Katahdin Sheep Are Outlet for Md. Legislator

7/12/2014 7:00 AM
By Philip Gruber Staff Writer

DELTA, Pa. — It is common enough to see state lawmakers at fairs. Most of the time they are there to shake hands with constituents and get their faces out in the community.

It is less common to see politicans in the show ring, helping youths with their animals and keeping the place clean.

Still, Monday found Barry Glassman, a Maryland state senator, raking out the hoof marks in the wood chips during a 4-H sheep show at the Mason-Dixon Fair in southern York County.

Sheep shows are important events to Glassman, R-Darlington, Md., who grew up raising sheep in Level, Md., and now owns 35 sheep on his own farm in northeastern Harford County.

For 23 years, he raised Suffolks, but since his son Jordan went to college and finished his 4-H career a few years ago, Glassman has switched to Katahdins, a hair sheep breed.

After turning 50, “raising 400-, 500-pound lambs was getting too much,” Glassman said.

“I can flip them and work on them myself,” he said of the Katahdins.

Katahdin sheep on the East Coast tend to be smaller than their Midwestern counterparts, so Glassman has been trying to breed size and meat into his flock. “Might be my Suffolk background,” he said.

Still, he likes the hair sheep. “No more fitting and carding or anything,” he said.

Glassman runs a small business selling gourmet lamb to ethnic customers. He also sells to Sunny Day Café in Bel Air, Md. Glassman said the restaurant uses 10 pounds of his meat each week for its lamb burgers.

The Katahdins are registered, so Glassman also has a market selling lambs to other sheep farmers. Glassman grows his own hay and buys his other feed.

Glassman bought a Katahdin ram from Buckeye Acres in Ohio and has it breeding all his ewes. Glassman still has some Suffolk-Katahdin crosses, which he said suit the ethnic market nicely.

The crossbred rams get up to weight faster, and they have speckling and a dark coloration “which the prices always seem pretty good on,” he said.

He also selects for RR genetics, the characteristic that is most resistant to scrapie. Glassman said he would consider keeping a QR, or partially susceptible, ewe only if she had other outstanding qualities he wanted to keep.

The Glassmans briefly experimented with Boer goats when Jordan Glassman was in 4-H, but “we couldn’t keep them in,” Barry Glassman said. “We sold them at the county fair and that was it.”

The Glassmans also tried Southdown sheep for a few of those 4-H years.

Glassman said he stays in the sheep business because he has been doing it his whole life and because it gives him a break from politics.

“Raising sheep is my peace of mind,” he said. “It’s a stress reliever.”

His wife, Debi Glassman, turned out to be good at lambing and working with the sheep too, so she takes care of the herd when he is bogged down in Annapolis.

Glassman’s fellow senators see the sheep as something of a novelty. Early on, legislators liked to call his name on the floor as “Baaaa-rry,” Glassman said.

Glassman keeps pictures of his sheep in his office. “It’s a way to teach people,” such as lobbyists and other legislators who stop by, about agriculture, he said.

Glassman has a staffer who grew up raising beef, he said, but people with a farming background are not too common in Maryland’s legislature.

Glassman has been told he is the state’s only legislator who can fit and shear a sheep. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” he said.

Like his barn at home, the sheep shows are a sort of a politics-free oasis, as his friends in those circles prefer to talk sheep, not votes and taxes, Glassman said.

Even though his son is out of 4-H, Glassman likes to help out at sheep-related fair events and support the local youths.

Glassman said Monday that he would probably end up at the Mason-Dixon Fair almost every night this week, including showing his own sheep on Friday.

The fairgrounds are only 20 minutes from Glassman’s farm, so it is convenient to stop by, he said.

He pitches in any way he can: helping the ladies in the ring, handing out ribbons. “Tonight the ring needed smoothed out,” he said.

Glassman counted eight 4-H market lamb competitors from his county at Mason-Dixon this year. “It seemed like our numbers were down a little from last year,” though the program is still pretty robust, he said.

Glassman also shows at the Maryland State Fair, where he had a champion about five years ago. That sheep also placed well at the Keystone International Livestock Exposition in Harrisburg.

Three years ago, Jordan Glassman showed a champion at Mason-Dixon.

Barry Glassman acknowledged that spending time at the sheep shows has paid political dividends on top of being an enjoyable time. A new generation of young people know him through sheep shows, he said.

“In the farming community, I think they do like to see their representatives out” in the dirt, he said.

After his more than 20 years in county and state government, Glassman said, many of his constituents recognize him at fairs and associate him with sheep.

“It’s part of my political marketing now,” he said.

Glassman is using oval-shaped bumper stickers with a sheep and the words “Baaa ... rry Glassman” in his campaign for county executive against Democrat Joseph Werner in this fall’s election.

Harford is one of several Maryland counties governed by an executive and a county council.

Glassman does not present himself as an ag politician per se, but he said he does want to build an ag research center in Harford County if elected.

He envisions a center for food safety and biotechnology research in cooperation with the Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is in Harford County.

The county’s population is growing, but Glassman said he hopes the area can maintain an agricultural presence, perhaps through more ag expositions or agritourism events.

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