Sutton Ridge Farm Open House Adds Unique Twist to Shearing DayLARRY KIEWEL
Special to the Sheep Industry News
Shearing your flock is a harvest day or a management tool, depending on your system. It is always an expense. Mark and Jennifer Jensen of Sutton Ridge Farm in Lydia, Minn., have created a way to turn shearing into a profitable day regardless of the quality of their wool clip.
The day also qualifies as positive public relations for the sheep and wool industry.
Still in the first decade of their back-to-the-land adventure, the Jensens have embraced the local food movement. The goal of their diversified operation is to form personal relationships with people who want to know where and how their food is produced.
Now in its fourth year, the Jensens have turned spring shearing into an open house to introduce more people to their product line. In an on-farm store, the Jensens sell beef and pork in labeled packages from a freezer, as well as fresh eggs from free range hens and garden produce (in season). They’ve also added processed wool products from their flock of Leiciester long wool sheep that numbers 30 animals after spring lambing.
The wool is sent to a North Dakota processing mill and returns as roving, yarn, blended yarns and cleaned and carded portions that are hand died on the farm and sold as felting kits. The white and natural colored fleeces are blended with exotic metallic strands for bling, Highland cattle hair, angora rabbit or even alpaca to make a variety of yarns with appeal to multiple fiber artists.
The first year, the Jensens limited invitations to 40 friends and co-workers. The following year, they opened the farm to everyone on their email list, placed posters in a few locations and promoted the gathering on their Facebook page. The results were 120 people who reserved space and more than 70 that ignored the morning rain to show up and watch shearing, carding and spinning.
An added surprise that wasn’t on the original agenda was the birth of a lamb for the afternoon group. There was a concession stand with coffee and farm fresh treats. Attendees were then given time to visit the farm store and sample beef and pork products. If success can be measured in bags of product moving to the parking lot, the day was successful.
There’s something in this story for everyone in the sheep industry. Lamb and wool are commodities that can be raised for mass markets or they can be direct marketed with the prospect of increased profits for the shepherd. Even if you aren’t ready to direct market wool, a shearing day open house can be a public relations tool to meet your neighbors and turn them into partners and customers. Take a couple of hours to clean up the barn, put the word out to neighbors, friends and family, and turn your shearing day into a celebration of your hard work.