Charles City shepherdess works to raise endangered sheep

By Thomas Nelson,

Every shepherdess has her flock, but not every shepherdess’ flock is endangered.

Hannah Baljeu, 16, has been raising sheep most of her life, and is currently a junior in high school. She helped shear her 23 sheep on Saturday.

“All of the them except for two are CVM sheep,” Baljeu said.

California Variegated Mutant sheep are the most critically endangered sheep in the United States, there are less than 400 of them registered, Baljeu said. Twenty-one of those sheep belong to Baljeu.

“They’re fine wool, so their wool is extremely soft and valuable,” Baljeu said. “So we want to make sure it comes off in piece and there’s no extra poop or hay in there.”

The wool from a CVM sheep is softer than cotton ball, Baljeu said.

To successfully do this, Baljeu brought in a special shearer from out of town to get the wool off the sheep in piece. Each sheep is worth $400 to $500 each. The pelts can cost different amounts depending on how much it weighs. The pelts can weigh anywhere from four to 10 pounds.

“It depends on how well their wool is, but we typically sell them for $10 per pound,” Baljeu said.

Sheep of both genders can elicit the same price, but the male sheep tend have stinkier pelts, Baljeu. In 45 minutes, six sheep can be sheared.

“Once we take off the fleece we put it in bed sheets, so that way they have a way to breath,” Baljeu said. “If we put them in a garbage bag, then it’s going to be very strongly scented, it’s going to be wet.”

Once Baljeu has time, either after her classes are over or during spring break, she’ll take the wool out of the sheets and lay them out on a skirting stable. From there she’ll take out all the pieces and be able to show it at fairs and sell it to producers.

Usually it takes one year for CVM sheep to grow an acceptable amount of wool to be sheared, Baljeu said.

During the winter the sheep are out in a coat to keep their wool clean.

“We can’t coat all of them, because sometimes their naughty and they rip them,” Baljeu said.

Baljeu hopes to continue to be a shepherdess.

“I’ve been raising sheep since I was eight years old,” Baljeu said. “I bought them with money I raised up.”

She was able to raise the money by helping her mom clean at her school.

Baljeu moved to Charles City from Michigan this summer. She’s won multiple awards in Michigan, and at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Her first time showing at the Wisconsin sheep and Wool Festival she got second place for one of her fleeces.

“I’m just trying to improve the breed and keep that heritage breed alive, because they are so endangered,” Baljeu said. “I’m trying to grow my flock, I started with ten sheep and its expanded to where we are now.”