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Sheep breeders- Northern MN  RSS feed

 
Aleza Johnson
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I'm looking for sheep breeders in northern Minnesota, preferably hair sheep.  I want to get started in sheep and need someone somewhat local to buy from and hopefully learn a bit from.
 
Travis Johnson
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I am not from MN, but I am curious as to why you have chosen hair sheep. I realize they do not need to be shorn, but there are a plethora of reasons to have woolies. I used to have Katadins (a hair sheep breed), but ultimately had to sell them off as heir liabilities outweighed their benefits. I do not want others to make the same mistakes I did.
 
Aleza Johnson
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Travis Johnson wrote:I am not from MN, but I am curious as to why you have chosen hair sheep. I realize they do not need to be shorn, but there are a plethora of reasons to have woolies. I used to have Katadins (a hair sheep breed), but ultimately had to sell them off as heir liabilities outweighed their benefits. I do not want others to make the same mistakes I did.


I'm very new to even the idea of sheep so I chose hair sheep because I wouldn't have to shear them and they would be for meat.  What are the liabilities you're talking about?  I'm pretty open minded about different sheep right now.
 
Travis Johnson
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Well a lot of people don't want woolies because they don't want to shear, but the hair sheep have smaller carcass sizes. That means less loin. This is a serous problem because with the price of lamb you are missing out on $40 dollars worth of additional meat. Since its costs $6 per head to shear, a farmer is missing out on $34 per sheep. Put another way, if I said, "hey, I'll give you $34 if you give me $6", who would not do that? But even for meat for your own consumption, you are getting less prime meat for the small inconvenience of not having to shear.

Hair sheep, also do not do well at auction. I know they are sheep, you know they are sheep, but the buyers consider them goats. This drives down demand and the price, especially for the Muslim population that buy a lot of lamb.

But no matter if you have woolies or hair sheep, they need care. For most sheep farms, this occurs on shearing day. Vaccinate, trim hooves, shearing...its a big day. Shearing is just PART of that animals care. And $6 dollars per head to shear and trim hooves...its not a huge cost. (Plus $30 for a farm visit of course).

The final one is just kind of one of those things that is hard to express in words, but now that I am back to 100% woolies, its nice not having to try and explain to children why its a sheep but has no wool. Sheep are just supposed to have wool. Ask any kid. Kind of silly I know, but after you trying explaining it 10 times a day on a school farm tour, you just give up.

(Those are just some, I am going on a date with my wife so I must go).





 
Aleza Johnson
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Thank you for that info, it's something to consider.  How do you find the meat tastes from your lambs?  I've heard the lanolin in the wool gives the meat a strong/bad flavor, and that hair sheep don't have that problem or at least not as bad.   Also if it only costs 6 dollars per sheep to shear what is the price of wool?  I've read it's not worth the cost of shearing to sell it.
 
Travis Johnson
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Taste is pretty subjective. I have corriedale sheep and I have customers say that "it is the only kind they will eat", and I have had others that claim Katadin's were the best. Honestly I think it is all in their heads. Lamb has a distinctive flavor for sure. I have found you either love it, or hate it; there are few in between. I have also found out that the community is full of "out of the closet lamb eaters". When you put your sheep on pasture, people will stop and ask when you are going to have some ready for sale. I honestly would not base any breed decisions on taste just because you are sure to find customers for whatever you pick.

I honestly did not like the Katadin's flighty behavior, man they freak out compared to the Corriedale, BUT so did the Montadales I first started out with. They were jumpy sheep! The Montadales typically gave me singles...no good...and while the Katadin's gave me twins and the occasional triplet, their carcass size was so small, it took 2 sheep to equal the same single out of a Montadale or Corridale, and the Corridales typically twin. A few triplets...not like the Katadins, but their twins weighed up better than the Katadin triplets, and they got a low pay at the slaughterhouse, so it just did not make sense.

I would stay away from Hampshires and Suffolk too. Yes I have a few stragglers in my flock still, but with them they are tough to keep the weight on. Oh they can put it on, but my goodness they will eat your winter feed right down to the concrete trying. THEY EAT...and come spring they are still all skin and bones! The Suffolk are not too bad at lambing, but the stocky Hampshires hang up in their moms, when it comes to pulling lambs I have done so with Hampshires more than any other. The Montadales...with their chisel faces...pop right out. I liked having them, but with too many singles and flighty personalities it just didn't work out.

I got a breed now, not many, maybe a dozen I got a deal on from the cattle dealer, but I am not sure what they are for a breed. I call them crinkle fries because their fleece is brownish and is crinkled. They are more of a wool breed, but they seem rather sickly. Because they are so friendly, I think they came from a small flock and were babied. For that reason I might have got some genetic junk, sheep that might have been inner-bred by the ram too many times. You can line-breed for an extra year (the ram fathering the lambs of his daughters the year before), but you cannot do that more then one year or you mess the genetics up. A lot of sheep farms that are small, because of the difficulty in swapping rams, just keeps their rams year after year after year. So I think that is what happened so I can't blame the breed itself yet, but I'll keep you posted on what breed it is when I find out.

Another breed I have is the Tunis. I only have one; another deal I got from the cattle dealer, but I LOVE her. Okay, maybe it is just #246. She appears to have come from a small flock because she is friendly and loves to rub on me with her nose, but she is stocky, has little fleece weight, and has been really healthy. She has not lambed yet, so I have not adequately judged her, but of all my sheep, #246 is my favorite.

Hopefully you will see from this I am not closed minded when it comes to sheep breeds, I'll try about anything looking for something better. Maybe it is just my farm, my management style, my market; but I always seem to come back to corriedales. They put on weight good, are not too small, mother good, almost always twin (175% lambing rate) and have a great temperament. It is too early to tell on the Tunis I know, but for whatever reason, I just have a sheep sense that its a breed that I am really going to like.

As for wool; you get out of it what you put in honestly. Me...I need to get kicked in the rump, I have dumped tons of wool out back and never marketed it. I have even given hundreds of pounds away. BUT there is a market. Those that say its not worth it to shear are semi-right...if all you do is shear it, nasty dung tags and all, and send it to a wool pool. You might get 29 cents per pound. BUT if you skirt it, clean it up, and wash it, you will get a buck a pound. The meat breeds like the Suffolk, Hampshire, Montadale and Tunis might net 8 pounds per fleece, but the corridales give a 13 pound fleece. So take the easy way out and you end up with $3.77 for a corridale, for a net loss of $2.23 per sheep, or spend a little time cleaning it up and you will end up with $7.00 per corriedale fleece. The thing is, washing wool takes warm water. Not hot, but cold is useless, so by the time you pay to heat all the water up to wash those fleeces, you'll hve to judge if $7 is worth it? I can't answer that.

On my farm, in the very near future I plan to put in a laundry mat as I call it, where a wood boiler heats the water cheaper so that we can actually sell some of this wool at a dollar a pound or more. But that is a Permie kind of thing, get another sell-product out of what is already being produced.

These are just my thoughts on the topic of sheep, but my experience may be different than others. Just don't get too hung up on the corriedale breed, for whatever reason I just keep going back to them.

 
Travis Johnson
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You never said what your market is:

For yourself only
Market Lambs
Registered
4H


If it is the latter, disregard some of what I said above. I have a VERY soft spot for 4H'ers. I kind of lose money on the deal because they want my best ram-lambs, which if I waited and sold at full weight in the fall I would get more money for then the 4H'ers, but jeesh, they are part of agriculture too. Not the future of it...no they are part of it now, and if I can instill in them a love of agriculture, well what is losing a bit of money.

BUT 4H sheep means big sheep. I know the judges are supposed to pick out traits of the breed and judge fairly, but that does NOT happen. The biggest lamb always wins. That is why I keep Suffolk around in the barn. Cross breed a Suffolk Ram with a Coriedale and you get a nice sized ram-lamb, or put another way, a 4H customers Grand Champion Ram-Lamb. I also had a 4H customer years ago that had a Grand Champion Ram-Lamb; a single Montadale Ram-Lamb. The big guy weighed 17 pounds at birth (typically they are 5-7 pounds)!!

So if you plan on selling to 4H'ers, or plan to provide sheep for your children in 4H...get big breeds of sheep. Its not supposed to be that way, but big breeds always win. I have sold dozens and dozens of pure corridale ram-lambs to 4H'ers and never did well in the ring.
 
Aleza Johnson
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We are just planning to provide for ourselves, improve our land and sort of as a personal hobby.  There is just about no market for lamb meat up here, so I don't think selling it would be profitable anyway.  I talked to a local butcher and he said he rarely gets lamb meat and when he does, it just doesn't sell.  I just enrolled my 5 & 7 year old boys in 4-H so showing lambs could be in their future.  I want the breed we choose to visually stand out if we decide to show them.  Most flocks around here I think are polypay.  I know one person with Jacob sheep.
 
Travis Johnson
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I wish others would join in on this because I don't want you to get advice only from me; no one here is smarter than all of us put together after all, and that includes sheep farmers. But atlas because no one is, I will chime in again.

I might check into 4H a bit deeper and see if the instructors intend to add sheep or not to the program if they don't already have it. I know 5 and 7 is not a good age to base future interest, but if it looks promising, it might change how I would approach getting a few sheep. I would definitely go with woolies, and I say that because your only reasoning so far not to is because of shearing costs. If you have 4 H lambs though, even hair sheep must be trimmed for the judges. If you are going to trim them (and your children learning how to trim) they minds well learn how to shear. Shearing for the show ring is much different anyway and the cost would be free for you. Instead of trimming, you would just put them on a stand and shear. Little, little difference.

And what I said holds true of the bigger breeds of sheep, they do well in the ring. You might have to take a trip a few hours away, but MN is LOADED with sheep farms. I am actually looking there for some breeding stock ewes for my farm.

As for a market, I know how you feel. I can sell 50 lambs or so locally, but most of my lambs get shipped down to new Holland, PA. That is about 900 miles away, but that is where the market is, so that is where they go.

As for improving your land, oh they will do that. Sheep LOVE weeds so they graze on them almost out of existence. Sometimes its good, like a patch of poison ivy I had...their favorite feed by the way...but sometimes not so good like a plot of raspberries we have had on this farm for generations. Yep, both grazed out of existence. Give sheep a few years and they will make an okay pasture into a great one. Their manure helps, it is twice the NPK of cows, equal to chicken litter and so is really good at fertilizing. A lot of people get goats thinking they will graze on brush and browse, but few people know that sheep love small branches and leaves too. They will clear out an overgrown pasture in record time...and sheep are easier to keep fenced in. Sheep go UNDER a fence, goats and cows go over, so keep a tight fence on the bottom and they will stay in.

I am biased I know, but I rally like having sheep. I am no expert by any means, but I will always have them around.
 
Aleza Johnson
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Travis Johnson wrote:I wish others would join in on this because I don't want you to get advice only from me; no one here is smarter than all of us put together after all, and that includes sheep farmers. But atlas because no one is, I will chime in again.

I might check into 4H a bit deeper and see if the instructors intend to add sheep or not to the program if they don't already have it. I know 5 and 7 is not a good age to base future interest, but if it looks promising, it might change how I would approach getting a few sheep. I would definitely go with woolies, and I say that because your only reasoning so far not to is because of shearing costs. If you have 4 H lambs though, even hair sheep must be trimmed for the judges. If you are going to trim them (and your children learning how to trim) they minds well learn how to shear. Shearing for the show ring is much different anyway and the cost would be free for you. Instead of trimming, you would just put them on a stand and shear. Little, little difference.

And what I said holds true of the bigger breeds of sheep, they do well in the ring. You might have to take a trip a few hours away, but MN is LOADED with sheep farms. I am actually looking there for some breeding stock ewes for my farm.

As for a market, I know how you feel. I can sell 50 lambs or so locally, but most of my lambs get shipped down to new Holland, PA. That is about 900 miles away, but that is where the market is, so that is where they go.

As for improving your land, oh they will do that. Sheep LOVE weeds so they graze on them almost out of existence. Sometimes its good, like a patch of poison ivy I had...their favorite feed by the way...but sometimes not so good like a plot of raspberries we have had on this farm for generations. Yep, both grazed out of existence. Give sheep a few years and they will make an okay pasture into a great one. Their manure helps, it is twice the NPK of cows, equal to chicken litter and so is really good at fertilizing. A lot of people get goats thinking they will graze on brush and browse, but few people know that sheep love small branches and leaves too. They will clear out an overgrown pasture in record time...and sheep are easier to keep fenced in. Sheep go UNDER a fence, goats and cows go over, so keep a tight fence on the bottom and they will stay in.

I am biased I know, but I rally like having sheep. I am no expert by any means, but I will always have them around.



I'm enjoying getting your opinion.  I wouldn't mind a few more people's opinions, but I'll take what I can get, lol. 

I wonder what you think of Wiltshire horn? I just watched a YouTube video about them and St. Croix.  The woman said the Wiltshire usually have a good size lamb for butchering but are small enough at birth that lambing is easy. She also said they are the only breed to shed their wool.  I would prefer polled, just because I feel like horns are dangerous if they try to ram me or my children, but I'm willing to try a breed with horns if that's the only "fault".  Plus my hubby wants a ram skull with those beautiful yet aggressive looking horns. 😉

   What breed of sheep are you getting from Minnesota?
 
Travis Johnson
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I am not a fan of horned sheep though I have had a few, though I can't remember the breed, Dorset maybe, but don't quote me on that. They kind of are convenient to grab when moving them, and honestly they look more menacing then they are. Ours were quite docile though.

There are several breeds of sheep that shed their wool, Katadin being one of them. I had them, but crossed them with corriedale which my sheep shearer HATED. Very hard to shear.

As for the breed we are looking for, I am a huge fan of high-bred vigor which is the reason I have had so many breeds of sheep, we are trying for a decent cross.

We hope to save out our best looking twinned, ram-lambs from this crop of our own Corriedales, buy Romanov's and breed the Romanov ewes to the Corriedale rams. Then the following year we will take those corriedale-romanov ewes and breed them to suffolk rams. Ultimately that will give us a corriedale-romanov-suffolk cross. After that we will just rinse and repeat. The hope is to get triples and quads from the romanov, a bit better wool from the corriedale which is the two traits we want from the ewe side of things, then make them a bit bigger with a suffolk on the ram side. The romanov-corriedale ewe trait will also give us the ability for accelerated lambing too, and while I am not sure we are ready for that, we are going to try it.

I would be willing to swap out the romanov for a finn if I could not find enough Romanov's, but like you sometimes you have to get what you can get.
 
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