There are two things that are undeniable as you take a tour of the farm of Sam and Pat Wiford near Wapakoneta — the gray house with the scarlet roof and block Os everywhere make it no secret that they love The Ohio State Buckeyes and nicely kept barns full of beautiful sheep showcase their pride to be a part of Ohio’s sheep industry. As many would tell you, the Wifords have the same passion, drive, and top-notch performance as their beloved football team, and the winning record to prove it.
Last weekend, the Wifords were recognized for their career achievements by their industry peers when they received the Charles Boyles Master Shepherd of The Year Award at the 2013 Buckeye Shepherd Symposium.
Sam served as president of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA) and also as chairperson of the Lamb and Wool Board. Pat has been an instrumental part of the industry as a whole, especially when it comes to the youth. The two have worked in tandem on many different levels and when you see one Wiford, the other is not far away.
One example of Sam and Pat’s leadership was the push for the return of Ohio Sheep Day. While Sam was in leadership at OSIA, he and Pat lobbied to bring back the sheep industry’s premier education event. Ohio Sheep Day was revived in 1994 and has been a huge success every year since.
“I think we look at Sam and Pat as true mentors for many young people in our industry,” said Roger A. High, Executive Director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association. “They travel the country working with skill-a-thons and other programs and Sam does a good bit of judging with Pat right by his side.”
Over the years, the Wifords’ Suffolk flock grew along with their influence in the industry. Admiration for the Wifords in the sheep business is not only a result of the high quality sheep raised on their 2-acre farm, but also for what they have done to help others.
“They are always willing to help people in and out of the show ring and even traveling to other farms to give a helping hand,” High said. “That is what Sam and Pat are all about is helping people, moving the industry forward and most importantly getting new people involved.”
When Sam and Pat married over 45 years ago, Sam was milking cows with his dad and Pat was into horses. As they started their lives together they bought a piece of ground, built their house and then the barns and filled them with feeder lambs. It wasn’t until their son bought his first ewe with a ewe lamb at her side for a 4-H project that the Wifords started a partnership that goes far beyond what they ever imagined.
“We’ve only purchased females from three breeders over the years and built our flock from that,” Sam said. “Eighteen years ago we closed our flock and have been able to line breed. Now we have uniformity and predictability which has made our flock very easy to handle.”
Through the years the couple has developed their own brand of teamwork.
“We do a lot together from shearing ewes to lambing ewes out, we get feed together, clean the barn together and paint fences together,” Pat said. “It’s been a partnership that we truly love and I think that is what kept our marriage so intact and loving.”
Arguments between the two are few and far between. Some that the Wifords can recall happened on the way home from a county fair after Sam spent a day judging and Pat saw things in the ring a little bit differently.
“Of course I critique on the way home,” Pat said. “We see sheep the same but every once in awhile I disagree with where he may have placed them.”
Judging is a big part of the summer for the Wifords and Sam takes pride in his eye for a good lamb, but that pride doesn’t rival the feeling he gets when he works with the next generation of sheep producers.
“One of the parts of judging that I truly enjoy is in a 4-H show and showmanship when you really work with those youth and find out about them and their families,” Sam said.
Working with the youth was taken to a whole new level after a visit to Franklin, Indiana for the All American over 20 years ago.
“Pat and I were asked to facilitate one of the stations at the skill-a-thon and of course we said yes,” Sam said. “Then the next year we got involved in doing the entire skill-a-thon and have done it ever since.”
That willingness to help has landed Sam and Pat in a number of unique situations, including an important spot for Sam on the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board — a job he took very seriously.
“It was a real honor to be a part of setting the rules that we now have in place to protect our industry against HSUS, PETA and ASPCA,” Sam said. “I can’t say that those folks have bad ideas. We simply need to work with them to promote our good ideas and research. If we continue to have those conversations, they will see that we are on the up and up and that we take very good care of our animals.”
Through their years of service, the Wifords have consistently demonstrated on the farm and throughout the industry their love for sheep and the people who raise them.
“We love the sheep industry, we love the people and we find that wherever we travel we always meet new friends,” Pat said. “The best part is watching these young kids grow up and start families of their own.”
“And we’ve always believed that if we can work with the youth and keep them interested in agriculture that’s how we grow,” Sam said. “There will be that day where we do decide to slow down a bit and you want someone to take over that loves the industry as much as you do.”
It doesn’t take long into a conversation with the Wifords to realize that they know and enjoy every aspect of the sheep industry. The only thing they don’t realize is the mark they have made on the industry through their hard work and dedication.
“When you think of Master Shepherds you always think of people who have provided leadership to our state organizations,” said Susan Shultz, a Logan County sheep producer. “Sam and Pat Wiford fit that description perfectly. When you even mention the word sheep in Ohio, lots of people just say ‘Sam and Pat.’ They’re a team and what they do together for our industry is so special.”