Leaping Lamb Farm Stay

Author: Melissa Fery

Publish Date: Summer 2010

Scottie and Greg Jones moved to rural Alsea, Oregon to escape the 6 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic of Phoenix, Arizona and to literally find greener pastures.

“One motivation for moving to Oregon was for water. After living in the desert and not knowing where our water was coming from or what would happen if we ran out, we were looking for some place to be self-sustaining if needed. We never thought that in some years, there would be too much water.”

June 2003 brought forth a summer Scottie and Greg will not soon forget. “We moved to our 40 acre farm, brought our horses, dogs, a cat, and no farm experience. That first summer was dramatic. Within the first day, one of our dogs tried to kill a rooster, within the first week, a sheep. I called a neighbor to get a recommendation for a vet. She told me you don’t call a vet for sheep, the call would cost more than the sheep itself. You’ve got to do it yourself.”

From learning all about animal husbandry to having irrigation pipes blowing and the pump dying they were starting to doubt their choice to move north.

“Even our horses thought they’d died and gone to hell. It was 105 degrees in Phoenix when we left and 40 degrees when we arrived in Alsea. The horses didn’t want to leave the trailer.”

Scottie says that when she writes her book, the first line will read, “We moved to our farm on June 13th, it was a Friday.”

Regardless of the steep learning curve, the Joneses are here to stay.

Leaping Lamb Farm is nestled in a valley of the Oregon Coast Range. Honey Grove Creek, a salmon-spawning creek, meanders through the middle of the property. The farm has a rich history in the area, with the original homesteaders clearing fields and farming since 1895. Scottie and Greg decided to continue growing hay and raising animals on the land.

Sheep and chickens were the farm first’s ventures, mostly due to the fact that the previous owner informed the Joneses they were a requirement to control the bugs and grasses. After some negotiation, the animals were purchased, thus beginning Leaping Lamb Farm.

“We started with wooly mutts, but have now moved into raising mostly Katahdin hair sheep,” says Scottie. After having the barn fill up with wool and finding that it wasn’t profitable to sell, they started making the switch to hair sheep. There are other benefits to raising Katahdins too.

“The meat is leaner and they have less foot and worm issues,” Scottie says. Emery Jones, Scottie and Greg’s daughter, after completing a pre-veterinarian degree, came to Oregon to help at the farm. She has now stepped in to manage the changing flock. Last year, after completing a genetic study of their ewes, Emery culled the herd and introduced a Dorper ram. Currently, most of the lambs are sold wholesale to two other local farms for processing and direct sales to customers. As they continue their lamb business, Scottie is looking at other options for marketing.

“We do sell the lamb-mowers on Craigslist and that has been pretty successful.” Scottie further explains that lamb-mowers are those lambs that are too small for market and bummers that are sold as pets to people that need to keep the grass down in their backyards.

In addition to the horses, the farm is also home to turkeys. Starting with a Heritage Bronze breeding pair, and then adding other breeds like Narragansett and White Holland, the turkey business has been challenging.

“It’s hard to keep the poults alive the first week. One year, the tom sat on the eggs and hatched them. He would smash and smother the babies, so we rescued the babies as soon as they hatched and hand raised them through the first week,” says Scottie.

This year the hen wouldn’t sit on any of the eggs, so Emery set up an incubator and hatched them in the house. Even though there is a high demand for these birds, the future of turkeys on this farm is dim.

Despite the seemingly insane learning experiences that Scottie and Greg have weathered, one thing has remained constant: a desire to share their farm with others. Originally intended for Emery, the Jones’ built a cabin with a farm family help dwelling permit. In 2006, they determined that the cabin wasn’t needed for its original purpose, so they worked with Benton County Planning Department to get a variance to use the cabin for on-farm lodging.

“The Benton County planner was great to work with. I knew about the farm stay concept, which is popular in Europe, but I researched more and included information along with the permit application,” explains Scottie.

In the application, she shared information about potential rural economic development. Her neighbors were notified about the conditional use permit, but didn’t object and Scottie proved that there would be no impact to farming or logging practices as a result of the farm stay business.

The first year, friends and family readily agreed to be used as practice, while the Joneses figured out the details of hosting a farm stay. The next step was marketing the business, through a well crafted website.

“Our website is how this all started. I’ve never sent out a press release. When people do a web search for ‘farm stay’, Leaping Lamb Farm comes up on the first page.” Scottie says.

The farm stay attracts families wanting to get away and spend time together, friends looking for something different, couples wanting a quiet retreat with nothing to do but drink wine and read a book. Leaping Lamb Farm Stay provides all of this and more.

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“Families come to our farm to play. They play in the creek, they explore the woods, they play basketball in the hay loft, they build forts out of hay bales on rainy days. They make breakfast together and eat dinner as a family.”

People readily pay to experience farm life. Many of the Jones’ guests are from cities and are generations removed from farming, but admire farmers and what they do. Scottie feels that the farm stay is also a way to connect with people and explain the importance of sustainable farming and local food systems.

“Our guests want to get back to the land. They want to see and taste food picked straight from the earth,” adds Scottie.

Leaping Lamb Farm gives people those experiences as they pluck carrots from the garden, munch on fresh raspberries from the bush, and wander amongst the livestock. Collecting eggs from the chicken house, then breaking them into a pan and cooking them for breakfast may seem routine for farm families, but for the farm stay guests, it is a wonder.

“I needed a way to improve the income stream on this farm. I had the desire to share this beautiful place, so the farm stay idea has worked out for us.”

Currently, the cabin is booked about 60% of the year. Mostly weekend get-aways are booked in the winter months and then solid weeks from June through Labor Day. Fall bookings are also gaining popularity. Travelers from other countries and across the U.S. often include a stop-over at Leaping Lamb Farm in their travel plans. Many weekend guests will drive or fly in from Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles

The Jones’ business has grown because of good media and guests sharing their experiences with others. Leaping Lamb Farm led a story on Five Fun Family Vacation Getaways on NBC’s Today Show through Budget Travel and Travel Oregon. The farm stay was also featured in Sunset Magazine as one of Top 10 Spring Flings, along with beaches in Mexico.

One minor drawback of such a successful business: Scottie has created another 7-day-a-week job for herself. However, because of the customer recognition and increased business, she is able to hire a few people in her community to help out. Scottie also includes hand-crafted items from several Benton county artisans in her farm shop. Guests can purchase locally made souvenirs, like lamb tic-tac-toe games, jig saw puzzles, puppets, stuffed toys, and soaps, along with Leaping Lamb Farm t-shirts and hand appliquéd tea towels, to take home with them.

When asked why this business has been successful for their farm, Scottie shares, “I think I’m good at this business and hosting guests on the farm because I came from the city too. I’m still amazed by this place. Sometimes when I look at the farm, all I see is work. Broken fences and chores that need to get done. When guests are here they see the farm with fresh eyes and then I get to see it that way too and remember.”

One reality with Leaping Lamb Farm Stay is that there are more people that want to book vacations then time and space will allow. This situation has created Scottie’s latest project. With assistance from Cascade Pacific RC&D and OSU Extension Small Farms program, Scottie has been able to secure funding to launch a website, Farm Stay U.S. (http://www. farmstayus.com), to help other farmers interested in offering lodging have an on-line presence and begin farm stay opportunities.

The project has two main goals: 1. To provide education and outreach to farmers interested in adding lodging to their operations, through on-line tutorials, networking and mentoring, and 2. To market farm stay lodging to guests. The ultimate goal: to create an Oregon Farm Stay Association, easily scalable to a regional Northwest Farm Stay Association and, finally, an American Farm Stay Association.

The Joneses feel farm stays are a win-win opportunity. City folk and travelers want to connect with the land and many farms need additional revenue to be sustainable. This is simply a form of agritourism that promotes Oregon agriculture and encourages awareness of local food and land stewardship.

For any farmers interested in the farm stay concept, Scottie is willing to help answer questions and provide ways to get involved with the project. Feel free to check out the Leaping Lamb Farm Stay website http://www.leapinglambfarm.com/ and then contact Scottie directly.