Putting together the puzzle of a family farm – Ohio Ag Net
By Matt Reese
After graduating from college and getting married, Levi and Krysti Morrow were fortunate enough to purchase a 36-acre piece of land that was a perfect match for the existing family farm in 2016, coming up against the property of Levi’s father in County of Morgan. Since then, the Morrows have tried to figure out exactly what type of farm production fits the land and their family perfectly in the farm puzzle.
â€œWe continue to experiment to find the right niche that’s right for us,â€ Krysti said.
Levi is an agricultural teacher at nearby Morgan High School and Krysti was working for Morgan’s Soil and Water Conservation District when they bought the property. They started on their farm with a corn maze and an acre of U-pick pumpkins, finding some initial success and growing to add U-Pick strawberries. However, when children were added to the mix, things changed. Charlie was born in 2018 and Krysti decided to stay home and work on the farm.
â€œWe realized that babies take a long time,â€ Krysti said. â€œOur second son was born in January 2021. We’ve been trying to figure out what’s doable with the job, and welcoming the public to your property and balancing that with the kids. When we realized how potentially difficult strawberries were going to be for kids to balance, we looked at the earth we have. “
The hilly terrain was well suited for grazing. Levi’s father had cattle and they had furry sheep on a few acres.
â€œTraditionally, on our farm, we have always raised beef cattle. However, they were never too profitable for us, due to our limited pastures and we were never able to bring herd size to where it needed to be sustainable, â€said Levi. â€œIt was a winter day after Charlie was born. We had a cow with a stuck calf. It was half out. We were all at work and Krysti was home alone looking after the cows with a 3 month old baby in the truck. It was a messy situation. After that, we came to the conclusion that if it was a sheep, she could have handled this on her own. It was the tipping point of what changed our mentality to go crazy. “
The first furry sheep they had were on the farm to help keep the brush.
â€œWe decided to go ahead and buy 90 more furry sheep in 2019. We went with furry sheep so that we didn’t have to maintain the wool and the shearing,â€ Krysti said. â€œNow we’ve grown to 58 sheep. We are rotating the pastures and are looking at keeping a handful of replacement ewes this summer and going back to 75 or 80 for next year. We have stopped U-pick pumpkins and the corn maze. It’s also our last year for U-pick strawberries until the kids are older. Now I take care of all the daily chores – housework, feeding, traveling in the pastures. When it comes to big jobs like vaccination or weaning, we try to plan it for the weekend and get a team together to do it in an afternoon. ”
Improved pastures, fences, scales to monitor market weights, and water improvements for the farm were made possible through a combination of grants from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program of USDA (EQIP) and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Projects (SARE). The perimeter fence of the farm is made entirely of woven wire and the interior fence is high strength. The water sources for the sheep are fed by a spring and a pond.
Hairy sheep – mainly Katahdin with a few Dorper crosses – do not require shearing and have excellent natural resistance to pests for reduced overall work.
â€œThey’re less labor intensive and we can do more animals,â€ Levi said.
Soon after purchasing the land, they took on the main task of cleaning up the property.
â€œWhen we bought the farm it was kind of a jungle,â€ Levi said.
â€œTo put it mildly,â€ Krysti added.
â€œThere were about 15 acres that had been cultivated in rows where there was a lot of invasive species and woodlands with almost nothing of value in terms of timber. We cleared 15 acres of invasive land and undergrowth and reseeded grass under it for grazing. We left valuable trees, â€Levi said. â€œI focused a lot on a mix of curvy cuff and red clover. The red clover did not stay very long. The curled up dactyl was not in tune either. I have done more research on grasses. Everything here was tall fescue, but Kentucky 31 tall fescue has a bad reputation. “
With some more research into fescue toxicosis, the Morrows decided to switch to tall fescue. The change seems to have served them – and their furry sheep – well so far.
â€œThey love it, but we just have to adapt our grazing strategy to the tall fescue because that’s what wants to grow there anyway. There is still cocksfoot, but our pasture is mostly tall fescue with red and white clover, â€Levi said. â€œWe try to rotate once a week. It all depends on the pasture. We have different sizes of paddocks and we let the grass tell us what’s going on. The sheep do the shearing work and we change pastures when we need to change. The land which has been grazed for some time has become self-sufficient. The soil that we converted, we certainly had to add a little bit of fertility, just a little bit, and the sheep in it did wonders. We also did liming.
While the herd’s nutrition is primarily grass-based, the grain is fed as needed.
â€œWe let the flow tell us what to do. One year we had really bad hay, so we added shelled corn to our ewes, â€Levi said. â€œLast year we were lucky to have very good quality hay and we didn’t have to complete anything. We finish our lambs with a diet based on husked corn.
They also make hay for the winter months.
â€œOur hay is fully fenced and we are also adapting our hay. If we have more grass we produce more hay and if it dries up we will put in poly yarn and graze our hay fields, â€Levi said. â€œWe usually make enough hay for ourselves and sometimes we have more to sell. ”
The Morrows are working to improve lambing rates and maximize their pasture, which, including leased land, is approximately 45 acres.
â€œRight now we are only focusing on good land management and lambing rates. We want to hit 2 lambs per ewe and take them out of the sales barn. If we can do it, that would be ideal. This year, we lambed in February and March. Next year we’re going to try to do more lambing around May and June, so we won’t lamb in the winter, â€Krysti said. â€œOur two families have been very helpful and we are very grateful to them. This year for the lambing my mom came and stayed with us for a while to help with the boys so I could get to the barn and do everything. If we lambed in a warmer season, it will be easier with the children. Our lambing rate was 2.4 at one point, but we ended up hitting 1.9 this year. A handful of our bottled lambs had a bloated situation. There were a few others where the mother was not producing enough milk.
For now, they use all natural breeding, but as their markets evolve that may change.
â€œWe have tried out-of-season breeding. The Katahdins are known to breed out of season, but it hasn’t worked for us, â€Krysti said. â€œDepending on where things are going, if we sell more directly to consumers, we may need to use planters and synchronize them better together. ”
For now, they hope to effectively market this year’s lamb crop.
â€œHairy sheep don’t grow as fast as woolen breeds. With woolen breeds, you can put them on the market in 5 or 6 months. We had a handful that was ready in 5 months last year, but for us it’s more like 6-8 months to hit the market. This is trying to hit 70 pound lambs, which seems to be what the market wants right now, â€Krysti said. â€œThese lambs that we have now will be ready in September and October if we get them to grain. If we have the grass, we’ll let it grow. So far this year’s lamb crop is developing much better than last year’s. We may be a little early, but 6 months is our goal with the least amount of inputs and additional feed possible.
Their lambs are primarily marketed at Muskingum Livestock Auction, Mt. Hope Auction and through some sales of locally processed frozen lambs. As they continue to learn, the Morrows continue to feel the urge to experiment.
â€œWe do a lot of experimentation,â€ Levi said. â€œWe want to keep some of the lambs on the pasture a little longer. The market tends to decline towards the end of the summer and the remainder until the fall. It resumes around Christmas. We were going to try to store those lambs on some extra grass this summer. Maybe they won’t grow that fast and we’ll see if we can maintain their weight until around Christmas and aim for 80 pound lambs, maybe grow 90. â€
Going forward, the Morrows still intend to shift the balance between off-farm jobs, farming, and family.
â€œOur goals tend to fluctuate on any given day. We talked about having a lot of sheep and marketing those animals through different cattle auctions. We talked about going into the meat business direct to customers, â€Krysti said. â€œFor me my favorite part is lambing – I really love the lambing time. I like being at home with the boys and working on the farm, but it has its challenges and every day is different.
In the ongoing puzzle of land, family, and homework wrapped up on a farm, so far it looks like the furry sheep are the right fit for the Morrows.
â€œThe focal point of the farm has been that we both want to farm full time someday,â€ Levi said. â€œWe’re helping my dad, but we’re basically starting from scratch here. We strive to achieve this and the sheep seem to be working for us.