Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Persons receives Silver Bell Award

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 12/27/2012 8:39 AM

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KENSINGTON, Minn. — Dan Persons and his wife, Kay, are big supporters of the sheep industry.

The Kensington producers have given several tours of their Rafter P Ranch to Minnesota Lamb and Wool Producer members and to production management groups. Dan often mentors new producers and discusses sheep production methods.

He's supported and promoted the industry by serving two terms as MLWP president and represented the American Sheep Industry several times in Washington, D.C.

The Persons were recently awarded MLWP's Silver Bell Award. The award is given to shepherds who excel in sheep, lamb or wool production.

The Persons started raising beef after they moved to the ranch. As they added sheep, they quit beef and continued to increase their Polypay flock.

They had 50 ewes for their first lambing in 2002 and increased it to 250 the next year and 450 ewes by the third lambing.

"I knew I would be building the flock, but I didn't know I would be building it this much," he said. "When I got to half this size, I knew it would be do-able."

The Persons have 1,000 ewes and keep replacement lambs.

Their farm site is home to most of the flock except for the finishing lambs, which are kept on another farm.

To control costs, Persons contracts both on the feed end and on the market lamb end. The ranch markets 1,500 to 1,600 head for the terminal market and sells wool.

Almost all the animals graze except for replacement ewes, which are kept on dry lot. There are 220 acres in the rotational grazing system. Alfalfa is interseeded into the grass on 10 to 20 acres each year.

The Persons are thankful their banker has been willing to work with him through the tough times, he said. Dakota Lamb Growers has been a sound market, offering fairly good contracts above the cash market over the last two years, Dan said.

Flock management is also key to making the operation profitable. This year he has added Radio Frequency Identification ear tags. The total electronic monitoring system gives him important information about each animal. He can monitor all the production data from birth to death, rates of gains and genetics.

The hand-held device comes in handy when sorting animals, he said. He can tell if an animal has been tagged for culling and can then move the animal to the correct pen.

"It has really simplified the data collection where it is really seamless now," he said. "...I think it will take us to where we will have a much better handle on our top producing ewes and will help us to produce even better females."

The Persons have focused on production performance genetics with a goal of selling lambs almost year-round. They lamb multiple times annually and strive to increase lambing percentages and breeding aids.

Persons tells the family's story on the farm's website and his Facebook page. Several weeks ago he posted a picture of sheep grazing in the farmyard titling it "Weed and Feed."

"About 80 percent of my Facebook friends are people who aren't on the farm," he said. "I don't know how much they are reading about the farm and they may not comment every time, but I think it's a good way for people to contact others and to inform them about what we do. It at least gives them a snippet of information."

Days after the couple received the award, they were back to work at the ranch and in their community. Kay and the couple's daughter, Rachel, work at a local bank while Rachel's husband, Brent Volker, runs the grocery store in Hoffman. Their daughter, Laura, works out of state and hopes that one day she might return to the farm.

The Persons were nominated for the award by several producers. The group noted the couple's work to promote the industry and to help others.

"They are the ultimate example of what the sheep industry needs," they wrote. "They have excelled in both production and promotion for the industry. Their leadership, commitment and dedication has been astounding...with all these activities, he is just about always willing to have a sheep or lamb discussion or to mentor a new producer unselfishly."