By Frank J. Buchman
“What started as a project for our children has grown into a family business.”
Now, Joe and Penny Smith and their three children are all heavily involved in producing sheep with entrepreneur dedication producing some of the best purebred seed stock in the Midwest, as well as club lambs demanded for youth projects.
“Our oldest son, Elliott got us started when he began showing lambs in 4-H, and the girls just followed big brother’s interests. Before long, we were raising some lambs of our own, and just kept expanding along, 14 years now,” Joe Smith reflected.
Elliott “aged-out” of showing, and now works at Manhattan, while Allison, Emporia High School senior, and Shelby, sophomore, continue highly successfully exhibiting home raised sheep.
“It’s definitely a family operation, everybody likes to be involved,” Joe insisted. “I’d never had any experience with sheep, but Penny’s folks (Price) raised sheep, and the generation before did, as well.”
Today, the Smith family keeps 35 ewes, registered Dorset and Southdown, along with a few blackface ewes, at their acreage near Emporia.
“His first year in 4-H, Elliott bought a wether and showed it to be reserve champion market lamb at the Lyon County Fair. That started him, and the next year, he had the champion,” Smith remembered.
Soon, Allison wanted to show lambs, too, and the family got some Dorset ewes. “We kept them, and our flock has grown from there,” Smith said. “Shelby was small when she started. So, we got into Southdown, a smaller breed for her to show, and a Southdown only eats about half as much, too.”
Keeping both flocks purebred, and registered, the family has been conscientious in mating programs, with diligent ram selection. “We’ve raised some pretty good ones,” Smith admitted.
Exhibiting at Kansas, Nebraska and Tulsa State Fairs, the Smith family has shown many champions in both breeds, collecting Supreme Breeder banners at several competitions.
“We had the supreme champion at the Midwest Preview Show in Sedalia, and the supreme lamb at Denver,” Smith noted.
“We generally show in breeding classes. Ewes can be entered in the market division, but a wether will often place higher,” Smith said.
Likewise to be most competitive in market shows generally requires a blackface breed, so the Smiths evolved with limited crossbreeding.
Lambs produced on the Smith farm have “done well,” producing the county fair champion three years, as well as the reserve champion four times.
“We sell wether lambs for a growing number of youth show projects each year,” Smith added.
Breeding is all done naturally. “We use the best rams we can find, and then also work with another sheep breeder at Wamego trading use of rams,” Smith said.
Most of the lambs come in January and February with a few fall lambs to enter certain age breeding show classes.
“Lambing is a busy time even though our flock isn’t near as big as some,” Smith admitted.
But, herdsmanship pays off . “We weaned a 120-percent lamb crop this year, down a little. I’d like to get 135 percent,” Smith calculated. “I don’t want triplets. We don’t have good luck with them. There were more singles this year. With our few numbers, you lose one lamb that hurts takes the percentage down.”
Most of the “good quality” ewes are saved for herd replacements and improvement, while others are sold at the livestock market.
“We do sell a few rams for breeding purposes, and have some available now,” Smith said.
Wethers often go as youth projects. “We try to help out those kids who want to get started. There is one family who lives in town, don’t have a place to keep livestock, so their lambs are out here,” Smith said. “That works well, because they can help with the chores, and look after the place when we’re gone.”
Lambs are for the dinner table. “We like lamb at our house, and we sell a few for locker meat, too,” Smith said.
“But, the kids wanted to show cattle, so we have a few cows, and eat beef, as well,” he did admit.
Recognizing that lamb is often difficult to acquire at the super market, Smith is a leader in the Kansas Sheep Association, which is working with processing plants to increase availability for higher lamb consumption.
Smith is employed in the “I T” field, while Penny is a program assistant for the Lyon County Extension Service.
With her positive sheep experiences growing up, Allison looks to studying agriculture at Kansas State University with career interests tied to the industry.
No slow down seen on the home front. “We’re building a new barn now. Raising sheep is almost a fulltime job at lambing time. Hopefully these facilities will make it easier,” Smith said.
“We hope to continue to improve the flock, using more top rams through artificial insemination, and also possibly doing embryo transplants, to increase demand for seed stock,” Smith concluded.