Change brings challenge for sheep producer
In order for Henry Shultz to embark on his latest sheep endeavor, he had to wait until his daughters moved out of the house.
“I actually wanted to buy them in the mid-1980s,” he says laughing. “But my girls would not let me.”
At that time, the family was making its mark throughout the state and nation for breeding and showing champion Dorset and Corriedale sheep. Incorporating a much smaller, hair-sheep breed would be quite a change.
• Hair sheep work on small farms and for multispecies grazing.
• Katahdin sheep will gain on grass or in the feedlot.
• Hair sheep are realizing strong prices in the marketplace.
Then four years ago, Shultz thought the time was right. He purchased 10 Katahdin ewes from a South Dakota breeder and never looked back.
“They have the fourth-largest registry in the sheep business,” he says. “I think they are just starting to take off.”
A little history
Shultz knows a thing or two about what might be the next “big” breed in the sheep industry. Over the years, the Centralia farmer has maneuvered in and out of breeds, capitalizing on profit.
He started as a teenager in the large-farmed, black-faced sheep breed known as Suffolk. He admits it was a good time to be in the breed, as prices were trending higher.
But as he started a family, and as it continued to grow, so did the sheep. They required more feed and money. He recalls attending the Midwest Stud Ram Sale and paying $1,000 for the 101st yearling ram. “It was time to get out.”
So, he sold high and reinvested in two other breeds, Dorset and Corriedale. It turned out to be yet another good venture.
Back in the mid-1980s, wool prices were strong. Between government incentives and Shultz’s production of fine wool, he realized prices of $2 per pound. The quality of his wool led to an increased demand for the family’s Corriedale rams.
Meanwhile, the Dorset breed was taking off. His champions at the state and national levels had customers calling to purchase breeding stock. Interest in the breed began to grow. Today, prices remain strong and he still travels to shows and sales with his wife, Becky, daughter, Sarah, and son-in-law, Doug Gehring. However, the same was not the case for the Corriedale flock.
With wool prices almost nonexistent, he admits that feeding these large-framed animals is cumbersome without a market. However, the family found a niche market willing to pay a premium for wool and meat when youngest daughter Rachel moved to Washington.
“They are marketing lamb to high-end clientele from all over the U.S.,” he says. “It is really working out well for them in that part of the country.”The Corriedale flock left the family farm, making room for a new breed.
A little change
For a veteran sheep producer, raising Katahdins has been a learning experience.
The biggest challenge was adapting feed rations for a smaller frame and different genetics. “I know how to feed show sheep,” Shultz says. “You pour a lot of grain to them.”
But after feeding the Katahdin ewes the same as his Dorset ewes right before breeding, the problem was visible. “I made them way too fat,” he says. “I now feed them just half of what I typically would feed.”
During lambing, Shultz discovered Katahdin ewes are great mothers. However, unlike the Dorset ewes, they do not like to be handled during or after lambing. “They keep their lambs close and do not like anyone coming in the pen with them,” he says. “They just like to be left alone.”
Fortunately, he adds, the Katahdins did not have very many birthing problems.
Lambs easily reached 50 to 60 pounds without any supplement. “It is amazing how they can put on weight,” Shultz adds. “And I am not investing money to get them there.”
Katahdins shed their winter coat during the spring. Shultz cautions those who want to get started in the breed to buy animals that are adapted to Missouri’s climate. Those bred and raised in the northern climates tend to have a heavier coat; they often do not shed until May and are rough on fences, rubbing against them to remove their topcoats.
Shultz has been able to adapt to the differences in breeds in order to realize profits.A lot of potentialThere is money to be made in hair sheep, Shultz contends.
At last year’s Midwest Stud Ram Sale in Sedalia, he sold his first- and second-place rams to an online bidder, sight unseen, for $975 each. “I was just hoping that realized that was for each one.” They did.
Shultz observes that smaller farmers or those looking to incorporate sheep into multispecies grazing have shifted from purchasing goats to purchasing hair sheep. “The goats just do not have the kidding or survival rates of the Katahdin.”It is common for Shultz to realize a 200% lamb crop with the hair sheep.
He finds that lambs not sold for breeding are also doing well in the marketplace. During a mid-March sale at the Midwest Regional Exchange Stockyards in Mexico, Mo., 65-to-85-pound “non-traditional, hair” lambs sold for $2.02 to $2.12 per pound. Those numbers tend to track higher in April and other months with ethnic holidays.
Because Shultz also runs a 500-acre row-crop operation, he uses a confinement method for maximizing sheep profits. “If it is tillable, we will put it in corn or beans,” he says. “We have only 10 acres dedicated as our sheep pastures.”
However, Shultz says that roughly 90% percent of all hair sheep are raised on grass. “They are extremely efficient.”
There is still more for Shultz to learn in his latest project. “But if I wasn’t trying different things in sheep production,” he says, “I am not sure what I would be doing. You should never be afraid to try something new.”
EFFICIENT EATERS: Katahdin sheep are able to pack on the pounds, whether at their mother’s side, on pasture or in the feedlot.
CHANGE IS GOOD: After decades in the sheep business, Henry Shultz lives by his own motto: “You should never be afraid to try something new.”
This article published in the April, 2012 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.