Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Costs of Being Different

We just concluded our county fair. Our oldest daughter, Lara, showed a Suffolk market lamb and our Blueface Leicester ram. She did well with both - her lamb placed in the middle of its class and sold for a very fair price. Our ram was the only registered ram at the fair, so he was the Supreme Champion. The judge did not know what breed he was.

Our operation is very different from most. We're using a 3-tier cross-breeding system used in England to produce our grass-fed lamb. Most commercial sheep producers in our region raise whitefaced ewes and finish their lambs on grain. We lamb in the pasture, mostly in late February and March. Most producers our size lamb in a barn. We use guardian dogs to protect our sheep from predators. Others use traps and lead to control coyotes and other predators.

There are costs to being different than most of the producers around us. One of the costs is the lack of other folks that we can talk to and learn from. I'd like to talk to other producers using our genetic scheme, for example. Another cost is in the implied and, at times, explicit ridicule of our peers. The fair drove this home for me. In the show world, sheep that aren't of Suffolk and/or Hampshire breeding simply don't do well. There is a bias towards large (140+ pound) lambs that must be finished on grain. Sheep this big certainly make a lot of money for the feed salesman, but they don't work in our system.

I kind of like being different (although I think it's necessary to ask myself why others aren't using our approach). I think it's more difficult for our kids to be different. When everyone else is showing a black-and-white grain-fed lamb, it's difficult to show something as different as the lambs we raise.

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