Pfliger has Sheep Industry Leadership in his Genes

Pfliger has Sheep Industry Leadership in his Genes

(Sept. 1, 2012) Burton Pfliger, Bismarck, N.D., really had no choice in becoming involved in the leadership of the U.S. sheep industry – it’s pretty much in his genes: his father was the founding president of the North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association (NDLWPA).

“It’s kind of in the family. I was involved with the industry the whole time I was growing up,” Pfliger says.

Today, Pfliger serves as the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) secretary/treasurer and has served as president of the NDLWPA where he reached out to producers to replenish a dwindling membership. He is using those years of experience in the industry to help the sheep industry continue to flourish on a national level.

Building on Years of Experience
Pfliger’s father bought the family’s first 100 ewes in 1967, and it seemed that nothing could stop him from getting into the sheep industry.

“Dad loved to tell the story of the banker that would not loan him money to buy sheep, but he would loan him money on a pickup. He took that and bought ewes instead,” Pfliger relates. 

In the 70s, the champion and reserve champion North Dakota State University (NDSU) registered Hampshire ewes were added to the flock, which was the start of the Hampshire flock that Pfliger still has today.

Pfliger went on to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science from NDSU in 1985, and worked as an extension agent. He currently works in the environmental health industry full time.

During this whole time, Pfliger continued to raise sheep as well as farm. When drought hit and wheat prices tanked, he had to reassess his operation.

“When it dried out, I had to get out of the grain business. Two-dollar wheat was not profitable, I was not covering my costs,” he says.

But, unlike the wheat, selling the sheep was not an option.

“I just held onto the sheep to have something of production agriculture with me. I stubbornly held onto them,” he says.

This drought was not the only weather-related challenge Pfliger has survived. Last summer, Pfliger had to weather the flooding of the Missouri River, which devastated the Bismarck area.

With water flowing at 1.2 million gallons per second, double the capacity of the Niagara Falls coming down the Missouri River, Pfliger readied for the worst, and in the end his property and basement of his house suffered damage, but his livestock came out okay.

“The flooding didn’t affect the sheep,” he says. “However, we lost forage; we lost alfalfa. I lost about 110 acres of forage,” he relates, adding he was lucky enough to be able to locate additional alfalfa from a neighbor, whom he has gone into the hay business with, to make up for the ground he lost.

Today, Pfliger and his wife Pattie run approximately 400 ewes, which make up a purebred Hampshire flock, a purebred Suffolk flock and a flock of Rambouillet/Dorset cross commercial ewes. The Hampshire and Suffolk flocks are used to produce range and terminal sires. 

He also feeds his own lambs on his operation, as corn and soybeans are prevalent in his area. Lambing takes place in March for Hampshire and Suffolk ewes, while the commercial ewes lamb in April. All lambs are reared and fed to 135 to 140 pound live weight and marketed through a cooperative direct to packing plants. He also has partnered with a neighbor for a hay business, much of which went to Texas last summer to help producers through the drought that area was facing.

As Pfliger works off the farm, he hires a retired man who helps with the sheep, especially during the lambing, usually in March, and relies on guard dogs to provide protection from predators.

However, while working off farm full time and running a sheep operation is enough to keep anyone plenty busy, Pfliger does not just stop there – he feels firmly in getting involved with the agriculture industry and being a voice for fellow producers.

Prior to election as ASI secretary/treasurer, Pfliger served as the Region IV representative and was chairman of the ASI Wool Council. Pfliger previously served as the chairman of the Production, Education and Research Council, and additionally he served on the Legislative Action Council and the Predator Management Committee. He was elected to four terms as president of the NDLWPA.

In addition, Pfliger served as vice chairman on the executive board of the Ag Coalition in North Dakota, and has served as the chairman of NDSU’s Board of Ag Research, Livestock Granting Committee. He currently serves as the chairman of the Missouri Slope Wool Pool in Bismarck, N.D. Pfliger was awarded NDSU’s Agriculturist of the Year and was presented the North Dakota Master Sheep Producer award in 2005.

“I just believe in making time and giving back to the industry. If we don’t make our voices heard, how can we keep our industry strong for the future?” he says.

Building the Inventory
As part of the ASI executive board, Pfliger has lent much support to the Let’s Grow campaign and is encouraged by what he sees from producers in his own state as to growing the national flock.

Pfliger sees the North Dakota sheep industry as growing in diversity with each year. He says that the state is seeing those flocks with 200 head or more growing, as well as seeing many pop up that are around 40 to 50 head. The western side of the state is home to more range-style flocks, but as you go further east, the flocks tend to get smaller.

“We are just very, very diverse,” says Pfliger, adding that he is seeing ram sales in the eastern part of the state gaining in popularity as those with traditional farm land are adding sheep to their operations.

Burton encourages those who are growing their flock or just starting their flock by buying sheep to be particularly choosy about the quality of animal they pick.

“I suggest for them to buy commercial sheep, a uniform set to start with. Then you have a good basis with which to start. Pay a little extra, start with a good set then keep more replacements next year,” he suggests

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