Armadillo Acres in South Dakota grows into lamb business
January 2015 was a good year for Kim Allen, originally from Mississippi, and John Green who worked in the gas and oil industry in Colorado.
That was the year they purchased a quarter section of land, complete with a house, a good, old barn and small sheds near Oral, S.D. For fun they named their place Armadillo Acres. After contemplating and urging by a friend, they decided to try raising sheep. Allen had worked with cattle and horses but knew nothing about the woolly critters. She soon found out when Joe Allen (no relation) sold Columbia ewes to them and they were in business.
Successful entrepreneurs often develop niche markets by creating a product that is not offered by mainstream stores. Allen decided to sell lamb and, knowing consumers appreciate local products, she enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity. At first she offered lamb by a half or a whole, then realized many people do not have enough freezer space. She bought an additional freezer and stocked it with grass-fed processed lamb that she sells by the cut. As an added service Allen will deliver locally. Under their private label, Armadillo Acres, they also ship nationwide.
As with any new endeavor there was a steep learning curve. When they took the first lamb crop to the Newell, S.D., sale barn, they discovered they had let the feeder lambs grow bigger than the buyers preferred. The second lambing season was spread out due to a ram crawling a fence and getting in with the ewes before Allen had scheduled. As they look forward to their third lambing season starting in mid-April, they will undoubtedly learn more lessons. The Columbia breed is more leggy than Allen prefers and she will be looking for a different breed with shorter legs for her next ram.
Cooperation and education are two things that Allen values. She particularly credits mentors Kim March, rural Hot Springs, S.D., and Doug Hausman of Buffalo, S.D., with helping her. Allen also has been an active participant in Annie’s Project, a national nonprofit that held meetings in Fall River County. Its mission is to assist farm and ranch women to become better owners and partners in their businesses. Allen and Green attended the wool class at the Hettinger (N.D.) Research Extension Center, where they learned about grading wool qualities and shearing. One of Allen’s goals is to educate others about how easy lamb is to cook and that it is delicious. She got in touch with the American Lamb Board and received recipe booklets and instructional materials on which she relies.
“A feeder lamb weighs 90 pounds and a fat lamb is 120 to 130 pounds. Further, the general rule is the meat from sheep that are less than 1 year old is lamb and over that age is mutton,” Allen said. “Lamb has a mild taste. I take our lambs to Sturgis Meats for processing because they are USDA inspected which is required for commercial sales.”
It is vital that buyers know the difference in live weight (what an animal weighs before it is killed) and hanging or carcass weight (after removing the inedible parts) and the finished (cut and packaged) weight. In lambs there is about a 55 percent difference in live and packaged weight.”
Cattle dogs also intrigue Allen. She has one that recently returned from several weeks training with a handler. The dogs are a perfect fit for sheep growers as one well-trained dog can do the work of at least two other workers. Allen started announcing dog trials then moved into judging. She was honored to be selected as a judge for the Denver Stock Show this year.
Allen started riding colts in college while she earned a degree in forestry, but has been living here on the plains since 2008. The life suits Allen and Green well. With their sheep and dogs they are thriving on their little piece of heaven. ❖
— Sanders is The Fence Post columnist.