In 1995, Geri and William Hess were tired of the hustle and bustle of the Washington D.C. metro area. After raising a family and living the “rat race” of Northern Virginia, Geri decided she was done working with computers, and that it was time to leave McLean and head west to Culpepper County.
This “city-type” family was in for a real surprise that year. When they moved into their farm house (circa 1854) with only fireplaces and a wood stove to keep them warm, they knew their life would never be the same! Their little town consisted of less than 300 people and a volunteer fire department; it was 8 miles to the closest gallon of milk. But with 77 beautiful rolling acres of farm land who could complain? Thinking that raising crops might be difficult on their land they decided that farm animals were the way to go.
The Hess family purchased their first 33 sheep in November of 1995. All of which quickly became “pets” with names like Cover Boy Jefferson, Hannah Banana, and Aunt Bea. Geri said, “Not only were the sheep like pets but they were also wonderful lawn mowers as well.” Their new home was quickly becoming a farm and needed a suitable name, so they decided to call it Digging Dog Farm for their Labrador “Happy” who loved every minute of his life on the farm.
The Hess family researched and learned everything they could about farming and found that it was their passion. Soon they were able to use their flock for fleece and lamb production. Today their flock has 56 sheep and includes 5 rescue dogs and two guardian lamas. Through their first-hand experience at farming, Geri even developed an index card system of important husbandry information, which is now sought after and borrowed by fellow farmers.
The Hess family strongly believes in good land stewardship and supporting the sustainable farmers in the marketplace. It is also extremely important to them that their animals be treated and handled with TLC since they are very much a part of the family.
“I learned about Humane Farm Animal Care’s ‘Certified Humane’ program while in the bathtub reading Newsweek,” says Geri. “I was so pleased to see that a program like this existed. Most farmers don’t like ‘outside intervention’ but I felt that we already do a good job raising our animals so why not get certified for it.” She noted that as a farmer her goal is to raise animals that are healthy, that can perform, can produce offspring and express their natural behaviors; and that by raising her animals under HFAC’s standards she is definitely achieving that.
Geri and William send some of their lambs to market but most of the flock consists of fleece breeds including Romney, Border Leicester, Coopworth and associated crosses. They have fine, medium and long wool fleeces weighing from 5 to 14 pounds. The raw fleece can be purchased directly from the farm and is also sold at studios in Harrisburg and East Berlin, Pennsylvania as well as at the Maryland sheep and wool festival.
Digging Dog Farm prides themselves as a “small private farm fiber flock, with diverse genetics, offering affordable, organic, skirted raw fleece from sheep and lambs, humanely raised and managed in a carefully sustainable environment.” While many people aspire to wealth and grandeur as a measure of success, the Hess family at Digging Dog Farm is a living testament of the real American dream.
For information on where to find other Certified Humane® products in your area, visit the “Shop” page of HFAC’s website.