Indiana ranks 24th in the nation for sheep production, but that doesn’t mean the state’s sheep industry isn’t in some ways quite diverse. This diversity can be illustrated by two farms owned by Indiana Farm Bureau members: Wayne Trace Farms in Allen County and Kennedy Farm in Henry County.
Wayne Trace Farms is owned by the Bultemeier family: Jamie and Traci and their sons Wyatt and Luke. They raise sheep for both meat and wool, but the farm puts a lot of emphasis on wool – which is somewhat unusual since regular commercial wool is not profitable and hasn’t been profitable for quite a while. The Bultemeiers make it profitable by concentrating on specialty wool markets.
In contrast, Matt Kennedy and his family – which includes his wife, Lisa, and their grown children – have taken a different approach and concentrate on meat production. Quite a few of the Kennedys’ sheep are sold right off the farm directly to customers, but the rest are sold through commercial livestock auctions.
“We sell mostly for meat – the wool is basically a byproduct,” Matt said. “You have to shear sheep or they’d be miserable, but the wool is more of a liability than an asset.” The current price for pure Rambouillet wool, which is the highest quality wool the Kennedys raise, is only about 50 cents per pound, down from $1.75 per pound just a few years ago.
“The wool wouldn’t even pay for the shearing,” Matt added.
To combat low wool prices, Traci Bultemeier concentrates on marketing to spinners, knitters, crocheters and weavers who are looking for really high-quality wool. She and her business partner, Case Runyan, sell wool through an online shop called Aoire Maith Fibre Studios, using a website as well as Facebook and Etsy pages. She also does all the shearing herself.
“We primarily have Suffolks and Lincolns,” Traci said, adding that they average about 35 ewes and two rams. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds because they are efficient meat producers but also produce really good wool.
“Lincolns are awesome as a breed for both meat and wool,” she added. The Bultemeiers do sell their lamb, some “right out of the pen,” but they send some lambs to a processor and sell the meat through Market Wagon, an online farmers market that delivers products directly to consumers.
Both Jamie and Traci still work their off-farm jobs: Jamie is an agronomist and director of sales & marketing for A&L Great Lakes while Traci, who also has an agronomy degree, is a territory manager for Pioneer. In addition to the sheep, they also raise about 12,000 ready-to-lay hens each year, which are sold to egg producers, and have about 400 acres of corn, soybeans and hay.
Matt Kennedy’s farm averages about 300-400 sheep, primarily Rambouillet, Suffolk and Rambouillet-Suffolk crosses, with a little Dorset and Hampshire thrown in for good measure. A retired Indianapolis firefighter, he now devotes most of his time to the farm, which totals 110 acres of pasture and hay.
Another facet of the Kennedy’s farm operation is shearing. Matt’s father was a shearer, followed by Matt himself and now his son, Collin. One of Matt’s grandsons is about to start shearing as well.
“It’s been a good thing for our family,” he said. “It’s put a lot of groceries on the table.”
“We have always raised sheep,” he added. Their lambing season is primarily December through February, which means that winters are very busy.
“It’s a lot of work, but that’s the part I love. I truly feel close to God when I see those little guys come out and then within 30 minutes, they’re standing up and looking to nurse,” he said. “There’s something so satisfying about that.”