ZANESVILLE, Ohio — There’s nothing nutty or crazy about Nutty Acres Farm in Muskingum County — it’s just a farm family diversifying itself to ensure agriculture remains a part of their life.
Jason and Kirsten Hatfield farm 236 acres and maintain another 113 acres in pastures and hay. The couple have two daughters, Shelby, 18 and Hainsley, 8.
Nutty Acres was Jason’s grandfather’s farm and was a dairy farm at one time. The couple has lived on the farm, but was just able to purchase it in December 2009. Now, it is a sheep and cattle farm, for the most part.
The family raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa, 40 crossbred cattle, 124 Dorset registered ewes, and 25 Dorset-Dorper cross sheep.
Kirsten started raising Dorsets when she was 13 as a 4-H project and when she got married, she brought the sheep with her.
Now, she is still involved in 4-H as an adviser, and is now managing the family farm. She helps to run the couple’s Garst seed business and just started a daylily business on the property, as well.
Jason works off the farm at the Muskingum County Highway Department, leaving many of the farm decisions to Kirsten.
It is clear by talking to Kirsten, her love remains with the sheep flock and her desire to improve and make it grow. She said one of the things that she enjoys about breeding is the improvement in genetics she can track from one generation to another and the consistency she likes to build into the flock.
Kirsten said it is very clear that if something — whether it is the daylily enterprise or the sheep — can’t make it on their own and succeed, then a change will be made.
“Livestock has to keep themselves. We don’t keep them. That’s not the way it runs here,” she said.
She said they maintain a commercial flock and a purebred flock. She markets the purebred Dorsets through United Producers. She also markets breeding stock online, through the farm’s website and through advertisements in agricultural newspapers.
Another way the farm markets sheep is through repeat customers, and Kirsten said those customers are key to making their farm a success.
A recent change in the sheep herd has been the cross with Dorpers. The couple said that within 14 months of a Dorper being born, it can have a lamb on the ground.
The Hatfields said they are seeing quite a few benefits to the crossbred sheep. The Dorper is a hair sheep and that means no shearing. Another plus is that the Dorpers can produce a couple of times a year while being an easy keeper.
Kirsten said it is very important that the sheep be able to take care of themselves on pasture and that is made easier with the Dorset-Dorper cross. They are kept out on pasture and brought into barn housing 20 -30 days prior to lambing. In addition, the Dorper are noted for their easy lambing.
Jason said many sheep farmers talk about a 100-200 percent lamb crop. Usually their farm boasts a 400 percent lamb crop, with most ewes delivering two sets of twins a year.
The Dorpers are also very popular among some ethnic groups. One reason is because the breed grows fast, making it a good choice for returning customers because they can return to the farm and chances are that one will be available for meat purchase.
The Hatfields said many lambs are ready for the market 40 days after birth, and can reach between 40-50 pounds in that amount of time.
One thing the farm does battle with is loss due to coyotes. In an effort to combat the loss, the farm uses two guard donkeys to protect their flock.
The couple agreed that the use of the donkey does help and cuts down on the loss, but some loss is inevitable. They said it became obvious extra protection was needed when the coyotes were heard during the day and could be viewed roaming during daylight hours.
The cattle are sold at livestock sales and the replacement heifers are kept.
When asked about the diversity of the farm, the couple had an explanation most farmers can understand: money.
By having several different income sources, whether it is the daylily business, sheep, cattle or five-year-old seed business, the farm receives income at different times of the year.
Kirsten added the Garst seed business is what the couple are hoping to build upon for retirement and fill in income gaps. In fact, the couple is gearing up for their plot day, at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at their farm.