Forage and grasslands council explores grazing, sheep production at field day

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Katahdin sheep in a pasture
Katahdin sheep at Lone Pine Pastures, in Wooster, Ohio, July 9. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

WOOSTER, Ohio — The Varns family farm, in Wooster, Ohio, has been home to a lot of livestock over the last century, including sheep, hogs, beef cattle and buffalo. In 2020, the owners of the farm, who currently live out of the area, wanted to hire someone to run the farm. That’s where Jeff and Michelle Ramseyer, of Lone Pine Pastures, came in.

“We were looking for some place to kind of call our own … and they wanted someone to take care of it,” Jeff Ramseyer said.

The Ramseyers proposed that the family lease the farm to them, instead of hiring them to run it. The family agreed, and the lease started early in 2021. Now, the Ramseyers have several crop fields on the farm, and several pastures with cattle, sheep and goats grazing on them. They use multi-species grazing to improve the soil health, and rotate their livestock through the pastures.

They showcased their farm at the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council’s summer forage field day, July 9.

Lone Pine Pastures

Gene Varns, whose great grandfather bought the farm in 1914, went over the history of the farm.

At one time, the family and some other local farmers were buying 6,000-7,000 feeder lambs from Montana each year, shipping them to Ohio by rail car. But the family ran into some issues with wild dogs and sold off the rest of the flock in the mid-1960s, which ended sheep production on the farm until this spring.

The Ramseyers raise Katahdin sheep and sell their market lambs at Mount Hope. They have the space to easily run 200 sheep at the farm, but they are currently only at about 20. The sheep are fairly independent. There are several springs in the pastures. They have plenty of forage for grazing, and get a little bit of grain. The ewes lambed in March in the field.

“By doing that and not giving them all that stuff, they can actually survive on a lot less,” Jeff Ramseyer said.

One of the challenges on the farm is managing stream access. When there were bison on the farm, years ago, the previous farmers used a creek running through the farm as the only source of water. Because the bison had access to the stream all the time, they contributed to erosion around the stream. Now, the Ramseyers are trying to figure out ways to restore the stream.

Bob Hendershot, a farmer and retired NRCS grazing specialist, noted that in a rotational grazing system, an animal is on any one acre for about 20 days a year. Hendershot has a stream on his own farm, but instead of completely fencing it off, he makes sure his livestock only have access to it for 20 days a year to prevent erosion.

“The problem with streams and animals is not the stream and the animal, it’s the fact that they’re there constantly. You want to try and control the access,” Hendershot said.

Lambs

Participants in the field day also visited Leroy Kuhns’ farm, in Fredricksburg. Kuhns has about 200 Dorset ewes on his farm and uses accelerated lambing. He hasn’t bought any ewes since about 1996. He also grows hay and small grains to make feed for horses and sheep.

In early July, the barns at the farm are mostly full of lambs that have recently been weaned. The majority of the ewes are out on a pasture a few miles away that the Kuhns bought a few years ago, though some are still grazing at the main farm.

He deworms ewes regularly and lambs when he weans them, but has found that as long as his sheep are getting good nutrition through their feed and grazing, he doesn’t run into many parasite issues.

Awards

Between touring the two farms, the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council also presented several awards. The Jack Tucker Distinguished Service Award went to Christine Gelley, vice chair of the council’s board.

The Outstanding Producer Award went to Harry Kenney, of Newcomerstown, who passed away in 2020. His daughter, Madison McWilliams, and father, also named Harry Kenney, accepted the award on his behalf at the event.

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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