Life-long desire to farm fulfilled through Icelandic sheep

Gloria Hafemeister
Icelandic sheep are a unique breed that provide wool and meat.  They are the favorite critters of Neosho entrepreneur Jeanne Telderer.

NEOSHO – When Jeanne Telderer set out to establish a farm that would satisfy her life-long desire to make a living on the land she discovered Icelandic sheep and now they are her favorite critters on her diversified farm near Neosho in Dodge County.

The Telderers have 16 sheep and most of them have two babies a year. Occasionally one will have three babies.

Telderer says, “We’ve had as many as 24 but we only keep as many each year as we have a market for. In spring we take orders for meat and make sure we have enough to supply our customers but not excess.”

Icelandic are also known for their wool.

She says, “We chose Icelandic because other breeds have much more lanolin in fleece.”

She also mentions, “We wanted sheep but didn’t want to have to buy more organic grain to feed them so we looked for a breed that would be both a browser and a grazer and didn’t require any grain.”

She adds, “Icelandic are also fantastic mothers and they eat burdocks and weeds. They can handle the cold very well but heat can be an issue.”

Besides selling wool and meat they also sell babies for a starter flock for someone who wants them or they will sell babies for show lambs.

The Telderers recently took part in the annual “Family Farms and Country Places” tour of specialty agricultural businesses in Dodge and Washington Counties. One of the highlights of the tour at the Telderers Rainbow’s End Farm was the opportunity for visitors to watch Hartford sheep shearer Rich Hawthorne take on the task of shearing the unique Icelandic sheep.

Rainbow’s End Farm is a diversified farm that includes direct sales of a variety of meat and an on-farm store. Telderer also raises organically-fed and pastured chicken, turkey, and pork. She also sells produce, berries, garlic and pesto and sheep fiber products.

Her on-farm store, built in a 120-year-old remodeled granary on the 20-acre farm, was busy during the farm tour.  It features her own products as well as items from local craftsmen and artists. She also provides samples of the meat she offers to those who might not know the unique flavor of meats raised according to her methods.

Telderer considers herself an entrepreneur. She developed her business as she went, always looking at what others are doing and then tweaking her business to suit her needs and to provide what her customers indicate they want.

She says, “In my youth I was the crazy city cousin who came out to my relative’s dairy farm to help. I always knew I wanted to farm but I had to figure out what would work for me.”

While she has formal degrees in marketing and business she says it is the reading and contacts with others in the direct marketing business that really helped her develop her business.

She said it takes time, too, and it is important to start small and grow with increased demand.

She did start small raising meat and vegetables for her own family but soon she began to get requests from friends who wanted some because of the unique flavor and health benefits of the home raised produce and meat. Now each spring she takes orders and adjusts her production to the demand.

She raises the chickens in “chicken tractors” as they are called. They are moved twice a day to provide fresh grass but they are covered with mesh to protect the chickens from predators.

As for her chickens she says, “I like the heritage breed for the eggs. I buy starting pullets each spring and use them one year and then sell as soup chickens.”

She notes, “I am responsible for the new sign at the Milwaukee Zoo that says chickens lay blue, brown or white eggs. In the past the sign only said brown or white eggs.  Americana chickens lay blue eggs.”

She promotes her eggs on the basis of research indicating that commercially produced eggs are higher in cholesterol because they are fed corn and soy rather than grass.

Their turkeys also come to the farm when they are one day old. They stay in the brooder for three to four weeks, dependent on weather. Young turkeys are more susceptible to cold air and drafts, requiring more tender care after arriving. Initially they too are put out into a portable pen, enabling them to forage and enjoy fresh air and sunshine; while protecting them from predators and the elements.

When big enough, these pens are opened allowing the turkeys to roam about on pasture. She says this gives their meat a firmer texture and lower fat content. 

Customers like to buy their pork from her because they, too, are grass fed. She calls pigs natural rototillers. Because they do not sweat she provides mud puddles for them to cool off in summer.

She rotates the sheep and chickens around the outside of the pasture and makes hay in the center for winter use.

The Telderers also have bees to provide honey and for pollinating the garden crops. She says, “We do not use antibiotics in our hives. We treat mites by sprinkling powdered sugar and bees clean it off themselves. That gets rid of mites.”

She also helps others interested in learning this type of business. Through the organization known as WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming) she houses people who work five to six hours a day in exchange for food, a room and training.

WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community.