Clear Skies Sheep Company
by Lou & Marva Maring 208-267-6107
My start with sheep began as a child. My grandfather gave me a bred aged ewe which twinned. They started my bank account and joy of raising sheep. My wife & I both showed animals in 4-H. Her background was cattle, horses and hogs as a child. I served in the military for a number of years. I kept running into shepherds in Scotland, Italy and other places overseas.
We have both attended the 2009 Washington State University Lamb 300 course. Spring 2011 we took the Minnesota West (pipestone) Recorded Lambing Time Management Series. The National Lamb Feeders Association holds a leadership school each year by selection. They selected us with 24 other shepherds throughout the U.S to attend the 3 day course.
The school was at Sioux Falls, South Dakota this year. We visited some local sheep breeders, networked with lots of folks in the sheep industry. We visited three other producers after the school. Iowa State University has the oldest Hampshire sheep flock in the U.S. We purchased a ram lamb with EPD`s. (Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) is an estimate of the genetic merit of an animal for a single trait. Specifically, the EPD of an animal is the expected difference between the performance of that animal’s progeny and the average progeny performance of all the animals in the breed, for that trait.)
One of the other producers we purchased two Polypay ram lambs with EPD`s. The last two years we attended the Washington State Sheep Producers convention which we are members. We are also members of the Idaho Wool Growers Association.
We had 500 hair sheep for our flock until last year. Our market for hair lambs was too far away for a large group of lambs. We have changed to medium wool ewes, Polypay, Ile De France & Columbia for the maternal, Hampshire and Suffolk for the terminal base. The wool sheep give us a better opportunity to market a large group of lambs. We purchased a couple Hampshire stud rams from fellow shepherd 93 years young still involved with his Hampshire sheep. We wouldn’t mind selling sheep at that age ourselves.
Our farm is a few hundred acres between owned and leased. Some of the leased land is hay ground the rest is pasture. We have a few head of cattle and horses, but our main focus is sheep. Currently we run just over 300 ewes.
Our goals are to expand to a minimum of 500 plus head. Once we are at around 500 head we will just expand and replace from our flock. The majority of the ewe flock will be Polypay, Polypay X Ile De France. A group of about 100 head will be Hampshire, Hampshire X Suffolk for terminal sires. We want to use the EPD`s to choose our replacements and to sell commercial breeding stock using NSIP/Lambplan. The NSIP/ Lambplan website is www.nsip.com for more information. I feel that a real need for good fast growing meaty black face rams to cross on maternal breeds. We also have a group of ewes for 4-H lambs that are more of a club lamb type sheep.
The lambs will be born in February & March with creep available. Our plans are keeping the lambs on feed to the finished stage. Our reason to keep the lambs on the home place is due to the predator problem. We finish the lambs on whole barley & alfalfa hay. We will send the ewes off to pasture for summer and fall grazing.
A few head of ewes and lambs are sent to pasture if we can use electric net and guard dogs. The net works well in keeping the sheep in and the predators out. Our guard dogs are Great Pyrenees X Anatolian which works well. The dogs stay with the sheep from birth 24 x 7. Sadly we lost our breeding pair this year. The male to large predators we believe and the female to unknown cause. A Llama we acquired with some ewes stays on the home place as a guardian.
We have been helping to promote the sheep industry in Idaho. We had a college student from University of Idaho spend a long weekend helping us lamb in 2010. She is working on her animal science masters at New Mexico State. 2011 we have a young girl helping through the lambing season. They want to add 50 to 100 ewes to their purebred Angus beef operation.
The sheep industry wants EWE. The sheep industry does not produce enough lamb for the American consumption. The world is requiring more and more protein as countries become more prosperous. Sheep can work in small flocks with small acreage to large. They are pretty easy to handle so the young and women can raise them. Cattleman has added sheep to their operations for weed control or better use of the pastures which increases pounds per acre produced. They are very good at weed and fire control for the land. Lambs can be sold off the farm, livestock auctions, Spokane lamb pool or private treaty to buyers.
The American Sheep Industry is working hard to expand the flock so the producer, feeder and processing plants can stay viable. The web site for them is www.sheepusa.org. The www.americanlamb.com has recipes, events and information for folks wanting more to learn about lamb and cooking.
The Farm Service Agency has a youth loan program to help purchase a 4-H or FFA animal or a starter flock for them. Contact your local Farm Services Agency for more information.
The Washington State Sheep Producers has a lambing school south of Spokane each year. A shearing school is also offered each year by the association.
The last few years we have advertised in the Boundary county fair. We give a wood shepherd crook and $50.00 to 4-H sheep breeding champion to help grow interest in youth raising sheep.
Clear Skies Sheep Company offers lamb by the whole or half, 4-H lambs, commercial rams and ewes, beef, pork and chicken. Chicken & pork are by prior reservation earlier in the year. Our animals are never fed growth hormones or antibiotics in the feed. We are interested in long term pastures and crop ground.
Lou & Marva Maring
Clear Skies Sheep Company
744 Homestead Loop
Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805