At Marble Hill Farm, the Schlegels raise 40 grass-fed, grass-finished Lowline Angus cattle for beef and pasture-raised chickens for eggs. They also grow seasonal organic produce such as tomatoes, spinach and herbs. But the highlight is one of Indiana's largest Shetland sheep herds. They shear their 140 heritage-breed sheep each year, turning the wool into goods such as yarns, yoga mats, rugs and felted insoles for shoes or boots with the help of Round Barn Fiber Mill.
Shetland sheep hail from the Shetland Islands of northern Scotland and are known for a beautiful, versatile fleece that produces very fine wool. Whitney chose the breed because of its excellent fleece, hearty resilience and smaller size. The Schlegels have named every sheep in the flock and Whitney knows them all. She also recognizes each one by its distinct voice, the characteristic bleat or “baa” sound sheep make.
“Once you’ve been around them for this long, you can pick up on their different voices,” Whitney said. “It’s interesting because they are all unique, but you can often hear similarities between mothers and their lambs.”
That close relationship to the flock extends to the land and everything the Schlegels do at Marble Hill Farm. They practice regenerative agriculture to improve soil health and animal welfare. For example, the Schlegels employ rotational grazing, requiring investments in portable fencing and added time to move animals. But the benefits abound: less erosion, rich topsoil, vibrant grass and fewer parasites. Healthier soils and fields lead to healthier livestock and, ultimately, better products for the consumer.
“The livestock are a necessary component of our farm ecosystem. If you look out across our farm, there is no bare soil — even the slopes have grass on them,” Whitney said. “We’re creating healthy forage for the animals. The sheep turn it into beautiful wool, the cattle become healthy, nutritious beef, and the hens provide bright yellow-yolked eggs. So it’s a win-win for the land and the consumer.”
The Schlegels are quick to acknowledge those who have helped them along the way. Farming was a second career for them, so they’ve spent countless hours learning from neighbors, friends and others in the ag community. They improved their farm through the years with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service and the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Schlegels have received awards from both organizations for their conservation efforts.
As a way to give back to the community, the Schlegels host visits from local schools, camps and other organizations to promote stewardship, conservation and education. They’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc., Purdue Extension, Indiana University and many others to provide hands-on learning for students, especially young women, in science and technology.
“I really found my voice in agriculture, so we love to support young women in science,” Whitney said.
As the Schlegels promote soil conservation and regenerative agriculture, they also share their love for Marble Hill Farm.
“You have to work with the land and appreciate the sense of place. That’s our passion,” Whitney said. “I love that we create this ecosystem where we are stewarding our land and our life in a very synergistic, harmonious way.”
Kip agrees and emphasizes the surprising beauty in southern Indiana.
“I've always been inspired by the writings of Wendell Berry and Gretel Ehrlich. Their books gave me joy and inspired me to do something outdoors,” Kip said. “I love this land — it’s magical — the sunrises and sunsets are truly amazing.”
Learn more about Marble Hill Farm or shop their products at marblehillfarmin.com. Visit them at the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market or the Bloomington Winter Farmers Market. You can find their items year-round at the Rose Hill Farm Stop and the Bloomington Spinners and Weavers Guild Fiber Arts Store. Check out a selection of their goods at the Indiana Grown Marketplace during the state fair.