More than 150 people attended the final Spooner Sheep Day, held this past Saturday at Spooner Agricultural Research Station (ARS). CALS photographer Sevie Kenyon documented the proceedings in photos. View his complete photo album.
Speakers included Kate VandenBosch, CALS Dean; Laurel Kieffer, Sheep Dairy Association of Wisconsin; Debbie Petzel, Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Council; Yves Berger, emeritus researcher with the Spooner ARS dairy sheep program; Bob Rand, emeritus superintendent of Spooner ARS; and Tom Cadwallader, emeritus Extension faculty member and former Spooner ARS Sheep Research Program Manager.
A number of awards were given out during the event, as well. Spooner ARS employees Lorraine L. Toman and Scott J. Butterfield each received a Sheep Industry Award. Dave Thomas, UW-Madison animal science professor and sheep specialist, was given a shepherd hook award.
Even though dairy sheep research is ending at the Spooner station, Dave Thomas remains upbeat about the future of milking sheep in North America and Wisconsin. He observes Wisconsin has dairy infrastructure needed to support such businesses and is already home to a growing dairy goat business community. Dairy sheep as an agricultural endeavor has plenty of opportunity to grow, he adds.
“I’m hopeful that 20-25 years from now the dairy sheep industry will see the kind of growth that we’ve seen in the dairy goat business,” he says.
In fact, Thomas says dairy sheep may have some attractive aspects for people looking to start farming. Sheep are seasonal breeders and tend to lamb all at one time, requiring less labor with this shorter milking duration. And compared to cows, sheep eat far less.
Dairy sheep may satisfy people looking to farm profitably on a smaller scale than what is typical of commercial agriculture. He says about 200 milking ewes is enough to make a living with dairy sheep, provided the dairy sheep producer has a willing cheese plant or other buyer able to work seasonally with small batches of specialty milk.