JACKSON CENTER, Pa. — After some trial and error, a husband and wife team is on track, building a herd of Cheviot sheep and racking up awards at national and state level competition.
Chuck and Denise Orr Jr. began developing their Cheviot herd in 1992. They decided to sell their Simmental cattle herd and Quarter Horses and delve deep into the sheep business.
Then, four years ago, the couple went back to the drawing table on how to make their operation more profitable.
Their solution: Better genetics and more specific marketing.
Denise said the couple began traveling across the country, looking for ewes that displayed the breed character. Their adventures took them to national livestock shows, searching for just the right traits.
Now with 80 head on their 30-acre farm and 24 years of marriage under their belt, they are growing and becoming more successful.
The Orrs contend they are also doing their best to keep breed character. That means they are trying to keep the Cheviot head shape, the traditional ears, black nose and black feet in the lambs they breed.
“We want consistency in the herd and we want to pass that consistency on to our buyers,” said Orr.
Another way the Orrs are working to make their herd successful is by participating in the scrapie flock certification program.
Currently, the herd has a 70 percent rate of having the RR gene trait. There are three levels of traits, QQ, QR and RR. RR is the highest success rate of ridding the United States of the scrapie disease.
“We are doing our best to keep going in that direction,” Orr said.
To meet show demands, the farm lambs in September, the second week in January and a third group lambs between Feb. 15 and the first part of March.
Orr said her biggest achievement comes at lambing time.
“We lose a lot of sleep, but it’s worth it to us,” she said.
She added they lost one lamb this year and they are proud to have that high of a success rate.
“These are our kids. We just want a positive outcome for all of us,” she said.
The Orrs also attribute their success to their intense record keeping.
“We keep records from birth, weaning records and the growth rate records,” Orr said.
In addition, there is a record on every single ewe, including their breeding date and how their last delivery went, so that the Orrs can go back and find out if something is normal for a particular ewe or if they should start worrying because she isn’t following her usual pattern.
Then, when it comes to selling the animals, the records are passed on to the buyers so they know the animal’s past, including who the sire and dam was for that particular animal.
The Orrs produce their own hay and get grain from Denise Orr’s father, Stan Romain, a grain farmer. They also use rotational grazing to ensure adequate pasture for the herd.
With the help of their Web site, MistyAcres.net, the farm is expanding its customer base.
The farm is shipping two rams to Canada and one to New York. Other animals have been sold to producers in Washington and another in Rhode Island.
The breed is developing interest in Canada because the Cheviots are considered a rare breed there. Due to a lack of Cheviot producers there, Canadians are starting to look in the United States for rams that carry the breed characteristics.
The farm’s Web site is also enticing customers before a sale.
Denise said one of her main responsibilities on the farm is to post updates to the Web site prior to a show or sale, letting people interested in the Cheviot breed know about breeding stock being sold.
As more and more sales are being held and posted live on the Internet, people are tuning in and posting bids for individual lambs based on the information and pictures from the farm’s Web site.
“My husband and I are big believers that pictures are worth a thousand words,” Orr said.
She added that the Internet is an added tool that lets potential buyers know who the rams are on the farm, display show results and detail where they will be selling lambs.
The farm also brings in income by selling market lambs, but the Orrs only sell them for market lambs if they are not quality breeding stock.
Orr said the farm participates in the Ohio State Fair, Ohio Cheviot Showcase Sale and the Keystone International Livestock Exposition, as well as the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.
Last year at the NAILE, a yearling ewe placed fifth out of 23 entries and was honored with the award as the best headed Cheviot ewe at the show.
Big Mac, a ram lamb headed to New York, won first at NAILE for senior ram lamb and also placed first at the Ohio State Fair and garnered an award for the best headed ram lamb at last year’s fair.
In addition, seven ewes from Misty Acres were in the championship drive at the Ohio State Fair.
“We are just striving to raise good quality stock,” Orr said.
The Orrs also garnered reserve champion ewe at the Ohio State Fair last year and reserve champion ewe at the Ohio Cheviot Showcase. They also brought home the honor of the highest and second highest selling ewe at the showcase sale, which they attribute in part to Internet-driven interest.
“It’s helped tremendously. I’m always trying to update it,” Orr said.
Auction time. Other times, the buyer may view the Web site and then send in a bid for the auction or they participate in the auction in real time from their laptops in their own home.
“What we sell is top quality stock, so we have a lot of repeat buyers,” Orr said.
She added that four out of five buyers at the last sale were repeat buyers. Now that lambing is over until the fall, the Orrs are back on the show circuit and their next stop will be the county fairs and then the Ohio State Fair again this year.