It all started with a dozen orphan lambs in our kitchen.
That’s where our sheep farming roots began, in the 1970s, in Maryland. We started as a small, hobby farm with sheep and other livestock.
Retirement brought our family back to eastern Ohio in the early 1990s. Settling near Guilford Lake State Park gave us room to grow from those early days of small-scale sheep farming into our current scale of about 350 Dorset-cross ewes.
We play an important role in eastern Ohio’s economy and ecosystem, and others have taken notice.
Blue Heron Farms is in close proximity to state recreational lands and municipal watersheds, and, as a result, has developed a reputation as a progressive player in local conservation efforts.
The majority of BHF acreage was strip mined prior to purchase in the 1990s. Through careful management and the no-till benefits seen naturally through the grazing of small ruminants, the land has slowly turned around, with nutrients reintroduced to the soils, improving forages.
In 2013, we earned the Ohio Livestock Coalition’s Environmental Stewardship award, and in 2015, Cynthia was honored as Ohio Sheep Improvement Association’s Charles Boyle Master Shepherd, annual recognition of the state’s top shepherd.
In 2016, Blue Heron Farms was a stop on the annual grazing tour, in conjunction to OSIA’s annual Sheep Day. In 2011, we hosted Sheep Day.
We’re sheep gals, and we love what we do.
Our founder, Cynthia Koonce, is a former commercial director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association and a former member of American Sheep Industry Lamb Council.
An early supporter of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 40 years ago, she and her husband, Duane Miller, helped build the foundation for what is now one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world. She is also a regular supporter of the Coloured Wool Congress, an international gathering held every five years in locations around the globe.
A long-time learner of best practices for sheep production, Koonce has participated in the Howard Wyman Sheep Leadership School, sponsored by the National Lamb Feeders Association. She was also a participant in the Lamb 509 program at Ohio State University, to learn sheep marketing skills and carcass evaluation.
She was a producer representative for Tri-Lamb Group meetings in Washington, D.C., and Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia, in 2003 and 2004.
In 2014, Cynthia’s daughter, Rebecca Miller, began working alongside her mother — continuing the farm’s gal-centered leadership.
After growing up on the farm, she spent about a decade working in journalism, at newspapers, magazines, in higher education and overseas. She transitioned into co-ownership of the farm in 2016, between assignments in East Africa.
She has continued her mother’s learning policy, attending national and regional sheep training workshops. She is active in American Sheep Industry Young Entrepreneurs national programming.
As a member of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association and Ohio Farm Bureau, Rebecca is an advocate for young Ohio shepherds. In 2019, she began a three-year term as a board member of the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program, which is responsible for managing the state’s checkoff marketing dollars.
In 2018, she was one of two young shepherds selected to represent the U.S. during a tour of Australia and the national LambEx conference in Perth, Western Australia. She has also represented Ohio shepherds and the national industry in Washington, D.C.
Starting in 2019, she took over as editor-in-chief of Farm and Dairy newspaper, a 20,000-circulation weekly agricultural newspaper, covering Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.
Both she and Cynthia have participated in annual meetings of the North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool Association, in Norway, the Isle of Man and the Outer Hebrides.