March 7, 2023 at 9:32 p.m.

Shepherd, florist, beekeeper

Shepherd, florist, beekeeper
Shepherd, florist, beekeeper

By Herman [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Love of animals leads Rasmussen back to the farm

Samantha Rasmussen has turned an interest and love of animals into a small business on the family farm near Melrose.  

Pine Hollow Farm is where she raises sheep for wool and specializes in growing specialty cut flowers, local honey, and hand-poured candles.

Her interest in animals came naturally growing up on her 100-acre childhood home.

“Before my parents purchased the farm, it was a rundown dairy farm that had not been used for quite a while,” she said Feb. 9 in the kitchen of her family farm. “When my parents purchased the land, we did not farm but rented out the land to local farmers. About the only traditional farm work my sisters and I did was rock picking.”

Growing up, Rasmussen, the daughter of Steve and Sandy Rasmussen, and her sisters, Sydney and Stefanie, worked with sled dogs. Steve was a dog musher who competed in the Iditarod and other high-profile races.

Working with the dogs spurred Rasmussen’s interest in animals. The 2012 Melrose Area High School graduate earned a zoology degree in 2016 from Minnesota State University in Mankato.

“I thought about veterinarian work and was an intern at the Lake Superior Zoo and Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth,” she said. “I finished my degree but didn’t think it was a good career fit for me.”

In 2017 she returned to her family farm and found work at a local renewable energy company. But she still wanted to work with animals.

She found a way to do so. In 2019, she came up with the idea of Pine Hollow Farm. 

“No animals have been raised at the farm for over 30 years. The pastures were over grown. Then we had a big storm that took down a lot of trees,” Rasmussen said.

She found the farm was a good place to raise sheep, specifically Icelandic sheep.

“The Icelandic sheep are winter hardy and can deal with Minnesota winters,” she said. “They come from a land where it rains a lot and their wool is waterproof.”

The breed is said to have developed from sheep brought to Iceland in the seventh and eight centuries by Viking settlers. The island’s isolation kept other breeds from crossing with them.

“It’s one of the worlds oldest and purest breeds of sheep,” Rasmussen said. “They don’t allow other sheep into Iceland.”

Besides their hardiness, there were other attractions. They are easy to care for. Rasmussen’s flock is mainly pasture-fed. It is not uncommon for twins and triplets to be born. It is a multi-purpose breed.

“They can be used for wool, meat or milk,” she said. “I use them for the wool.”

The breed does have a reputation for being independent. Rasmussen has noticed they don’t herd together as much as other sheep do. 

She started her flock with four sheep. Her current flock of 13 has a ram, with the rest divided between ewes and wethers (castrated males). This year she was not planning a having any lambs, but there might be some.

“The ram got out one day, so we will see,” she said.

The lambs have usually been born in April. There are few problems with the lambing, another thing she likes about the breed. She has a camera in the former dairy barn allowing her to monitor the flock.

Lambs have a way of creating excitement in the herd. They are inquisitive and love to be on the move.

“They do like to run around and look at things,” she said. “When lambs are running and jumping, it causes others to start jumping and kicking.”

She has noticed a leader, which sets the movements of the flock, is chosen. 

“They watch and follow the leader,” she said. “There is definitely a hierarchy.” 

Almost everything about raising the sheep has been on-the-job training. Thanks to a network of sheep farmers and YouTube, Rasmussen keeps up with how to best raise sheep.

The same goes for wool sold at the farm. She has learned almost every element of shearing, preparing, spinning and weaving wool since purchasing her first flock.

“We shear in the spring and then again in late summer,” she said. “They produce two strands of wool. The longer outer one (tog) is waterproof. The smaller inner one (thel) is softer. You can separate them, but usually they are spun together to make a soft waterproof wool called lopi.”

She can card – clean and straighten the wool fibers – but usually sends it to a Wisconsin company. It is sent back to her in wound balls, called roving. Rasmussen spins the roving into wool threads on a spinning wheel. 

Her interest in working with animals and creating products from them led to other ventures on the farm. An interest in flowers and bringing in native grasses and plants dove-tailed with an interest in beekeeping, calling apiculture. 

“Bees and flowers are kind of a natural pairing,” she said. “I am planting native flowers and grasses. That helps with the bees.”

The bees pollinate the flowers – and Rasmussen grows a lot of them. In her house are shelves of flower seedlings. As the weather warms, they will be transplanted outside, growing into flowers used for bouquets and floral arrangements. She grows over 90 types of flowers and has an arrangement with Bavarian Gardens in New Munich to sell her flowers. 

“We raise flowers that don’t ship well from overseas,” she said. “We have dahlias and peonies. They are a little more fragile.”

The bees are not only a key element in raising the flowers. Honey from the bees is a source in other products on the farm. Hand poured, beeswax candles are among bee-related products. Depending on what plant the bees feed on, the honey varies in taste and clarity. Some of the flavors are distinctive.

“The really good beekeepers can taste honey and know what plant it is coming off of,” Rasmussen said. 

As with the sheep, she notices something different almost every time she watches the bees.

“When they fly, they kind of go up,” she said. “It’s fun watching them come out of the hive.”

Candles and other products are all listed as Minnesota grown. Selling those products lets Rasmussen do what she wanted to do – work with animals. Discovering something new in the flight of bees, the antics of sheep or how a flower grows are benefits of being on the farm.

Rasmussen loves her farm life. 


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