Jeff Ebert has a strong belief in sheep as an important part of the livestock industry, and one that has potential for growth.
“There has been profitability in sheep production, and I expect it to continue, because we offer such a quality, nutritious product for consumers,” contended Ebert, owner of Ebert Sheep Farm near St. George and a leader in both the Kansas Sheep Association and the American Sheep Industry Association. He says sheep also offer “a great opportunity for youth show projects, and families with small acreages to have a small flock for extra income.”
Sheep became a part of the Ebert family farm in 1957 when Ebert’s older brothers bought their first ewes. “I grew up with sheep, actually, but bought my first ewe in 1966, and have had sheep ever since,” Ebert reflected.
The flock has ranged from 75 to 250 ewes, with the present inventory of 150 ewes.
“We are a purebred operation with registered Hampshire, Dorset, Suffolk and Shropshire ewes,” Ebert said. “The heavier end of the flock is Hamps and Dorsets, but the girls wanted something different, so we got into the Shrops and have a nice flock of them as well.
“There are very few crossbreds, even though sometimes a ram might jump over the fence where we don’t want him,” Ebert admitted.
Ebert and his wife, Kerri, have two daughters, Christine and Monica, who have followed in their dad and his family’s traditions showing sheep.
“My brothers and I always showed sheep, and we had four grand champion lambs at the Kansas Junior Livestock Show in Wichita,” reminisced Ebert, who had the top winner there in 1975.
The daughters, now students at K-State, started showing in 4-H in Pottawatomie County, and continued showing at state and national competitions.
Breeding sheep have annually been exhibited by Ebert Sheep Farm at the Kansas Junior Livestock Show; state fairs in Kansas, Nebraska and Tulsa, Oklahoma; several years at the Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha; and one year at the American Royal.
They’ve been regular exhibitors at the annual All-American Sheep Show, which is in various locations around the country, and the North American Livestock Exposition in Louisville seven years.
“We exhibit all four breeds and have been taking about 40 head of sheep to most of the shows,” Ebert said.
An impressive collection of championships have been accumulated by Ebert Sheep Farm, with major class wins at all of the competitions at one time or another.
But to make this all worthwhile, it’s essential to merchandise sheep. A key element to that is an annual production show, which was held Saturday at the ranch. About 35 head were included in the offering, among them club lambs and yearling ewes and rams.
“We sell about half of our lambs as club prospects,” Ebert said. “That is a niche market, but everybody on the street corner is in the show lamb deal these days, so we really try to push our seed stock.”
Ebert’s spring sale is the oldest annual sheep sale in the country. “We started out as a part of the Tuttle Classic Sale at Manhattan, which included pigs, too, at the start,” he said. “But we’ve continued every year since, on our own here at the farm since that original group decided to not have sales.”
There is also a market for lamb meat. “We have some lambs processed at Frankfort and sell whole lambs and cuts,” said Ebert, noting that lamb is often hard to find in supermarkets.
For some breeders the wool from sheep can be more of a nuisance than it is worth. Ebert said the price per pound is typically low. Beyond that, it can be difficult to find a shearer.
“However, the price of wool properly marketed has gone up in value,” Ebert added. “Furthermore, we work with a few local hand spinners, and we get a premium for some of our better quality wool from them.”
Production ability of his ewes is essential to Ebert. “I really stress mothering ability and lambing ease,” he said. “I don’t have time to be with the ewes, and I want to sleep at night.
These are prolific ewes, too. “We like twins, but I don’t care for triplets, because it’s hard for three mouths to eat on two plates,” Ebert said. “We generally have a 150 percent lamb crop, but this year was about 165 percent.”
Obviously, ram selection is a major task. “We are on the constant search for the next piece to improve our breeding puzzle,” Ebert remarked. “We try to buy a new ram every year, but sometimes it just isn’t possible to find the right one.”