Sheep herder

Maloi Lannan, 14, stands beside her herd of 15 lambs in Paradise Valley. She bought the lambs by selling copies of her coloring book “Don’t Call It Dirt!: A Regenerative Agriculture Coloring Book.” She designed and drew the illustrations to teach kids about regenerative agriculture.

Raising sheep is no easy task, but it’s fed 14-year-old Maloi Lannan’s passion for regenerative agriculture. Lannan sold hand-drawn coloring books to buy her herd, which grew to 15 lambs this summer.

Now Lannan runs a full-fledged sheep grazing operation called Red Clover Lambs at her family’s ranch in Paradise Valley. She’s sold many of her lambs to Chico Hot Springs.

When she isn’t in school, Lannan sets up fences, checks the herd’s water and sometimes rounds up the animals that have escaped. Caring for her sheep took longer when Lannan first started out, largely because “three amigos” liked to duck under a wire and run away, she said.

Lannan has since learned she needs to move the sheep on a schedule to curb the behavior.

“Some people think sheep are stupid,” she said. “They’re not. They’re pretty smart when they want to be.”

Lannan always knew raising her own animals would be difficult, but the more she did it, the easier it got. She does all the work on her own, but her parents Meagan and Pete Lannan offer guidance. They own Barney Creek Livestock, a regenerative cattle grazing operation in Paradise Valley.

Chuck, Maloi’s two-year-old Australian Kelpie, also helps out. He races around the herd, bringing sheep to Maloi as she works.

“He’s so talented,” she said. “I couldn’t have found a better dog.”

Maloi decided she wanted to raise sheep in 2018 after she helped her mom give a Farm to School presentation at a local school.

To keep the younger kids engaged, Meagan asked Maloi to draw pictures illustrating how regenerative agriculture works. Impressed with Maloi’s drawings, Meagan suggested that she create a coloring book about the topic.

Maloi designed the pages of her book, then drew her illustrations on a tablet. A grant from the company Arrow helped her to print some initial copies, she said.

Unlike traditional grazing, regenerative grazing keeps carbon in the soil, Meagan said. Animals are fenced into “pizza slices” of pasture and rotated throughout the sections frequently. Giving the pasture time to rest keeps the soil healthy, meaning grasses can grow back quicker.

When Maloi presented her coloring book for a 4-H project about veterinary science, she won a red ribbon — far below the top prize. Maloi felt the judge didn’t understand the connection she’d made between rotational grazing and animal health, so she sought advice from experts.

Maloi reached out to Nicole Masters, a top agroecologist and author, and ranchers Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin. The two authors are leading proponents of regenerative agriculture.

Masters, Brown and Salatin all responded to Maloi. They helped her get to the final version of “Don’t Call It Dirt!: A Regenerative Agriculture Coloring Book,” she said. So far, Maloi has sold around 500 copies.

“Honestly I was pretty shocked because I didn’t think a couple of adults would answer an 11-year-old’s email,” Meagan said. “They were super excited because it’s a whole new generation trying to get into regenerative. … It was like writing a movie star when you’re little.”

As she was finishing her coloring book, Maloi was also reading “Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture” by Brown. She learned that to keep the soil healthy, animal species, not just crops, need to be diverse.

Inspired, Maloi set out to expand the animal species on her parents’ property. “Sheep seemed to be a really good option,” she said.

With the money she raised from selling copies of her coloring book, Maloi bought her first five lambs. After grazing them during the summer, she sold them all to Chico Hot Springs.

This June, Maloi bought 15 more. She sold most of those but decided to keep three ewes for breeding this winter. She hopes she’ll start to get new lambs in the spring.

The money Maloi made from selling her coloring book has covered most of the sheep-raising costs. At the moment, she’s trying to figure out whether to print more copies. In a couple of years, she’d like to try raising chickens.

“Regenerative ag is a really fun path I want to go down in the long term,” Maloi said. “It’s a really interesting thing that not many people know about, so I want to educate them.”

Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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