- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

LA PRAIRIE, Wis. (AP) - Never mind that February looms with its promise of more winter.

New life in Karen Zell’s barn brings the promise of spring.

Dorothy and Toto are so cute they could make the biggest curmudgeon coo at the sight of their innocent faces.

But the twin lambs are only the beginning, The Janesville Gazette (https://bit.ly/1QzCG5S ) reported.

Zell expects her six ewes to give birth through March.

If all goes well, she will have more spirited twins.

She will nurture them with healthy amounts of high-quality hay and crimped oats until they grow to about 120 pounds in seven to 10 months.

Then Zell will sell the tender meat to customers in four states, including Wisconsin.

“The sheep’s mission is to feed someone good quality meat,” Zell said. “I raise them for a purpose, and I raise them with love.”

Growing sheep is Zell’s daily dose of happiness.

“I’m never going to be rich,” she said. “But the things these sheep do make your soul smile.”

They have pulled down her sweat pants, untied her shoe laces and slammed into her while playing. Once she fell in a pen, and lambs crowded on top of her.

“They looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing down there?’” Zell said. “By the time they are ready for market, they are like rowdy out-of-control boys.”

She discovered the joyful creatures while searching for something else.

A few years ago, Zell wanted to use her pastures to earn money.

The rural Janesville woman considered raising domestic yaks. Then she looked into buying Murray grey cattle.

But Zell did not want to lead a 1,300-pound cow to pasture.

So she settled on hair sheep, a unique breed raised for meat.

Like the name suggests, the ruminants have more hair than their wool cousins.

“If we raise wool sheep, we have to find someone to shear them,” Zell said. “It’s hard to find someone who will do it because shearing is a lost art.”

Hair sheep do not need shearing, which saves Zell money.

In fall of 2010, she bought her first ewes from a breeder in northern Wisconsin.

“Hair sheep are hard to find,” she explained. “The people who sell them have a waiting list.”

The following year, she sold her first animals. Zell couldn’t believe it when her butcher called and commented on how tender the meat was.

People who normally do not like lamb enjoy the meat from hair sheep, Zell said.

Like wool breeds, hair sheep come in many varieties. Zell keeps St. Croix, Katahdin, Dorper, Barbados and Romanov breeds.

Hair sheep originally came from tropical areas in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, but they do well in Zell’s barn.

Last year, Zell helped birth and rear lambs in the middle of one of Wisconsin’s coldest winters. Her lambing pen has an overhead lamp for warmth and a low ceiling. To keep lambs warm, she fits them with blankets the first month of their lives.

Hair sheep breed once a year in late October, November or December when daylight shrinks.

Helping raise the animals are her brother Jeffrey Kutz and friend Chris Teubert.

In addition to owning sheep, Zell also boards senior horses and raises miniature Angus cattle.

She does it all with tender care.

“I think I was put on this Earth to make the lives of animals better.”

___

Information from: The Janesville Gazette, https://www.gazetteextra.com

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