Pipestone Producers Share Management Techniques

Pipestone Producers Share Management Techniques 

ASI Director of Industry Information

(July 1, 2012) The 2012 Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program Facility Tour, held once every two years, boasted record attendance this year with more than 100 participants from 14 states and Canada. The full-day tour provided an opportunity for attendees to see various types of sheep facilities including the latest innovations in sheep buildings, state-of-the-art lambing barns, handling systems, feeding systems and facility layout. The five operations that were visited each devised their buildings and feeding systems to be more efficient and to enable them to run larger numbers of ewes with the same labor. 

“Beside efficiency and labor reduction, another desired outcome of the program is improving the sustainability of agriculture,” says Philip Berg, lamb and wool instructor with the Minnesota West Community and Technical College. “We are expanding the use of bi-products as sheep feed that are not consumable by people to produce a high quality consumable product. Crop residue and dried distiller grains are just a couple examples.” 

The Pipestone program is a sheep management education and consulting program offered by Minnesota West. The program started 40 years ago as a pilot program that was jointly funded by the National Sheep Industry Development Board and the Minnesota Department of Education. 

“When we first started the program, we recruited 10 of the largest sheep producers in the region to participate,” said Mike Caskey, coordinator of the lamb and wool program. “The 10 producers had an average flock size of 150 ewes whereas now, the 72 producers in the program have an average flock size of 500 ewes.”

The basic purpose for starting the project was to boost the level of sheep management and production in southwest Minnesota by bringing modern, profitable management technology to member sheep producers and help them properly implement these techniques on their individual farms.

The Pipestone system of sheep production revolves around low-cost feed ingredients, efficient labor use, low input costs, high production levels and intensive management. The management system is based on achieving optimum production of quality products as well as making it more profitable for producers.

Feed ingredients used by producers vary depending on availability and cost. Ewes and lambs are fed various combinations of dried distillers grains, soybean hulls, protein pellets, corn, hay, corn silage and crop residue. 

“The key driver of the program is profitability. If people are profitable, they will get bigger,” continues Caskey. “We have a healthy sheep industry in this area, and along with that comes the allied industries like the feed mills that are familiar with sheep rations, agriculture bankers that understand financing, veterinarians who know sheep health and markets for our products.”

The Five Diverse Farms Visited
Aaron and Bethany Lass (Luverne, Minn.)
 are newcomers to the sheep business, joining the program just 10 years ago. To accommodate their growing flock of 550 ewes, they recently built a state-of-the-art lambing facility and two hoop barns to more efficiently use available labor and provide a more ideal environment for their lambs. They employ an accelerated/multiple lambing period system with a goal to have ewes lamb three times in two years.

Saving on labor is a major goal for  Bart and Penny Cavanaugh (Rembrandt, Iowa).  Cavanaugh runs a productive flock of 550 ewes. He just completed an addition onto his existing lambing barn that allows him to lamb larger groups in a more labor-efficient manner and to provide a more ideal environment for new born lambs. Fence-line feeding and self-feeding during lactation were implemented as labor-saving practices. An existing pole barn has been remodeled for transition and cold housing plus a hoop barn was added for additional cold housing. 

“We do all our feeding at noon,” said Cavanaugh. “This system provides for 85 percent of our lambs to be born between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.”

Kevin and Rebecca Goeken (Everly, Iowa)  began raising sheep as an additional income source for their young family. As they exited the hog business, they steadily grew ewe numbers and currently lamb nearly 900 ewes. Lambs are fed in hoop barns that were originally built to custom feed hogs. He has built additional hoop barns for ewe cold housing. Goeken utilizes multiple lambing periods for efficient use of his lambing barn and labor. Ewes are fed with a feed wagon in homemade H bunks made out of guard rail and railroad ties.

Bruce and Karla Gundermann (Westbrook, Minn.)  started in the sheep business 12 years ago with 25 ewes. When they decided to discontinue raising hogs, they converted their facilities to sheep production. Since that time, they have steadily grown their ewe flock to about 750 ewes. They utilize existing buildings along with a new addition onto the lambing barn and built four hoop barns to improve labor efficiency and management of lambing groups. Bruce and Karla market a high lambing percentage because of the attention they pay to detail and the tremendous job they do of keeping lamb death-loss low. 

Russ and Paula Gundermann (Westbrook, Minn.)  and his family run about 600 commercial ewes. They rotate their sheep through three different pastures. Russ combined older barns with newer buildings to enable the sheep operation to effectively use all the buildings available to them. Their operation includes many labor-saving concepts to enable them to handle a large number of sheep with minimal effort. 

“We are proud of the producers in our program,” concludes Caskey. “They have been open minded, progressive and innovative in growing sheep numbers in this part of the country.”

To learn more about the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program and its outreach activities, go to www.mnwest.edu/index.php/management/lamb-and-wool .

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