- Associated Press - Sunday, November 29, 2020

DELAND, Fla. (AP) - Ormond Beach resident Linda Sullo peeked through the fence at Bob, a Katahdin sheep.

Bob moved ever closer to his pasture fence to get a closer look at Sullo, her friend Anne Rogers, and about six other visitors who had trekked out to nearly the county line in Pierson to learn about shepherding, Volusia County-style.

Sullo said in the five years she’s been attending the annual Volusia County Farm Tour, this was the first time she got to see a sheep farm. She didn’t know Volusia County even had sheep farms.

“The first year we did this I was in shock,” said Sullo of Friday’s annual tour, which is in its 39th year. She said she had no idea there were so many farms throughout Volusia County. And every year, she finds one farm on the tour she never knew was a possibility in the area.

“There’s always one surprise,” said Sullo.

The self-guided farm tour has been an annual tradition in the county since 1981 and is jointly sponsored by the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension and the Volusia County Farm Bureau. And while one may often think of the beach and coastline when thinking of Volusia County, there are more than 1,500 local farms dispersed throughout the area, contributing more than $780 million to the local economy, according to the agricultural extension.

Four and Change Farm, Sally Mangra’s Katahdin sheep farm off State Road 40, was one of eight different farms or producers that opened their doors to the public Friday.

Others included Vo-LaSalle Farms in DeLeon Springs and other produce growers like Benedict Farms in New Smyrna Beach and Common Ground Farm in DeLand.

Out in Pierson, tourists got a chance to listen to Mangra explain what it takes to raise little lambs.

She’s been raising Katahdin sheep for almost 10 years. As visitors trickled into the farm, Mangra explained sheep production in Florida and how she markets her products to consumer and youth livestock exhibitors.

Mangra, who is also president of the Florida Meat Sheep Alliance, got into the business after she retired in 2013. She said she decided on sheep farming because they’re extremely docile animals, and the Katahdin sheep she raises are perfect for Florida, economical and less labor-intensive than traditional wool sheep.

“These are hair sheep,” Mangra said. “They don’t have wool, so you don’t have to shear them. These are meat sheep.”

They’re also fairly prolific. Mangra said she often welcomes twins into the world at her farm.

“This year I had triplets,” she said.

Ultimately, many of Mangra’s flock will likely end up on someone’s dinner plate. But, like “Bob,” the sheep still have names.

“Oh yes. They all have names,” said Mangra, pointing out Ester, who helped serve as Mangra’s example for visitors, and Thor, the farm’s ram.

Glenwood resident Stephen McGehee, a former farmer himself for a time, listened intently to Mangra as she rattled off each animal’s name.

Later, McGehee said his only disappointment about the annual farm tour is that there’s just not enough time to visit every farm and learn about all of them.

“This is only my second year. Both times I just stumbled across it,” said McGehee. “But I love these things.”

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