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Published June 29, 2010, 01:22 PM

N.D. group helps future shepherds get started

For Stetson Ellingson, the baas are now mingled with moos. The 12-year-old Ellingson, whose family is in the cattle business near Mandan, N.D., has established his own flock of sheep.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

For Stetson Ellingson, the baas are now mingled with moos.

The 12-year-old Ellingson, whose family is in the cattle business near Mandan, N.D., has established his own flock of sheep.

“I really like cattle. But I really like sheep, too,” he says.

Ellingson is among the 10 young North Dakotans who each received 10 ewes last year through the state Lamb and Wool Producers Association’s Starter Flock Program.

The association will award 10 ewes to another 10 young North Dakotans this year. Applications are due Aug. 1.

This is the third year for the program, which Wyman Scheetz of Center, N.D., association president, says is thought to be the only one of its kind in the nation.

“We need to get more young people interested in our industry,” he says.

The number of sheep and lamb operations in North Dakota has dropped from 3,500 in 1970 to 1,900 in 1990 to 680 in 2008, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farms in general are becoming bigger and fewer, but Scheetz says his association is optimistic that the program will help reverse or at least stop the decline in sheep and operations in the state.

The program awarded sheep to one young North Dakotan in its first year and expanded to 10 recipients last year.

Past recipients have been mentored by association members. The group wants to provide even more mentoring for this year’s receipients, Scheetz says.

Open to N.D. teens

The program is open to North Dakota residents ages 10 to 18.

The ewes are provided free initially. Each recipient must pay back to the association 20 percent of the original cost in years two, three and four, for a total payback of 60 percent. No interest is charged.

The thinking is, recipients can pay back the 20 percent each year when they see some of their lambs.

More information is available on the association website.

One thing to note:

The website lists Justin Luther, the former sheep specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo, N.D., as the person to whom applications should be sent. Luther has left that position and no longer is the contact person.

Scheetz says anyone interested in applying should contact him or one of the association’s other officers or directors. Their names and contact information are listed on the association’s website.

Another option is contacting a county extension agent for details of the program, Scheetz says.

Plans to be a rancher

Ellingson, who starts seventh grade this fall, is articulate and enthusiastic about the program and his participation.

He already had four ewes of his own, for 4-H, before receiving the 10 through the Starter Flock program last September.

Lambing went well this spring, he says.

He plans to keep some of the lambs, instead of selling them, to increase the size of his flock. He’s still evaluating how big the flock should become.

But he’s certain that he wants to be a rancher – with both cows and sheep – when he’s an adult.

He already talks knowledgably about making the best use of pasture for both sheep and cattle.

“It’s a great program for people my age. I really appreciate being part of it,” Ellingson says.

“If you’re interested, you should check it out,” he says.

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