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Pennsylvania Producer Shares Challenges of Raising Sheep

September 29, 2011
 
 

A Day in Ag logoShared by Sally Scholle, Littlestown, Pa.

Hello from mid-southern Pennsylvania, where we raise sheep, goats and livestock guardian dogs.

Our farm includes about 100 acres, and since hay and grazing works best for the type of ground we have, that's what we use it for. Our streams are fenced off and we have NRCS-designed crossings. We're in the CSP program, which has allowed us to continue to enhance and maintain wildlife habitat. The bluebird boxes we've put up throughout the fields have drawn quite a few bluebirds, and our two ponds and wetlands invite various water birds.

sheep1

Every year comes with its own set of challenges—this year, the challenge was a wet spring followed by a hot/dry summer, and now a very wet end of summer/early fall. Right now, we're working with NRCS to control mosquitoes in pooled water, since West Nile Virus is popping up in the area once again. If we could control the pooled water, we certainly would, but the ground is so saturated that there's simply nowhere for extra water to go. We really appreciate the expertise of those who work in ag-support programs such as NRCS—without them, it'd be hard to continue and keep our livestock as healthy as possible.

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One of our challenges is predation by coyotes, but we manage to keep them in check with the help of Great Pyrenees. We also try to schedule ewes to lamb later in spring so that young coyotes have an ample supply of small wildlife to feed on rather than our lambs.

sheep2

Another ongoing issue is non-farm people who live in the area but don't understand agriculture. I've taken that as my own personal challenge to educate and inform them about what we're doing, through personal contact and also through my ag blog as "sheepwriter." As an ag science writer, I have a lot of opportunities to learn more about and share information about current practices in other species as well as other critical topics such as farm safety, fuel crops, manure management, no-till, antibiotic use, zoonotic diseases, native pollinators and animal welfare practices.

sheep5

I'm a very strong supporter of animal welfare (which is difficult to define) and do not support animal rights. I don't believe that there is any single "ideal" or "right" way to raise livestock. Each producer must make that decision based on the region, the land he has, what he's passionate about and the market. Ag producers cannot afford to disparage others who don't do things "their way"—there are too many mouths to feed, and there's room for every kind of production as long as that production is based on sound science.

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