Unlike many families in South Carolina, Kathy and Lee McCaskill did not inherit a history of farming, much less a farm itself. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Kathy, the proud coproprietor of Old McCaskill’s Farm, is a native of upstate New York. There she spent many of her formative years exploring the abandoned dairy farm where she and her family lived. Years later, she relocated first to Florida and then to South Carolina, where she met her husband and did what many good Southerners do: purchase a piece of land out in the country.
“I am a classic example of ‘You can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl,’” Kathy says. To prove it, in 1989 she and Lee purchased not one but 12 acres of land on a picturesque country road in Rembert, South Carolina. By the following year, Lee, a contractor by profession, had finished building their first home on the property. Here, the couple raised their three children — Ashley, Trey, and Joshua — until the house and its furnishings burned in 2007.
Out of the ashes, the McCaskills built the American Foursquare-style home that now sits prominently at the head of the gravel drive. Kathy admits that, with all three children having graduated from high school by the time the house was move-in ready in 2008, the new home was far too big for their family. It was only after the final touches were put on the plantation-style home that the plan for their dwelling became clear. “We didn’t intend for it to be a bed-and-breakfast when we built it,” Kathy says. “I tell people: God had a plan.”
Since opening up the second floor of their home as a B&B in 2011, the McCaskills have welcomed hundreds of guests from across the nation and across the pond. Kathy, who proudly declares herself “pathetically domestic,” offers comfortable, laid-back lodging; continental breakfast with farm-fresh eggs; and quintessential, immersive views of Old McCaskill’s Farm.
Each bedroom features a distinct theme, beckoning equestrians, sports enthusiasts, honeymooners, and serenity seekers alike into their respective havens. They all share a common creature comfort, though — a signature Old McCaskill’s Farm wool blanket draped at the foot of each bed.
Guests only have to take a few steps — or lazy, muffled shuffles — down the hall to the second-story back porch to identify the source of their comfort. Just over the railing, a pastoral scene comes to life with the sheep pasture view below.
The ancestors of this woolly, bleating bunch comprised the first of the farm animals to help turn a profit at Old McCaskill’s as it evolved from a hobby to a profession. Prior to that, the cats, dogs, and horses that milled about the farm fell squarely into the pet category. “Everything started out as a novelty, but the feed bills and vet bills were getting to be more than the pediatrician and grocery bills,” Kathy says. At that point, Lee pointed out the fact of the matter: something had to give. Soon enough, that something was the sheep.
Kathy’s original flock started with a few bottle-fed babies that were passed on to her from a neighbor. Now, the flock ranges from between 40 to 50 lambs and ewes, which are adult female sheep, at any given time.
Every summer, Kathy transports the sheep to their summer home in Boykin, South Carolina, just 7 miles down the road. Here, they share 40 acres of rotational grazing pasture with the Old McCaskill’s Farm herd of cows, which resides in Boykin year-round. In December, Kathy loads up the ewes and carries them back up the road to the main operation in Rembert.
Before long, spring is in full swing on the farm, and with it, lambing and shearing season. “Lambing,” or birthing, starts as early as late January and can last until May.
Kathy warns of this beautifully busy season, “It gets crazy.” For the most part, her role in the lambing process is as support staff. “I don’t set a clock; I don’t go out and check my flock overnight. I let nature take its course,” she says. Every now and then, she intervenes to help reorient a lamb’s legs to be properly positioned in the birth canal or cordons off ewes that she expects to have difficulties in the lambing process.
As with any farm activity, lambing is dirty, demanding work for all parties involved. Nevertheless, Kathy treasures the mornings during lambing season when she surveys her sheep pasture on foot and stumbles upon the newest additions to her flock. “It’s my favorite time of the year,” she says.
As if lambing season did not provide enough excitement by itself, shearing day is scheduled squarely in the midst of it. For two decades and counting, Kathy has entrusted this procedure to Chuck Costner. Chuck, who has more than 40 years of experience under his belt, comes armed with motor-powered shearing clippers and a method that dates back to the 1800s.
Kathy says of the backbreaking work, “It’s not like taking a pair of scissors and snip, snip, snip; he picks the animal up, flips it up on its rear, and leans it up against his legs, feet facing away. Then, he goes down under the belly and does a strip, left to right — it’s like he’s unzipped it.”
Once the thrill of shearing day has faded, Kathy prepares the roughly 200 pounds of wool to be packaged and shipped to a woolen mill on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Using 200-year-old equipment, they pool wool from Old McCaskill’s Farm and other sources to spin four different sizes of blankets: napper, lap, double, and queen. The vibrant array of colors ranges from soft pink to emerald green and comes in either a checkerboard, solid, or subtle tweed print with three thin white stripes near the hem. Each year, the mill offers a limited-edition arrangement of colors; this year’s is an autumnal mix of orange, yellow, teal, nutmeg, and purple in a plaid patterning.
After a turnaround of six to eight months, the wool has undergone its transformation from farm to fiber and eventually boomerangs back where it started: Old McCaskill’s Farm.
Here, Kathy arranges the charming blankets within cubby-style shelving units inside her on-site farm store. A gentle pull on the store’s screen door reveals a farm-fresh fanatic’s paradise — an enticing, albeit overwhelming, array of jams, jellies, pickles, relishes made on the farm; a fridge full of mouthwatering meats, complemented by dips and dishes made by Kathy’s daughter and food truck operator, Ashley Robinson; an assortment of freeze-dried savory and sweet treats; a curated selection of artisanal goods from other local vendors; and, of course, piles of wool blankets.
The balance of nostalgia and novelty is emblematic of Old McCaskill’s Farm. In many ways, her daily farm routine is not so far off from what 18th and 19th century farm life in rural South Carolina would have entailed. She wakes up early, tends to every fowl, sow, bovine, and feline; manages her garden; and prepares hearty, farm-fresh meals. However, amenities like incubators, commercial canning kitchens, and automatic sewing machines undoubtedly differentiate today’s farm life from the days of old. Comparatively, she says, “A day in the life for me is way more modern!”