CUMBERLAND, Ohio – When you ask Gary Conrad what he does for a living, he’ll tell you he’s a single father of 200.
That’s 200 llamas, miniature donkeys, miniature horses, goats and head of cattle.
For the past five years, the livestock producer has made a living breeding and selling animals on his 55-acre farm in Guernsey County. He also travels the llama show circuit and his entries have earned top spots in national and international shows.
The key to Conrad’s success is a carefully planned breeding program. He aims for genetic improvements in each generation and always looks for ways to improve everything, from the shape of the ears to the color of the fiber.
It’s no secret the breeder likes to win, but Conrad said his ultimate goal isn’t to merely show champions – it’s to raise them.
Colorful. The miniature donkeys are Conrad’s best-selling item, but these aren’t your typical, gray donkeys. The 50 donkeys at Conrad Stock Farm come in black, white, sorrel and several shades of brown.
Like the donkeys, the llamas also boast unusual colors and patterns – everything from spotted brown and white to solid silver.
Conrad raises traditional and suri llamas. While he sells some show animals, most of his stock goes to pet buyers.
“You sell a few show animals, but not a lot,” he said.
Producing great animals isn’t an accident. The livestock producer constantly reinvests in his llama herd by using the better animals for breeding stock.
“If they have that chance to have a good one, that’s the ones I keep back,” he said.
Conrad’s llamas have taken the grand champion banner at the Ohio State Fair every year since 2000 and one of the farm’s most recent honors was claiming the grand champion medium wool male and reserve champion non-breeder titles at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.
Conrad also has high expectations for his beef herd, demanding the same quality he aims for in his other stock. Right now, the farm is home to about 15 head of crossbred cattle.
The beginning. Conrad has always been a farm kid. The breeder grew up on a beef farm in Athens County where he showed steers in 4-H.
“When I was a kid, all we knew was cattle,” he said.
Conrad majored in agricultural economics at Ohio State University and he paid for his education by showing and selling cattle.
After college, Conrad worked as a herdsman for three years before moving to Guernsey County. There, the livestock producer worked at a steel factory in Cambridge while keeping cattle on the side.
In 1996, Conrad went to the Stark County Fair intending to watch a steer show, but when he started checking out the fair’s other exhibits, he realized he’d been missing out on a whole different world – a world a of llamas.
“I want one of those,” he thought to himself. “Those are cool.”
He knew enough about cattle that he figured he could raise other species without too much trouble, so he bought a male llama and it wasn’t long before he decided to expand his herd.
Conrad hooked up his trailer and headed for Oregon. When he came back, he had 22 female llamas in tow.
Now, Conrad Stock Farm is home to about 90 llamas and the herd produces about 60 cria, or baby llamas, every year.
Expansion. However, Conrad wanted to tap a larger market than just llamas, so he diversified almost right away, adding miniature horses, then miniature donkeys and finally, goats.
When Conrad Stock Farm moved to its current location in 2000, the farm was nothing but a wide open field – no house, no barn, not even a storage shed. With 60 llamas and seven cows that needed a home, Conrad didn’t waste time getting to work. The first thing he needed was a barn.
“I needed a barn way more than I needed a house,” he said.
Conrad built a barn with an attached apartment and later added more living space for himself.
Not long after, the steel factory closed and Conrad faced a big decision.
“I had a choice – either get rid of this stuff (the animals) or get more and stay home,” he said.
He’s never regretted his choice.
“It’s either this or go get a job,” he said. “And I don’t want to get a job.”
Not easy. But becoming a full-time livestock producer wasn’t the easy way out for Conrad.
“If you’re not self-motivated, you could never do this,” he said.
For Conrad, it’s a lot of motivation and a little humor that pushes him.
“It’s a challenge every day,” he said. “I get up every morning just to see what’s upside down and what’s not where it’s supposed to be.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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