Some mornings, when the cars are whizzing by her farm fast and furious, Jean Jones thinks about selling out and looking for a quieter life in someplace like St. Mary's County.
Jones, 59, has been raising sheep for 32 years on her 20-acre farm on the edge of Bowie, 12 miles east of the District. But the wide open spaces that she grew up with and prized are now being dotted with housing developments and convenience stores.
"When I hear all the cars go zooming by on that little road out front, I think: Jean, who are you fooling?" she said. "This isn't the country anymore. This is the suburbs. You shouldn't be raising sheep here."
Nonetheless, she perseveres as one of the few sheep ranchers in the area.
"I've got 70 sheep now, mainly Hampshire and Suffolk mix breeds and a few Dorsets. The Dorsets are here because I boarded a Dorset ram for a friend and well, he got in with the ewes and you know how that goes," Jones said with a laugh, pointing out a white-faced Dorset ewe among her black-faced Hampshires.
According to the 1987 Farm Census conducted by the Bureau of Census, there are 17 sheep farms and 453 sheep in Prince George's County.
"Many of the sheep farmers I know in this county have just a few sheep, maybe four or five," said Jones. "It's more of a sideline with them."
Jones's farm dates to 1865 when her grandfather, Henry Clay Hopkins, bought the house and 1,000 acres.
"The house must go back to before the Civil War," Jones said proudly of her beautifully preserved white farm house framed by two enormous maple trees.
Jones's grandfather and father were
tobacco farmers. Her father also ran the only general store in the area during the Great Depression.
"See that little white brick building there by the road?" Jones asked from her front porch. "That used to be my father's store. I've still got the old account books that show all the farm families that were around here then and how much they owed. The farmers had land but not much cash between crops in those days."
In 1958, Jones bought her first six sheep. She raises her flock for wool and meat. The most difficult part of sheep farming for her comes when she must send the young males for slaughter.
"It's very, very hard, especially with some I've raised on the bottle," Jones said. "I've cried many times after the people have taken them away. The only solace I have is that while I had them here with me, I treated them well."
Jones admitted to some favoritism. "Sometimes, I don't try very hard to catch the ones I'm fondest of, not even when they're big enough to go. You'll find a lot of sheep people do that."
With the market good for lamb now, a major problem for sheep farmers in this area, Jones said, is the lack of acceptable slaughterhouses. Many close-in plants have closed, forcing her to drive to slaughterhouses in other counties.
Another problem that Jones shares with other farmers in the area is lack of help.
"You can't get anybody around here to do farm work at any price," said Jones. "Even if I could get some teenagers in to help, I'd have to be insured if any got hurt. No, I do just about everything around here. This morning, for example, I unloaded 20 bushels of corn by myself."
Jones's sheep are 100 percent fed from November through February and then partially fed through spring. In summer, they are completely on pasture.
"All I do is sheep from November until February," said Jones. "In the summer, I have time to do some of the other things I enjoy, like gardening."
Her life can be hectic around December, during lambing time.
"You have to be with them all the time," she said. "The ewes like to lamb on the coldest nights possible and you have to get the lambs dried off right away or they'll freeze."
Jones has her sheep sheared in June and gets from eight to 10 pounds of wool from each of the younger ewes and three to five pounds from the older ones.
"I tried shearing them once myself, but it was too tough. The ewes don't like it at all and can really fight you," said Jones.
As the Bowie area has grown, Jones has had few problems living so close to a suburban development. "Once I caught a teenager trying to ride one of the sheep -- half scared the poor animal to death -- but that was the only incident I recall," said Jones. "My dogs do a pretty good job of keeping strangers off the place as well as keeping the sheep in line."
But the development is becoming a more pressing concern, she said.
Partially because of her proximity to Bowie and to heavily traveled Route 214, in the past several years, a handful of major housing tracts have been built next to her property and hundreds of homes have gone up within a mile of her farmhouse and many more are planned. Hundreds of expensive homes are planned within view of Jones's front porch. She has so far been able to shield her view of this suburban intrusion with woods on the back and side of her property, and to one side a track of wetland owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission also helps keep the neighbors at bay.
"In my opinion, Prince George's County acts like it wants to destroy all the old way of life out here with its pro-growth policies and master plans," said Jones. "It's like the county is ashamed there are still farms here. They say the new people in the expensive houses don't want to look out their windows and see the older people's houses. Well, what makes them think I want to look out my window and see them? I pay taxes just like they do."
With developers reportedly paying $70,000 an acre for land in her area, according to Jones, she admits to being tempted to take the money and her sheep to St. Mary's County, leaving the suburbs and their problems behind.
But then, on this sunny afternoon, Jones spotted an amateur photographer fussily setting up a tripod on her property line, trying to capture on film her flock grazing on the rolling green pasture land.
Once again, she decided to stay a little longer.