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

“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.







Organic farm transition support returns for 2015 in Minnesota

Minnesota farmers can apply for Organic Transition Cost Share funding again in 2015. The three-year-old program refunds a portion of the cost of working with an organic certifying agency. The refund can span some or all of the 36 months a transition typically takes.

“Farmers are not required to hire a certifier. However, if they want their crops MDA-logoand/or livestock certified, working with a certifier during the transition allows them to practice record keeping and on-farm inspections, so they’ll be ready when it really counts,” said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Program Administrator, Meg Moynihan.

Only farmers who are new to organic may apply. The program reimburses 75 percent of the cost to hire a certifier during transition and requires an on-farm mock inspection. Applicants may also include the cost of soil testing and attending an approved organic conference in Minnesota or a neighboring state. Payments are capped at $750 per year. For costs paid during calendar year 2015, applications must be postmarked no later than February 14, 2016.

Moynihan added, “Demand for organic crops and dairy is currently outstripping supply, and organic price premiums are strong right now. This means there’s room in the market for farmers to transition and join almost 700 certified organic farms in Minnesota.”

Organic Farming

Transitioning from conventional to organic farming is expensive, but there is help available for Minnesota farmers who want to make the switch (Photo from

Organic Transition Cost Share Program application forms, a set of Frequently Asked Questions, and a list of approved certifying agencies offering transition verification are available at or by calling 651-201-6012.

Calling all farmers to Winter Workshops in January

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The dark days of winter can be a great time to learn new things, so the Minnesota MDA-logoDepartment of Agriculture (MDA) is again providing farmers a day of Winter Workshops in January. The MDA will offer six workshops covering a diverse array of farming topics on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Workshop details and online registration are available at by calling 651-201-6012 and requesting a “Winter Workshops” brochure. The workshops include:

All Day (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

The Nuts and Bolts of Running a CSA, presented by Mark Boen and Bernard Crosser of Bluebird Gardens, Cost: $50


Transitioning to Organic: From Deciding to Doing, presented by Carmen Fernolz of A-Frame Farms. Cost: $50


Morning Workshops (9 a.m. to Noon)

Grazing Basics, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Cost: $25


Reality Checking your Farm Plan, presented by John and Lisa Mesko from the Sustainable Farming Association of MN (SFA). Cost: $25 (free for SFA members)


Afternoon Workshops (start at 1:30 p.m)

Fine Tune Your Grazing System, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Ends at 4:30 p.m. Cost: $25


Save Your Own Seed, presented by Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen from Seed Sages and Tiny Diner Farm. Ends at 3:30 p.m. Cost: $25


While they immediately precede the two-day Minnesota Organic Conference to be held January 9-10, also in St. Cloud, these workshops are designed to benefit all kinds of farmers. Minnesota Organic Conference details are posted at

2015 Minnesota Organic Conference registration now open

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has opened registration for the 2015 Minnesota MDA-logoOrganic Conference. This farmer-focused event and associated trade show is being held January 9-10 in St. Cloud. Organizers expect 500-600 people to attend and are offering an early bird discount rate until December 26.

“There’s a strong market for organic; demand is really outpacing supply,” said conference co-organizer Meg Moynihan. “This conference helps beginners learn what’s required to raise organic crops and livestock. It helps experienced farmers get better at what they already do and make connections benefitting themselves and their farming operations.  Many people come back year after year because they enjoy seeing each other.”



Attendees can choose from more than 36 practical, educational sessions during the two day event. Topics include soil quality and fertility, weed management, marketing, livestock health, organic certification requirements, energy conservation, and forage and grazing management. Presenters include many experienced organic farmers, as well as university researchers, agency and nonprofit staff.


In addition, two nationally known speakers will keynote the event. Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group will speak Friday. David Montgomery, who wrote the award winning book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, speaks Saturday.


The conference trade show features 80 vendors, including organic fertilizer, seed, feed, and equipment dealers, crop and livestock buyers, organic certifying agencies, marketing organizations, farmer organizations, and others.


The MDA keeps the conference cost at $150 for 2015, and offers a $25 discount for early bird registrations received by December 26. There are other discounts for additional registrants and students, as well as a single day rate.


Program information, registration forms, and a growing list of trade show vendors are available at or call 651-201-6012 for a registration brochure.

Minnesota Organic Conference draws nationally known speakers

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is excited to announce two outstanding keynote MDA logospeakers will headline the 2015 Minnesota Organic Conference in January.

Environmental Working Group Co-founder and President Ken Cook will speak Friday, January 9, while David Montgomery, a geological scientist and author of the award-winning book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization will speak Saturday, January 10.

Cook is widely recognized as one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential thinkers of industrial agriculture, the food system, and farm policy. He has written dozens of articles, opinion pieces and reports on environmental, public health and agricultural topics, and is a highly sought public speaker. Organizers expect Cook’s talk to promote lively debate at the conference.

Montgomery will talk about every organic farmer’s best friend: soil.  He is a professor at the University of Washington, where he researches and teaches about how geological processes affect ecological systems and human societies. In his book Dirt, “We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt,” according to Montgomery was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008.

The Minnesota Organic Conference will be held January 9-10, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Learn about the event’s educational sessions and trade show at Registration for the conference will open in mid-November, but the public can sign up now at this web site to receive conference information and updates.

David Montgomery

David Montgomery is the author of “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization.” He’ll speak at the Minnesota Organic Conference on Saturday, January tenth. (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag)

Ken Cook

Ken Cook is the President and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group. He’s speak at the Minnesota Organic Conference on January Ninth. (photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag)