Phil and Lisa Webster: North Star Sheep Farm, Windham Maine
Phil and Lisa Webster are 5th generation sheep farmers who also raise pigs – thousands of sheep and several hundred pigs a year, to be more specific. While the two species have much different hands-on needs, they do have one thing in common at the Websters’ farm in southern Maine – all are pasture-raised, grazing freely on roughly 1,000 acres of land that has been a working farm since the mid-1700s.
The couple’s approach to raising sheep and pigs (and chickens and rabbits too) is straight-forward and unwavering: to treat the animals with respect, uphold a commitment to sustainable farming methods, and maintain their historic farm’s sprawling fields and woodlands as a working part of the rural landscape.
“This is something we’ve been doing our whole life,” Phil says. “It’s important that our customers know how we farm and care for our animals so they can feel good about their food source.”
For decades, the Websters have supplied lamb to major wholesalers and restaurants throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts – even New York City – with Phil personally delivering to more than a dozen chefs himself. They only partner with customers who are willing to work across the whole animal, not just loin chops or ribs for example, adhering to an “all taste, no waste” philosophy that differentiates them from other farmers.
“We are a whole animal program,” Lisa says. “We’re not in it just to see how much poundage of meat we can get to market.”
When some of their customers started asking the Websters for pork to offer as another protein in restaurants, Phil and Lisa decided to start raising pigs. That was 16 years ago, and they couldn’t be more pleased with their decision.
“Sheep and lamb are really labor intensive for farmers,” Phil says. “With sheep you get one birthing per year. If you’re lucky you get twins. But it’s quite different with pigs. It made sense to add pork to what we can offer our customers, and now we can have two or three different proteins to fall back on when prices fluctuate in the market.”
Phil says North Star’s pigs are all born in the pastures and stay with their mothers for the first couple of months, which is significantly longer than commercially-raised piglets. The Websters let the animals work the pastures, first by running the lambs and donkeys (which also serve as guard animals for the lambs and goats) and then the pigs – which are left to do the final “rototilling.” The cycle allows the Websters to reseed the pastures after the animals go through, and keeps the land clean and free of parasites.
“Donkeys are naturally resistant to parasites that are harmful to other animals,” Phil says. “The process is important because it’s a natural process. It builds immunity and keeps the animals healthy.”
Phil, who has always used Blue Seal feeds on his farm, says he was excited when the company was acquired by Kent years ago. He knew from friends in Iowa that Kent offered a superior lamb feed, and the additional nutrition expertise that came with the merger “really knocked everything up a notch,” he says.
“All of the grains we feed are Kent and Blue Seal, and we buy a lot of it,” Phil says. “We’re really fortunate to have a store right here with knowledgeable people working in it. We use them all the time. If I ever have a question about anything at all, I get an answer right away.”
“That customer service, coupled with the highest quality of feed, contributes to the success of our family farm,” he says.
Phil and Lisa Webster own North Star Sheep Farm in Windham, Maine, where they live and raise sheep, pigs, chickens and rabbits. They have been married 31 years, have one son and four dogs. In their free time, they enjoy family and friends. They most love the animals and the comfort they feel at the end of each day knowing they continue to farm in a sustainable, animal-centered method to make the generations before them proud and future generations encouraged to continue that legacy.