We are finally getting around to hanging some of my new palette shelves above the staircase, which is a space I have designated for our stock show photos and hardware!
I started to unpack some of the NAILE cups and needed a quick way to clean them up and I found it!
Grab a soft rag and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Squirt a few drops of sanitizer onto the rag and polish into your silver to give it a "fresh from the shavings" shine!
How do you clean your silver?
From the mouths of some of the top judges in the nation.....
1. Accept your place – getting mad and giving me the dirty look doesn’t do much for you.
2. Sour looks will only get you rolled sooner next time.
3. Acting like you didn’t see me pull you will not stop you from getting pulled. Just move into position please.
4. After you are pulled out don’t make a scene of looking back to make sure I got it right – don’t worry, I got it right.
5. Know how to show your animal BEFORE you get in there. The frantic look on your face when you can’t find your coach outside the ring is distracting.
6. If you are going to try being trendy with new fitting techniques – do it right. Otherwise you look like a fool and I feel like one if I have to use you.
7. If your animal is small, telling me his birth date or life history isn’t going to help your outcome. I am perfectly capable of recognizing young animals.
8. Little kids in the ring is good, but be reasonable.
9. Dress appropriately. My days of chasing high school girls with fat calves are long over and you only make it awkward for me and everyone outside the ring looking at you from behind.
10. It might be easy to judge from the sidelines but in the middle of the ring it gets intense. Be respectful – your kids will learn more from that.
11. If you are going to promote an animal that won under me, for the love of God please use a good picture. Don’t take a bad photo and make me look like an idiot.
12. Check your animals before the SHOW. You know, the basics. Make sure they have both testicles, both eyes, they aren’t prolapsing in the middle of the show.
13. Texting me before a show to tell me about your “great ones” makes me uncomfortable. So please, just don’t.
14. Suddenly adding me on Facebook two weeks before a show is annoying. Especially if I have no idea who you are.
15. STOP tagging me in your Facebook photos. Even if your animal should win, everyone on the internet now knows you have been advertising to me and it makes me nervous to even consider you.
16. If you are going to paint animals PLEASE make sure it’s dry when you come in the ring.
17. If you are going to come shake my hand at the end of the day, do it because you mean it. Don’t come up just because your parents made you and act like a jerk.
18. I don’t care what other fairs your animal won. On the same note, I don't care how much you paid for him or who said he was good.
19. I can hear you on the sidelines. Half the time I am accused of using a kid because of who she is, I don't even know her. If she'e been winning all day its probably because her animals are better than yours.
20. If you feel like smiling – smile. If you are concentrating and don’t smile that is OK too. Don’t plaster a fake smile on your face – it’s distracting and this isn’t a beauty contest (for you). And it’s OK to be serious about it – I am too.
5/28/2015 11 Comments
Last night I realized I’ve been had. The deadline, the arbitrary third deadline, had come and gone and you suddenly quit answering your phone. The bank informed us that no wire had come through.
A friend told me last week, “As long as he is talking to you don’t get nervous. But when he quits answering the phone you’re screwed.”
On April 18 you decided to be somebody. You decided to play the big shot. You said you were a cattle guy, claimed you just sold a $53,000 heifer, and needed to put that money somewhere.
Lucky me – you were putting it at sheep. And you bid. You bid and bid and bid. You were loud and proud – you cussed out my customers who outbid you (ones who would later actually pay). You laughed when you outbid other customers (one’s who would have actually paid).
After the sale wrapped up, and you had purchased nearly $20,000 in sheep, you wanted to talk about how everyone would be asking who you were. You thought everyone would be calling to get your business. Everyone is definitely asking who you are now – and they definitely will not be calling for your business.
You were going to mail a check. But then you ended up in the hospital. You were going to overnight it, but then you mom died (according to a Google search she actually died back in the winter). You were headed down to get them, money in hand but you were waiting on your brand new trailer to come in. Then you were back in the hospital.
Then a few weeks ago my phone rang. It was a fellow sheep breeder who asked if you had bought sheep from me. My heart sank. I knew it was bad news. You had told me you’d never had sheep before.
Turns out you have quite the history in this business. Several lawsuits, thousands of dollars of unpaid sheep, judgements totaling nearly $100,000. Looks like I was last in line on a long, long list.
Now I know, after some quick research and a trip to the lawyer, that you have nothing. You have no way to pay for the animals; it doesn’t even appear you actually have anywhere to keep the animals.
I can take you to court for the difference, and they will grant me a judgement pretty easily. And I think, for the principle of it, I will. I realize there is nothing to collect, but I also don’t think you should just walk away.
For a few days I sulked. I was embarrassed I let you participate. I was even more embarrassed I had bought your story. I said a prayer for you when you were “in the hospital”.
I was scared to notify the other buyers and bidders. The entire sale that we had celebrated so openly, that was such a monumental success for us, was now going to be defined by you.
Instead of talking about the success, the story line would be about the guy who didn’t pay.
Matt told me I had to notify everyone, because we had to sell the sheep. I refused to ship them. You had “bought” some of the best, including my yearling ram that was the animal I hoped would pass on our legacy.
So I sent out an email and I prayed.
My heart is OK with what happened now. I have mixed emotions towards you. One minute I feel a rush of anger, the next I feel deep sorrow. Matt thinks something is terribly wrong with you, to need that kind of attention or amusement.
Either way, I have decided I will not let you define my sale. I will not let you define the industry. The fact that we have sold sheep for so many years, to so many people and never had this occur on this level speaks more about the industry than you do.
The fact that the buyers and bidders instantly reached out to tell us how sorry they were this happened (instead of the anger I had feared), speaks more about the industry.
So on June 14 I will once again sell some Tunis. And I will have faith that each of our bidders is acting with honest intentions. Because I will not allow you to define the way I do business or to define the faith I have in humanity.
I will also not shy away from being public about what has happened. You have done this entirely too many times and my attorney has assured me I have no concerns when sticking to the facts.
Full sale report available here.
List of animals selling June 14 can be seen here.
A friend asked me to respond to this article, written by a PETA volunteer.
At first, I wanted to paint a picture of my boys playing with a newborn baby lamb, or a girl sleeping in the pen with her steer after a hard day in the show ring in an attempt to prove her wrong.
But the problem is, on her main point, she is not wrong.
She claims FFA and 4H are not teaching the romanticized version of raising animals to our kids.
Organizations like PETA love for us to tell the romantic stories of livestock. Because the more we do, the more they can profit from spinning our stories.
But the reality is, raising animals isn't romantic. She talks about a mother pig singing to her piglets while she nurses them. I wonder, has she ever witnessed the same mother pig eat one of her piglets for reasons unknown to us? Has she ever watched that 500 pound sow roll over on half her litter, killing them instantly and then push their little dead bodies out of the way to get to her food?
Has she ever watched a ewe relentlessly paw a newborn lamb until she kills him?
Has she ever dried off, warmed and comforted a baby calf whose mother delivered him on the back side of the pasture and then left, not looking back once?
No. She hasn’t, because she doesn’t raise livestock. In fact, her organization doesn’t even run a single animal shelter.
Kids in 4H and FFA have seen this. And they develop compassion for their animals in spite of the reality of animal nature (which often is very cruel). Raising animals is beautiful most days. But sometimes it's the exact opposite and our kids know that.
She is also right that most animals will end up in the food chain. And as she laid out so well, there is nothing kind about eating animals.
There is nothing mean about it either. The bear is not considered mean when he invades a rabbit den and consumes an entire litter of week old rabbits. A tiger is not considered cruel when he starts eating his prey before she has even died.
I take pride in the fact that humans show more compassion in our protein consumption than animals do (another thing that serves to remind us animals and humans are not equal, not the same).
We work very hard to raise animals in a clean, healthy and safe environment. We bond with them while they are here, we provide everything they need. And when the time comes, we kill them in as humane a way possible and consume them (after they are dead of course).
Is that kind? No, not really. Is it cruel? No. It's a fact of life.
As long as God keeps giving us two rows of teeth, I will take that as a sign we are supposed to consume our protein as a steak (or preferably a lamb chop).
So yes. Our kids are probably hardened from raising livestock. When my boy has to say goodbye to the lamb he showed all summer, his heart will toughen a bit. In the same way it will when he has to bury his first dog, when he suffers through his first breakup, and when he gets his first paycheck and realizes how many dollars are taken for taxes.
Life isn't romantic and neither is raising livestock. Which is exactly why kids leaving 4H and FFA are more prepared to succeed on the road ahead of them than their counterparts, who are often spoon fed a fairy tale version of reality.
How many times have you been asked to donate to a junior show this year? How did you respond?
People respond to these requests in a few different ways.
1. The Avoider – the person who goes out of their way to avoid being asked, deletes any emails that are sent out, and hits ignore on the phone when they see someone like me is calling. If you corner one of these people they will pledge money and then never actually pay.
2. The Minimalist – the person who begrudgingly says they will donate, and then sends $10 in two days after the deadline. These people will likely become avoiders in the future.
3. The Supporter – the person who thanks you for requesting and sends in a nice donation, in a timely manner and assures you they will donate again next year. These people are reliable year after year if you contact them and remind them.
4. The Opportunist – the person who recognizes the benefit these events give to their program and takes full advantage. These people actually contact us about donating, get their money in almost immediately and promote the heck out of the event to their customers. You don’t have to keep a list of these people because they will hunt you down to give you money again next year.
The number of opportunists is minimal – but these breeders are easily recognizable. They have built highly successful programs with high volume sales, high per head averages, and have loyal customers across the county who seek out their stock online, at sales, and off the farm.
What do the opportunists see in these events the rest of the breeders are missing? Below are a few key things about national junior shows that may make you rethink your support strategy.
1. We create a lifelong customer for you. 4-H and FFA bring in the clients. The typical customer will raise animals for a few years and then move on. Your customers that regularly attend national level events are significantly more likely to stay in the business long term.
Why? Because they create the relationships with other people that keep them coming back year after year. With the increase in online sales these events are more important than ever for creating the friendships that make people want to keep doing this well past their junior years.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos (Founder and CEO of Amazon)
2. We help you develop your brand. If you want to sell stock, and be successful at it, you have to develop a brand. Brands create loyalty (think Ford versus Chevy) and loyal customers are willing to pay a premium for your product year after year. They need to SEE your name and HEAR your name repeatedly and nothing puts your name in front of your TARGET AUDIENCE more effectively than supporting these events.
“If your business is not a brand, it is a commodity.” – Donald Trump
3. We align your values with your customer’s values. When your customers see that you value the event their entire family looks forward to each year, this puts your values in line with their own. This helps to further develop your brand (see number 2 above) and customer loyalty.
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” --Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks)
4. We put money back into your customers’ pockets. Do a little research on where your money goes when you donate to these events. Many events now are structured with a high payout. (Ask what percentage of your donation is paid back out or given as awards instead of used for overhead to make your donation the most effective).
At the Midwest Junior Preview Show, we pay back 100% of donated funds! Nearly 80% of the kids indicate they use this money to fund more stock purchases!
5. We expose kids to a higher quality of animal. Often, junior exhibitors simply are not exposed to a higher quality of animal. Once we get them in the door to these national events, they can see the differences in high quality animals. By motivating them with better competition (see below) and exposing them to better animals, we are creating a better demand for your product. Additionally, we are sending them out the door with some additional resources (see number 4 above) to purchase those better quality animals. And the first breeder they will go to is the breeder who has the best developed brand!
6. We motivate kids by surrounding them with a higher level of competition. Local events are vital for getting kids started. To further push their motivation to succeed, we need to get them excited about the national level shows.
Their competitive drive kicks in, the desire to compete and do better goes into overdrive when they surrounded by other exhibitors who excel at showing stock. And once the kids get serious about it – the parents are much more willing to support the projects. And a serious show family is your best customer!
“Be grateful for your competitors for they force you to become the person you are capable of being.” – Stacey Alcorn
It is probably time to re-think your support strategy to national junior shows. Instead of avoiding us, look at the opportunity that we are providing for your program, your customers and your industry.
Across the country these shows are struggling each year to continue operating. They all need more volunteers and more funding. So whatever you have been doing – rethink it – and do double!
Note - Several of you are now thinking, “This doesn't apply to me because I don’t sell animals to kids. I sell animals to other breeders.” If you are at a level of breeding and price point that your main customers consists of other breeders you should double down on your support to the junior shows. Why? Because YOUR CUSTOMERS are selling their animals to juniors and the better funded your customers are the better funded you will be.
I don't know you, although now I wish I had met you before my husband. Kidding (well sort of)!
I am Facebook friends with many people who know you. They apparently know you well enough to publicly judge your morals, integrity and breeding program on their Facebook walls. They know you well enough to "know" if the money was "real" or "fake".
But like I said above, I don't know you so I'm not sure about any of that. I am sure of this though.
You deserve a huge “Congratulations”!
I cannot imagine the excitement you and your family felt that night. I cannot imagine the pure exhilaration at having your work rewarded in such an unbelievably awesome way! You deserve a party and I hope you throw one!
You deserve a huge “Thanks”!
Thank you for putting your ram lamb out there. It takes guts to publicly sell an animal, and even more guts to publicly sell a good one. People who don’t sell animals in such highly watched (and criticized) forums under estimate that fact. Some days it seems there are more people out there who would rather see their fellow breeders fail than have such an awesome success.
Your buyer (and bidders) deserves a huge “Thanks”!
Thanks for believing in the business (not just one program, but the entire industry) enough to put that kind of investment in. And thank you for being willing to do it in a public forum where more of us can share in the excitement and energy it brings!
People have said it’s crazy. If you analyze the numbers, it's really not insane. A top breeder utilizing current breeding technology and marketing, using new sale methods with lower costs and higher returns can cash flow the purchase well. Most of us wouldn't be able to, but the elite breeders in the profitable sectors of the industry can.
And finally, you deserve an apology.
As long as we all run in this competitive business with winners and losers there will be jealously. But I am always a little crushed by the way that jealousy manifests itself into personal attacks and rumors, at a time when the industry should be rallied around a breeder in support of a huge milestone and accomplishment.
I hope through all the negativity you can hear the shouts of excitement from those of us who don’t even know you but were celebrating with you!
I hope above all else you can enjoy the moment and celebrate the success with your friends, family and customers! Because it was one awesome success! A success that I cannot imagine, but can at least dream about now…
P.S. In case you do ever see this, I wouldn't be good at my job as show manager if I didn't mention the Midwest Junior Preview Show is seeking support for the commercial breeding division of the show and we pay back 100% of any donations received to the kids! More information on the show can be found at www.midwestjuniorpreviewshow.com.
The below piece is written as follow up to a post that was titled "Stock Shows: How whining about cheaters is worse than the cheaters" that was published on this blog on 01/14/15. The post can be read by clicking HERE.
There are so many issues I would like to address stemming from the comments that many of you were kind enough to share -- the definition of cheating; the reality of politics; the idea that publicly accusing a CHILD of illegal practices just because you suspect, heard, or assume is NOT OK.
But I won’t address those at this time (I promise to in the future if you promise to come back for the discussion!). I won’t address them because it will distract from the point.
If you read my original post titled “Stock Shows: How whining about cheaters is worse than the cheaters” and thought I was condoning cheating – you need to read it again.
If you read the post and thought I was claiming cheating does not exist – you need to read it again.
If you read the post and thought you needed to send me a list of examples in how the champion animal from you county was exhibited by a cheating kid – you need to read it again.
The post has NOTHING to do with kids who are actually cheating. The post has to do with a choice. A choice every parent of an honest exhibitor will make, whether they realize it or not.
When you child walks out of the show ring having placed anywhere lower than anticipated, as a parent you will address that. You will have two options in which to frame your reaction:
1. Congratulate and find the positive
"Great work Freddy, that was a tough class! I am so impressed you and Fluffy were able to do that well with so many experienced kids and awesome animals!! I could tell you were getting a little tired, we will have to practice with Fluffy some more to make it easier for both of you!
The judge really struggled on what to do with so many nice animals to sort! Now run over there and tell Kate she did an awesome job and see if they want to go to lunch afterwards to celebrate her win, I’ll buy!"
2. Excuse and find the negative
"What a joke! Don’t sweat it, the only reason you were stuck in 5th hole was because that kid in second bought his animal from the judge’s nephew (didn’t you see the nephew tail him into the ring?), and that animal that won is at least 60 days older. Jack told me that family overages everything.
Joe told me that the kid who was in third got caught somewhere a few years ago using illegal feed and someone saw them in the barn late last night. The girl in fourth, her dad spends a lot of money on everything so you'll never get around her anyway.
You really should have won that class hands down but when you have all these parents spending all this money and every one of these kids cheating, you’re never going to get around them. Heck that one kid even uses a cooler to grow hair on his animal and him and his parents spend hours a week just grooming the dang thing. We don’t have time for that.
But we aren't like THOSE people. We are honest, GOOD people so don’t you feel bad about losing because we are BETTER than those people in front of you. We aren't here for the ribbons anyways. They will do ANYTHING to win a class."
Who do you sound most like? Should the conversation between you and your friend or you and your spouse possibly be different than the conversation between you and your child?
The original post deals with all of the reasons option 2 is so damaging to our kids and the industry and encourages us all to try and utilize option 1 more frequently.
(I realize that many of you will still feel the need to inform me of all the ways that people cheat and I am simply wrong on my assumption that most people are good and honest. Even if your family is the only family in the entire state that is following the rules, consider if constantly pointing that fact out to your child is beneficial.)
I have posted a response to many of the comments that I feel are missing the point of the below piece. You can read it by clicking HERE.
I used to KNOW that cheaters existed, KNOW that many of the people winning were cheating, and KNOW that the reason I was losing was because the winners were not playing by the rules.
I knew all of that right up until I knew the truth. A few years ago, two things happened that changed my opinion on cheaters and the role they play in this business.
First, our breeding program finally started to click and we were thrown into the top of the game. With every win, it suddenly felt like another target was drawn on my back. I heard people whispering, saw people pointing the finger. And it nearly broke me. Because we had gotten where we were with honest hard work, following every rule laid out before us. And they were still accusing. People I thought were our friends. People I thought knew us.
Second, I started running a large and competitive junior show which put me within earshot all day long of the ring side conversations. I heard parents telling each other and their kids that judges were dishonest and other exhibitors were cheating. I heard accusations made against kids and families that I KNEW were not dishonest and were not cheating. I heard judges bashed that I had personally selected because of their integrity.
And then I realized. It hit me like a ton of bricks. We make ourselves, and our kids, feel better about losing by accusing others of cheating.
And these accusations, and the whining about cheating, are more of a threat to our industry than the cheaters ever will be. And here is why.
1. It creates a false impression that “everyone” is doing it
When our kids overhear us complain and accuse the winners of cheating, they develop an unrealistic view of the industry. They develop a sense that everyone, or at least everyone having success, is cheating (which simply is not true).
This is troublesome in multiple ways but mainly in the relationships it costs our kids and the frustration is creates for them. If our children don’t trust and respect their peers because of (often false) accusations they hear about them, it’s impossible to expect them to create the lifelong friendships and relationships that make this business so special.
If a child is consistently told the winners are cheating – they believe it and they believe the only way to win is through cheating (again not true). The idea that an exhibitor cannot take home the banner through hard and honest work is so overwhelming and frustrating it leads to many kids and their families dropping out of the competition all together. Most people understand winning is hard – but if it’s impossible through honest means, why bother?
2. It makes excuses for failure
Failure is such an important lesson for our kids, a vital lesson. Our children must learn how to fail and come out stronger and smarter because of it. Our children must learn how to have fun and enjoy themselves even if they are not winning.
And if our children are to be successful in the livestock industry, they must also learn how to be critical of themselves and their animals. It amazes me how many experienced exhibitors walk into a show ring believing their animal has no faults.
The hard fact of showing is that you animal does have faults and most of the time is not good enough to win the banner. Most of the time, someone else will have worked a little harder or have a animal that’s just a little better (or a lot better!).
If every time a child doesn't win, it’s simply excused away by blaming the winners of cheating, a child takes no personal responsibility for the loss. A child learns to deflect blame onto someone else, instead of recognizing their (and their animals) own shortcomings.
By blaming others for a loss, you’re stealing the learning opportunity from your child and again, creating more frustration.
3. It devalues winning
Once you have created a mindset in a child where the only way to win is through dishonest means, a child slowly starts to devalue winning. They believe that the banners sent home with someone else were not well deserved (again creating frustration) and often tell themselves and others that they were shorted something because the winners were cheating.
Not only does this compound the problem listed as item number 2, it also takes away the feeling of accomplishment, pride and excitement if and when your child can get into the Champion Drive and finally take home that banner.
4. It forces drastic rule changes that are ineffective and discouraging to new and young exhibitors (and their families)
Here’s the hard truth of showing livestock – there are people who cheat. It’s a very small percentage of the people, and most often judges (who are smarter and more honest than we give them credit for) pick these people out and sort them off.
The fact remains there are cheaters. One thing always remains true of those who cheat – they break rules. Yet for some reason, parents and show managers seem to think the answer to these problems is creating more rules.
Rules are NOT effective at getting cheaters to quit cheating. Cheaters, by definition, break rules.
They are however very effective at confusing first time showers, getting honest entries kicked out of the competition because of an honest mistake, and creating costly and frustrating hoops to jump through for honest exhibitors.
So as parents, and as an industry, I encourage each of you to be more honest with yourself and your kids about why your animals are not winning, and at the same time, create a more positive and promising outlook on the industry.
Remind your kids that they did an awesome job even if they didn’t win and that losing doesn’t somehow require a laundry list of excuses as to why, to make it ok. It’s OK to lose. Most of us do it, most of the time.
Create a perspective for your kids (and others) that will allow them to be more self-evaluating, allow them to create trusting relationships with their peers, and allow them to truly cherish the once in a lifetime opportunity of winning that banner.
And most importantly, create a perspective for your kids that allow them to have fun and celebrate whoever did the winning on that particular day!
As I prepare for the dispersal sale, we have had a lot of questions come up about sorting through the 100+ head we will be offering.
I remind buyers that our sale, like many dispersals, is putting a lot of animals onto the market at a single time. Be prepared, because prices most likely will be very much in favor of the buyers.
Sorting through a dispersal sale can be an overwhelming task, but one that can be made more manageable by following some of these tips from industry experts:
1. UNDERSTAND THE BREEDER!! Club calf breeder Joe Basinger points out, “Know the reputation of the breeder and their animals. Do a little research of what works for them, and see if it lines up with your own personal goals for your program”.
Sheep industry expert Mark Johnson reminds buyers to shop dispersal sales where ALL animals are selling, and to avoid ‘house cleaning’ sales, where just a few of the bottom end animals may sell.
2. ITS ALL ABOUT THE....FEMALES!! The key to most successful programs lies in managing ewe families. Figure out which ewe families will work for your program, and find as many sisters and daughters in that line as you can.
Many experts suggest focusing on one or two lines, and purchasing as many females from those as you can. On older ewes, producer Eric Shellhouse suggests, “Ignore the picture and look at how they performed. Often it’s the ugly twin sister of a show ewe that performs.”
Johnson suggests, “Look for awesome young sheep and [then] find their mothers and sisters.”
3. LET AGE BE AN INDICATOR!! The best producers are only keeping animals around that are paying for themselves. The older females are still there for a reason, most likely having successfully produced for multiple years. Additionally, older animals have animals on the ground you can analyze. There is less risk involved in trying to guess how these females will work.
To many breeders, the highlight of a production sale is finally getting the opportunity to own those females that, in normal circumstances, would never, ever be made available – for any price.
Basinger says, “I don’t have a particular age of a female that I target. If they are good and they produce, they are worth trying.”
However, as Shellhouse points out, “Unless you plan to flush, be realistic about how many lamb crops a 6-year old has left.”
And Basinger reminds buyers, “It’s important to set a limit on how much you will spend on older [females]. Reality might be that you only get a couple of years out of them with their age.” But experts note, it only takes one season for a good female to produce that next top stud.
Johnson suggests analyzing younger females, specifically ewe lambs for several reasons. “I prefer to add ewe lambs. It gives them time to adapt to a new climate and management practices before being asked to produce.”
4. DON’T MISS THE STUDS! A dispersal sale also offers a great opportunity to purchase full or partial interests in stud power that would normally not be available. “Proven rams can be a great asset,” says Johnson.
In a dispersal sale, you have the chance to purchase the stud power they were actually using. Most people come to dispersal sales after females, which often means that the bucks can be purchased at a discount.
5. USE ALL YOUR TOOLS!! Johnson reminds us to “Always use all of the tools as your disposal” when making purchasing decisions from a dispersal sale. Analyze production records and, possibly most important of all, talk to the producer!
Basinger says, “I always believe in analyzing on phenotype and genetics combined. In our world, there are certain pedigrees that work really well for producing certain types and you need to know what those pedigrees are.”
Yesterday my sheep made me cry – again. For people who don’t have livestock, that probably sounds insane. For people who do have livestock, you've been there a time or two yourself.
I had to haul sheep over to some friends, who will haul them to Louisville for us. The fact that this was the last time I would haul Tunis for a show, the last time I would take my red heads onto the green shavings, even that this was the last time Jim Heggemeier would get to give me grief about showing Tunis, brought me to tears.
Sobbing, blowing my nose, cannot hardly read the road signs tears. For a good thirty miles too! But this was not the first time my Tunis have done it, and will probably not be the last before we sell them in our complete dispersal next April.
I had wanted Tunis so bad but both Matt and my dad were adamant that there would be no red sheep at either farm. No RED SHEEP. That made me cry. For several years I cried about that.
Then in 2006, Matt surprised me by handing over a sale catalog with two lot numbers circled in it. I can still hear him tell me, “I bought you two. These are the ONLY Tunis we will have. You will send them somewhere to get bred because we are NOT buying a buck. We are not showing them. We are not keeping lambs. These are ONLY for you to have at home, for FUN.”
Oh man did I cry! I was so excited I cried and I didn’t listen to a word he said – I had other plans for my Tunis!
The next summer, my phone rang. On the other end of the line a voice came across explaining they needed to sell. They needed to sell everything and because I had quietly shown interest, I was getting first chance.
First chance at 30 of the top Tunis brood ewes in the country! (Tears!)
I hung up the phone and my first call was to Dad. He was quiet for a minute and then said, “I will help you if Matt says you can keep them there. We don’t have room for them here.” (Way better than I had expected!)
Next was Matt. He too was quiet, for a bit longer than dad was. Then, “Ok. Ok I can’t get out there with you but go look at them and if you think they are as good as they are supposed to be let’s buy them.” WHAT? (Tears!!)
A few days later we were in Ohio, I looked over everything and not wanting to lose a once in a lifetime opportunity, I wrote a check. And that was it – I was in the Tunis breed. And in rather seriously.
As that first lambing season crept closer, I suddenly became nervous this would turn into a nightmare. I knew nothing about the history of these ewes.
It didn’t. Every single ewe lambed. We didn’t lose a single ewe, not a single lamb. We didn’t have a single bottle lamb. We had two sets of triplets, and mammas weaned all three themselves. Going from lambing out high maintenance Suffolk ewes, to this!?! It was a night and day difference and I was hooked!
Within a few years we would sell the Suffolks and increase our Tunis numbers to nearly 100 ewes. Our red heads were easy lambers, phenomenal milkers and required little in terms of input and labor. The demand for Tunis was strong and getting stronger. We sold out lamb crops year after year.
We were also checking off things in the show ring as well. State Fair Champions, National Champions, winning sales, setting sale records and becoming one of the top flocks in the country. But we never lost focus in the lambing barn. I insisted I was not setting up a flock the same way I had set up my hard keeping blacks, and I would not make the same mistakes.
We would encounter only a handful of females through the years who disappointed us in the lambing barn. A few ewes who couldn’t produce quality milk and whose lambs were too far behind. A few ewes that couldn’t lamb on their own, or a few ewes that had trouble maintaining good condition.
By being fierce in our culling, we kept it to a very few ewes. We developed a group of Tunis sheep that were not only nationally competitive, but were reliable, tough ewes. Ewes with numbers that will rival any production flock in the country.
Ewes that left me with memories I will never forget but ewes that had often made me cry:
The day Red Label was born, and I KNEW from the minute he hit the ground he was good. The day he won his National Champion Banner. The day Matt called me at work, asked if I was sitting down, and delivered the crushing news that Red had died. He had been hit by another ram. The way my co-worker looked at me like I had gone insane when I told her why I was sobbing.
I will never forget the first little red lamb born on the farm, contrasting so much in a pen of black lambs, or how pretty my red ewes look against the green grass in the springtime.
I will never forget when Matt pulled me into his arms right on the green shavings and kissed me after taking four of the five banners in Louisville. (Matt will never let me forget how my mistake cost us the fifth one that year!)
I will never forget the friends we made in the breed. I will never forget our loyal customers.
But soon, I will have to say goodbye. I don’t have the time to spend with them when I have two baby boys at home, a busy career and a husband farming several thousand acres.
But for right now I will get ready for Louisville. I will get ready for my very last show with my red heads. And I will show them and love every minute.
And I will try, my very hardest, not to cry over a sheep (but it’s almost guaranteed I will!)
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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