech and Montana State University. My first job out of college (in 1984) was as Sheep Specialist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. In December 2001, I became the Sheep & Goat Specialist for University of Maryland Extension.
My dad's first chance to own a farm came in 1976. He used some of the inheritance he received from his father to buy a 225-acre farm in West Virginia. The farm was located in the boondocks in a very rural county. I'm not sure my dad ever envisioned his "city slicker" wife moving there or sending his kids to school in Gilmer County. The property was up and down (hollows). It had an old, one-room school house, but no house. At least not a livable house. More of a shack. It was a fun place to go on weekends, but it wasn't going to happen. We weren't going to move there. Eventually he sold it.
In 1986, just shy of his 56th birthday, Dad retired from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. He and my mom moved to a 150-acre property in Garrett County. My dad finally got his farm. He stocked it with a flock of sheep -- hardy North Country Cheviots -- and began his life as a gentleman farmer.
After I started working more with goats in my job, Dad got interested, too. He built another barn and decided to raise meat goats. He got six Boer x Nubian nannies from a friend of mine. If you've raised sheep before and decide to get goats, you're in for quite a ride. The goats are where? They did what? My dad did a good job with his goats. He raised them like sheep. He marveled at their ability to clean up the landscape. I think he enjoyed raising them, but sheep were more his thing.
My dad was always very involved in my career. I recall a few years ago when my colleagues and I got interested in hydroponic fodder. My dad built a little mini hydroponic system. Always the engineer. No one can say that he didn't become an agricultural engineer because he did. He built everything for agriculture: barns, sheds, greenhouses, fences, feeders, and much more. At the farm in Howard County, he tore down perfectly good fence, so he could install high tensile electric fencing, a New Zealand technology that was just getting popular in the US. He built our original barn -- "a masterpiece" -- from old lumber. It was a sad day when developers tore it down to build houses. Nowadays, I can hardly stand to drive by the old place at 5770 Trotter Road.
When Dad and Mom moved closer to me in 2003, Dad renovated the barn on the new property, built new fence, and got a small flock of Katahdins, just like me. We raised our sheep together. We shared rams. I brought sheep to his place in the summer time. I took he and my mom to Katahdin Expos in Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Missouri (twice). He raised Katahdin sheep until 2011 when his health made it too difficult for him to care for the sheep. He switched back to chickens, his first love. He built more things for them. A few years ago, he sold his chickens and had to limit his hobbies to those he could do inside his man cave.
My dad always took an interest in the places I visited. He enjoyed learning about agriculture in far off lands like China and South Africa. He was proud that I got asked to visit, judge, and speak in so many states and countries. In fact, even if he didn't say it all the time, I knew that he was proud of me. Near the end, he told me how smart I was. If I'm smart, it's because of him and my mother. Like him, I liked math and science in school. I love working with computers. Dad and I used to tease each other about whose computer was the fastest or whose monitor was bigger.
When I see my sheep, I think of my dad, especially. When I put up my hoop house, Dad built the platform it stands on. He put the wooden walls in it. He wired it for electricity. I still have two ewes that Dad raised: WES 902 and 103. When Dad's end was near, he asked if I'd bring him a lamb to see. One last time. One last sheep. It's a special moment that I will treasure forever. The lamb was a grandson of a ewe he raised. Only a week old, it didn't seem to mind being separated from its mother. The picture of me, my sister, Dad and the lamb sits beside my bed.
Sadly, we lost my dad on Palm Sunday, April 19, 2019. We celebrated his life on Good Friday. I know he's in heaven looking over me and my mom and sister. He's got himself a big sheep farm and he's up there building stuff for them. I see him in everything I do. He's part of who I am. No words can express how much I miss him. This book is for him, the man who instilled in me a love of agriculture and taught me how to raise sheep. He was a good man. A good father. I'm proud to be his daughter.
Walter Edward Schoenian, Jr.
July 13, 1930 - April 19, 2019
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