“RESDA Member Wins Sheep Family of Year Award”
By Redwood Empire Sheep Dog Association
Members of the Redwood Empire Sheep Dog Association (RESDA) often say, “first, you get a border collie, then you get a pickup truck, then you start looking for sheep property.” RESDA member Sue Gustafson and her family are an exception to this rule. They began raising market lambs in 1992 when Sue’s daughter, Julie, joined the Valley Verde 4-H Club and acquired their first border collie, Kate, in 2000. Sue notes, “Before we had border collies, we herded the sheep ourselves, moving pretty much the same way the dogs do.”
When Julie left home for college in 1998, Sue decided to continue raising sheep herself. While traveling with RESDA member Claire Burson to the 2002 World Sheep Dog Trial, Sue visited the UK farm of herding expert, Derek Scrimgeour, where three, friendly, unusual-looking rams greeted her. Sue had met her first Bluefaced Leicesters (BFL,) a wool sheep known for the high quality fiber produced from their fleece.
After returning home, Sue began investing in the work required to build her own BFL flock. Her investment has included purchasing breeding stock from the limited number of BFL breeders in the Western US and participating in the USDA Scrapie program so she is approved to import semen for artificial insemination from the UK. Sue has learned how to shear, spin, knit, felt and braid the light, stretchy BFL wool, in both dyed and natural colors, into all manner of garments, rugs and wall hangings. With a flock of 24 adults and ten lambs, Sue’s Sebastopol-area, Four Oak Farms is now one of the largest BFL producers in California.
Sue regularly enters both sheep and fiber arts in competitions at the Sonoma County Fair; the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival; Lambtown, USA; and the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show. She has won numerous awards for her sheep as well as yarn and items she produced from their wool.
In 2012, the Sonoma County Purebred Sheep Breeders Association http://www.socosheep.com) recognized the Sue Gustafson Family as recipient of their Sheep Family of the Year Award. The last name Sue expected to hear when the award was announced was her own, because Four Oaks Farm is one of the only members of the Association specializing in fiber production. Most member farms specialize in meat production.
With four border collies and three livestock guard dogs now living and working on their property, the Gustafson’s are not neglecting the canine members of their family. However RESDA warmly congratulates a member who provides such exemplary care for her sheep as well.