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By Emily Bontrager
Brandon and LeAnn Winters have raised sheep for many years and have made it a priority to operate a business that focuses heavily on the right genetics. Their farm is called Twin Ridges and they strive to raise quality Dorper sheep.
The Dorpers originate from South Africa and one characteristic that makes them stand out is their black heads, but there are also White Dorpers, which have white heads.
Brandon, 38, and LeAnn, 41, both grew up in Clark County. The couple have two kids, Ally, 12, and Wyle, 13. Ally and Wyle help on the farm and also show the sheep.
The Winters family lives on 13 acres where they raise Dorper sheep. Twin Ridges also has a 120 acre farm outside of Kahoka, Missouri. This is where the family uses rotational grazing during the year to feed their sheep. The farm has 27 different paddocks, which help give the pastures the opportunity to grow while the Winters rotate the sheep.
The family also own cattle, which Brandon grew up around. Brandon worked for John Deere for 13 years until he started taking care of the animals. He now takes care of everything on the farm full time.
LeAnn is a District Conservationist in Lee County and she grew up around sheep.
“In 1989, my parents bought me three Suffolk ewes. I absolutely fell in love with sheep. Sheep have been my passion and I follow pedigrees like a nerd and absolutely love the genetic portion of it,” LeAnn said.
When LeAnn went off to college, her parents sold all of the sheep, but she knew she wanted to have the animals back in her life again.
“I knew as soon as I got home from college, I was going to start a registered operation. In 2006, I bought my first Dorper ewe,” LeAnn recalled.
“I wanted something low maintenance and the Dorpers are really good at feed conversion and they don’t refuse feed.”
Over the years LeAnn and Brandon have expanded their own herd. The family now owns around 400 head of Dorper ewes. The Dorpers are mostly registered as fullblood or pureblood, but the family also sells commercial animals.
The registered sheep are registered under American Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Society (ADSBS). Currently, LeAnn is a board member for the ADSBS.
Ally and Wyle also play a big part in raising sheep at Twin Ridges. The kids raise around 60 head of White Dorper ewes and they both show the Dorpers at local, state, and open shows.
Ally and Wyle travel to the All-American show each year. At the All-American show, youth exhibitors travel from all over to showcase different sheep breeds. The kids also show at the Southern States Show & Sale, which was held in Cookeville, Tennessee this year.
The Dorpers are supposed to be a hair and wool mixed sheep breed, which makes them easier to maintain.
“Our goal is to have a full shedding animal to where you are not having to shear it,” Brandon said.
The Winters are careful to select the best sheep for their herd, because they want the sheep to maintain better milk production, do well on pasture, and to produce the best quality stock that they can.
“There are different levels in quality in every breed, so we try to deal with the top end,” LeAnn said.
“To get genetics that are different from what is here, a lot of the time we try to import. We do embryo transfers with foreign genetics to improve our genetics and our herd.”
Every two years, the Winters have an inspector come from South Africa to help choose which Dorpers they should pair together to get the best genetics.
On each of the Winters’ property, hoop barns are used for a variety of purposes including lambing and weaning seasons. The hoop barns are also used to separate market and breeding stock.
These barns are beneficial and help keep the sheep out of the bad weather in the winter. Twin Ridges has four hoop barns on the 120 acre farm and a shed that they utilize as well.
There is also one hoop barn on the 13 acres where the family resides, and it was built to help during the lambing season.
“We were doing it out in lots and January here was a little tough, so we built the hoop building, and we try to lamb in this building and some of our other hoop buildings,” Brandon said.
Right now, with lambs on the ground, the Winters have around 700 head of sheep.
“We can have around 600 to 1,000 a year. We lamb in January, April, and October,” Brandon explained.
“Two weeks pre-lambing we go out to the pasture, we bring all the ewes up and we udder check if we haven’t already preg checked,” LeAnn explained.
Each ewe either gets a blood test or an ultrasound to check for a pregnancy. The ewes are brought to the hoop barns so they can lamb.
Each year, the Winters sell their sheep in two online auctions and they also have people visit their farm to purchase breeding stock. They also take some of their sheep to the sale barn for market.
“We take about 60% of our ram lambs every year to market,” LeAnn said.
“40% we sell off the farm as breeding stock,” Brandon added.
The family has sold sheep to New York, California, the Caribbean Islands, Puerto Rico, Canada, and many other places.
Brandon and LeAnn both agree that connecting with other people is one of their favorite things about raising sheep.
“I like the fact that the kids get to experience different things with different people, and I like the same experience for myself,” Brandon said.
“You build some good relationships through not just the showing, but through the selling of the breeding stock,” LeAnn added.
You can reach out to LeAnn and Brandon about their Dorper sheep on Facebook. Their page is Twin Ridges – Registered Dorper Sheep or you can also leave a message with LeAnn at (573) 881-2073. Twin Ridges strive to raise quality livestock in the area and they are happy to help anyone who has any questions about raising sheep.