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Parents shepherd family's move to Katahdin lamb farm

Myrvik Farms raises and sells the hair sheep for meat and as breeding stock to customers across the northern Plains and as far east as Illinois.

A woman in a blue coat and man in  a brown coat stand in front of a fence with sheep behind it.
Kelly and Lance Myrvik on their Katahdin sheep farm on Oct. 27, 2022, near Edmore, North Dakota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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EDMORE, N.D. — A longing for Lance Myrvik’s children and wife to experience the life he’d left behind brought them back to the family farm.

A growing herd of Katahdin sheep is helping the five of them stay there.

Myrvik Farms raises and sells the hair sheep for meat and as breeding stock to customers across the northern Plains and as far east as Illinois.

So, in 2019, Lance, his wife, Kelly and their children moved from Buffalo, Minnesota, near the metropolitan area of the Twin Cities, to the farm near Edmore where Lance grew up.

“We looked at how we wanted to raise our kids and the space we’d want for them and what we’d want them to experience and the farm and the country really pulled us back,” said Lance, who previously worked in retail and education.

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Kelly, who had grown up in Buffalo, was the one who brought up the idea of moving.

“I felt strongly I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to raise our kids not so structured in terms of having to watch them,” said Kelly, a daycare worker and paraprofessional. ”Luke talked so highly of the yardage and the animals — I wanted that for our kids.”

The couple wanted not just to reside on the family farm but to derive income from it. Lance works for area farmers but also has his own operation on the farm.

Lance’s parents, Brad and Lois Myrvik, had sold their livestock and rented out the acreage which had raised diversified crops, including wheat, sunflowers and flax, when he was growing up. That meant that whatever farming operation they chose to run would begin at the ground level.

Raising some kind of livestock was at the top of Lance’s list, so they “tossed around a few plans,” before deciding to raise Katahdin sheep.

Start-up costs for the sheep, compared with cattle, are much cheaper because costs per animal are less expensive and the buildings, corrals and pastures needed to raise them are lower, Lance said.

After researching sheep breeds, the Myrviks chose Katahdins, a meat breed.

A man in a brown coat and blue jeans feed a white ram sheep.
Lance Myrvik tends to his sheep on Oct. 27, 2022. He chose sheep ranching to start his livestock business because they are less costly to purchase and raise than cattle.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

The main reason they wanted to raise Katahdins is because they don’t require shearing wool.

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“That was a huge thing for us. You end up paying more to sheer the sheep than you make off of the wool,” Lance said.

They bought 21 sheep from Luke Lillehaugen , a Brockett, North Dakota, Katahdin producer, in August 2019 and lambed their first crop in spring 2020. The Myrviks’ lambing season typically begins in early March and runs through late April.

The 2021 lambing season, like the previous year, went smoothly. However, weather conditions and a larger-than-normal percentage of large lambs that required birthing assistance made Myrvik Farms’ third year in business memorable — not in a positive way.

“The spring of 2022 was a miserable year,” Lance said. “It was just a challenging, challenging year.”

While the lamb death loss was low, he had to help with pulling about a third of his lamb crop. Meanwhile, the late spring snow storms resulted in muddy corrals that made it difficult to move livestock and equipment.

Lillehaugen and the Myrviks’ veterinarian have been helpful with the couple’s sheep production questions.

Sheep eat hay from a feeder.
Lance and Kelly Myrvik raise Katahdin, a hair -- rather than wool -- breed of sheep, at their farm near Edmore, North Dakota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Lillehaugen is impressed by Lance’s work ethic and desire to learn about the animals and industry. Not only do the Myrviks want to learn the “how” of production, but also the “why,” he said.

“He’s not afraid to ask questions and he researches things and wants to learn from what he’s doing,” Lillehaugen said. “I’ve been very impressed. They had absolutely no sheep experience at all — to see where they’ve taken the operation is impressive.”

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Along with learning about livestock care, the Myrviks have tried different approaches to marketing: first through livestock auctions, and now direct marketing. Direct marketing is more profitable, so the Myrviks hope to continue selling their lambs that way.

“We’ve had very good response and success to people buying lambs and selling up at the butcher shop or selling breeding stock,” Lance said.

Kelly, meanwhile, is calling restaurants about buying lamb.

It’s kind of a niche market. When you get the right person,"it’s a great fit,” she said.

She has been marketing the sheep through social media and by contacting members of the media about their Centennial family farm that’s raising sheep.

Customers choose their sheep, and the Myrviks coordinate with area butcher shops for processing.

“We use butchers anywhere from west of Devils Lake to down to Carrington,” he said.

This year the Myrviks sold about 100 lambs that were born this spring. Next spring, they plan to have 175 lambs on the ground.

The couple hopes to continue their sheep operation and to expand into cattle production on a small scale. Eventually, Lance wants to farm full time, carrying on the family tradition that started when his great-grandfather, Thomas Thompson, homesteaded on the land near Edmore in 1896.

If his children, Henry, Clay and Violet, decide to farm someday, that would be “great,” he said.

“If they can grow up loving and see that you can make a living doing it, hopefully we can pass it along to them," Lance said. “There aren’t many young ranchers. Hopefully, more young people will take the leap and try it.”

Kelly hopes to pique interest in farming by hosting tours for youth organizations, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and school groups, highlighting the history of the farm.

A woman with a blue coat stands in front of sheep in a pasture.
Kelly Myrvik, who grew up in Buffalo, Minnesota, has learned how to pull lambs, give vaccinations and market their products since moving to the farm near Edmore, North Dakota, where she and her husband, Lance, are raising their three children.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Meanwhile, the former daycare provider and paraprofessional is being more comfortable with farm living and the duties that go with it.

“I’ve given shots to the sheep, pulled a lamb. The things that I never thought I would do, I’ve done,” Kelly said. “It definitely builds confidence."

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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