Farm Horizons, April 2013

The stars of the farm

By Starrla Cray

Valuable for milk, meat, and wool, the Icelandic sheep at Star Thrower Farm north of Glencoe are true “stars” in the eyes of their owners, Scott and Deborah Pikovsky.

Lambing will be in full swing by the end of April, requiring checks on the pastures every two to four hours. About 300 babies are expected, but the Pikovskys don’t mind the demands of the season.

“That’s what being a shepherd is all about,” Deb said, adding that spring is her favorite time of year, because “it’s so hopeful.”

For the Pikovskys, Star Thrower Farm is a way of life – and a major switch from their original career paths.

“We have no farming background,” Scott said. “I grew up in Minneapolis, and Deb was born on the East Coast. She grew up mostly in Chicago and Kansas City.”

The couple had been living in Minneapolis when Deb got the idea to purchase a farm.

“I was eating sheep’s milk cheese, and I made the mistake of saying, ‘I should do something like this,’” Deb recalled.

After thoroughly researching sheep farming for two years, the Pikovskys purchased Star Thrower Farm in 2007. The original flock consisted of 27 bred ewes and 12 ewe lambs. Today, more than 500 sheep call the farm home.

While farming, Scott continues to keep up with his business, Great Ciao (a Twin Cities importer/distributor of fine cheese), while Deb has been a full-time shepherd the past three years.

Deb’s love for the animals is obvious – from the way she pets them during feeding time, to the farm’s impeccable cleanliness and organization.

The ewes even have special red collars embroidered with their names.

Deb refers to the farm as “animal-centric,” explaining that the sheep’s needs are always a top priority.

“If we have somewhere to go, but one of the animals needs something, we stay home,” she said.

Star Thrower Farm is operated in a sustainable manner, and sheep enjoy a grass-based diet with access to both shelter and the outdoors year-round.

“That’s what works for us,” Deb said. “We’re trying to do the right things right.”

Milk and cheese, made to please

The Pikovskys follow a nature-driven schedule, and lambs stay with their mothers at least a month before they’re weaned. Milking (which is done by high school and college students) starts in early June (through October), and takes about 90 seconds per sheep twice each day.

Although the quantity of milk Icelandic sheep produce is small, the quality is exceptionally high, and is excellent for cheese making.

Whole milk ricotta, blue cheese, soft ripened Camembert-style cheeses, and aged tommes are a few of the delicacies created in the cheese-making room on the farm. Another treat is skyr, a slightly sweet Icelandic cheese that’s comparable to yogurt.

Star Thrower Farm also makes an aged tomme Ubriaco, which means “drunken” in Italian. For this cheese, which is called “Three Sheeps to the Wind,” tommes are soaked in grape must from the production of a local port wine.

The wool of Icelandic sheep is also highly prized, with 17 natural color variations of white, cream, black, grey, brown, and tan.

“The yarn is gorgeous,” Deb said. “We sell that as well.”

For the Pikovskys, the investments they’ve made at Star Thrower Farm the past six years have been well worth the effort.

“It’s a lot of hours and a lot of work, but there’s a real sense of personal satisfaction season to season,” Scott said.

“Being able to connect with the land and the animals is really gratifying,” Deb added. “It gets you in touch with your own humanity.”

As to their future plans, the Pikovskys are looking to expand – with ducks.

“We’re thinking about starting with half a dozen,” Deb said.

To learn more about Star Thrower Farm, go to www.starthrowerfarm.com.

The story behind the name

The Pikovskys chose the name “Star Thrower Farm” based on the story below, which is attributed to naturalist/philosopher Loren Eiseley:

“A man walked along a sandy beach, where thousands of starfish had been washed up on the shore during a storm. He noticed a boy picking up the starfish one by one, and throwing them back into the ocean. The man observed the boy for a few minutes, and then asked what he was doing. The boy replied that he was returning the starfish to the sea so they would not die. The man remarked that the boy couldn’t possibly make a difference since there were so many stranded starfish. The boy picked up a starfish and threw it back into the ocean and said, ‘It made a difference to that one . . .’

The man left the boy and went home, deep in thought, reflecting on what the boy had said. He soon returned to the beach and spent the rest of the day helping the boy return starfish to the sea . . .”

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