Domestic sheep study at the state penitentiary - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Domestic sheep study at the state penitentiary

Posted: Updated:

WALLA WALLA, WA - When you think of a state penitentiary, you think of barbed wire, inmates... those kinds of things; but probably not goats or sheep.

Now, maybe you will. A new program at the Walla Walla State Pen has been in the works for a few years, and now it's up and running.

Several groups in Walla Walla are coming together to raise sheep without a bacteria that is harmful to the bighorn sheep. But, they are receiving help from an unlikely group of people.

It's in a training center in Walla Walla that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and sheep husbandry experts among others are taking initiative to help protect bighorn sheep from one of its biggest threats: the M. ovi bacteria. It's a bacteria that is commonly carried in domestic sheep and goats, but causes pneumonia in bighorn sheep that can be deadly.

But they aren't doing it alone. They've recruited members from right across the street at the penitentiary.

"I got offered to be able to come over here during a second job, and it's been all out from there," said inmate Justin Lange. "It's been fun."

As part of the Sustainability in Prison Project, the program's incarcerated trainees are helping raise M. ovi-free sheep. The inmates have spent so much time with the animals that they found a way to keep track of all the sheep in the program.

"We name the sheep after the staff members here. It's not because we are trying to be disrespectful. its because we've learned to respect them and they respect us."

"We were a little apprehensive at first about naming the animals after some of the officers and some of the other people invested in the program," said Lt. Jarrod Sumerlin with the Washington State Department of Corrections. "I think it's kind of grown on them. There is even one named after me."

The inmates are doing all the work in this program: feeding the sheep, taking swabs, and giving them shots. All through the guidance of sheep husbandry experts.