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Wild and woolly

Busy lambing season brings new life to Joe Hall’s well-managed Hampshire flock
Story and photos by Chris Villines 3/27/2013


Joe Hall, owner of Joe Hall Club Lambs in Clinton, watches his Hampshire flock enjoy Co-op feed as two of his Great Pyrenees dogs stand guard. The semi-retired Anderson County Extension agent and longtime Anderson Farmers Cooperative member has raised the small ruminants for the past 17 years and utilizes three different Co-op rations: Pelleted Lamb Starter (#93323), 14% Pelleted Ewe Lactation Feed (#93553), and 12% Pelleted Ewe Developer and Gestation Feed (#355).
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You’ll have to excuse Joe Hall if he looks a little bleary-eyed these days. It’s been a wild and woolly lambing season on his Hampshire sheep farm in Clinton, where, since January, more than 70 newborns have hit the ground.

Day and night, Joe has helped deliver and nurture most of these fragile, wobbly-kneed creatures, often born two or three at a time.

“This year, seven out of the first nine ewes gave birth to triplets, which is an unusually high number,” says Joe on a recent cold, drizzly afternoon at his farm as he observes the activities in the barn’s lambing pen, where a ewe has just given birth to three new lambs. “Most times, you don’t really want many triplets because the ewes have to milk more and one of the lambs can get left out, but I’ll bottle-feed every now and then so that I wind up with three healthy babies.”

When the semi-retired Anderson County Extension agent established Joe Hall Club Lambs in 1996, he already had plenty of experience with these small ruminants after helping start the first 4-H sheep project in the county in 1974 and cheering on his daughter, Kelli, as she showed in the Tennessee Junior Livestock Exposition (Expo) and other events. Kelli even won Grand Champion Market Lamb at Expo in 1993, exhibiting a lamb they bought from Hancock Hampshires of Eubank, Ky.

“My friends kept telling me that I ought to consider getting a few ewes and start raising some lambs,” he explains. “I started with three ewes that I bought from Hancock Hampshires, and the majority of my flock now is from those bloodlines.”

Joe now has some 125 head roaming his picturesque pastures, and for the next three to four months the Anderson Farmers Cooperative member will kick the management of his flock into high gear as he markets his lambs to prospective buyers, some of whom are purchasing the animals to compete in sheep shows.

“I try to wean the lambs off of their mamas at about 60 days old,” says Joe, who also keeps five Great Pyrenees dogs at the farm to help guard his flock. “Somewhere between 60 days and 100 days is when they’ll sell, most by private treaty off the farm. I like for people to come here and see what they’re buying. It’s just good PR [public relations].”

The latest batch of lambs was born in mid-March, which Joe says will “push” them to have enough time to develop before this year’s Expo July 11-14 in Cookeville.

“In our area, March lambs are hard to move,” says Joe, who utilizes three different rams for breeding. “If you have a March lamb, you hope it’s a really good ewe and keep it until the next year. In other states where I market, I can sell March or April lambs because their shows are later, but not in Tennessee.”

Wherever his lambs wind up, Joe says the new owner can rest assured that every possible step has been taken in their health, nutrition, and genetics.

“I like to provide them with the best feed, forage, and hay that I possibly can,” he explains. “To me, it’s just all part of taking care of them. I really enjoy the genetics and feed management aspects of this business. One of the most important areas that you have to stay on top of in your operation is nutrition — probably 80 percent of [a flock’s] health problems can be taken care of through a solid, balanced nutritional program. There are so many pluses to it.”

To that end, Joe has worked closely with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative nutritionist Dr. Paul Davis to match the right feeds for varying stages of his Hampshires’ development. Pregnant ewes are given Co-op 12% Pelleted Ewe Developer and Gestation Feed (#355), and upon lambing they’re switched to Co-op 14% Pelleted Ewe Lactation Feed (#93553). Lambs are fed Co-op Pelleted Lamb Starter (#93329), which is placed in a creep feeder inside the barn. Joe feeds his flock twice daily.

“By 10 days old, those lambs start heading to that creep feeder,” he says. “They’re attracted to the light that I put in that area, and I try to keep it well-bedded so it’s inviting to them. It doesn’t take long before a bunch of them are gathered around there eating. When I’m at peak production, they’ll empty that 500-pound feeder in two to three days. That’s when you start separating and hand-feeding.”

 Joe also supplements his flock’s nutritional program with alfalfa-orchardgrass hay and additional Co-op products — Supreme Sheep Mineral (#96297), Sheep Goat Mineral with Zinpro (#683), and Rational-Lyx Tub (#RBO7273).

“The sheep really like the tub a lot,” says Joe, who has several set up around the farm. “They wear it out. With the minerals, I mostly use the 683 but per advice from Paul [Davis], I use the Supreme during breeding.”

For pre-breeding management, Joe prepares ewes for their job of producing lambs through the “flushing” process in which the feed ration is increased so they gain weight and ovulate more eggs.

“About two weeks before breeding, I increase the amount of the 12% Pelleted Ewe Developer that I’m giving them,” explains Joe, a member of the Tennessee Sheep Producers Association. “Then I bring in a teaser ram that I expose them to for about a week before I bring in the real rams. It’s a method that’s been around for a long time that kind of tricks the ewes into consuming a lot of calories, which is helpful for breeding.”

Davis says Joe’s thorough approach to nutrition and genetic excellence is among reasons the Hampshire operation is “a success.”

“He’s established and perpetuated outstanding genetics, and he relies on the Co-op for a nutritional program that allows his sheep’s winning genetics to be fully expressed,” Davis points out. “That serves him well. Joe understands very well what it takes to get the most from his breeding and have his sheep to look and feel their best.”

Because sheep are susceptible to parasites that can wreak havoc on their well-being, Joe also relies on Anderson Farmers Co-op for animal health supplies.

“I deworm at the traditional times, like in the lambing pen, when they’re sheared in May or June, and before breeding season starts in August,” says Joe, whose wife, Katrina, helps on the farm when she’s not at her full-time job as general manager of quality engineering at Denso Manufacturing in Athens. “I have dewormed up to four times in a year. Parasites and predators are two things you have to control.”

Always striving to find ways to improve his operation, Joe has taken advantage of the cost-share funds available through the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program, which has allowed him to add a headgate, sweep gate, corral panels, and feed troughs.  He also uses

Co-op’s Herdsman high-tensile and woven-wire fencing.

“The Ag Enhancement program is really good,” he says. “It encourages you to do some things so you can be a better farm manager.”

That, in turn, means Joe can look forward to many more years of seeing fragile newborns come into the world and helping promising young exhibitors show his lambs.

“I really love to see a good, superior animal grow and produce a lamb that’s going to help some kid compete in the show ring,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but there’s a great amount of joy that comes with it, too.”

For more information about Joe Hall Club Lambs, call 865-806-1903.

To learn more about the complete line of Co-op sheep feeds and animal nutrition products, visit with the professionals at your local Co-op.

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