Sheep industry leaders honored by WI Sheep Breeders Cooperative

Wisconsin State Farmer

ARLINGTON - Five awards were presented during the 2018 Wisconsin Sheep Breeder Co-op annual meeting and recognition dinner on May 10.

The presentations were made at the recent Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op annual meeting and recognition dinner on March 10 at the Arlington Research Station’s Public Events Facility.

Alf Hampshires of Edgerton received the 2018 Master Shepherd Award in the Purebred Division at the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op annual recognition dinner in Arlington on March 10. From left, John, Brittany, Jordan and Jill Alf . Not pictured, Jessica Alf.

Master Shepherd Award

No matter what show you go to, near or far, virtually everyone knows Alf Hampshires, the result of three generations devoted to the sheep industry.

Jill Alf’s passion for raising sheep dates back to happy times spent with her father in the barn and traveling to shows and sales. Unfortunately, at the age of 12 Jill lost her father, and her family’s Suffolk flock was dispersed about a year later. 

When her children, John, Jordan, and Jessica, were old enough to be in 4-H, Alf sought to develop her own flock. Despite her Suffolk background, she fell in love with the Hampshire breed. The Alfs purchased their first Hampshire ewes from Springdale Farms of Belvidere, IL.  Since then, the focus of the Alf breeding program has been on producing attractive profiling, complete sheep with the kind of breed character known to the Hampshire breed.

Alf serves as the Executive Secretary for the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Cooperative for over seventeen years and as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Livestock Breeders Association.

"As a family, the Alfs have volunteered many, many hours and have worked hard to promote the sheep industry," said presenter Wynn Wittkopf. "When I think of Alf Hamps, I think of the word “teamwork,” their show ring success is the result of their efforts as a family, one that understands hard work, dedication, and service."

Receiving the Friend of the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op Award were Bernie O’Rourke and her husband Ron Patterson, who are joined by their children.

Friend of Wisconsin Sheep Breeders

Bernie O’Rourke and Ron Patterson were recognized as recipients of the Friend of the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Cooperative Award. This honor recognizes persons, businesses or organizations that have provided outstanding support and service to the Cooperative or to its primary event, the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival.

O’Rourke is the Extension Youth Livestock Specialist at UW-Madison, and her husband, Ron Patterson,is the Agriculture Sales Manager for GLC Minerals.

“Bernie has impacted hundreds of youth through the organization of state 4-H and FFA livestock and meats judging contests, as well as the 4-H skillathon and quiz bowl programs,” said Todd Taylor, shepherd at the UW-Arlington Sheep Unit.

Patterson is credited for taking a lead role in developing the computerized clerking program for the festival fleece shows and sales.  He also redesigned the US Targhee Sheep Association registry database.

Wisconsin Sheep Industry Award

The winner of this year's Wisconsin Sheep Industry Award is Rusty Burgett, program director of the National Sheep Improvement Program.

This award honors people or businesses with a long history of support and service to Wisconsin’s sheep industry. Burgett came to Wisconsin for graduate school in the spring of 2010 and while his service to sheep producers in the state may not have a long history, but it has been extensive and incredibly valuable.

Rusty Burgett, Program Director for the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP), was the recipient of the 2018 Wisconsin Sheep Industry Award.

Burgett's graduate work at UW-Madison was under the beef extension specialist, but he managed to use sheep as a model for the project. During his graduate work he served as a teaching assistant to the sheep production courses.

After receiving his Masters from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in July 2012, Rusty spent a year as the Farm Operations Manager and Shepherd at Iowa State, where he brought a great commercially-oriented perspective to that program. After working as the Farm Operations Manager and Shepherd at Ohio State for 15 months, Burgett returned to Wisconsin to manage the Spooner Sheep Research Station from December 2013 to April 2015 where he brought many positive changes to its program.

"The sheep producers of Wisconsin have been fortunate to have had Rusty here as a student, an employee of the university, and his continued presence with his role in NSIP," said presenter Cody Hiemke. "He is one of the best minds within the United States sheep industry and more than deserving of this award."

Jeff Held, an Oakfield, WI native and now Professor and Extension Sheep Specialist at South Dakota State University, was presented with the Art Pope Award at the recent annual meeting of the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders held at Arlington.

Art Pope Award

Following completion of his PhD in ruminant nutrition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990, Oakfield native Jeff Held moved on to become Professor and South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Sheep Specialist where he has been integral to that state’s sheep industry for nearly three decades.

Held was presented with the Art Pope Award which recognizes active involvement and exceptional service to the industry over many years, both within Wisconsin and nationally.

Son of Elmer and Etta Held of Oakfield, WI, he learned the industry from the ground up, shearing sheep in high school and college to earn money which in turn nurtured his interest in connecting with producers.

“My experience growing up on a sheep operation and involvement in 4-H…led me to a career,” said Held, who serves as an Animal Science Professor at SDSU and continues to be active with wife Mary and sons Aaron and Austin in the family’s nationally recognized Hampshire and Southdown flocks.

Early in his tenure at SDSU he established a shearing clinic and later helped launch the annual Newell ram test. He is also credited with beginning the Lamb Bonanza, a scholarship program that showcases the support by SDSU of lamb and wool production in the state.

Kathryn Ashley-Wright, La Farge, WI, received the 2018 Master Shepherd - Wool Award at the annual Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op recognition dinner held in conjunction with the Arlington Sheep Day. In addition to her flock of sheep, Ashley-Wright owns a yarn business called Ewetopia and offers full service custom milling for fiber.

Master Shepherd Award/ Wool Division

Kathryn Ashley-Wright has grown her flock by leaps and bounds over the last twelve years.

"Her passion for fiber has not only produced great fleeces on her own farm, but has also created a thriving Wisconsin business utilizing not only her own produced fiber, but also that of many other state and local producers," said Jeff Nevens, director, Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op.

At the age of five, Ashley-Wright's family moved to Hillsboro, where her mother was a nannie on a dairy and crop farm. While attending UW Madison, she purchased her first sheep – three bred Merino ewes - and while she was taking finals that winter, those ewes were lambing back home under the care of her mother.

Following graduation, Ashley-Wright bought a farm in La Farge, and then purchased the local yarn shop in Viroqua, renaming it Ewetopia and focusing mainly on dyeing of product for resale. In 2016, she opened her own fiber mill and now focuses her product line on raw fiber from local producers.

Presentation of the annual Master Shepherd Awards were made in conjunction with the 2018 Arlington Sheep Day, held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arlington Agricultural Research Station, Arlington, WI.