Rescued sheep and an FBI visit: All in a day's work at Delaware's WaterGirl farm

Emily Lytle
Delaware News Journal

Life is rarely dull on WaterGirl Farm.

On any given day, the smell of blackberry scones may be drifting in from the kitchen while the family’s teenage and young adult daughters are either practicing archery with their 4-H club, wrestling with a sheep in the barn to trim its hooves or checking in on a pen of squealing pigs.

“You never know what you’re going to find when you wake up on a farm,” said Jody Vasey, who founded WaterGirl Farm in Lincoln with husband Dean and daughters Brooke, Spring, Lake and Rain — a trend in names that naturally flowed into the farm.

Originally living in Milford, Jody and Dean Vasey bought property in Lincoln around 2006 because they wanted to raise their daughters in a country setting. But while they were still building their home, everything changed.

WaterGirl Farm rescued sheep from another farm after the sheep's health was at risk. They have since been shearing, trimming hooves and nursing the sheep back to health.

Brooke died Dec. 20, 2008, at 17 years old in a car crash in Woodside. Brooke was described in a Dover Post obituary as someone who cherished playing on her school’s field hockey and track teams, leading in 4-H and church, and especially spending time with her younger siblings.

The tragedy weighed heavy on the young sisters who suddenly found it difficult to make it through a school day. That’s when the Vasey family decided to home-school their children, a decision that would spark a whole new lifestyle.

Partially as a way to keep young minds and hands busy, the family first got some hens for laying eggs. Then, they dove deep into the 4-H community to learn everything they could about farming.

Soon enough, they were buying beehives. The girls were winning essay contests that awarded them each a sheep. And the farm began to grow.

The Vasey family started homeschooling their daughters after losing daughter Brooke in a car accident in 2008. That then led into the start of WaterGirl Farm. Here, the family is pictured with Brooke's photograph.

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Now, as the daughters manage high school and college, WaterGirl Farm includes about 30 Icelandic sheep; pigs they raise through the spring and summer; fields for making hay, straw and grain crops; beehives for honey; and a licensed kitchen where they produce everything from sheep milk soaps to all-natural baked goods and elderberry syrups.

Lately, this swirl of activity has taken an even more dramatic shift as the Vasey family has found themselves in the middle of what could be the plot of a quirky television show – including a sheep rescue and a visit from the FBI.

‘Lives were at stake’

After selling some sheep last year — significantly reducing their herd — WaterGirl Farm recently adopted 15 sheep that were so malnourished they were “just hooks and pins and skin,” Jody Vasey said. 

A nearby farmer who had bought sheep from WaterGirl Farm before called Vasey and said they desperately needed to find a new home for these sheep. 

Then, that farmer mentioned they had found several sheep dead — chilling news that jolted Vasey and her whole family into action.

WaterGirl Farm rescued sheep from another farm after the sheep's health was at risk. They have since been shearing, trimming hooves and nursing the sheep back to health.

When the WaterGirl Farm crew showed up to take the sheep, they had to carry several of them into the livestock trailer because the sheep could not walk, struggling with sore feet and hooves that hadn’t been trimmed.

Later, the daughters, who work as the farm managers with parent supervision, noticed many of the sheep had lice. A handful of the females were also pregnant, and the young farmers worried about the health of the lambs.

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It was not in the grand plan to add more sheep to their barn — not to mention the burden this placed on already high feed and hay bills — but Vasey said it seemed like “the big man upstairs” knew both the rescues and the family needed this.

Once word spread about the rescued flock, some people in the community started to reach out. The family found donated hay sitting on their front porch. The local feed store, TG Adams & Sons in Bridgeville, supported the farm’s effort every chance they could, too. 

The family dropped everything to nurse these sheep back to health because, as Vasey said, these animals’ “lives were at stake.”

WaterGirl Farm rescued sheep from another farm after the sheep's health was at risk. They have since been shearing, trimming hooves and nursing the sheep back to health.

The sheep’s health is now progressing, but a lot of work — and fundraising — remains.

Those interested in helping out can contact Jody Vasey at (302) 745-9999 or visit the farm’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WaterGirlFarm. That page will have news about the lambs and ways to get involved.

The family also plans to set up a GoFundMe.

Front porch visit with the FBI

But the story doesn’t end there. 

In the midst of this all-hands-on-deck rescue mission, Dean Vasey picked up the phone one night during dinner to find a surprising voice on the other end.

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He turned to his wife and said, “Honey, the FBI is on the phone,” as Jody recalled it. 

The man said he was from the FBI and was following up on a nationwide scam that had caught WaterGirl Farm in its trap. While Jody and Dean were skeptical of the phone call at first, they knew they had been the victim of a scam last fall and had tried to find answers ever since.

WaterGirl Farm includes Dean and Jody Vasey and their daughters Spring, Lake and Rain.

In this scam, people used farms’ personal information to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans from the Small Business Association. Then, the real farms like WaterGirl received bills for loans they knew nothing about.

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This is just one example of how criminals have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and related loan programs to scam individuals and businesses. 

So that's how Jody Vasey found herself sitting on her front porch with an FBI agent one recent sunny afternoon. He showed her his badge and explained how these scammers have grabbed money from others like WaterGirl Farm. 

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She said the FBI agent and his colleague also seemed fascinated with the farm as they searched the premises per procedure.

Vasey laughed as she recounted the story.

It was just another always interesting day at WaterGirl Farm.

Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at elytle@doverpost.com or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.