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Our last haul: Getting out of the sheep business

We chose to leave farming. Others are forced out. Don’t lose hope.

May 3, 2019

3 Min Read
livestock trailer
FINAL LOAD: The small livestock trailer was full of ewes, lambs and one ram on its way to the sale barn. It was the last of our daughters’ 4-H/FFA project and family farm endeavor. Mindy Ward

96,360. 4,015. 11. Those are the number of hours, days and years sheep ran the pastures at our little piece of paradise in the hills of southern Warren County, Mo. Right before Easter, time reset to zero.

With our youngest daughter set to marry in May and move off the homeplace, there is a sense of finality coming over our farm. She is the last to leave. We will truly be empty nesters. Still one thing remained, the 4-H turned FFA sheep project.

It started because of an uncle who wanted to share his passion for an industry he loved with his young nieces. The three would travel across the country to sheep shows and sales. He taught them how to choose, care for and show their animals. And they loved every minute.

Raising and showing sheep became a family hobby — the stock trailer our boat, the show ring our lake.

Along the way, we met some of the most amazing farm families. We showed against and with one another. Our kids ate, played cards and rode carnival rides together. Our relationships quickly morphed into a family — a sheep family.

It has been an incredible journey. We have been blessed to walk beside many in our industry. It was a difficult choice, but April 11, we borrowed my brother’s stock trailer and loaded the last of our flock.

Grateful for time

So, to my brother — thank you. (No, not just for the trailer.) You instilled in my girls an understanding that one must work to achieve success. You encouraged them to overcome fear by stepping out of their comfort zone and into the show ring. You showed them that above all else — family first.

To our sheep family — thank you. You’ve shared your sheep tips and secrets. You’ve shown up in times of joy and sadness. Most importantly, you opened your lives to us. We are humbled and grateful.

But, don’t think for a minute my husband and I will disappear from the show barn. After all, we have three nieces and two nephews, along with a slew of other next gen sheep showers, we can’t wait to watch in the show ring.

Tough choice

We were fortunate to sell out on our own terms. However, many in agriculture cannot do that these days. Increased cost of production, devastation from flooding and reduced income are forcing farmers and ranchers to exit the industry. My heart goes out to them. If you are in that situation, I want to encourage you.

This is only one season of your life. It may be a very long season — one you don’t think you can emotionally handle giving up. But have faith. Hold on. You can. Why?

Because what sets the agriculture community apart from the rest of the world is what I found in my small sector of it — we are family. You have the support of your farm friends in good times and bad. They are there to listen and lift. Reach out and lean on this family because as my brother taught my kids, above all else, family first.

Look beyond your current situation. Begin to anticipate the next season. It will come. It always does.

Don’t give up on agriculture just because you think it left you behind. Dare to dream again. Begin to wind that next clock.

While one season of our lives closes another opens. We will be starting a new family farm endeavor, just what, when and how is still in the dreaming stage. Stay tuned. We will restart the clock.

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