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Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival celebrates sustainability

Aug. 24, 2014 | 0 comments

Celebrate the multipurpose wool- and fiber-bearing animals as well as the wonderful and renewable products that they provide at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival set for Sept. 5-7 at Jefferson County Fair Park, 503 N. Jackson Avenue in Jefferson.

Admission to the festival is $7 per day or $12 for a weekend pass. Kids 8 and under are free, and parking is free.

Featured speakers

If the sheep industry in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest is to survive, let alone grow, producers of all experience levels will need to focus on sustainability, the underlying theme of the educational workshops at this year's Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival.

Though slightly overworked as agriculture's current buzz word, sustainability is a real concern for the nation's livestock industry, buffeted by ever-increasing feed costs and weather extremes, while competing with grain producers for precious acreage. Add marketing challenges to the mix, and the hurdles facing sheep producers become even more challenging.

Faced with the very real possibility of slipping past critical mass, the American Sheep Industry Association has devoted considerable energy and publicity to programs like "Let's Grow" (www.growourflock), which highlights the need for production efficiencies at the farm and ranch level.

At the same time the American Lamb Board undertook a lengthy study that focused on an across-the-board, "critical self-evaluation" of the lamb industry. Headlined as the Lamb Industry Roadmap (www.lambcheckoff.com), the bootstrap assessment arose out of extreme volatility in lamb prices, shrinking infrastructure and end product quality concerns.

But for all the collective heightened awareness, studies and programming, sustainability is just another word for survival. And survival starts at the farm gate.

When sustainability comes to mind, few educators have the background and experience in the for-profit world of western livestock producers of Woody Lane, who returns to Jefferson for the first time since 2006. Lane is a private livestock nutritionist, contributing editor, forage specialist and consultant living in Roseburg, OR.

The former Wisconsin Sheep Extension Specialist has operated Lane Livestock Services for over two decades, providing consultation about feeds, nutrients, livestock management, forages, pastures and grazing techniques for all types of livestock, emphasizing profits and sustainability to farmers and ranchers in Western Oregon and around the country.

He will give presentations at the Sheep 101 clinic held on Friday (preregistration is required) and during the Shepherds Workshops (no registration required) on Saturday and Sunday. Topics include "Sheep Minerals and Vitamins-101"; "New Forages for Graziers"; "Making Decisions: Being Sustainable in a Nutritional World"; "Filling Feed Holes: Forages When We Really Need Them"; plus an entertaining session, "150 Years Since Those Young Men Carried Muskets," a history of Civil War soldiers who went on to make contributions to the sheep industry.

Making a profit in the sheep business also depends heavily on optimum management of both ewes and rams before and during breeding season. Justin Luther, Associate Professor of Reproductive Physiology, UW-River Falls, will discuss "Ewe & Ram Management for a Successful Breeding Season."

In the next hour of the Saturday program, Russell "Rusty" Burgett, shepherd and assistant superintendent, UW-Spooner Agricultural Research Station, will talk about "Winter Ewe Feeding Systems: Reduce Costs and Maximize Efficiency" — ways to pare down feed costs and utilize by-product feeds.

Sustainability can also pivot on the cost of housing the flock. Invest heavily and a producer can find the payback too much of a burden for volatile feed and lamb prices. With an eye to efficiency, Dave Kammel, professor and extension engineer, UW-Madison, will cover the potential in converting older farm buildings in a Saturday session "Remodeling 'Retired' Dairy Facilities for Sheep Production."

Saving labor is also a prerequisite to surviving in any sheep operation, a point brought home by Pearce Ward, sheepdog handler and past president of the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association as he presents "Top Ten Reasons A Border Collie is Better Than an ATV."

There will be plenty of opportunity for feedback from the audience on industry issues, both national and statewide during a panel discussion, "The Challenge – What Lies Ahead?" At this Saturday morning session, producers will have a chance to offer opinions on what needs to be done at all levels to grow their industry — or just to survive. Moderated by Dave Thomas, professor of sheep genetics & management, UW-Madison, with panel members representing a cross-section of the industry, this is an opportunity for producers to speak out.

Another, but probably much less political, forum will take place on Sunday morning when Neil Kentner, "farm flock entrepreneur," livestock judge and purebred producer, opens the floor for a candid discussion about everyday sheep production issues and management concerns. "All questions welcome, so ask away!" And Kentner will repeat his highly popular "Rare & Heritage Breeds Tour" on Sunday morning.

For anyone wanting to glimpse the world of British sheep production, the festival welcomes two U.K. producers and judges to Jefferson this year. Mary Gibbings, Somerset, England, is a member of the rare Breeds Survival Trust and has been heavily invested in breeding and exhibiting Shetlands since 1981. She has raised numerous rare breeds as well as commercial ewes and during this two-hour presentation, "Shetland & Other Primitive Breeds of the British Isles," she will discuss the history of the Shetland, its fleece characteristics and uses, as well as her farming experiences.

The National Teeswater Show has brought Darrell Pilkington to the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival where he will evaluate sheep and fleeces exhibited by Teeswater breeders from across the country. Pilkington is a U.K. Teeswater breeder and judge. He and his wife Freda operate Higher Gills stock farm and offer visitor accommodations in the Teesdale area of County Durham. On Sunday afternoon, Pilkington will talk about the structure of the British sheep and woolen industry, the reasons for keeping certain types of sheep according to their respective environments and track the path of U.K. wools from farm to mill.

Stock Exchange

When it comes to selling sheep, it's about as simple as it gets.

Rent a pen in the Stock Exchange at the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival and market your sheep to scores of prospective buyers. The price is $25 per pen. No entry or consignment fees, no commission, and no added costs.

Any type of sheep may be sold through the Stock Exchange — registered, commercial, fiber-type, ewe or ram lambs, wether-type, mature ewes or rams, rare breeds. Sellers are in complete control of the sale of their sheep and while they are encouraged to be at the pens to help merchandise their animals and negotiate sales, they may also put up a bid board.

Sheep may sell at any time between 7 a.m. Friday morning of the festival and the close of the event on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Requirements include the following.

·Sheep must be healthy and presentable, but do not need to be washed or fitted.

·Health papers are not required if sheep originate from within Wisconsin and sell back into the state. If sheep originate from outside Wisconsin or sell outside the state, health papers are required. Exit health papers can be written at the festival at an additional cost to the seller.

·Sheep may arrive and leave the Stock Exchange at any time.

·All sheep entering the Stock Exchange must have proper identification recorded with sale management and those records will be maintained by the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Cooperative per Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection regulations. Transfer of any registration papers is the responsibility of the seller and the neither the WSBC or Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival, LLC will assume any responsibility for the health, authenticity of pedigrees or bloodlines or any other information provided by a seller or their representatives.

·There are no warranties or guarantees express or implied as to the suitability or fitness for any purpose of any sheep sold through the Stock Exchange. All sales are strictly between buyer and seller, and the WSBC will not accept, hold or guarantee payment for any transactions.

·No in-transit sheep will be allowed in the Stock Exchange.

·Since the Stock Exchange is a WSBC member service, all persons reserving pens must be current members of the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Cooperative, which is only $25 per year and includes a free, three-month classified ad on the co-op website. Memberships may be purchased online along with pen reservations.

To reserve pens, go to www.wisconsinsheepandwoolfestival.com, and click on Stock Exchange.

Contact the WSBC at wisbc@centurytel.net or 608-868-2505.

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