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Renowned Unity sheep farm lauded for conservation-friendly grazing

Stephen Huba
| Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
John and Sukey Jamison, owners of Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, pose for a portrait on their farm, in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
John and Sukey Jamison, owners of Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, pose for a portrait on their farm, in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Ewes run through the field at Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Ewes run through the field at Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
John and Sukey Jamison, owners of Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, pose for a portrait on their farm, in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
John and Sukey Jamison, owners of Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, pose for a portrait on their farm, in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Jim the sheep dog, brings in a herd of ewes, at Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Jim the sheep dog, brings in a herd of ewes, at Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
John Jamison, owner of Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, works wtih his sheep dog Jim, to round up a herd of ewes, at his farm in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
John Jamison, owner of Jamison Farms, a nationally known lamb producer, works wtih his sheep dog Jim, to round up a herd of ewes, at his farm in Unity Township, on Friday, Sept. 08, 2017. Jamison Farm recently won Conservation Farmer of the Year.

A Unity sheep farm known to chefs across the country is finally getting some recognition at home.

Jamison Farm has been named the 2017 Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Westmoreland Conservation District for its grazing practices.

“It's great because there's a lot of interest now in grass-fed meat,” said John Jamison, who, with his wife, Sukey, has been operating the farm since 1976. “By virtue of having grass-fed meat, you're also implementing good conservation practices.”

The award, which will be presented at a ceremony at 6 p.m. Wednesday, recognizes the Jamisons for their use of intentional rotational grazing — a system that aims to protect soil and water resources by rotating grazing sheep through fenced-in sections of pasture.

John Jamison, 70, uses computer software to keep track of where and when he moves the flock. He has subdivided the 212-acre farm into sections called paddocks, which are served by more than 8,000 feet of waterline.

“It's a simple system,” Jamison said, “but you have to know when it's time to move them.”

The farm's only crop is grass mixed with clover, which does not require plowing or fertilizing.

“If you put a lot of animals in a small area for a short period of time … they eat down the grass, and by eating down the grass, that exposes the white clover to the air. The clover fixes nitrogen from the air, which puts more nitrogen into the soil and grows the grass,” Jamison explained. “It's a cycle.”

Local rainfall — averaging 40 to 45 inches a year — also promotes grass growth and allows three to five hay cuttings a year. Such a system cuts down on erosion and preserves the topsoil, he said.

“It is the grass and climate here, plus their best practices, that allows them to raise these fantastic animals,” said Greg Phillips, conservation district manager and CEO. “The Jamison farm may produce the least sedimentation of any working farm of its size in the county.”

Phillips said the Jamison Farm was selected by the district's board of directors following its annual nomination process.

“The board looks at their overall implementation of conservation practices on the farm over time. It's not just one thing but the cumulative incorporation of conservation into the operation,” Phillips said.

The Jamisons bought their first farm in Pleasant Unity in 1976. A stone house with 65 acres, the farm started with Sukey Jamison's decision to buy some sheep for her children's 4-H project.

“I was a complete novice,” she said.

Their farm, purchased in 1984, processes 3,000 lambs a year. About 150 of the 212 acres is grazing land.

“It's a great place to graze sheep because the grass is so good,” John Jamison said.

Jamison lamb is served at some of the finest restaurants in the country, including Chez Fonfon in Birmingham, Ala., Café Boulud in New York City, La Toque Restaurant in Rutherford, Calif., and Poros Aegean Estiatorio in Pittsburgh, according to jamisonfarm.com.

The awards ceremony at the district's office at 218 Donohoe Road also will recognize the Bove Engineering Co. of Hempfield, which is the 2017 J. Roy Houston Conservation Partner.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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