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Lamb hobby goes commercial

Natalie Fisher declares the family flock “cool” as she handles the daily feeding. “They’re woolly and they’re funny.”
Lee Juillerat Freelance Writer 1/13/06

FORT KLAMATH, Ore. – Brett Fisher never expected to spend nights counting sheep. But when he and his family hear coyotes yipping, it’s time to get outside and check on the flock.

“When you hear coyotes at night,” he said, “you wake up and worry about them.”

Worrying about sheep wasn’t the plan for Brett and Lori Fisher and their daughters, Ashley and Natalie. But, since starting with a single bummer (orphan) lamb in 1999, they’ve launched a business selling lambs and selected cuts.

“It’s a little family business,” said Brett, 41, plant manager at a door manufacturing facility. “We try to cover all the expenses.”

The Fisher family business – officially Wood River Woolies – happened after the family moved near Fort Klamath in Klamath County from the Hillsboro, Ore., area eight years ago.

 “Sheep sort of just happened to us. We were talking to friends and neighbors about what you can put on 12 acres. That’s not enough for cattle,” Fisher said.

Some friends had sheep and, when he arrived home from work, he said, “There was a bummer lamb. You can’t (have) just one.”

One died, so the Fishers bought two.

As they learned more, they decided to breed sheep for sale as lambs. Natalie and Ashley became involved in the Chiloquin 4-H Sheep Club. Lori, a Chiloquin Elementary School first-grade teacher, uses wool for weaving. Brett, following the advice of an Oregon State University Extension agent, studied the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine for advice on pasture-raised meat products.

During the peak season, the family has about 20 adults and 30 lambs, including Targhee and Corriedale breeds, both known for their meat and wool. They pasture on the Fisher’s property and, some years, on neighboring lease land. Pastures are rotated with portable electric fences.

“I think it tastes better because you don’t get the grain flavor in the lambs,” Fisher said of pasture-raised meat. “It’s better for the lambs, it’s better for the pasture.”

The Fishers sell custom-cut-and-wrapped locker lambs and individual cuts directly, and from May to October they retail at the Saturday Klamath Falls Farmers’ Market. He said direct sales help them to “capture the retail price for the lamb.” The cost for a locker lamb, which produces 50 to 60 pounds of meat, is $225, including custom processing and delivery.

Unlike commercial lamb operations, which Fisher said breed for lambing in January or February, he controls breeding so that lambs are born in the more weather-friendly months of mid-March to late April. “We wait until the grass is growing in the pasture.”

The family chores are mostly divided between Brett and Natalie, a Chiloquin High School junior.

“Most of the time it’s a half-hour to an hour a day,” Brett said. “They’re not a lot of work.”

“They’re cool,” Natalie said of sheep. “They’re woolly, and they’re funny. All of them have different characteristics.”

“A lot of people say sheep are dumb, but they’re not,” Brett said. “People think they’re dumb because sheep don’t do what the people want them to do, but that’s because they’re stubborn.”

Although they raise sheep, lamb isn’t a regular part of the Fisher family diet.

“Since it’s kind of like eating our money. We don’t have that much,” said Brett, who favors ground lamb meatballs, lamb burgers, chops and a seven-hour leg of lamb. The Fishers provide lamb recipes at the farmers’ market booth.

The Fishers name their ewes and ram, but not the lambs. Their oldest, including Gertie, are named for Lori’s cousins. The more recent additions, including Abraham and Isaac, were names plucked from the Bible.

“One thing about raising sheep is you understand the Bible stories better,” he says. “People and sheep have been together a long time.”

For information on Wood River Woolies, call Brett and Lori Fisher at (541) 783-3992.
Fort Klamath ewes

Brett Fisher looks over the ewes in a pasture near Fort Klamath, Ore., where his family raises lambs for sale at a summer farmers’ market in Klamath Falls.





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