5/18/2013 7:00 AM
By Ayleen Stellhorn Southcentral Pa. Correspondent
GETTYSGURG, Pa. — Each spring, members of the Gettysburg 4-H Sheep Club’s Market Lamb Project purchase lambs with the intent of selling them for a profit at the South Mountain Fair in Arendtsville, Pa., four months later.
According to Ben Weikert, Penn State Extension educator for 4-H and adult livestock, a successful sale this summer starts with the lambs the youth choose to buy now.
“Starting with a good animal is important because it gives you an advantage right from the beginning,” Weikert said. “The skeleton and width of the animal won’t change. If you start with good pieces, you end with good pieces.”
The youth spent the winter months in Good Production Practice Training, learning about the characteristics of a good market lamb and how to care for the animals they select. Indicators that a lamb will gain significant weight and muscle for the judging at the South Mountain Fair include a long neck, straight spine and feet, and no disease or parasites.
However, a good starter animal doesn’t always guarantee top dollar at the sale, Weikert said.
“It comes down to about 20 percent lamb and 80 percent work,” Weikert said. “What you pay doesn’t affect the quality of the project. What you put into it does.”
The youth had until May 19 to select up to six lambs from reputable breeders who are suggested by the Penn State Extension office and known for the health and longevity of their flocks. According to Weikert, prices for a market lamb range from $50 to $500.
Danny Stoner, a 16-year-old student at Biglerville High School and Gettysburg Sheep Club member, bought two black-face lambs this year for $100 each from Ryan Irvin of Biglerville, Pa. Danny has been participating in the Market Lamb Project for 9 years and became interested when Don Bair, who owns the sheep farm next door, suggested that Danny and his older sister, Anna, join the 4-H Sheep Club.
According to the project book that all Market Lamb Project participants are required to keep, Danny spent $353 on last year’s lamb and expects to spend a little more than that this year.
“I want to try a new feed this year to see if they fill out more and have more muscle,” he said. According to Weikert, the last 30 to 60 days are the most important for weight gain and finishing. Lambs should be about 130 pounds when they are sold but can be as little as 80 pounds.
Danny estimates that he makes about $200 on average from the sale of a single lamb.
Morgan Ramsburg, an 11-year-old student at Lincoln Elementary School in Gettysburg, bought three Suffolk-Hampshire cross lambs from Irvin at $100 each. Her parents, Beau and Cat, own Rettland Farm where they farm 60 acres and produce heritage pork and pastured chickens.
“I help my dad with the chickens and pigs,” she said, “but I only do sheep with 4-H. It gives me an opportunity to know the animals.”
Her father estimates that Morgan made a 50 to 100 percent profit from her lambs in the past.
“My goal is to spend more time with them so they’re better in the ring,” she said.
This year, all 12 youth from the Sheep Club are participating in the Market Lamb Project, Weikert said.
“The goal of the program is to present a full-blown youth development experience,” Weikert said. “The lessons they learn go beyond the sheep and deal with time, budgeting, ethics, networking and mentoring.”
However, according to Weikert, the project can be a tough one, especially on younger members.
“This is a terminal project,” Weikert said. “Our end goal is to add a high-quality animal into the food chain while creating an educated consumer. It takes a mature kind to understand the nature and lessons of the project.”
Danny’s father and mother, Dave and Wendy, recall some tears the first years their children were involved in the Market Lamb Project, and Beau and Cat remember how one of Morgan’s early choices was a bottle-fed lamb. Both sets of parents have seen their children mature within the program.
“The choices are not always strategic at this age,” Beau said, “but she is starting to apply the lessons she’s learning to the selection process.”
The 4-H market lambs will be on display in the 4-H livestock barns at the South Mountain Fair, August 20-24, in Arendtsville, Pa.