Fun Farm Friends - Sheep

Crystal Siemers-Peterman, reporting for Wisconsin State Farmer, wrote:

“Sheep have been a part of Wisconsin agriculture since the 1800s when Wisconsin ranked second in the nation for the number of sheep raised in the state. The roots of those early breeders’ organizations still reach out across the state today. Wisconsin is home to nearly 76,000 head of sheep.“

Amanda Magnus, reporting for Wisconsin Public Radio, has said there are 2,600 farms in the state raising sheep.  She adds an interesting twist, quoting Dave Thomas, a professor of sheep management and genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, saying this:

“Most of the money that comes into a commercial sheep operation comes from selling animals destined for meat (and not the wool).”

Magnus added:

“Sheep are usually associated with wool, but Thomas said wool is actually the least valuable product of sheep, economically speaking. Sheep will shear about 8 pounds of wool in a year, Thomas said, and depending on quality, that wool is worth 50 cents to a dollar per pound. So each animal is only producing $4 to $8 of wool a year.”

That said, Wool production is not a trivial business. Siemers-Peterman said some 51,000 sheep were shorn in 2017, producing 340,000 pounds of wool. Interestingly sheep’s wool also makes lanolin used in skin products.

I caught these guys a bit northwest of Colfax in Dunn County.  I’ll tell you this city boy felt he was out in the boondocks when he found these troops, back road for sure, mud ruts, sliding around in the car!  I have learned that brown mountain sheep like the big guy to the left are rare. Also note the spotted sheep, I believe called brown-spotted sheep.

Here’s a closer look at the brown mountain dude, “Big Charlie.”

And a closer look at what I think is a brown-spotted sheep, “Franco!”

Some farmers milk their sheep, producing sheep milk cheeses. Thomas indicated the US market is ripe for sheep milk cheeses, but most of those come from other countries. He said:

“About half of the world exports of sheep milk cheeses from all countries in the world come to the U.S., so we feel that there’s a tremendous amount of consumption in the U.S. that could be filled by increased domestic production.”

Sheep milk also produces hand soap, shampoos, and candles.

Siemers-Peterman hit the nail on the head, saying:

“The diversity of Wisconsin agriculture is truly our greatest strength.”

That is so true.