Helping youth is main objective of club lamb producer
By Frank J. Buchman
“We do a lot to help the kids learn more about the care and showing of their lambs.”
Kevin Harris of Harris Show Lambs at Abilene, Kan., explained the importance of not only producing quality lambs and selling them as 4-H projects, but to him it is most essential to follow through with assistance to the new owners.
“Young people are anxious to learn, and most always welcome your help. That’s our major objective after they buy a lamb from us,” Harris said.
Since raising and showing lambs as a youth in 4-H and FFA, Harris has understood the necessity of knowing more in order to reach levels that individuals and their projects are capable of achieving.
“After a lamb leaves our sale, or we sell one privately, we contact the youth to offer advice for feeding, fitting and showing,” Harris said. “I try to go to their place and work with the owner and their lamb. I often help train the youth and their lamb about the points of showing and will shear and help clip their lamb ahead of the show.”
On show day, Harris is often there before show time offering assistance and watching closely at ringside.
“I don’t make it to all of the shows. That sometimes becomes an impossibility, but I go to many of them,” Harris said. “The youth appreciate it, and I can better understand judging, and do a better job helping others.”
“Fortunately, our family crop insurance business, that we’ve continued since it was started by my parents in 1981, allows me time away to help these young people,” he said.
Harris and his wife, Rosemary, have four children, Sam, Greg, Emily and Natalie, who have all been involved in raising and showing sheep.
“Actually, Emily owns majority of the flock right now. She was instrumental in organizing a Lamb Camp at the fairgrounds last year, and we’ll have another one this year,” Harris said. “Buyers of our lambs receive special invitations, but the camp is open to anybody who wants to come.
“We spend the day discussing all of the details of the lamb industry. The kids sure seem to have a good time, and I think they all learn a lot, too.”
Raised on the farm where his family lives now, Harris is a son of Bill and Lorene Harris, who were sheep producers.
“We had about 250 commercial ewes, so I was always involved with sheep while I was growing up,” Harris said. “When I got to high school age, my brother Brian and I started raising and selling a few club lambs from some purebred Suffolk ewes we bought as Dad was reducing his flock.
Harris sold his sheep in 1984 after graduating from Kansas State University. He was the vocational agriculture instructor at Mankato five years and Chapman for nine years.
“In 1998, we took over the home farm and moved back here,” Harris reflected. “Sam was entering high school and needed an FFA project. The farm was set up for sheep production, so he decided to get some ewes.
“He bought 10 ewes from Lon James. It was Sam’s deal in the beginning, and then his brother, Greg, became a part of the operation, too,” Harris remembered. “When Sam went to college in 2002, I bought some of his ewes, so I’d been out of sheep for 18 years.”
The flock continued to grow and is now at 100 Suffolk and Hampshire cross ewes, raising Suffolk, Hampshire, Natural, Speckle, and Crossbred lambs for the show ring.
“Our oldest daughter, Emily, a K-State freshman, has become involved and actually owns about 60 percent of them, now. Our youngest daughter, Natalie, an eighth-grader, has her own flock, too,” Harris said.
After graduating from Cloud County Community College, Sam (Schrack) is in charge of the farming operations and assists with the sheep. Greg is a K-State junior and looks to an agriculture profession away from the farm, and then return to the farm in a few years.
All four children have exhibited numerous home-raised lamb champions and collected many agriculture achievement awards in both 4-H and FFA on the local, state and national levels.
“It’s a grueling long term process working on the genetics in a sheep operation, and we’ve come a long ways,” Harris said. “There have been some changes in type, but our lambs have the correctness, hip structure and muscling as good as we could hope for.”
In the past two years, 12 lambs collected championships or reserve titles at county fairs.
“We also produced the lamb that was the 2012 champion commercial ewe at the Kansas State Fair last fall,” said Harris, who typically will also buy lambs he’s sold when youth sell them at their county fairs.
“I know how important it is help in every way. We must have a 100 buyers’ ribbons here in the office,” he added.
Although, lambs are a project youth with limited resources and facilities can have, Harris said. “There is a lot to growing them, and it’s more difficult to show a lamb than some other species. It takes hard work to get a lamb to brace and show at its best.
“Lamb is a delicious, healthy meat, but consumers often don’t know that. We serve lamb at family and public functions, and people love it. Although, we have lamb meat for sale personally, it is often hard to find at stores, and seems to sometimes be overpriced there.
“There needs to be more promotion on the value of lamb meat in our diets,” Harris said.
Future of the show lamb industry is positive. “There’s nothing better than seeing a youngster buy a lamb, learn how to care for it, then show it. They become very attached to the lambs and are learning all of the time. I want to help in every way I can,” Harris said.