Sheep and goats getting more popular on southeast MN farms

The sounds of sheep and goats on southeast Minnesota farms are becoming a little more common than most residents realize. The last couple of years have seen increasing interest in raising the smaller breeds of livestock for a variety of reasons.

sheep and goats

Sheep and goat numbers are picking up on farms across southeast Minnesota, due in part to the smaller size of the animal, especially when it comes to 4H competition.

As sheep interest continues growing in both Houston and Fillmore counties, the Extension Service will host a couple of sheep-related workshops this summer. A sheep producer workshop is set for Rushford on June 16th, with a sheep workshop for area 4H members on the 17th in Preston. Extension Educator Michael Cruse said many area residents might not know that sheep and goat numbers are on the rise.

“Sheep and goats are on the increase in Houston and Fillmore counties,” Cruse said, “especially for 4H projects. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary reason is they’re smaller animals and easier to handle for 4H kids.”

He said the sheep producer meeting in Rushford is a unique opportunity for area livestock farmers. The University of Minnesota Extension Service recently hired a Sheep Specialist named Travis Hoffman, who the U of M is sharing with North Dakota. After talking with Hoffman over the winter, Cruse wanted to put together a couple of events to maximize his time if he made the trip to southeast Minnesota.

sheep and goats

Houston and Fillmore County Extension Agent Michael Cruse is putting on Extension programs for sheep farmers and 4H kids that want to exhibit sheep and goats at local competitions. (photo from bluffcountrynews.com)

“That’s why we put together a two-day event, starting on June 16th from 2-5 pm,” Cruse said, “Hoffman will be here to do a producer meeting in Rushford and talk about everything from lamb marketing to production management to economics, with a pizza supper at the end.

“A lot of the raising and marketing of sheep is similar to other types of livestock,” Cruse added. “But with sheep, there are a lot of products you can get from them. You can market the wool, the meat, or market them as show animals. There’s a whole range of avenues you could take, and that doesn’t even take into account the organic and grass fed categories that beef is also subject to.”

He said producers would have a chance to visit with both Hoffman and Cruse after the meeting. Then, the attention turns from sheep producers to 4H kids the next day from 8 till noon at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds.

“It’ll be a rotational type of educational event with three or four sessions for the youth,” Cruse said. “Showmanship will be one of the educational sessions as Travis (Hoffman) was also a state judge for sheep. The kids will be allowed to bring one of their own 4H-registered sheep to this event in order to practice showing their sheep, learning to get their feet in the right spot, and how to answer a judge’s questions professionally.”

He said this is a great opportunity for area 4H kids to learn, providing they can get enough people signed up.

Cruse said there are a number of reasons for the growing interest in sheep and goats across the area. First and foremost, there are marketing opportunities for sheep and sheep products, especially in Iowa. There’s also an immigrant population in Rochester and the Twin Cities that prefers both sheep and goat meat.

The other side of it is the animals themselves. They’re much smaller and don’t require as much land to raise, especially for 4H families. Sheep and goats don’t need as much space as a beef cow or larger hog.

“It’s a lot easier to get three or four ewes onto a piece of property than a full-grown dairy steer, for example,” Cruse said. “It’s also easier for the younger children in a farm family to handle the animals too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miracle of Birth Center brings agriculture to the public

Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, Minnesota

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester gave the public a chance to get up close to animal agriculture, with the goal of educating the public on just where there food comes from and how it’s produced. (photo by Chad Smith)

As some people entered the Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, the sounds of a brand new calf, ten-day-old goats, and just-born piglets fighting for the best positions near mom to nurse brought back a flood of memories from living on a farm.

However, most of the people entering the Center didn’t have an agricultural background to draw on so it was a completely new experience for some of them.  That’s the reason Ag Star Financial and several local sponsors pooled their resources to bring the Center to life.  The goal is a simple one: to educate the public about agriculture.

“We have a lot of education stations in here for kids and adults too,” said Tracy Nelson, Miracle of Birthing Center Manager.  “People can get up close with hens that laid eggs and then watch the eggs hatch.  We also have baby chicks and ducklings they can touch.  We also have ten-day-old goat kids.”

Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester.

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center gave the public a chance to get up close and personal with ten-day-old goats and other animals found in American animal agriculture. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Ed Kuisle of Rochester brought the goats, and he said it’s been one of the most popular exhibits in the Center for one reason:  personality.  The goats are a novelty for the kids, and he said they have a lot of personalities already at just ten days old so kids really enjoy interacting with them.  The goats come from a big dairy farm down by Altura.

“The owner of the farm milks about 600 of them.  These goats are billies (male),” said Kuisle, who grew up working on a dairy farm near Rochester. “The owner of the farm feeds them out to 50-60 pounds and then sells them.  All the does stay on the farm for milking.”

Four sows were on display during the fair, and they were all expected to farrow.  One of the sows farrowed on Thursday morning and had ten brand new piglets.  The birthing didn’t stop there either.  A brand new Holstein calf was born on Thursday afternoon.  The bull took his first steps in front of an appreciative crowd shortly after 2:30.

Miracle of Birth Center in Rochester

The general public had a chance to watch a Holstein bull calf being born on Thursday afternoon, July 27, at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester as part of the Miracle of Birth Center. (photo by Chad Smith)

“We actually announce that we have a birthing going on over the public address system of the fair and it fills up,” Nelson said.  “There are a lot of people on the bleachers and standing around.  We even put it up on the TV’s here in the building and do some play-by-play for people in the building.”

Nelson said people ask lots of questions.  For example, they seem surprised at the size difference between a mother sow and her piglets.  Another question they get is how the little chicks could actually fit inside the eggs they hatch from.  They also think the size of the bigger animals is surprising.  And those kinds of questions are the reason the Center is in existence.

“The biggest purpose of the Center is to educate the public about animal agriculture,” Nelson said.  “It’s about giving people the experience of seeing live animals of different ages and sizes.  Whether they actually get to see a live birth or just come and see the animals here, they’re learning about animal agriculture.”

Nelson said Kuisle is one of many volunteers that make the Center possible.  Kuisle said with a smile on his face that he volunteers one week a year, and it’s at the county fair.  But he was quick to add that a project like the Miracle of Birthing Center has been very successful.

“It’s gone very well,” Kuisle said. “It was slow the first couple of days but it’s really picked up.  The goal is to expose young people to what happens on the farm.  Most children today can’t come out to a farm anymore so this type of project works out well here.”

Kuisle said he gets a lot of questions too.  Some of them include ‘are the animals born with teeth?  Are they boy or girl?’  And the biggest question he gets is ‘can I pet them?’

Miracle of Birth Center in Rochester

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester gave youngsters a chance to interact with live animals raised in American agriculture. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Nelson also grew up on a dairy farm.  She said she’s a little surprised at the disconnect between rural and urban folks, but not entirely surprised.  She said a lot of people grew up with agriculture in the family, but those numbers are falling.

“It’s surprising how much some of the people know about agriculture,” she said, “and it’s surprising how little others may know about Ag.  Most people really seem to want the information about where their food comes from”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching my first Goat show

My most recent assignment was to cover a goat show, aptly named, the Never Boering Goat Show, at the Freeborn County Fair in Albert Lea, Minnesota.  The complete article will appear in the Tuesday, August 4th edition of Agri News.  Here’s just a few excerpts and the accompanying video.

The Never Boering Goat Show took place in Albert Lea, Minnesota, on July 17, 18, and 19, at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds. The show had recently taken a 3-year hiatus after running for years in Sioux City Iowa. Cary Larson of New Richland resurrected the show and brought it to Minnesota.

“The show took place under this name during the county fair in Sioux City,” said Larson. “The gentleman who ran the show sold out of his Boer Goats because his interests had changed, which is not unusual. I called the gentleman up and said ‘I’d like to reboot the show. Are you okay with that?’ I got his blessing and ran with it.”

He said Albert Lea, Minnesota, is an ideal location for the reboot of this show.

“It’s ideal, especially with the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 90,” said Larson. “We have plenty of people who made the trip from South Dakota and Iowa here. The fairgrounds here are wonderful, especially for a livestock event like this.”

If you’ve never been to a livestock show, especially with goats, here’s a little bit of what I saw during the show:

Here’s part two: