Thomas re-appointed to board

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2017

James Alvin Thomas, of Dillwyn, was re-appointed to the Sheep Industry Board in the Virginia Governor’s administration, a news release from the Office of the Governor cited Friday.

Alvin Thomas

According to the release, Thomas will continue to serve on the Sheep Industry Board, which takes inventory of sheep in the Commonwealth and takes action to prevent predator control, or the harming of sheep from coyotes, dogs and vultures, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Thomas is a retired extension agent, who worked at the Prince Edward County Extension Office and a sheep and cattle producer, owning and renting more than 200 acres of land in Buckingham.

Email newsletter signup

Thomas owns approximately 70 cows and 40 sheep, he said.

Thomas said he was first appointed to the Sheep Industry Board shortly after his retirement as an extension agent around 2004. This will be his third reappointment to the board, Thomas said.

He noted that the 10-12-member board typically has annual meetings, which will correspond with the Shepherd Symposium held at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in January. Special called meetings can also take place in July or August for pressing issues, Thomas said.

During the meetings, Thomas said members of the board will discuss issues relating with the board’s budget, sheep production in Virginia, including challenges in marketing sheep to consumers and dangers that sheep may face.

“It allows you to attend two events with one trip,” Thomas said.

“It’s not a big time commitment,” Thomas said about the meetings. “But it’s a necessary thing to make sure that the industry people are involved in deciding how this checkoff money is going to be spent.”

Checkoff commodity funds allow for promotion of sales of produce, such as lamb.

He said members include sheep producers like him, and representatives of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and from Virginia Tech.

He said he has raised sheep for more than 55 years, beginning when he was a young teenager.

Registered as an independent, Thomas said he has worked with Republican and Democrat governors, and that the issue he finds does not draw political divides.

“It’s not a political type of position at all,” Thomas said. “It’s doing what’s best for the sheep industry and deciding how the checkoff money will be spent, use educational events and product promotion in getting people to eat more sheep meat.”

He said the challenges he and members of the board have discussed in recent years have included protecting young sheep in particular from predators, which can include dogs and coyotes, and marketing wool and lamb meat to consumers in Virginia.

Thomas noted that people from cultural backgrounds where lamb is commonly eaten usually welcome lamb, but for people who aren’t as accustomed, it can pose a challenge.

“One of the challenges is just getting people to try it,” Thomas said. “People that have had ancestors in World War II in Europe and ate a lot of mutton, and it didn’t taste like something they wanted to eat again. Of course there’s a difference between eating old sheep, which is mutton and young sheep, which is lamb.”

He also said a trend of raising hair lambs as opposed to wool lambs creates challenges as hair lambs have a different muscle composition, which he said is more difficult to market than wool lamb meat.

Thomas’ knowledge and his sheep are not only known at the board, but have also served the Heart of Virginia.

He was featured in a video last spring on the Rural Media Group’s RFD-TV show “Real Virginia” by a freelance filmmaker, Dave Miller. In the video, which can be seen on YouTube, Thomas showed viewers how to shear sheep.

“I started shearing sheep when I was 13 years old,” Thomas said. “I’m soon to be 70 and I’m still shearing sheep.”

Thomas and his sheep have been seen at the Farmville Church of Christ during its annual Live Nativity program, and he, and a few sheep and lambs, will be featured at this year’s Live Nativity, held at the Farmville Church of Christ on Milnwood Road on Dec. 15, 16 and 17.