Monday, November 24, 2014

Hadley happy at Alpenglow Farm after years of government service

What started as a hobby farm has grown so much that it hosts one of Alaska’s largest sheep flocks. For Catherine Hadley of Alpenglow Farm and Kennels in Delta Junction, this is the culmination of a lifetime of experience.

Catherine Hadley
Growing up in rural Illinois, Hadley learned canine obedience training in her 4-H club activities and raised guide dog puppies throughout her teen years. She volunteered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and later worked for NRCS for two decades. “Being around farms it just all came together,” she said.

Sheep, including Shetland, Finn, Kathadin and Dorper, are produced for lamb, mutton and wool. Hadley breeds the sheep to get the kind of animal that suits her needs. “They have to be good mothers and be able to withstand the cold weather; I only give them one chance. I cross-breed until I get something I like that grows fast and can be outside.”

Consumers buy the animals directly from the farm. “They go as fast as I want,” Hadley said. When she is ready to sell lambs she posts on Facebook and Craigslist. Word of mouth still works too. “I would raise more if I thought they would sell,” she said.

Most customers live in Fairbanks, but Hadley has had buyers from Anchorage and Barrow. She keeps the older animals for herself so her diet is heavy in mutton. “It’s an acquired taste,” she said. “I use game recipes to cook the mutton.”

Farming suits Hadley perfectly because she loves working outdoors with animals and enjoys being her own boss. “It’s got its challenges but it’s a good lifestyle,” she said. The weather always keeps her on her toes and though she sometimes hires temporary help, for the most part she does all the work herself. “I’m not a mechanic or welder but I’ve had to learn to do those things,” she said.

Besides the sheep, Hadley raises some hogs and cattle. She has 400 acres dedicated to hay production. “That’s my biggest thing,” she said. A small portion of her crop is certified noxious weed free. “I haven’t been able to charge much more for it due to supply and demand,” she said.

She also raises border collies and trains herding dogs for other people. Her two Estrela mountain dogs are the protectors of the herd. The male is 140 pounds and the female around 90. A litter of pups is on the way. “They’re good family dogs,” Hadley said.

While she’s had some guidance and training to work with dogs, she mostly learned from books. “You have to know how the livestock react and how dogs react,” she said. “Having good dogs to start with is a plus. Instinctively, they know what to do; you just reinforce it. You have to spend a lot of time with them.

“I’m not sure how this happened but it’s working well.”

Being independent is fairly new as Hadley worked for the federal government for years. She now offers another aspect to her farm, Last Frontier Agricultural and Environmental Services. As a consultant and certified crop advisor, Hadley visits farms and offers nutrient and waste planning, environmental assessments, water and chemical testing, wetland determinations, wildlife habitat planning, revegetation advice, pollinator habitat improvement and more.

Hadley hopes to expand the consulting work. “It’s necessary in Alaska,” she said. “Budgets are getting tighter and clients aren’t getting the services they should get.”

Another goal is to get her farm more modernized so the work isn’t so hard on her. When she can, she enjoys hiking and camping but finds it difficult to leave her animals.

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