It has been a swirling summer and fall for Mikara Anderson and Riley Price.
Although they came from farming backgrounds, none of them had a farm to inherit in order to start their own business. Instead, Anderson, 22, a senior at Penn State, had to convince his grandfather to sell them his small 15-acre farm. It took several months to reach a deal, but in August the couple bought the farm.
Soon after, they bought their first sheep, repaired the farm and barn, and put up new fences to keep the sheep in the pen. That’s a lot to unwrap in a few months.
“When he [grandfather] do [sell], it was a really exciting time because not only was it a fresh start, but it made my daddy have less to worry about and take care of, ”says Anderson. “But we also knew we had a huge opportunity here to start from scratch, start over and do things the way we really wanted.”
Just a few months after starting the business, they put in place an ambitious growth plan, but it all starts with mastering the art of herding Katahdin sheep.
The good animal
Anderson, a former FFA state officer, grew up in a farming family. His grandfather converted the family’s long-standing dairy into a beef farm. “A lot of the lessons I learned as a kid were learned on her dairy farm,” she says.
Anderson’s parents had a small farm which included horses, chickens, a few cows, and a few sheep and goats. She explains that while she was at FFA, she started a sheep farming business on her parents’ farm. It turns out that she fell in love with the animals.
“This species was the perfect size for me,” she said. “I really enjoyed working with them, and I could make a good profit to help pay my school fees in the future. Working with these animals helped me realize that I wanted to get into animal science and wanted to have my own farm.
Price’s “pap” had a small farm and he grew up riding. His grandfather also raised beef cows, pigs and chickens.
Shortly after buying the farm, the couple bought a flock of purebred sheep from another farmer. Anderson bred several breeds of sheep in middle and high school, including Hampshires, Suffolks, and some crossbreeds. But she never raised a Katahdin. “And to anyone who has never had a sheep, the Katahdins are a different breed, literally and figuratively,” she says.
At present, they have 15 mature ewes and a ram. Five lambs have been born since September.
Katahdins tend to flock more, so they will follow each other in groups around a pasture. Anderson says she had to learn when to move the sheep so that they all went together at the same time, which can be difficult.
And unlike other breeds, Katahdins can lamb on pasture and can breed at any time of the year because they are not seasonal in anesthesia. The couple’s long-term goal is to rear two groups of ewes per year – one for winter lambing, the more typical lambing season, and one for late summer lambing and fall.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress working with them and learning how this breed works differently from sheep we’ve had experience with in the past,” said Anderson. “But it has definitely been a learning curve. It just took a long time to get used to.
Put a pencil on paper
Running a farm is enough to juggle. Now throw yourself into college – Anderson is a senior at Penn State – and non-farm jobs – Price, 21, is a lineman for his local utility company – and it can be downright overwhelming to get started a company.
Having a plan on paper, Anderson says, helped them realize what their dream farm could look like.
Earlier this year, they won a grant of $ 10,000 under the JumpStart grant program from AgChoice Farm Credit. They used the money to put up new fences around the farm to keep the sheep safe. They also developed a long-term business plan.
“Writing down our goals was more a question of how many sheep do we want to have each year that we raise? What time of year do we want them to be raised? How many lambs do we want to bring on. What market do we want to take them to and when? says Anderson. “The business plan was just to break that down into … our goal in five years is to want to have 50 ewes. What do we do now, and every year until that year, to be able to get those 50 ewes? ”
But it also opened Anderson’s eyes to potential direct marketing options outside of simply bringing the lambs to the nearest cattle auction – in this case, the Greencastle cattle auction. .
“When I sat down and looked at this marketing strategy, I thought, you know, I think in the future, we could possibly aim to create our own market and eliminate this middleman,” says -she.
“There’s something to say, you know, write it down on paper. Because when you do that it’s almost like a solidified plan that now you feel like you have to hit that goal,” Anderson adds. “If we hadn’t written it down, I feel like it would be a lot easier to lose sight of what we really set out to do.”
Find a mentor
It’s only been a few months, but the pace of change has been faster than the couple had imagined.
“We bought the farm in August, we bought the sheep in September, the fence was made soon after,” says Anderson. “And it worked like that because that’s when this farmer was selling these sheep, and he wanted to get rid of them and I was getting a really good deal on them. So it’s kind of like that. that the cards have fallen, but it is definitely. It would have been nice to have a little more time to transition into the preparation of the farm.
The couple would like to expand their flock to 50 ewes and eventually lamb between 100 and 200 head per year.
Anderson says his dream is to market lambs directly and even start a lamb co-op in Fulton or Huntington counties.
Having a mentor to guide her and Price to start the business – in this case Sam Hayes, former Secretary of State for Agriculture – was crucial in giving them the confidence to not only raise sheep for commercial purposes, but also to become business owners, she says.
“Ask people who have done it before you,” Anderson says. “I think too many times we’ve tried to reinvent the wheel and do things that we end up failing or maybe not achieving exactly what we intended because we didn’t. let’s not take advantage of those people who have the knowledge and who have been through this process before us.
“I had a mentor throughout middle and high school who had raised sheep himself and knew a lot about the lamb and wool industry. And so I would be constantly searching his brain about, well, what if I did this or why are we doing it this way? Without him I would have had a lot of trial and error, a lot of farm failures with my parents and things like that. So when we started this business, I had this mentor as well as the man who helped me get in touch with the farmer who sold the sheep.
Raechel Sattazahn, Knowledge Center director for AgChoice Farm Credit and herself a dairy farmer, says any farmer, new or experienced, should include financial projections in a business plan.
“It’s an often overlooked piece, and financial data can help tell the story of your farm business and know where you want it to go,” she says. “I would also like to share that business plans should be updated frequently. It should be a living document that is reviewed and updated annually.
AgChoice has a business plan template that can be used to make initial projections for your business or as a guide for a larger business plan.
You want to know more ? Listen to this week’s Young Farmer podcast about Mikara Anderson and Riley Price’s journey as beginning young farmers.