Ever since a trip to the west of Ireland, Norman Cloutier and Wendy Ketchum dreamt of having a farm of their own with enough pasture to raise sheep. Their dream eventually became a reality when they purchased an historic 200-acre farm on top of a hill in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, with outstanding views of picturesque Mount Chocorua. The lone structurally-sound building left on the property was an old schoolhouse set on solid granite foundation stones, inspiring the farm’s name.
Once land was acquired, Norman and Wendy decided to raise Icelandic sheep “after exhaustive research for a hardy, beautiful, intelligent breed.” The Icelandic sheep is a rare multi-purpose breed which thrives on even the poorest pasture and provides both high-quality wool and meat. As the couple explains, they chose the breed mainly for its hardiness in the harsh New Hampshire, as well as for the “wondrous variety of colors and patterns of their fleeces,” which Wendy describes as “a knitted Icelandic sweater covering the pastures.”
The farm’s flock grazes 12 acres of lush pasture where they enjoy a wide variety of grasses, legumes, brassicas, and forbs. “We strive to be as self-contained and sustainable as possible in our agricultural practices,” Norman explains. “By focusing on building healthy rich soil that hosts diverse plant and micro-organism life, we are able to ensure an optimal diet for our flock and allow the animals to reach their full potential.” One of the ways that Norman and Wendy ensure both the health of their flock and their soil is to apply composted manure to the pastures that sheep graze during the summer and the hayfields which feed the flock during the winter months.
Norman is the founder of United Natural Foods, Inc. (also known as UNFI) – the leading independent national distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods and related products. He has more than 35 years of experience in sustainable agriculture and currently serves as a Director of Maine’s Own Organic Dairy (www.moomilkco.com) and as an advisor and consultant to University of New Hampshire Organic Dairy. Norman and Wendy found that the same respect for how food is grown, which has guided their work over three decades, has also aided their transition into shepherding. “As our children have grown, moved on, and left us with an empty nest, we’ve taken to shepherding as though we were meant to do it!” says Norman. As a jack-of-all-trades and former-mechanic in a previous life, he has taken to the role of full-time farm manager like a duck to water, mending fences and tending to the pastures, as well as designing more efficient systems. Wendy, as an artist, deals with the fiber-end of shepherding and, as a natural caretaker, tends to the flock’s health and serving as the farm’s midwife during lambing season.
Norman and Wendy’s long term goal is to continue to learn about sustainable farming. They are constantly researching ways to improve the quality of their pastures and the health of their sheep without reliance on chemicals, ensuring their grassfed lamb is as nutritious and delicious as nature intended. “We pursued AWA certification for our sheep because we wanted our customers to recognize the extraordinary effort we put into caring for our animals,” says Norman. “Nutritious hay, healthy animals, superior fleece, flavorful meat, and vigorous lambs are proof that sustainable farming is just as viable today as it was two centuries ago on this small hilltop farm.”
Each year, Schoolhouse Farm’s best lambs are sold as breeding stock to other shepherds and the remaining lambs are sold to their meat customers. The beautiful Icelandic wool, which comes in a lovely palette of natural colors, is available as yarn, pelts, and hand-woven throws.