For Kelley O'Neill, everything starts with land stewardship. In his words, "we try to be intentional about our conversion of sun and water, milk and grass into food. We put lots of labor into animal welfare, including supplemental feeding when weather conditions require more energy. Most of what these lambs and ewes consume over the course of their lives is perennial forage from diverse, "permanent," no-tillage, swards or pastures, much of it grown on ground which could not (or at least should not) be cultivated to produce any crop other than grass, 'the seamstress of the earth.'"
We visited the ranch near Rushford, MN in early April, right at the beginning of an early lambing season. Most of the flock of about 1,000 ewes would lamb later in May.
We learned about sheep, grazing patterns, natural land turnover and soil building, as well as contouring and responsibly rotating pasture to maximize health benefits to the animals and to the environment.
Of course, being city kids, or "people of pavement," as Kelley put it, we had to stop by the barn to see the puppies. The family breeds working livestock guardian dogs, who will protect the sheep from predators once they've bonded to the flock.
Kelley and Cindy have been farming in Rushford since 1994. At our markets, they offer lamb and beef products and tanned sheep skins. You can read more about O'Neill Family Farm and order products at https://www.sheepimprovement.com/.