The University of Maine is cutting its Ewe-Maine Icelandic Sheep Club because of funding concerns. This announcement comes while UMaine simultaneously receives a $240 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation. This club is popular amongst animal veterinary science and agricultural students and often can be beneficial to their education. Students can learn how to house, feed, maintain and entertain Icelandic sheep which can help them in both their personal lives and future careers. Furthermore, the club is entirely self-sufficient because each club member adopts a sheep, cares for it themselves and sells the sheep to invest in more animals for the following school year. However, this year UMaine has made the decision to sell the sheep and relocate the funds for other campus activities.
Anson Kuzmickas is a fifth-year animal veterinary science student and is the president of the Ewe-Maine Icelandic Sheep Club. He and the entire club were upset to learn that UMaine had sold the sheep without any warning to club members.
“We were never told or even had the option to voice our opinion on the selling, let alone know how much. But, I know it’s definitely somewhere between $6,000-$7,000. I’d estimate a more precise amount of $6,500 total for everything,” Kuzmickas said.
It is unclear who had the final say in selling the sheep, but Kuzmickas says that Associate Dean of the School of Food and Agriculture Mark Hutton and Farm Manager Josh Hatley were both involved with the decision.
The club only became aware of this upheaval on Oct. 26. Since then, there has been an outpouring of emotions from the members. They only had one week to say goodbye to their beloved flock of sheep before they were sold. Kuzmickas mentioned that it was always a consideration that the university would consider selling the flock if UMaine was struggling financially, but it was assumed the university would involve club members, students and professors in the conversations around it if the situation became that dire. Kuzmickas understands that sometimes, difficult times call for difficult measures, but this decision left many members feeling slighted and ignored by the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture (NSFA) at UMaine.
“All of my members have expressed their sadness with me about the club dissolving and the sheep being moved, they’ve also expressed their [displeasure] with how things were handled,” Kuzmickas shared. “I understand that we are students and that many people like the associate deans [and] management have to make hard decisions in times like this, but even the professors, and those that use the sheep for classes were not made aware of this decision. The club is pretty beaten down currently, and many see sheep chores as their only regularity in their life during unordinary times. Unfortunately, they won’t enjoy that anymore.”
Ewe-Maine Icelandic Sheep Club members did try to fight back against this hasty decision. Many members took to writing emails and contacting the press about the club shutting down. Kuzmickas says he is very proud of how all the members are voicing their opinions.
“We’ve sent emails to deans and to those who had some input and explaining what the club meant to them, why it’s a bad idea, and some just saying thank you for giving them the opportunity to join the club,” Kuzmickas said. “We’ve also met with people to explain our situation and to have some sort of input within the college but it seems we eventually hit a wall in terms of NFSA. I’d also like to point out, I had many alumni reach out to me and say they had sent an email explaining what the club meant to them and how it affected them after graduating.”
Despite the pleas from the community, the flock of sheep was sold this past week at Witter Farm. The status of the Ewe-Maine Icelandic Sheep club remains uncertain, as they are still recognized as a club on campus but they have no common goal to put their efforts towards. However, one thing is clear — the club will miss gathering at the farm to care for the sheep while bonding with one another.