Kim's Korner: Food, Fiber and "Farm-acy"
Today feels cold. As I sit holding my cup of tea, I reflect on how blessed I am to have a warm house. I
also have on my wool socks, just applied lotion to my hands, and I smell supper cooking in the crock pot.
Animal products enrich our lives every day. I would guess a majority of you reading this issue know that
we get high quality, protein-rich, food from our farm animals: meat, cheese, milk, and eggs! Bees are
also farmed for their delicious honey. I also imagine that most of you know that wool is sheared from
sheep at least once a year. Just like we need to get our hair cut, sheep need to get their wool removed
to make them more comfortable. Wool holds in heat, which makes it ideal for spinning into yarn used to
make cold-weather clothes such as sweaters and my wonderful socks. But sheep can get overheated
under all that wool in the summer. The wool keeps growing longer and thicker continuously, so every
sheep must be sheared at least once a year to keep the wool from getting too uncomfortable for the
sheep or becoming overly matted with dirt and grass. Even if you raise sheep for milk or cheese instead
of wool trade, you must still shear them to keep them healthy.
The dry air in the winter can really dry out our skin—and the skin of our sheep. Lanolin is a wax secreted
by the sebaceous glands of sheep. We get our lanolin from the wool that was sheared from sheep.
Lanolin's waterproofing property aids sheep in shedding water from their coats. So, lanolin helps protect
the sheep’s wool and skin. We use lanolin, and its derivatives, to protect, treat, and help make our skin
But the main reason we have sheep at Harvest Hope Farm is not just to sell the wool to make scarves
and lotions, but for helping find a cure for Huntington’s Disease. Lynn has shared her journey with you
about Huntington’s Disease. I learned about Huntington’s first in science class, but never really knew
much about this disease until I met Lynn. And the sheep we have on the farm may help provide a cure
for this devastating disease. The sheep we are raising are “special” sheep (that is, not every sheep you
see as you drive down the road has been bred to produce larger amounts of a molecule called GM1
ganglioside). What does that mean? Well, GM1 is short for monosialotetrahexosylganglioside (What a
mouthful!). A ganglioside is a molecule composed of a glycosphingolipid with one or more sialic acids
linked on the sugar chain—or to make it a little more simple, a “sugar-fat”. The job of the GM1 molecule
is to aid in the function of the nerve cells and help repair any damage that may be done on the nerves.
The sheep that we acquired from Shepard’s Gift in Brookings, SD, are known to over-produce this
molecule. However, not every lamb that is born will have the ability to over-produce GM1. We are
selecting breeding animals (the ewe and ram) that are carriers for the GM1 gene. One out of every 4
lambs born from our carrier ewes and a carrier ram will have the trait of overproducing GM1. The other
lambs will either be a carrier (50%) or not have the genes to overproduce GM1 (25%). At Harvest Hope
Farm, we either take a blood sample or a small ear notch soon after birth and send that back to South
Dakota to test to see if any of our animals are affected with GM1. These lambs will be identified, raised
with extra care, and will go back to South Dakota as they will be harvested so that the GM1 can be
extracted and used in the future for patients that have Huntington’s Disease.
Farmers that I know also raise their animals with respect and care as they know those animals are being
raised to take care of us. While animals have provided for our nourishment and warmth since the dawn
of time, it is because of dedicated scientists like Sue and Larry Holler at Shepard’s Gift, that animals are
providing a cure for human diseases. Keep coming back to Kim Korner—where you will always get the
right angle on animal science.