“The boys were in town and now we have sheep on the ground.”
That’s how Sherry Nelson of rural Lincolnville puts it on the Stardust Sheep Farm website.
Sherry and her husband, Terry, live at 2444 250th St., where they raise Dorset, blackface, and speckle-face lambs to sell for show.
Sherry’s mother, Helen Selsor, is a partner in the business. The Nelsons call her the babysitter because she takes care of the baby lambs that need bottle-feeding. She also has a flock of goats that keep the sheep farm supplied with extra milk. Selsor owns the former Robert Spachek farm south of Lincolnville on U.S. 56/77.
The 79-year-old Selsor has been involved in the sheep business all of her life. She grew up with sheep, she and her husband had sheep, and her daughter, Sherry, has continued in the business.
The Nelsons met at a lamb show in El Dorado, where Terry’s son, Cody, was showing sheep. Sherry was living near Rose Hill at the time.
They have been married for 10 years. When they moved to Terry’s place southeast of Lincolnville four years ago, they brought along 250 to 300 ewes and built a big lambing and breeding barn.
After one winter of lambing, an 80-mile-per-hour spring windstorm blew out the north wall and destroyed several smaller open-face sheds. Fortunately, only one lamb was killed by the storm.
The Nelsons spent the next summer rebuilding the barn and constructing two new open-face sheds.
Since then, the flock has decreased to about 100 ewes through culling and selective retention. The offspring are top-notch show lambs that are marketed throughout the U.S. Sherry Nelson said the lambs currently bring $200 to $1,000 each and are delivered or picked up after weaning at 8 weeks. Young rams and herd sires also are marketed, as well as semen.
The farm website has photos of many lambs raised by the Nelsons that went on to become champions and reserve champions in high-level shows throughout the country. One of their rams, named Grand Duke, has sired more champion lambs than any other ram in the country, Sherry Nelson said.
Lambing primarily occurs from January through March and is finished by the end of April.
Most of the ewes are Dorsets. The Nelsons have 11 rams at present. Sherry Nelson said the rams are matched one-on-one with the ewes to produce the desired characteristics.
During breeding season, a couple of “teaser” rams fitted with harnesses that hold crayons on their chest are released into a flock of ewes to determine when ewes are “in heat” or ready to be bred. They mark the “in heat” ewes when they mount them. Each marked ewe is then taken into the barn to be penned with the desired sire.
The Nelsons also use artificial insemination and embryo transfer.
As soon as lambs are on the ground, the Nelsons begin marketing them through their Internet site and to former customers. People come from all over the U.S. to check out the lambs and their pedigrees.
The lambs usually are picked up or delivered after they are weaned at 8 weeks old. Some lambs are retained as replacement ewes.
In summer, the ewes run on brome grass on part of the 160-acre home place and on about 50 acres of native grass on Selsor’s farm.
The Nelsons sow triticale, a grain crop similar to wheat, in early fall for winter grazing. When grass is dormant, the sheep are fed corn, hay, and supplements.
A nutritionist helps the Nelsons provide the right nutrients for their animals. They rely on the veterinarians at Animal Health Center of Marion County to help them with health problems. Parasites are an ongoing problem when sheep are confined in a small area, Sherry Nelson said. Blood tests are taken regularly on the ewes to screen for scrapies, a deadly disease that is highly contagious. Nelson said their lambs are bred for scrapies resistance.
The first week in June every year, Stardust Sheep Farm conducts a two-day lamb camp at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro, in which youngsters learn how to take care of their show lambs. Between 15 to 25 youths participate each year, coming from neighboring states as well as Kansas.
“People have paid a lot for the lambs, and they want their children to know how to take care of them,” Sherry Nelson said.
The Nelsons usually shear their sheep in spring but are switching to fall shearing, as the shorter wool coats retain moisture less easily while in a confined winter environment.
Sherry Nelson has a full-time job at Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita. She credits her mother and husband for doing a good job of taking care of the flock, especially during lambing season.
“Because of Terry and Mom, our ewe and lamb losses are minimal,” she said.
Terry Nelson is the third generation to live on this farm. His mother, Tody Holmes, was raised there, and his parents, Keith and Tody, built a new house and lived there for many years before Terry bought it.
Terry has been a cattleman all of his life, but he is proud of his wife-led sheep enterprise.
“I wish my Dad would have been alive to see this,” Terry said, looking over the facilities and the livestock. “He had sheep when I was a little boy.”