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.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.“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.