Four Mile Farm in Ball Ground, GA and a recipe for Marinated and Grilled Loin Lamb Chops
In our travels to meet farmers over the past few years there has definitely been a trend in the type of new farmer we meet. Many have had prior professional careers and are retired. Others are still in the prime of their earning years and walk away from their office or other professional jobs to create a different kind of life for themselves and their family.
Then, there is the accidental farmer. Allison and Michael Bryant of Four Mile Farm in Ball Ground, Georgia, are still in the midst of their careers. Working in the telecom industry and living in Atlanta after graduating with degrees from Georgia Tech and Georgia State, this couple had a major life change after purchasing an Australian Shepherd.
Soon after adopting the dog, Michael became interested in developing their Australian Shepherd’s instinctive herding skills. For awhile, herding lessons once a month was fine, but one day, Michael realized if they were going to fully develop the dog’s herding potential, they would need more rigorous training. He suggested that they buy some land and purchase some animals. For Allison, who grew up in Massachusetts and owned and loved horses, that was all she needed to hear. They were soon looking for property in North Georgia.
That was 1996. Today, the Bryants have 60 acres of land complete with ducks, a flock of sheep, 10 cows and nine dogs. They train their Australian Shepherds to herd in all three competitive categories in order to participate in trials and championships.
The Bryants, who love great food and cooking, decided they would also raise the animals for food in addition to having them on the farm to help train the dogs. Michael and Allison want to know exactly where their food comes and how the animals have been raised. Their sheep and cattle roam freely on approximately 20 acres of pastures that are rotated for optimal grazing. They currently buy local pork from their butcher, but are looking at raising their own pigs.
Since it is springtime, we were interested in speaking with Allison about their sheep, the lambing season and to see their dog in action herding the animals. So, we traveled to Ball Ground, Georgia to Four Mile Farm. Ball Ground is a small rural community approximately one hour north of Atlanta.
When we arrived on the farm we were greeted by a few of their barking dogs, who raced out to see what we were up to. Australian Shepherds are also excellent guard dogs. It was a bright, windy day with the grass a brilliant green, fed by the spring rains. The sheep were content and happily grazing in the pasture. The flock stayed together initially with the mothers surrounding their newborn lambs.
When we entered the pasture with Allison and Chili (the herding dog), the sheep remained protective of their babies, but were very friendly. Some of the lambs were born just days before. It is not unusual for the sheep with newborns to not cooperate with the dog when it is trying to herd them. They stomp their feet and stand down. We did notice that Chili was gentle with the lambs and almost motherly.
Watching Chili herd the sheep at Allison’s direction was fascinating. Chili is clearly a working dog. Allison said that the work her dog can do would take four times as long without the dog and require a group of teenage boys and a 4 wheeler. Here is a short video on Four Mile Farm and Chili in action.
An interesting fact we learned about Australian Shepherds is that they will retire themselves between ten and twelve years of age. These dogs live to work and do it all their lives until one day they just quit. “They will be on their way to the field and then just stop and chase a butterfly and that’s it. They are done.”
When the lambs are first born their instinct is to follow the biggest thing they can find, which is usually their mother. This imprinting will also occur with baby chicks and ducks. There were a few minutes during our visit when one lamb thought I was its mother and I suddenly had a very close new friend following my every step. They are so precious to see and to hold at this age.
One of the newborns was rejected by its mother right after birth. The mother accepted the black one and rejected the white one and would head butt the white lamb when it tried to nurse. The white lamb found a way around this by sneaking in to nurse from behind while the black one was nursing up front. Once the lambs have been nursing and the milk gets into their systems, the baby will smell like the mother and they are no longer rejected.