The Last Word

Turners Find Their Way at Pennsylvania’s Ewe Lamb Right Farm

KYLE PARTAIN
Sheep Industry News Editor

Two years ago this month, I was sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania when a message popped up on Facebook from Katahdin producer Dan Turner. I’d finished early that day at the Soder’s K-Bar-K Farm and posted some photos online. Seeing that I was in the state, Dan invited me to his place. Three hours later, I was standing in his driveway in Shippensburg, Penn.

This isn’t the way I usually plan work trips, but after 20 years of frequent travel, I’ve learned to roll with changes that occur while I’m on the road.

Like a producer I interviewed previously in Vermont, Dan came to sheep by way of his dog – a border collie named Shep who was ready to go 24/7 at just a mention of the word “sheep.”

“I promised Shep that if he ever won a sheep dog trial, I would buy him some sheep,” Dan recalled. The pair won the novice class one weekend and shortly thereafter three Icelandics turned up on the Turner property. A friend knew someone who had Katahdins, and that led to three more in the flock. Surprise lambs grew the flock to eight, and there was no turning back.

Dan and Janet Turner started running sheep in an unused plot owned by a local farmer and eventually bought the farm (in a good way). But they never planned to grow crops.

“We’re in it for the livestock,” Dan admitted. “Growing crops wouldn’t be the same. So, we bought a fence post driver, cleaned out the barn and started preparing the place for more sheep.”

Two years ago, the Turners’ flock stood at 120 ewes (today they are at 160 and on their way to 200). Inexperienced at the start, the couple developed a hearty flock thanks to a “survival-of-the-fittest” approach in the early years.

“We weren’t doing much with them. We weren’t really vaccinating or anything,” Dan said. “But we’ve learned through the years. We’re doing a much better job working with our flock now.”

Record keeping has always been a struggle for the couple – mostly due to limited time. Dan runs a family hydraulic business that he first partnered with his dad on in 1982. His dad left the business in 1993, but the company still employs his brother, as well. Back when I first met them, the couple worked sheep on the weekend and Janet spent her “spare time” during the week trying to keep up with computerizing records via a series of notes made while working the sheep.

“Like a lot of things in the sheep industry, we’ve wondered at times how other people do some of these things,” said Janet, sitting just a few feet from a counter covered in Post It notes concerning all things sheep.

But the Post It notes are gone now, replaced by Shearwell’s Electronic ID Tags and a True Test Scale that have helped the couple go paperless.

“It saves hours in the barn and many more hours in the office,” Dan admitted when I checked in with him in May. “Not to mention, lots of confusion.”

The pastures sport new fencing. There’s a new equipment shed, a five-ton feed bin and a new barn, all of which have helped streamline the couple’s operation in a way they could have scarcely imagined just a few years ago.

Dan and Janet have always been believers in supporting industry associations, so in addition to ASI and the Pennsylvania Sheep and Wool Growers Association, they are now members of the National Sheep Improvement Program and Katahdin Hair Sheep International.

“We’re making the ewes live up to the farm name (Ewe Lamb Right) now,” Dan said. “We’ve come a long way from telling people that we offered, ‘Catch your own lamb.’”

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