OAKES, N.D. – Most kids when they are seven years old are sitting in front of the television with their favorite game system or playing with friends outside. But at that age Clancy Zimbelman had a different passion – starting his own flock of sheep. The idea was planted when Clancy’s parents, Greg and Gail, who live southeast of Oakes, wanted a project that would teach him some responsibility, and their local veterinarian, Dr. Craig Galbreath, who passed away in 2016, had suggested they get a few sheep for Clancy to raise.
The rest is history.
His first flock consisted of 18 sheep, a couple Texel and the rest Suffolk, but over the years that has changed until now, at the age of 13, Clancy has 58 sheep and 18 weaned lambs, and plans to purchase about 25 ewe lambs in the next few weeks. But, he has even bigger plans – within two years his goal is to have 250 sheep in his flock.
After the first year, the Suffolk sheep were replaced by Rambouillet and the flock has continued to grow and now his sister, 10-year old Shayle, has caught the passion for sheep as well and has 10 sheep of her own and helps with the sheep chores.
To complete the livestock picture, an older brother, Connor, has a few pigs as his livestock project, including Mike, a 600-pound boar. Each of these siblings have a livestock project, which is designed to instill a sense of responsibility within the children.
All three are home-schooled, which allows them a flexible schedule for their school work and doing the chores associated with their livestock interest as well as helping their parents around the farm. Clancy’s interest in sheep was discovered by this reporter when Clancy and his Mom attended a sheep workshop late this spring in Ellendale. This is where the conversation led to him talking about his passion for sheep and future goals.
At his young age, Clancy has experienced the rewards and challenges from being in the sheep business – from receiving a premium for exceptional wool shorn from his sheep, to the disappointment of losing lambs during lambing season. As a true shepherd, he has done everything from assisting a ewe giving birth to finding ways to safeguard the flock from predators and disease, and watching the markets and deciding when to sell his lambs.
Bottom line is he enjoys working with sheep.
“They (sheep) are easy to handle,” Clancy noted, before mentioning they had one ram that pushed his dad into the wall, “and we sold that one.”
He spends so much time with his flock that almost everyone has a name, although they all look the same to most people, and he is able to get them all headed to the barn each night just by hollering, “Sheep, get into your pen.”
Like anyone who has been in a certain business for a while, Clancy has discovered some things that work well to make his business more profitable. For instance, he had a very successful breeding season last year and he hopes to have a repeat of that this year.
“Last fall we had a field that had beets, radishes and turnips that had been planted earlier next to a field of some soybeans,” he noted, “and I think that helped with my breeding program.”
The sheep were allowed to graze there starting in mid-September, and he feels that provided a diet that encouraged a good flush during the breeding season. He is hoping to be able to graze a cover crop again this year, although at the end of July it hadn’t been seeded yet.
Last year was the first time he added a small acreage of crops to his sheep enterprise. He planted 5 acres of wheat, and he wasn’t so interested in the grain the crop provided, which went to his parents, but rather the straw that was produced, which he used for bedding. This year he again has 5 acres of crop and is growing corn. The corn grain will come in handy for the sheep, since they receive some corn daily in their ration. The stover also works well as a bedding.
The markets and the current financial situation will help determine if those lambs not being held back for flock replacement are sold as feeder lambs at a weight of about 80 pounds or finished to market weight. Selling the wool to a business in Hecla, S.D., also adds to his income figure.
“I am getting a premium price for my wool right now, because it is so fine, which is a characteristic of the sheep I raise,” he said. “I help them doing the shearing, by getting inside the bag the wool is collected in and stomping it down to pack it.”
In the past, it has been a challenge to find someone to shear the sheep, but this year they found a man who comes out of Fargo, “And we were happy for that,” he said.
Clancy has taken steps to improve the facilities for his sheep, such as adding a warming house for the new-born lambs this past year and also the recent installation of a camera system in the sheep area.
“I haven’t been able to use the camera system for lambing yet, but I was able to spot a lamb that had pneumonia before it got too sick,” he said. “I can get the video from the cameras on my cell phone.”
In the future, he would like to erect a hoop barn that would allow him to store the hay, which is put up in small square bales, under cover and protect it from the weather. He’s also been contemplating a border collie sheep dog breeding business, which would tie nicely into his present sheep enterprise.
One thing for sure…there is no shortage of ideas on how to make his sheep business bigger and better, and no shortage of ambition on how to make it all happen, either.