Peter and Dr. Diane Dickinson raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) sheep and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef cattle outdoors on pasture at Shepherd’s Cross Inc. in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Peter and Diane were both raised on farms and carry on the family tradition at their 120-acre farm. After graduating college, the couple settled down in the part of Oklahoma known as Green Country and began raising sheep. Raising their “golden hoofed animals” on pasture has restored and improved the land: over the course of the past 20 years the Dickinsons have seen the farm ecosystem improve dramatically and develop into a fertile habitat for not only their livestock, but also the countless species of birds, insects, fish and other animals that pass through on their migration routes.
Maintaining a flock and herd that are free to range on rolling grassland is of upmost importance to the Dickinsons. When they discovered the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program, they knew certification would be an opportunity to showcase their use of sustainable, high-welfare practices. “We do not use chemicals on the property, we do not use hormones and we handle our animals humanely,” says Diane. “The standards for Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW have been easy for us to implement because it represents what we believe in and how we have operated our farm for years.”
Clusters of native pecan and black walnut trees and English country oak hedgerows are interspersed across rolling acres of grassland, while natural stands of trees line the creeks and cliff edges. These areas offer the sheep and cattle natural protection from the hot days of summer and the cold nights of winter. The Dickinsons have developed their own line of sheep they call Shepherd’s Cross Sheep, which is well-suited to the temperature extremes of Oklahoma’s climate. The Shepherd’s Cross Sheep also produce quality wool and meat from pasture without supplemental feed and possess excellent milk and mothering traits, delivering vigorous and hardy lambs on pasture with minimal assistance. The Dickinsons also raise Dexter cattle, a breed well suited to their land.
In addition to the positive impact on the pasture and soil, the Dickinsons believe pasture-based management offers freedom to the sheep–and the shepherd. They know what the animals are consuming, and the sheep have plenty of room to roam. The wool also is kept cleaner and free of barnyard contamination. Life isn’t so bad for the Dickinsons, either: “Observing the sheep is truly a ‘walk in the park’ at least every morning and evening for us,” Diane says. “We love pasture raising our sheep and our cattle and would not have it any other way.”
The Dickinsons are committed to educating folks on a local and global level about the benefits of raising sheep and cattle naturally on pasture or range. The Dickinsons believe that, as sheep were managed nomadically when they were first domesticated, they should continue to be managed in ways that allow them to roam and graze on pasture. The Dickinsons’ relationship with their flock is also crucial to the operation of the farm and the quality of their products: “Though they are essentially wild animals living freely on pasture, they know and trust us,” Diane says. “The older ewes trust us so much that when it is time to have their wool shorn they will walk up to the shearing floor.” Peter continues: “We want to be worthy of that trust with our flock in the high-welfare management and care we provide.”
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW sheep’s wool, fiber, yarn and lamb and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef from Shepherd’s Cross Inc. is available direct from the farm and at the OSU OKC Farmer’s Market. Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW sheep’s wool, yarn and fiber are also available online through their Etsy shop. Shepherd’s Cross Farm Store and farm tours are available Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM and the farm hosts several events throughout the year. Shepherd’s Cross Sheep is a Made in Oklahoma Company. For more information, visit shepherdscross.com and find them on Facebook.