PALMYRA, NY — Raising sheep came naturally to David Pinckney, Jr. The Clyde, NY resident owns Pinckney Farms West and showed at the Wayne County fair recently. Helping his family show sheep and eventually showing his own has been a regular part of his summer since he owned his first sheep at age three.
Pinckney won Best Animal in Show for fall ewe lamb; Champion Ewe and Champion Ram in Hampshire breed class; and Champion Ewe and Champion Ram in the border Cheviot breed class.
These days, Pinckney owns a flock of 40. He also breeds Border Collie dogs and owns four breeding females and a male.
Most of his sheep are from his own ewes; a few were purchased.
“What we try to do is we’re trying to create animals more desirable for market,” he said. “We like to show.”
Lamb meat is the best point of sale. Wool is secondary, since wool prices have been on the decline for the past decade.
Sheep milk is somewhat of an exotic sheep product that’s growing in popularity; however, Pinckney doesn’t deal in sheep milk.
Pinckney also sells quite a bit of breeding stock, which he said helps provide a good revenue stream to the farm.
He said in the show ring, judges look for “a good, sound animal with a good set of feet and legs and a good mouth. They look at the way they carry themselves, just like a dog show.”
Of course, like many kinds of livestock, bigger is better. Sheep show judges look at the more expensive cuts of meat, such as leg of lamb and loin chops.
“You can see and feel them on a live animal,” Pinckney said.
He tries to minimize the cheaper cuts, like shoulder or anything else in the front end of the sheep because it tends to have a lot more fat.
In general, sheep judges also watch out for traits that have become deemed undesirable such as large shoulders. Pinckney explained that ewes struggle more when birthing if the shoulders are not small.
Sheep showing also experiences “fads” on what looks good.
“Right now, there’s a big emphasis of a square dock on the hind quarters of the animals,” Pinckney said. “That’s leading to easier lambing and more of a full leg also.”
After examining the animals for general traits, judges move on to breed-specific traits among the wool breeds, meat breeds and milking breeds.
Pinckney pastures his sheep on his four acres and supplements with a purchased corn and oat ration, especially when showing. He also uses hay for wintering.
Though proper care is essential for showing, grooming also helps.
As Pinckney works his way through county fairs, he gradually tweaks and adjusts the grooming until they’re spit and polished for the larger shows. He learned how to properly groom sheep from his father; however, not everyone is so lucky to have a mentor in the family.
“If you’re interested in showing, find someone who does show sheep and ask a lot of questions,” Pinckney advised. “There are a lot of different angles and people have different ways of showing. You’re not going to get the perfect package all at once. It takes time. Have a goal in mind. Take baby steps to reach your goal.”
Like many exhibitors, he views county fairs as stepping stones to larger shows. He usually competes at three or four county fairs, the New York State Fair in Syracuse, Big E in Springfield, MA, Keystone International Show in Harrisburg, PA, and the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY.
Pinckney works in the foundry for ITT Industries in Seneca Falls, NY. Camaraderie among the sheep show exhibitors helps working people like Pinckney manage showing.
“We work together, all those who have sheep, to check the water,” he said. “I usually do the night barn chores to feed and water.”
He tries to use his vacation time sparingly, taking off a half day for shows at county fairs so he and his wife Darlene and their four children can go to the larger shows.
He also likes mentoring young people interested in sheep showing. This year, he leased some animals to Danielle Rindeflisch, 16, and a 12th grader at Union Springs High School and Alexandria Tucker, 17, also a senior at the same school. The teens have helped with ear tagging, de-tailing, de-worming and feeding. He also shares with them his best pointers for sheep showing.
“They’re experiencing the whole sheep operation and get to show them at the end of the summer,” Pinckney said.