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Farming a long way from home

Margaret Phillipson met me at the door of her beautifully decorated farmhouse.  She was disappointed that I did not bring my wife and daughter along, like I told her I might.

Graham and Margaret sat with me in their living room and gave me the history of Littledale Farm and their roots.  The living room was adorned with oil paintings of their homeland.  There was also a painting of "Shep" their first collie.  Margaret said:  "Shep was a one in a million dog."

Established in 1984, Litttledale Farm is 170 acres and is located in Southwestern Wisconsin in Richland County on County ZZ, where the rolling hills provide an ideal home for sheep.  Graham and Margaret Phillipson are the proprietors.

They love Wisconsin's rolling hills because it reminds them of the area surrounding their home in Manchester, England. Both Margaret and Graham have traveled extensively around the Midwest and they picked Richland County because of the terrain and friendly people here.

Littledale Farm was named after the area in Lancashire, England where Graham visited during his childhood. Graham was evacuated there to his Uncle Harrys' farm during the bombings in WWII. Littledale was on the west side of the Pennines Mountains. The mountain range runs north and south in northern England and basically cuts the north into two sections. The west side was lush and had lots of rain and the east was arid and less inviting. This is where the seed was planted for Graham's love of his dogs and sheep herding. Margaret had no prior background in raising sheep.

They explained to me that England is about the size of the state of Oregon. There are five million sheep in all of the United States and thirty million sheep in England. The US only eats lamb for about two percent of their diet and it is thirty percent of the English and Scottish folk's diet. I loved their Manchester accent. Their accents were melodic and very soothing. I experienced a little piece of England tonight right here in Wisconsin.

Graham is a machine tool engineer and Margaret was a tax agent in England and worked in school administration in the US. They moved to the Chicago area in the USA in 1968 with two young children. In 1984, they purchased a small spread with a few sheep and border collie dogs in northern Illinois but they grew out of that space and relocated to Richland Center in 1990.

The Phillipsons had visited the Richland Center area numerous times through the years to participate in stock dog clinics held by the local 4H chapter here. They subsequently were members of a group of border collie owners, who started the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association here in Richland Center. The yearly herding contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association will be held in Hudson, Wisconsin on Labor Day weekend this year. A judge from England will evaluate the dogs this summer.

The Phillipsons grew to love the people and landscape during their visits here and the move was smooth and rewarding.  The 4H kids made a special impression on them.

"They are all hard workers and very polite just like children from the north of England," Graham said. The couple’s adult children did not move to Wisconsin.

They bought a farmhouse on County ZZ and renovated it. It took a few years to complete the work. It is now a functioning Bed and Breakfast.

"I hate to see the B&B boarders leave,” Margaret said. “I love sharing tales about my dogs and my family and my home country."

The Phillipsons have a flock of 104 ewes and 23 rams. They raise purebred Scottish Blackface and North Country Cheviot sheep.

All Scottish Blackfaced Rams have horns. North Country Cheviot rams have no horns.

The market lambs are produced by Scotch and Cheviot Mules and are sired by Littledale Suffolk Terminal Sires. The sheep are of the identical genetic bloodlines of the finest Scottish and English Lambs. All sheep eat only grass year round.

Their herding dogs' origins are from the Littledale area of Lancashire, England and are all of working stock. Shep was their first herding dog. The border collies are mostly traditional black and white. They do raise and sell working dogs occasionally. The collies were full of energy and raring to go and herd those sheep, when Graham let them out of their kennels. This breed of dog is very energetic and is not a good household pet without a lot of exercise and stimulation.  It has too high of a motor and doesn't do well indoors.

Their Livestock Guardian Dogs were acquired in 2011. Pumba is a Maremma and Polish Tatra cross and Benny is a Maremma and Spanish Mastiff cross. They patrol the farm at night and continue to keep watch during the day.

The Livestock Guardian Dogs are quite unique. Their fur is dense and the dogs look bigger than they actually are. One is the lookout and he is constantly out on patrol and wanders the property with his nose in the air sniffing for coyotes. He weighs about 90 pounds and his name is Pumba.  He has an alert stance and bark that signals the other larger dog and then the enforcer, Benny, comes. They both chase off the threat. There used to be coyotes on the property. The two working dogs have chased them all away. There is a den near the house that foxes have taken over that the dogs don't perceive as a threat and they leave them alone.

Benny stood guard at the farmhouse. I was quite bashful about getting out of my truck to talk with the family. Margaret assured me he was a "teddy bear." He is very imposing looking. Benny is about 105 pounds. I was afraid to pet Benny at first. I had my hands in my pockets and Benny would stick his giant snout in my pocket and force my hands out so I would pet him. Pumba came out of the field to see what was going on and he sat on my foot and backed into me demanding attention. By the time I left, I had about two hundred pounds of dogs wanting to be petted. Margaret calls them her boys.

 No coyotes stand a chance against their boys.  Margaret told me the two big boys have hearts of gold.

You can find Littledale Farm on County ZZ off Highway 14 just west of Richland Center. If you were traveling northwest out of Richland Center you would make your turn right at the top of the first large hill on County ZZ.  Keep going on ZZ and Littledale Farm is clearly marked on the right side of the road.

The Phillipsons have lambs for sale and Graham trains the young dogs. They also have a darling Bed and Breakfast there. Margaret makes an authentic British breakfast for her guests.

As I left, I told them I would bring my wife and daughter along the next time. They both said they would really like that.

Graham and Margaret Phillipson’s farm is located at 21925 County Highway ZZ, Richland Center, Wis. 53581.