My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Monday, May 30, 2022

Sheep in Shipshe

There is an increasing number of sheep to be seen on the local hillsides around here, which is something new.  (The story is closely connected to another blog post I might write soon, involving a growing ethnic community just south of Shipshewana who eat a lot of lamb.)   

One of my good friends here, the son of my beloved Mrs. R., has recently begun raising sheep, so I paid him a visit last week to find out more.  Last fall he purchased 80 ewes, and now (it’s May as I write this) it's lambing time! 

Sam’s ewes (female adult sheep) are a cross breed—they are half Katahdin and half Dorper sheep.  He also has a couple of Katahdin rams as a part of his herd. 

I never knew (until now!) that there are actually TWO categories of sheep.  There are those raised for their wool, of course—but there are also those raised for their meat, commonly called “hair sheep.”  Sam’s Katahdins and Dorpers are breeds of hair sheep.  They still grow a thicker coat in the winter, and they shed it in the spring, like most outdoor animals.  But they don’t need to be sheared, nor is their coat a good source of wool.  They were bred for their ability to produce high quality lamb or mutton meat.

The ewes can produce offspring about every eight months, and the babies take five months to gestate.  The ewes can breed any time of year—but Sam separates the rams from the herd from July so he won’t have any lambs born in the winter. 

Sam told me that sheep are notorious for getting sick and dying so quickly that nothing can be done for them.  For that reason, sheep farmers say, “A sick sheep is a dead sheep.”

Of the 80 females Sam purchased last fall, 76 remained this spring to have offspring, and about 50 have given birth so far.  Typically this type of ewe can have two or three lambs, but Sam’s herd are all first-time mothers, so one lamb apiece is the norm.  A few of them did have twins—and in the case of the two surviving sets of twins, Sam took the stronger lamb of each pair and brought it to his daughter’s farm, where they are being bottle-fed—something that Sam’s three young grandchildren are enjoying very much!  Other strategies for motherless lambs:  Sometimes a mother without a lamb can be convinced to “adopt” a lamb without a mother.  And Sam’s young neighbor Joel put a motherless lamb together with a mama goat with great success! 

A full-grown sheep of this type weighs around 100-110 pounds, but he sells the lambs when they reach ideal weight for lamb meat, which is about 60 pounds.  But all his female lambs for this year are already reserved for a fellow Amishman, who is going to use them as ewes to start his own herd. 

Sam told me there are somewhere between 100 and 200 local Amish farmers raising sheep now—six in his church district alone.  He said that the typical herd size depends on acreage of pasture available.  A farmer can have five to eight ewes per acre.  In Sam’s case, he has plenty of land.  He has four or five pastures which he alternates; he says that it’s best to move the herd when they eat the grass down very low, because the pests and parasites are mostly found close to the ground.  His pastures are bordered by an electric fence wire about knee-high—that’s all it takes to keep the sheep contained—although he has regular fencing around the perimeters of his land.

Likes and dislikes of sheep?  Sam told me that the sheep really like hills, so they love to run up and down the small hilly areas on his land.  What they dislike is wet feet, so they stay out of the water. 

Next time you’re in the area, maybe you’ll notice the number of sheep dotting the pastures.  The Amish culture may be slow to adopt changes, but not everything stays the same forever around here!

 More about Katahdin sheep here:

More about Dorper sheep here:

Monday, May 23, 2022

The People's Exchange

Have you ever picked up a copy of the local publication “The People’s Exchange”?  If you’re visiting Amish Indiana for more than a day or two, I’d highly recommend it.  It’s available for free from display stands all over town.  A new one is published every two weeks.

These days it runs over 325 pages, and here’s the table of contents.  As you can see, it’s a mix of goods and services mainly focused on the Amish community—but don’t put it aside yet.  There are things for the hard-core tourist, too—the ones who stay more than a day or two, and dig into the local community a little deeper than just shopping and eating downtown.

Below is a very small sampling of some of the ads…  I honestly could have scanned a hundred of them and not run out of unique content.  But since I hate scanning (as you can see by the date on this issue, which lets you know that I’ve procrastinated six months already!)—this will give you a taste.  Below the ads I've given a bit more background info on each one...


The Amish need a number of products which are unique to their culture.  Quite a few are locally made, and many of those are advertised here.  This is an ad for a special clothesline, since the Amish don’t have clothes dryers. 

The next ad above is for bobcats.  Small skid loaders like this are increasingly common here, and are allowed in all but the most conservative Amish church districts.  There are also many ads for battery-powered items in The People’s Exchange, since the Amish don’t have regular plug-in electricity.  You’d be surprised how many things can be run by a rechargeable battery!

Notice the ad for bench wagons.  As Amish church districts grow past a certain size, the district is split.  This necessitates a new set of church officers (bishop, two ministers, deacon) and also a new bench wagon.  I wrote more about bench wagons here.


The horse ads have always fascinated me!—enough so that, back in our tourist days, I would read them aloud to my husband (endlessly) in the car on the drive back to suburban Chicago.  A few years ago I did an entire post on just the horse ads, which you can read here.

There are also ads for every kind of horse-related product or service, including the usual ones and also some you might not expect.  This ad is for a Himalayan salt room—for horses.


Nearly all real estate aimed at the Amish market is sold by auction, not by traditional realtors.  This is true for homes, farms, and businesses.  Silent auctions are becoming more popular, where phone bids are taken up until a certain date.  Many of the large old farms are being broken up into smaller “farmettes,” consisting of two or three acres, a house, and a few outbuildings.  That’s the typical property that might be owned by an Amish RV factory worker.


There’s a large section for “health and wellness.”  Medical clinics serving the Amish often offer “plain Church pricing” or “cash discounts” like this one does. The Amish don’t have conventional medical insurance, although they do have a form of self-insurance for larger medical expenses.  Many have asked me if the Amish use conventional doctors, dentists, hospitals, etc.  The answer is yes—but they are more likely to try herbs and other folk remedies or chiropractic treatments first.

Along with the ads for conventional medical practices, such as the first ad above, are many ads for some pretty questionable and untested medical potions, treatments, and devices.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Amish are far too ready to believe in the benefits of such things.  Often these ads mention a “free talk” which is a thinly disguised sales pitch.

A lovely custom here (and one of my husband’s personal favorites) is the annual Customer Appreciation Day.  These often involve sales, discounts, special displays, and lots of free food.  They are typically very well attended!


This last ad is a good example of something that would interest a tourist.  The Country Barn is a store on the main road between downtown Shipshewana and Middlebury.  They sell lots of bird houses and bird feed—a wonderful variety—and owner Laverne Graber is an expert on the local birds.  There is plenty more there, including pet food and a nice selection of unique home d├ęcor and gifts. 

So there it is—The People’s Exchange.  Look through a copy next time you are in town.

You can find their website here.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Katie and Joni

Something wonderful is going to happen at my house today—at least, I hope so.  

It involves two people in particular:  Katie, the young lady I've written about before (here) who is nineteen, wheelchair-bound, and terminally ill with cancer of the spine (so the doctors say); and Joni Eareckson Tada, world-famous speaker, artist, author, and advocate for the disabled, who also happens to be a quadriplegic.  (Read her story here, as well as all over the internet!  Her organization’s website is here.) 

A few more facts:  Joni helped in the effort to create the Americans With Disabilities Act, and she was present at the White House for its signing in 1990.  She is a popular speaker who once spoke to over 100,000 people at a Billy Graham crusade in Hungary.  Her organization has provided hundreds of wheelchairs for disabled people all over the world.  She has been happily married to Ken Tada, a now-retired teacher and coach, for nearly 40 years. 

It all started when I gave Katie a biography of Joni last year.  She told me later that at first she couldn’t bring herself to pick it up and read it—Joni was paralyzed at about the same age Katie was, and the story just hit too close to home!  But eventually she picked up the book and read it, and then Joni became her new favorite author.  I supplied more of Joni’s books (she’s written nearly fifty books and sold millions), and then last fall, Katie sat down and wrote Joni a letter.

To her surprise and delight, she got a response.  Katie had told her story in the letter, and Joni spoke to that and other personal bits from Katie’s letter that showed that Joni had truly spent time on Katie’s letter.  Joni also enclosed three more of her books. 

Katie was over the moon!  I bought her a frame for the letter and continued to supply her with books. 

Then a few months ago, my husband remarked how wonderful it would be if Katie could hear Joni speak somewhere.  That got me thinking, so I sent an email to the Joni & Friends headquarters in California, asking if Joni was speaking anywhere in northern Indiana this year.

I got a response from Joni’s office that Joni wasn’t doing much public speaking these days, but how about a Facetime call between Joni and Katie?  Now Katie and I were both over the moon!

But soon I ran into some glitches.  Firstly, the cell phone reception out at Katie’s farm in the hills is pretty bad, and it was found to be unsuitable for a Facetime call.  Solution?  We would get Katie and her mother to my place in nearby Middlebury.

But how to do that?  The family has a wheelchair buggy, but could a horse and buggy be parked in my yard?  I live in a subdivision with an HOA.  Solution?  We’d take the chance.  Sometimes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.

But where to park it?  As I walked around our property, the answer made itself known:  Out in the yard, I found this old hook grown into a tree.

But how to get Katie into my house?  My husband made a ramp which we keep in the barn, but he recently broke his T12 vertebra, so hauling it out with a broken back was out of the question.  Solution?  Katie’s mom said that they had a lightweight, foldable, portable ramp, which she could bring along in their wheelchair buggy.

So now it’s 10:15 on a Monday morning in May…  Katie and her mother will pull up with their horse and special wheelchair buggy later this morning.  After some pizza and a look around my woodland garden, Joni will call us from California at 2 p.m. Eastern time.  All I can do is wait, and pray, and hope I can pull this off.

[later the same day…]

Everyone has gone home now, but what a special and wonderful day this turned out to be!

Katie, her parents, and her two littlest brothers (ages 4 and 6) arrived in the wheelchair buggy, which we parked in my back yard with no problem.  With the ramp they brought, we easily got Katie into my house.

When the Facetime call came, I introduced myself and Katie’s family, then handed my iPad to Katie and sat in an easy chair nearby to listen and enjoy.  Katie’s mom listened from the couch or behind the wheelchair while her father sat nearby, taking notes on everything.

Katie’s time with Joni was everything I hoped it would be, and more.  Joni has an amazing way of relating to people, and she spent nearly forty minutes with my young friend.  It was magical.  As I listened to Joni’s encouragement and advice and loving concern, I had a hard time keeping back the tears…  It’s not often that an ordinary person like me gets the chance to help make someone’s dream come true.

At one point Joni said, “Would you like to see my art studio?”  Joni wouldn’t have known it, but Katie loves art and sometimes paints.  I jumped up and stood behind the wheelchair for that part.  Joni showed Katie many lovely things, and even showed Katie how she paints by holding a paintbrush in her teeth, and how she sticks it in her arm splint when she wants to take a break.

At the end of the call, Joni asked us all to gather around Katie’s wheelchair, and then she prayed for Katie and all of her family.  It was the perfect ending.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Read about Katie's death here and here.

Monday, May 2, 2022

A Sunday Night Singing


For years Gary and I have driven my young Amish friends to their Sunday night singings.  Last Sunday I finally got my first chance to attend one.

This is a weekly tradition for many Amish young people.  These gatherings are held all over the “Michiana” area (northeastern Indiana and southern Michigan) in about a dozen locations on any given Sunday night.  They usually involve half an hour of eating (perhaps 6:00-6:30 typically) and then an hour of singing.  After that, the kids go their separate ways fairly quickly, since Monday is a work day, and work starts early in these parts.

I got my chance because it was my friend Ruth’s daughter’s turn to host the one for their area, and Grandma Ruth was helping with the food.  The location was a few miles north of the Michigan state line in the Centreville Amish settlement—about 12 to 14 church districts who used to have two youth groups for Sunday night singings, but recently were merged into one.  Around 100 young people were expected, and that’s about how many showed up.

When I say “young people,” or as the Amish say, “youngies,” this would be youth who are sixteen years old, up through marriage age.  Some of the youngies have passed their 30th birthday, but since they’re still single and still hoping to meet their soulmate, there they are!  There’s not really an age limit.

Most “youngies” have a particular youth group/singing that they attend regularly, although they’re free to visit other ones as they wish.  The various youth groups/gatherings have their own names—including the Bluebirds, the Seagulls, the Wildflowers, Twilight, the Bons, Heartland, Lakeside, and Clearspring.  (The Bluebirds had gotten well over 200 in size, so that group recently split, with the younger members (roughly those under 25) forming the Heartland group.

You can always tell where a singing is being held on a Sunday evening…  Buggies, bicycles, pedestrians, and hired vans converge from every direction on the chosen location.  Some singings have as many as 200 kids or more in attendance!  Some groups are known for being more conservative than others.  Kids who are into the wilder behavior typical of some Amish youth usually don’t attend singings.

The host family was using the same recent house addition as the meeting area for the singing as they use when they host church (which they did last Sunday).  The family hosting the singing uses the benches from the bench wagon, as well as flatware and other supplies.  I’ve written about bench wagons before, here.  The host dad told me that the setup is about the same as he used when hosting church last Sunday, except some of the longer benches on one side were replaced with shorter ones to make room for the food tables.

Ruth and I got there at 5:00, and there were half a dozen moms already busy in the kitchen preparing for the 6:00 meal.  Below are some of them, setting up the food tables in the meeting area.

I was happy to see that the main dish for the evening was “Mexican haystacks” – one of my favorite Amish meals!  Haystack meals involve starting with a base layer, and then moving down the table and adding layer after layer onto a plate.  In the case of Mexican haystacks, the base layer is crumbled crackers, followed by taco-seasoned ground beef, then the typical taco veggie toppings, then crumbled tortilla chips, and nacho cheese on top.  The farm boys were piling them pretty high!

At 6:30 sharp, the singing began.  The boys sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other side, both sides facing the divider in the middle.  Some singings still do it the older way, with the kids sitting at long tables, boys on one side of the tables and girls on the other side.  But this youth group, like so many this area, has grown too large for that type of setup.

Each person had several hymnbooks, the one below with songs in both Old German and English, and kids took turns choosing a song.  Some were sung in two part harmony, some in more.  Many of the songs involved an “echo” effect where the boys and girls wove in and out of the song in turn.  Some Amish music makes use of our regular rounded musical notes as well as something they call “shaped notes.”  You can see some of those in the song below…  But that’s a topic for another post.

There was a table of dads off to the side, discussing whatever Amishmen discuss when they get together.  The moms and I sat in the back.  A few younger kids were playing in the yard.

After an hour of singing, things wrapped up pretty quickly.  The half dozen moms went over to the food tables, packed up the leftovers, set up dishpans, and washed all the silverware on the spot.  I was impressed by how many of the young people took the time to walk up to the mother who hosted the event to say thanks.

Below, a small sampling of the singing.  There is no video, just audio, as I kept my phone lying flat by my side.