Recap: 2019 Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium

Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team

As promised, the 2019 Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium and 70th anniversary of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA) was full of enthusiasm, entertainment, education, friendship, and much more! Among the many highlights, this years event hosted 110 shepherds on Friday afternoon and well over 200 shepherds for the Saturday program. The unique program drew an audience from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and New Mexico. We warned you earlier that you if you didn’t register for this years event, you were going to miss out and we hate to say it but we right. So, for those that weren’t able to attend, we hope that we will be able to share a few highlights that occurred on the two day event. This years event focused on ‘Improving Profitability of the Sheep Operation’ and included two special guests that are heavily involved in the North American sheep industry.

To kick off the Fridays event, Sandi Brock, Ontario sheep producer of Shepherd Creek Farms and Youtube sensation ‘Sheepishly Me’, took the stage. Sandi began by introducing herself as a mom, wife, and farmer. The daughter of a dairyman, she knew right away that her career would lie within the agricultural world. In 2012, she decided that she would get into the sheep industry. Not having any type of sheep knowledge or background, she knew right were to get her information for the start. She Googled it. Right or wrong, Sandi pointed out that this is how a lot of people in today’s world get their information. Some of the information was great, while some was misleading. After experiencing this first hand, she decided to share her story on what she had learned by doing with the rest of the world and thus Sheepishly Me was born.

Today, Sandi has roughly 460 ewes with 25 rams on hand. Her flock consists of Suffolk, Ill de France, and Rideau Arcott sheep. Sandi maintains her highly prolific flock in an intensive system where all of her sheep reside under one roof in a large, open air hoop barn. This strategy allows for all sheep to be monitored on a daily basis in addition to receiving the highest level of care as possible. Sandi credits some of her success in this type of a system to a bi-annual meeting that she has with her vet and a small group of producers utilizing the same system as her. During these sessions, producers share the analytics of their operation, set bench marks and compare to see how each of them fall. Once numbers are compared, information is shared upon how both the positive and perhaps negative numbers were achieved. In return, this system becomes an incredible learning tool and a management technique to keep everyone in check.

Before ending her talk for Friday, Sandi left the audience with a couple pieces of wisdom from the barn. First, “sheep like to die and no one wants to hear that.” This is true for any type of livestock species. For those just getting started or those that have experienced this for a life time, it happens. She encourage the crowd to never get discouraged and continue to learn so that you can rectify the situation in the future. In my opinion, the most important thought was, “we need to take ourselves seriously.” This is a powerful message in itself. Rather than interpret it for you, I’m going to let this one set and let you take the reigns on how it can be applied to you.

Our second speaker for Fridays event was Cameron Lauwers, of Lauwers Lamb from Capac Michigan. Although not a first generation farmer, Cameron set himself apart from the rest of his family by being a first generation shepherd. Cameron also began his journey in the sheep industry in 2012. Today, Cameron has approximately 600 commercial (Polypay) ewes in a intensively managed system, with sheep being housed in retrofitted dairy barns on his families farm. Some important notes that Cameron shared about his operation revolved around barn maintenance and set up for sheep. As a means to control the internal temperature, Cameron’s barn ceilings are lined with 8-10 in. of cellulose. This aids in holding in the heat, as he noted that there is about a 30 degree difference when compared to the outside temperature. In addition, efficient feeding is key. Cameron estimates that he allots approximately 8 seconds per ewe when feeding. Ensuring that you have the proper equipment and appropriate bunk management skills is a must.

To conclude Fridays event, Dr. Luciana daCosta, Assistant Professor – Practice Extension Veterinarian – Dairy with the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University, joined the discussion to talk on a topic that many shepherds don’t consider – mastitis. Dr. daCosta began with discussing what mastitis is by illustrating that it is the inflammation of the mammary system rather than an infection. Mastitis is also a multi factorial disease and is caused by bacteria entering the mammary system as a result of dirty facilities and or physical injury. Udder and teat injuries can occur due to aggressive lambs, shearing, being stepped on, and much more. It is important to keep a close eye on your system to reduce these easily avoidable situations. For those that suspect that a ewe might have mastitis, Dr. daCosta stressed the importance of having it check either by conducting your own California Mastitis Test (CMT) or consulting with your local veterinarian. In addition, it is important to understand the signs of mastitis. In many cases, sub-clinical infections (80%) go un-noticed. However, these cases will negative affect the future performance of these ewes and their offspring.

Once the Friday afternoon sessions were complete, once again the Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium provided an opportunity for the industries youngest shepherds (18-40) to gather and connect at the Young Shepherds Assembly. This years event also included past industry leadership as past OSIA presidents attended to share their thoughts on where the sheep industry has been and how they have seen it change over the years.

Moving forward to Saturday morning, the day began with the annual OSIA board meeting. This meeting served as a milestone as it celebrated the 70th anniversary of the OSIA! At the conclusion of the meeting, Roger High, Executive Director of OSIA and the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program (OSWP) gave a brief welcome. Into the sessions, the day began with a research update from the Department of Animal Sciences. Dr. Foltz, Department Chair, kicked off the update session with information regarding the merger of the Columbus and Wooster folks. Upon the sale of the sheep facility on Case Road in Columbus, the Department has moved forward by relocating sheep manager Gregg Fogle to Wooster along with the sheep and goats from Columbus. In doing so, the Department is better able to increase the value of our sheep flocks in terms of teaching and research. In addition to Dr. Foltz, graduate students Milca Rosa Velazquez and Ben Duran shared the research that they will be conducting in the areas of fetal programming and embryo transfer. Be sure to keep on eye out for these research summaries on our page as the information becomes available. To wrap up this session of research updates, myself and Noble County Extension Educator Christine Gelley, decided to highlight the research that we have been working on in the form of a video. For those that missed it, be sure to click this link to view!

After the research update, the Symposium welcomed back Sandi Brock to share her journey of getting into the sheep industry. Sandi highlighted that the sheep industry in growing as demand continues to grow. In Toronto, Canada alone, approximately 60,000 new lamb eaters move to the city annually! This figure really demonstrates the need for lamb and lamb production. So for some, this may be enough to get into the sheep business, but Sandi warns you that there is more to raising sheep than what the internet shows. Here is a list of some of the ‘stuff that they don’t tell you’ when it comes to raising sheep.

  • according to Google, sheep farming should be easy
  •  sheep share germs
  • sheep die and you may not know why (SBI – Something Bad Inside)
  • Lambing is harder than it looks

When getting into sheep farming, these are a few of the points that Sandi wishes she would have known. Therefore, so others would not have to struggle with getting into the industry and to be more transparent about what she does on a daily basis, she decided to share her story in any form that she could, which included her channel on Youtube tagged above and social media. At the conclusion of the Symposium, Sandi gave an overview of how she uses these channels of communication of connect with others. However, we’ll leave this information out and coin it as ‘I guess you had to be there’ for the details.

Moving into the mid-day sessions, Delaware County Extension Educator Jacci Smith highlighted the importance of Ohio’s water quality. As we move forward in the agricultural industry, the topic of water quality will continue to be of high importance. In addition, Mark Lowery and Megan Burgess discussed the importance of following Ohio’s manure regulations. Although the sheep industry may not contribute greatly to the amount of manure generated in the state, having a plan in place on how to handle, store, and apply manure is a must. To wrap up the mornings sessions, those in attendance were given an update on the USDA Scrapie program from Dr. Mark Lyons.

After a delicious lamb loin lunch, the program foraged forward with the awards program. The highlight of the awards ceremony features the Charles Boyles Master Shepherd award. This award is given to a those that have served as leaders and supporters of Ohio’s sheep industry. This years Master Shepherd award was given to Bill and Susan Shultz of Bunker Hill Farms. To view the full video, follow this link! Following the awards ceremony, Lee Fitzsimmons of Wayne National Savings Bank covered the topic of how to connect with the appropriate people in order to sort out farm loans. In most cases, working with a local chain in a rural area may be of benefit as they will be more apt in understanding your needs.

To conclude the days events, Cameron Lauwers came back to share how he feeds his sheep in an accelerated system. Due to the parameters of his system, on average a ewe at the Lauwers farm is open for approximately 19 days. Therefore, it is crucial that his nutritional program functions at a high level. In order to do so, Cameron isn’t afraid to think outside of the box and utilize alternative feedstuffs. Some feeds that Cameron has used in the past include beans, peas and oats, frost seeded clovers, BMR Sudangrass, Marestail, and cereal rye. Two notes of caution should be made. 1.) These feedstuffs are often made wet. Be sure to check moisture content, allow for appropriate fermentation, and always get your feeds tested. 2.) Mold can occur. Be sure that you are safely managing this by testing your feeds. An additional important note that Cameron makes is to be sure that you are feeding enough. Know the requirements for your sheep based upon breed, size, and stage of production. For those with questions on this topic, reach out to us here on the sheep team, we’d be more than happy to help!

In an attempt to make this recap somewhat short, we’ll end here. Be sure to save the date, December 4-5, 2020, for next years event! Next year’s symposium will highlight Nutrition and Animal Performance. For those with suggestions for talks and or speakers, please contact myself so your suggestions can be shared with the planning committee. On behalf of the Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium planning committee, the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program, and the Department of Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University, we would like to thank you for your attendance at this years event and support of Ohio’s sheep industry! Until next year, happy shepherding!

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