By F.H. Jeter, Extension Editor, N.C. State College, Raleigh, as published in the Charlotte Observer June 28, 1948
For the dollar invested, sheep pay better, perhaps, than any other kind of livestock. At least, that’s the very decided opinion of those sturdy mountain farmers up in Watauga and Ashe counties. In Watauga, some of the sheep growers own native ewes; others have purchased the hardy western ewes brought in during recent years. Some of the men give their sheep the best of attention, while others let them wrestle largely for themselves.
But however the sheep are handled, Watauga farmers say that each ewe in their small farm flocks paid them a net cash return last year of $27.13 per animal. That’s a good investment. They look for as equally good returns this year because the Northwest has one of its finest lamb crops.
Sixteen Watauga farmers kept careful records on their sheep flocks and report that these flocks averaged 21 old ewes with about 2.3 young ewe replacements. Each flock averaged raising 25.8 lambs and these were sold in the county lamb pool for $512.90 per clock, or $20.11 each. The ewes averaged shearing out 147.7 pounds of wool per flock and this wool was sold in the pool for $75.20. So the gross return for each of these 16 flocks of sheep wads $588.47 from the sale of wool and lambs, or $27.13 per ewe. The average feed cost for one ewe for the year amounted to $7.76 so the net labor income from the sheep was $19.37 per head.
It also pays to have purebred sheep, just as it pays to have high class livestock of any other kind. For instance, J.W. Norris is said to be about the best breeder of Hampshire sheep in Watauga County. Mr. Norris has one old ewe, now 11 years of age, that is a wonder. She descends from good blood, and she has proven it in production. During her 11 years, this ewe has produced eight sets of twin lambs. The best part about these lambs, from Mr. Norris’ standpoint, is that 13 of them were males and he sold them for purebred breeding stock to his neighbors at good prices.
Sheep growing is not alone in farming enterprise for the adult farmers of that section. Some of the best shepherds are the young farm boys who are enrolled in the 4-H Clubs. Among those having nice lambs now about ready for sale are Douglas Clawson, Alvin Norris, Johnny Norris, Eddie Paul Norris, Phil Farthing, Vance Vines, Joe Perry, Baker Edmisten, Bob Wilson, and Clint Reese.
This Clint Reese, by the way, will represent North Carolina at the National 4-H Club Congress this fall. He and Walter Jones of Sparta, Alleghany County, were chosen recently in a sheep shearing contest held at the Mountain Branch Experiment Station by Leland Case as the champions among all those competing. Clint is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Asa L. Reese of the Reese community in Watauga County. Clint and Walter nosed out Ben Norris, also of the Reese community, in an overtime contest. Orvill Hendrix of Laurel Springs was fourth, and Bob Wilson, fifth.
As the saying goes, these boys certainly made the wool fly as they competed for this Chicago trip.
Some of the men say that it pays to have lambs dropped early in January and February but there are just as many who maintain that they lose too many lambs at this early date and have to feed them too much grain, so they want their lambs to come in April. These later lambs are largely fed on pasture, with just a bit of grain supplied in creep feeding. But the early lambs, like early pullets, seem to be the ones which bring the most money per unit, and so the argument is not yet settled.
At any rate, say the growers, no man ever grew sheep and went in debt on the flock. They always pay their way, if the ewes are drenched and the lambs are properly managed. Sometimes a stray mongrel dog may cause a loss but this does not happen so often where the sheep are brought in at night.
W.W. Wilson kept careful records on a new type of sheep operation last summer. In a lamb pool held last summer on July 14 at Boone, Mr. Wilson bought 26 ordinary medium-grade ewes and wether lambs.
They were all just average lambs—nothing choice. He fed them until the last pool on September 5 and says that, during the period of 7 ½ weeks, the 26 lambs gained 373 pounds or 14.3 pounds per lamb. When he sold them in September, four lambs graded “choice” and brought him $104.66; 17 graded “good” and brought him $342, and five graded “medium” and brought $63.90. The whole 26 were sold for a total of $510.58 and cost him only $322.49. However, he had to add in the expense of trucking and the feed cost which brought up his cash outlay to a total of $382.15, or $14.69 a head. The lambs sold for $510.58, or $19.63 per head, giving Mr. Wilson a nice little income of $128.43 or $4.93 a head net profit for his labor.
One reason why the lambs gained so fast, however, and were so nicely finished at the end of the seven-week feeding period is that they were placed on a Ladino pasture. Then Mr. Wilson added a grain mixture consisting of three parts yellow corn, two parts ground oats, and one part cottonseed meal. But he had the facilities for handling the lambs, so he made a nice profit from the venture.
W.E. Eggers, also of Watauga County, own 15 ewes from which he raised 19 lambs. He sold the 19 lambs and the wool from the ewes for a total of $413.15, or a net profit of $29.10 per ewe above feed cost. He adds his comment that sheep will make more money for him than any other kind of livestock—for the money invested in them.
Agreeing with him is Henry Taylor, another Watauga sheep grower. Mr. Taylor owns 24 ewes and raised 26 lambs. He sold 23 of the lambs and 147 pounds of wool sheared from the old ewes for a total of $609.47. Subtracting the feed costs, each of his ewes returned him a profit of $25.35.
But as L.E. Tuckwiller, Watauga County Agent, points out, such high profits per ewe means that the sheep are on clean pasture, that the lambs have been properly managed, and that the old sheep are drenched at least twice in summer to control internal parasites.
Marshall Farthing of the Valle Mountain section of Watauga says he uses his ewes to eat up the old cabbage stalks left from cutting his mountain cabbage each fall. Last year he had an income of $426.96 from the flock of only 14 ewes, two of which were replacement lambs The 14 ewes raised 20 lambs that sold for $373 and then the old ewes sheared 104 pounds of wool, which brought $53.96. This is a gross return of $30.49 per ewe. But Mr. Farthing says that his feed cost was low because he had to supply very little grain. The lambs were dropped in April, placed on pasture, and were sold in the October pool. The ewes had been over-wintered on his cabbage field and in the hay meadow. Mr. Farthing says that the ewes relish the residue in the cabbage fields and meet the cold weather plump and fat. He figures that his net labor income from the 14 ewes amounted to an average of $25 per animal.
MORE THAN SHEEP
Never get the idea that Watauga farmers are interested in sheep alone. That’s great cattle country as well. Some very fine herds of Hereford beef cattle are found there, and people from all over North Carolina go up there to buy feeder calves. The farmers have a Watauga Hereford Breeders Association and hold annual sales and shows. A lot of new Guernsey dairy cows are going into the county also. Most of them are grades, as yet, but the quality is improving steadily and good pastures are being prepared.
D.F. Greene says his grade Guernseys have been producing at the rate of 8,000 pounds of milk a year, according to his sales on the local milk route. He and his son have only a small herd and are using the facilities of the artificial breeding association to improve the quality of the cows. Bobby Nichols of Deep Gap has secured a purebred Guernsey heifer of Quail Roost breeding and is starting a Guernsey herd from this one cow. W.W. Mast and Scott Swift have both added new Guernseys to their herds. Four new grade “A” milking barns have just been built.
Like farmers in other counties, those in Watauga are conducting corn-growing contests The local Farm Bureau is providing $100 in cash prizes for the three top acre yields.
They also are keeping bees and setting out seedling trees. During last March, for instance, Watauga farmers set 21,000 white pines, 3,500 yellow poplars, 300 black walnuts, and 50 black locusts. They believe that the reforestation of their steeper slopes is one of the most important jobs ahead of them in future years.
Bee colonies are being added and a few men with plenty of hand labor available in their families are growing the little one-fourth acre plots of Turkish tobacco.
There is much home beautification work going on with the farm families landscaping their yards largely through the use of mountain shrubs which grow in such profusion all through that area.
ASHE COUNTY FARMERS
Watauga is not the only county in that section where progress is being made in livestock farming. H.D. Quessenberry, county agent, says that the Ashe County folk grow staple crops like corn, grain and hay along with late truck crops and then they have poultry, beef cattle and sheep to supplement his truck crop income and finds that both pay him well. It is his belief that no man should try to keep cattle in that section, however, without having plenty of silage. Winter grazing is not so dependable due to the severity of the cold, freezing weather; but every man can have silage in winter even if he has to depend on a trench dug in the side of a hill.
R.B. Brown of Todd has just completed a grade “A” barn and concrete silo and has made a start with Holstein cattle. Mr. Brown says that two Guernseys and two Jerseys keep the milk test above 4 per cent while the Holsteins fill the can. Ladino clover and fescue are being used widely for pastures, and many small plots of alfalfa have been seeded. Joe Davis of Laurel Springs says the fescue works well with Ladino and is providing the best of grazing. J.R. Phipps of Silas Creek has eight acres of alfalfa that he says saves him money in feeding the cows on his grade “A” dairy farm.
Ashe County growers report a good crop of both apples and cherries. Apples are plentiful and the cherries were killed only in the lower places. F.N. Colvard of Jefferson says the new Oakview cabbage, which he is growing this year, is ideal for the late market. He sets the plants in rows 34 inches apart and on the row. The crop is fertilized with a ton of 3-8-6 per acre, and this gives him a nice, firm head weighing from 3 to 5 pounds within 100 days of setting the plants. Most of the cabbage is ready for the market, that is for cutting, at the same time, thus giving him the best possible returns.
Sheep also pay well in Ashe. Betty Lou Thomas and her brother, Joe, of Grassy Creek have saved $1,900 from their baby beeves and lambs in the past two years and are putting the money away for their college education. The lamb crop in Ashe County this year is above the average, and the young people entered quite a few in the big Tri-County Lamb Show held in Boone early in June, when 75 lambs from Alleghany, Watauga, and Ashe competed for quality honors.