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.







Answering Wabasha County questions

One thing jumps out at me when it comes to the livestock controversy in Wabasha County:  not much is know about it at all, and I suppose it really isn’t much of a surprise.  It’s appears as if it’s been kept under wraps for quite some time, and the consequences for farmers in the county could be significant.  The consequences for the non-farm county residents could also have lasting effects too.

Here’s a map of Minnesota counties, with Wabasha County highlighted in red (photo from

Here’s a map of Minnesota counties, with Wabasha County highlighted in red (photo from

I put out some survey questions on the angle of my capstone project, and the one response that really stood out above the others was on a reddit post. The response came from a dairy farmer in Wabasha County, Minnesota.  He (or she) works on their family farm, and said, “I’ve heard about the missing money, but I fear I have nothing to offer beyond that.”  However, the respondent did say they knew the money was for, “manure management systems, i.e., manure pits.”  That actually was a very handy tip.

Here are the basics of the situation:

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), along with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, began to investigate grant money obtained by the county in late 2011.  By early 2012, the organizations had studied the paperwork done by the former Wabasha County Feedlot Officer, Troy Dankemeyer, and determined that there were some potential program implementation violations.



As a result of the Minnesota BWSR has demanded that Wabasha County repay the board 115,579 dollars.  The BWSR also wants the county to repay the cost of preparing the investigation report, which is $4,023.50.

In addition to the fines, the BWSR is withholding approximately 90,000 dollars in grant money until the situation is resolved.  The money is used for projects like manure management systems, septic tank installation and repair, clean water projects, shoreline management, and wetland conservation.  Projects like this benefit everyone in the county, not just farmers.

The main question is: Who’s going to pay this fine?

The topic is beginning to generate interest on social media as well.  I’ve not done a very good job over the past few months, but my Klout score has recently been at an all time high of 48, after bottoming out over the past month at 38.  I don’t understand the whole scoring system yet, but I do know that I’m on the right track.

I do know that I’ve made strides in social media because my impact is starting to show up in more areas than just Facebook and Twitter.  I’m starting to show measurements in Google Plus, which is not known as a highly interactive form of social media.  I do need to find a way to engage with more people on Linked In.  I’ve got lots of connections, but I need to be more engaging with those connections!

Manure management on livestock farms is something that the BWSR and the MPCA typically are concerned with and oversee: