Animals In Appalachia Thankful November

Raising Sheep

collage of photos of a family

“The sheep which were grown years ago for wool were a smaller and hardier strain then the sheep of today. they weighed only about thirty to forty pounds and were no bigger than an average size dog; yet they were stout little creatures that withstood cold, hunger, and disease in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. But they were also shy, timid animals whose only source of protection from wild animals was to flee in fear. If they were attacked by an animal, they would usually give up and let the attacker kill them. Once they were caught and scared, they just gave up without a fight.

For the most part, these sheep were white, but a few black sheep were born. George Grist, a sheep producer in Rabun County, said, “They were white. They didn’t hardly have any black on’em. Back yonder most of’em had a black sheep or two crop out. They wanted that ’cause they’d weave socks and sweaters out of’em and they wouldn’t have to dye it.” This is a classic example of utilizing what is available. The farmers like to have a black sheep born every now and then, but sometimes superstitions grow around black sheep. Not according to George Grist, who, when asked if he knew of any superstitions replied. “I don’t know of any superstitions, but you always heard of black sheep in the family.”

—”Foxfire 2″


Pap told me when he was a boy his grandparents raised sheep for wool. I so wish I had asked him more about it.

Today’s giveaway is a used copy of “Foxfire 2”. To be entered in the giveaway leave a comment on this post. *Giveaway ends November 30, 2019.


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  • Reply
    November 29, 2019 at 1:38 am

    Answers for Ed:
    My black sheep have dark skin. Jacob sheep are white with dark spots (read in the Bible to see how this came to be). Many sheep breeds have a white body with black markings on legs or face. Sheep are wonderful creatures. Many times while walking through their pasture, I recalled the 23rd Psalm.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2019 at 12:12 am

    Neither of my families raised sheep. But pigs and chickens are a different story. And yes, there’s a “black sheep” in our family; as far as I can tell, it’s not me.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 26, 2019 at 8:17 pm

    I didn’t think I had anything to say but I got to thinking about black sheep versus white sheep. Having in the past encountered black pigs and white pigs and black and white pigs I got to wondering about what color sheep’s skins were. Now a white pig has white hair and white skin. Black and white pigs, correct me if I am wrong, have black and white hair and all white skin and while some black pigs have black hair and white skin but there are pigs with black hair and black skin. I was wondering how that translates to sheep. I’ve never been around sheep enough to notice their skin color. I’m also wondering if there are spotted or bi-colored sheep.
    Do I ask too many questions? I guess I’d better go before I get to wondering about chickens’ skin.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 26, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    My Grandpa acquired sheep to keep around his farm pond because Kudzu was taking the and around it.The sheep will graze the Kudzu into the ground eventually killing it. As soon as the sheep killed the Kudzu he sold the sheep.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    My Uncle had a Ram he called Josh, and he was the meanest raskle, I was more scared of him than a bear, he would see me coming across the pasture and he’d try to run me down, and for a young boy Josh seem huge, I learned to get behind something if he got to close, but mostly I’d just watch for him and try to sneak across the pasture.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 26, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    One of the first things we would do is throw Rocks at a Billy Goat, when Daddy took me and Harold with him to see his brothers and sisters and parents. We were real good at Rock Throwing and that ole Billy Goat had trouble getting out of the way. We would open the fence and go where he was at to get better aim. That s.o.a.gun would charge us when we bent over to get us more Sailing Rocks. He wouldn’t bite at all, but he would let you have Full Impact with his head. To us that was Fun, but that ole Billy Goat just wanted us to stop throwing at him. We soon stopped because we noticed some turkeys that had just been fed. So we waited on the folks to leave, and start on the Turkeys, which didn’t turn out so well. …Ken

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Sheep are sheep, black or white. I think its o wise tale someone got started yrs ago. We should be thankful for them, for all the good they bring for us. I guess yrs ago they were like Mountain Goats that roam all along the side of the hills . Until people started getting heards of em. Thankful for them. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Tipper.

    • Reply
      November 27, 2019 at 11:15 am

      I asked a family friend who was from what is now the North Shore area in Swain County what it was like growing up in the times of the Depression. He said the mountain people were more self sufficient back then and for clothes they had wool from the family sheep herd.
      I didn’t discuss that more as it was part of a conversation about the Depression and his childhood.

  • Reply
    Michelina McCann
    November 26, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    Black sheep are on my bucket list as my BBF spins and might just whip up a pair for ny black sheep – my hard working hobby farmer hubby for our cold NE winters! I’m sure there’s a project or two in Foxfire two for him to work on this winter! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    November 26, 2019 at 10:42 am

    I don’t remember ever seeing sheep in West Tn where I grew up and not many here in Middle TN. Never ate it either with the exception of an attempt to eat a lamb chop. i don’t remember anyone ever slaughtering a cow either–guess the milk & butter were too valuable.

    It’s strange that there were none–seems like a small sheep would be easier to butcher than a pig.

    Tipper, I enjoy the Blind Pig so much–feels like family after all this time. Yall have a wonderful Thanksgiving & stay safe!!

    • Reply
      November 26, 2019 at 6:00 pm

      I am new to your website and am really enjoying the fascinating stories of mountain folklore and learning more about the mountains I have recently moved to. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    November 26, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Sheep has been such an important part of the human culture for many, many years. The following is a small excerpt
    from the history of sheep.
    The history of the domesticated sheep goes back to between 11000 and 9000 BC, and the domestication of the wild mouflon in ancient Mesopotamia. Sheep are among the first animals to have been domesticated by humans, and there is evidence of sheep farming in Iranian statuary dating to that time period. These sheep were primarily raised for meat, milk, and skins. Woolly sheep began to be developed around 6000 BC in Iran, and cultures such as the Persians relied on sheep’s wool for trading. Some researchers state that the shearing of sheep did not begin until 3500 B.C. when man learned to spin the sheep’s wool. The production of wool is the oldest trade commodity known to man. The wool industry is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible and was the first widespread international trade throughout ancient civilizations.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 10:03 am

    I always enjoy the old stories as they sweep out some cobwebs in the mind and dear sweet memories come back into view. This one brought back memories of sitting and talking with one of my dearest Aunts, my Mother’s sister. She lived to almost 100 and would be 108 if she was alive today. She told me that one early summer she had gone back to TN to her grandparents farm which bordered the TN river near Savannah. Her grandparents had sheep and it was sheep shearing time so they had her out with them teaching her how to shear the sheep. She said she didn’t mind doing it at all. I know they used that wool for themselves but I just can’t remember what else they did with it. I’m going to have to think on that now. I also didn’t know that sheep back then were smaller, I’m always learning something new.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    November 26, 2019 at 9:25 am

    When my daughter was young we raised a few sheep for her to show in the 4-H program. It was very enjoyable because they were such docile creatures. I was not afraid for her to feed and water them by herself even though she was only six because they were so gentle. She took care of them and taught them to walk with a lead. When it was time for the show she often invited a friend to come along and we spent the weekend at the show. Those are wonderful memories and I am thankful for all the good times we had. My husband’s grandmother and great grandmother kept sheep and wove the wool into both clothing and bedspreads. Those bedspreads were so durable I remember using them when we first got married even though they were probably 50-75 years old at the time. They were mostly red and blue patterned with some white. They had one seam up the middle. The old loom was still in the loom-house (a small log cabin) on the farm. Today all that is gone.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 9:20 am

    I may be (or was at one time) the black sheep in our family. I left home after high school. A couple of years later someone asked my baby sister how many people in her family. She gave a number and listed names of all but me. Mom asked, “What about Jackie?” She replied, “He’s not in our family anymore. He moved.”

    Question: Do you know where virgin wool comes from?

    Answer: UGLY SHEEP.

    • Reply
      Frank Vincent
      November 26, 2019 at 7:54 pm

      Ahhhh hahahhaha! UGLY SHEEP….!! Too funny!!!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 8:45 am

    The first time I saw a sheep was after I left the mountains and moved to the city. You would think it would be just the opposite. If you don’t know what a black sheep of the family is, John Anderson explains it well in his Black Sheep country song.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 8:20 am

    There is still a piece of material in my large extended family that was spun by my 3x gr grandmother. They also had her glasses. My Uncle and I took a trip especially to get a photo of these items to add to his vast genealogical collection. I can’t imagine what we would do if we had to spin to obtain material for clothing.
    I ran across one farmer while traveling in the mountains for work. According to him he had totally given up on raising sheep due to wolves and coyotes becoming so plentiful in the remote area of Egeria Road. He said the government would compensate one for the killed lambs, but what was point in raising them just to have them killed. He is the only one I ran across who had tried his hand at raising sheep. This was around twenty years ago, and I doubt there is much farming going on, because there is so much wildlife now. Off the subject, but one thing I never forgot was a farmer who bragged on his Border Collie. He said when he retired the dog didn’t, and he said it had started trying to round up his few chickens. Those older mountain farmers were truly wonderful people, and one could learn a lot from them.

  • Reply
    carol harrison
    November 26, 2019 at 8:04 am

    All of your stories about everyday people doing everyday chores interest me. I was born and raised in a town but I love hearing about mountain living having been raised in the Allegheny’s. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    November 26, 2019 at 7:55 am

    My Brother-In-Law raises sheep and shears them too. When he first started raising sheep there was a man who moved from farm to farm shearing people’s sheep. Since that time my Brother-In-Law has bought his own equipment and does his own shearing. He had an old ram that you had to keep an eye on. As soon as you turned your back on him he was ready to charge but as long as you often faced him you were safe. The last time I was in the pasture field I mostly walked out backwards.
    When I was a boy growing up in 50’s and 60’s our family reunions always had mutton to eat. The men would slaughter a sheep of the morning and cook it in a big black kettle. I tried mutton several times but never did develop a taste for it. The older adults really liked it.
    ROUGH WEATHER MAKES GOOD TIMBER Got it and enjoying it very much. THANKS TIPPER

  • Reply
    William P Dotson
    November 26, 2019 at 7:36 am

    We raised sheep when I was very young, I remember having some black sheep, actually we had one for a pet after the Mom rejected it we had to take it inside where it could be warm by the coal stove and it would follow us kids everywhere.

  • Reply
    Sherry Case
    November 26, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Blind Pig and Tipper always get my day off to a good start. I love reading the stories and comments!
    Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!!!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 26, 2019 at 7:13 am

    I’ve never known or heard much about raising sheep here in the mountains. My grandmother had cows, chickens, pigs, and sometimes a work horse. So, that’s the extent of my knowledge about farm animals. Seems to me that their wool would be valuable to the country folks for sweaters and blankets.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 6:49 am

    Hi…sheep are a beautiful animal….white or black all the same. Enjoy your site….the best to you!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2019 at 6:37 am

    i’ve always been the black sheep in my family!

  • Reply
    Dan O’Connor
    November 26, 2019 at 6:17 am

    I didn’t know sheep have changed from a smaller, hardier version.

    It makes sense. You have some interesting information about the life and times of early folks in the mountains.

    Thank you!

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