The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC's Local Lamb Lessons Series Wrap-up
To answer the need for a more refined and deeper knowledge-base for those considering entering the steadily growing sheep industry in the Hudson Valley, HVADC developed the Local Lamb Lessons series, which began last December and concluded in May. The program was geared specifically for new young farmers who are just beginning, as well as experienced farmers who were interested in building a profitable sheep enterprise.
“There are many small locally-based goat cheese producers in various parts of the country and sheep dairying has the same potential to be embraced as a distinctive product here in the Hudson Valley. Very little, however, is known by potential sheep dairymen about the regulatory environment, the appropriate breed characteristics, the opportunities to collaborate with other cheese makers, and the realistic profit potential,” said Mary Ann Johnson, HVADC Deputy Director. ‘Lessons’ addressed these issues through presentations and visits to Hudson Valley sheep farms.
According to Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director, “This program was conceived as a response to interest by new farmers in sheep production, which is the heritage of the Northeast and now growing.”
In Dutchess County’s March 2017 State of Agriculture, it was reported that they are first in the state in inventory number of goats, and fourth in sales value of our sheep and goats, and related products. According to the 2012 Ag Census report, Ulster County saw an uptick in sheep and lamb farms from 26 farms in 2007 to 42 farms in 2012. Columbia County saw 14,886 lbs of wool move through its market in 2012, with only Seneca and Steuben counties producing more.
During the series, HVADC affiliates and partners covered topics such as business planning for a sheep business, breed selection, meat production, fiber processing, dairying, and utilizing public sector programs. Most workshops were accompanied by a related “field trip” to a sheep farm.
Brian Zweig, principal of Business Opportunities Management Consulting, outlined How to Plan Your Sheep Business, with talking points on why a sheep business needs a plan, what the business plan does, how to use it and critical components to include. Zweig’s management consultancy specializes in helping businesses develop and implement business plans, secure funding and identify marketing opportunities.
Farm Service Agency (FSA) for Columbia/Greene counties Loan Officer, Chris Willis, was a presenter in the Public Sector session, and focused his presentation on some of the tools available to farmers, including microloans, operating loans, farm ownership loans, guaranteed loans and eligibility for FSA’s loan programs. In the same workshop, FSA Executive Director Matthew Forrest presented on The USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program, Conservation Reserve Program and CRP Grasslands Farm Storage Facility Loans.
Mary Jeanne Packer, President of Battenkill Fibers Carding and Spinning Mill in Greenwich, New York, presented on Wool Marketing Opportunities in the Hudson Valley. She touched on key points such as choosing the right sheep for their wool, what one needs to know about fiber processing, managing fleece and wool and profit calculation and partnership opportunities. Packer founded the mill in 2009 to provide value-added, custom carding and spinning services for fiber farms and others; and to manufacture yarn and fiber products for wholesale and retail markets. The mill produces 100-150 pounds of artisan quality natural-colored and dyed semi-worsted yarn daily using refurbished traditional milling machinery. Packer is also one of the founders and president of the farmer/producer-owned Southern Adirondack Fiber Producers Cooperative which hosted its 7th annual wool pool for the region’s sheep farmers in June 2017. The Coop offers annual fleece quality management workshops for farmers and for the first time in 2017, produced locally-sourced blankets for re-sale by cooperative members.
“The number one question from participants was knowing more about the market for their breed of sheep,” said Packer. “The hand knit industry has been tied to fine wools for a long time; and that’s a hard habit to break. We really can’t grow the breeds of sheep that make that kind of wool to make that yarn on a commercial scale in the Hudson Valley. But as knitters become more aware of the impacts of their choices they are beginning to accept yarn that’s local such as Romney. And as farmers learn more, they are working on raising finer wool and fine wool crosses such as the Cormo X sheep that Paula at White Barn Farm in New Paltz has developed.”
Dr. Gary Kleppel presented a workshop on breed selection, ending with a visit to his own farm. Klepper is retired professor of Biology at the University at Albany, SUNY and the co-owner (with his wife Pam) of Longfield Farm, west of Albany. Kleppel’s research focuses on agricultural ecology and sustainable food production, and talked about his own use of nature-based and carbon-based techniques to produce grass-fed lamb, wool and fiber crafts, free-range poultry and eggs, and artisan breads.
Kleppel is a qualified expert, having authored nearly 100 technical works. His recent book, “The Emergent Agriculture- Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy,” describes the changing paradigm in food production and its effects on the environment, the economy and society. His forthcoming book, “Eden 2.0 – How Farming with Nature Can Save the Food System and Maybe the Planet,” focuses on nature and carbon-based techniques for producing food and fiber while enhancing the functionality of Earth’s agricultural ecosystems.
“There are many different ways of selling sheep and lamb to various markets,” said Kleppel, who explained that his farm currently operates with a subscription of direct sales to the public, and are doing well with it because people like to have custom-cut lamb. He added they also get a lot of calls for the Halal market as well. He said the flavor profile is largely influenced by the overall sheep operation, and it’s actually less about breed selection. “We have grown our business nicely. The public doesn’t know much about breeds. If you talk to a sheep grower, whichever breed they are growing is the most delicious and best. From the stand point of public market, most breeds are good. I cannot say it’s genetics versus nature or nurture. Animals in pasture might taste better to some than others.” Kleppel feels the public is interested in how the animal is raised these days.
Kleppel talked about a different model in the sheep business, which is selling to commodity markets, citing a friend who raises 50 lambs and then she sells them all to a woman who picks them up and she receives one check. “Commodity lamb verses more direct market product,” said Kleppel. “Our customers like our product. As quality of pasture improved, the customers like the taste and flavor of the meat.” Kleppel said they currently have 13 lambs-- mostly Romney and Romney crosses—but is making as much on his operation as if he had 30-40 lambs in a conventional operation using the techniques he teaches in his workshop. “I would need two to two and a half as many sheep as I do in a grass-fed, highly holistic operation, which was explained in my lecture and site visit.”
Kathleen Harris of Sprakers, a former livestock grader for the USDA, former Processing and Marketing Coordinator for the Northeast Livestock Processing Service Company (NELPSC), consultant and lamb and pork farmer direct-selling in high-end restaurant markets presented on sheep meat production. Nikola Kochendoerfer, who has a background in large flock management in Germany, presented on flock management, including planning and marketing. Lewis Fox who previously managed an innovative sheep and goat dairy in the Finger Lakes and is now the owner of Fox Farms presented an overview of various dairy products, talked on the regulatory environment, advised for planning with goals in mind and covered marketing and selling. Workshop participants were able to visit the creamery.
Kate Wilson, owner of Dutchess Bridle & Saddle in Port Jervis said she attended the sessions with her father this spring, as neither had any experience with this livestock. She was interested in a different use for sheep that not everyone thinks of; lawn maintenance. “We are interested in the care and handling of sheep as there is a large scale solar project underway on my father's farm and we wanted to graze sheep under them not only for the maintenance of the area under the solar panels but as a means of income for the farm.”
“We learned what each aspect of the sheep can offer - dairy, wool and meat - and what each entails as far as time, effort, input and return,” said Wilson. “The bonus to attending these classes was the people/connections we met. I thoroughly enjoyed the information, the lecturers and the field trips.” Wilson said she now has a clearer picture of what sheep-ownership involves.
For more information about the Local Lamb Lessons program,
Photo Source: Jennifer Bock, Program Associate HVADC