Local couple starting sheep dairy operation

Amanda Jess
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Harrier Hill using blog to create connections with community

MEADOWVILLE – Dave Hachey and Christine Whelan didn’t dream of starting a sheep dairy operation when they were younger. The calling came later in life.

Harrier Hill is Hachey and Whelan’s registered farm, a large property off of Meadowville Station Road home to the couple, two dogs, three cats, four cows, 11 chickens and 40 female sheep, mostly of the East Friesian breed.

Last week, they took the next step in their operation and started a blog, documenting their progress, and life on the farm.

They suggest that it serves as a modern way to get to know your farmer.

“That’s why people go to farmers markets – to build a relationship with your local producer,” Hachey said.

While it’s partly a marketing tool, it’s also an extension of Whelan’s existing blog, WonkyEye Photography.

She found when she was publishing personal posts, she was receiving significant feedback and interest.

They received a lot of encouragement from friends and family to keep doing more of that in a different form.

“Is it weird to think people will want to read about our lives?” the 34-year-old remembers asking herself beforehand.

The goal is to have one blog post each day from Monday through Friday, whether it’s an interesting story, news, or a photo.

They’ve timed the build of their online presence just a few weeks away from the arrival of at least 40 adorable lambs.

Almost all of their ewes are pregnant, and they expect to be able to start milking them in May.

This will be their first season in full operation.

They’ve been building the business since 2011 when they purchased the land.

They received their sheep in 2012, registered the farm and had their first lambing season in 2013, and hope to have it inspected in a month’s time.

From there, they will be selling wholesale milk and shipping it off to a cheese maker in Cape Breton who will package it with their label.

They hope to be selling the cheese at farmers markets by 2015.

“Our plans could go any direction. We just have to wait and see,” Whelan said.

Their lambs have two other potential purposes as well: wool and meat.

“We would like to get into the wool side of things.”

They had been working in other fields when they met in Halifax several years ago, but were ready for a lifestyle change.

Hachey, now 38, moved to Halifax after spending a year in India, building a business, and working for 10 years in New York City and Boston in the stock market.

Although he said it wasn’t a transformative moment, the events of September 11, 2001 sprouted a time of reflection.

“It solidified my idea that life is short and you have to do what makes you happy,” he said.

He had been working from his home in Hobeken, New Jersey that day.

He went up to the roof of his apartment building after the first plane hit, and could see the first tower on fire.

He immediately started trying to get in contact with his girlfriend at the time as she had been working close to the World Trade Centre.

They lost contact for a few hours, but she was okay.

He noted that during his time in New York, he had a log cabin in the Catskill Mountains, an area rich in agriculture.

“I enjoyed my time there more than my time in the city.”

The desire to start a more rural lifestyle developed further from there.

Settling in the Maritimes was a natural move for Hachey after growing up in Bathurst, New Brunswick.

He moved to Halifax because of its financial opportunities.

Whelan and Hachey met while he was dining at My Father’s Moustache, where she worked waitressing.

“He sat in my section and he kept coming back,” Whelan said, adding that they bonded over a passion for cameras.

 “Photography was the ice breaker,” Hachey said.

Whelan had been working in environmental science, and began working in restaurants after leaving her field.

Although she enjoyed it, it wasn’t part of her life plan.

She went back to school and took a photography course at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

WonkyEye Photograpy formed out of that, after deciding she wanted to capture life through a lens full-time.

She shot her first wedding in 2010 and has spent many summer Saturdays shooting them since then.

With Hachey as her assistant, they’ve photographed 50 weddings together.

At each meeting, they work on helping each other learn to take better photos, often booking presenters.

Her favorite session to do is capture someone in a typical day, whether it’s a family or business.

“I like to tell their story,” she said, adding that she tries to capture the ordinary moments that make a family special.

It wasn’t until Hachey took a four-week course called the Modern Shepherd at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College that he thought about sheep and they began looking for a property on the North Shore, close to Whelan’s family in Truro.

“It introduced the idea that there’s a growing market for sheep’s milk in Nova Scotia.”

Since then, they’ve been learning as they go with the help of neighbours and others in the industry.

On top of starting the blog and gearing up for dozens of new lambs, they’ve also started a local photography club called Snaps, which meets at Northumberland Regional High School one Wednesday a month.

“When I moved here, I was thinking, ‘how will I make friends?’ I started looking around for a photography club and there wasn’t any,” Whelan said.

It’s grown from 13 people meeting in Scotsburn to 78 paid members.

To add even more to their busy life, the couple is beginning to plan a wedding.

Hachey proposed last week on top of a hill on their property that inspired the name of the farm.

They had been out for a walk at sunset around their property when Hachey suggested climbing what they call Harrier Hill because of the Harrier Hawk that flies over it every afternoon.

It was chilly, but she agreed and started taking photos. 

“I turned around and there he was, on one knee,” she said, adding that she quickly said yes and they’re planning to marry in October.

 

amanda.jess@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda 

Organizations: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Meadowville Station World Trade Centre Northumberland Regional High School

Geographic location: Halifax, New York City, Cape Breton India Hobeken New Jersey Catskill Mountains Bathurst New Brunswick North Shore Truro Nova Scotia Scotsburn

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  • Max
    March 31, 2014 - 19:48

    Nice to see the farm alive.