By Matt Reese
Whether through on-farm production, the show ring or industry service and leadership, the Shultz family and Ohio’s sheep industry have been intertwined for generations on Bunker Hill Farm in Logan County. The current generation on the farm — Bill and Susan Shultz — were recognized with the 2019 Charles Boyles Master Shepherd Award Dec. 14.
“The award is about being good shepherds and good sheep people, but also leadership and involvement in the industry,” said Roger High, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, Ohio Sheep and Wool Program and director of livestock policy for Ohio Farm Bureau. “Both Bill and Susan as well as Bill’s dad have been very involved in the leadership of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association for what is now 70 years.”
Farrell Shultz served as the first president of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association in 1949. His son, Bill, served as OSIA president in 1979 and Bill’s wife, Susan, served as president in 2009.
“Getting involved in the sheep industry is a heritage thing. My father came back from Ohio State University in the mid-30s and started a Shropshire flock. That was the big time breed back in that era,” Bill Shultz said. “We have continued on with several breeds, but our main breed when Susan and I got married was the Rambouillets. We did a lot of work with them and travelled to shows and sales. I worked part time for the Sheep Breeder Magazine out of Columbia, Mo. too. That is kind of how we survived the tough years of the 1980s.”
The farm has since transitioned to more production-oriented sheep.
“About 20 years ago we got rid of the Rambouillets and got into Suffolks. We decided we could no longer do the show ring thing because it didn’t have a future for the direction we were going. We got into production-oriented Suffolks and started keeping a tremendous amount of data. Now we are down to about 75 breeding ewes and the data collection has become more important,” Bill said. “We have not maybe gone intentionally towards a smaller sheep, but as we look at production, performance and function, the general trend will be toward more feed efficient sheep and that will be a different frame size than what we thought 20 years ago.
“Our focus has always been genetics. How that has changed in the last 50 years is
probably the most exciting and now we’re into genomics. That is a far cry from the 50s and 60s when everything was done on visual appraisal. It is a complete change of focus. It probably doesn’t pay off really well, but if you want to have a future in this you have to collect data.”
Bill has been a national leader with genetics through his involvement with the Genetic Stakeholders Committee and a strong advocate for genetic data collection in an industry that has often been reluctant and unable to move in the direction of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for sheep.
“The sheep industry is the one industry that hasn’t used EBVs a whole lot. Some of that is due to the fact that it is hard to artificially inseminate ewes because of physiological restrictions,” said Tim Barnes, an Ohio sheep producer. “We are aware of how the beef, swine, dairy and poultry industries how AI has influenced that greatly. Bill has made a real concerted effort with their flock to promote that here in mid-America and out in the range country.”
With a dedicated production-oriented focus to the breeding program, Bunker Hill Farm sheep have found a niche in Western range genetics for large commercial sheep operations.
“Almost all of our sheep now go into the Western range operations. They can deal with large quantities of our rams. We normally only make one or two shipments a year and all of our bucks are gone. Utah has ended up being a very good market for us and the last few years that has been our focus,” Bill said. “One of our big sales is the Utah Ram Sale and there has never been anybody from East of the Mississippi selling there. We have been in it now for about 15 years and they have grown used to having us around.”
“We’ll probably collect tissue on two-thirds of our lamb crop next year and have DNA analysis done. One of the more exciting things we are doing is with the myostatin gene. They see it in the Texel sheep, which is a small, meaty kind of animal,” Bill said. “We are trying to transfer just that gene into the Suffolk breed, which would be a large-framed terminal sire. We are just a generation away now of having a purebred Suffolk that will carry the myostatin gene. Even though it is only a single gene trait, it stretches where we are within the industry.”
That single genetic improvement could have dramatic implications for per animal meat production efficiency to help meet the rising demand for domestic lamb.
“We need to produce more. Consumption is up. We are not producing enough lamb to fill the void and then imports come in to take our place,” said Susan Shultz, who is currently serving on the American Sheep Industry executive board. “I got very involved in Production Education Research Council, which was kind of a natural since I was a retired teacher. I am very interested in research and education outreach at the national level. Then there was an opportunity to become a regional director and I represented six states. The opportunity arose for me to move up in the ranks and I now serve as vice president of the organization and a year from now I’ll run for president. Because Bill’s father believed in giving back, we have tried to carry on that tradition. Both Bill and I are a team. We both believe in giving back to the industry and we both found time to get involved.”
In her role at the national level, Susan is an advocate for the wide array of issues facing the U.S sheep industry.
“There are many challenges. We are a minor species, so even access to pharmaceuticals is a challenge. We have problems with parasite resistance and to get new products available takes a lot of lobbying and work at the federal level,” she said. “Another challenge we have is that it is hard for people to change. Bill has been a change agent. He loves change and he is not afraid of change.”
The influence of Bill and Susan fits in well with their family heritage but also the reputation of Ohio as a hotbed of gifted national leaders in the sheep industry.
“Ohio is unbelievably well respected on the national level and I attribute a lot of that to Roger High. For over 70 years Ohio has had tremendous leaders who have gotten involved at the national level and made a difference,” Susan said. “Ohio now is third in membership of all of the state organizations behind Texas and Montana. Ohio has a real presence at the national level. We have tremendous diversity here with club lambs, show sheep, commercial sheep and they all work together and we have a wonderful organization here in our state.”
Bill and Susan’s son Joe grew up travelling the country to sheep shows and related events and now has a successful career in Washington, D.C., but still comes home to help on the farm of his forefathers.
“We took our little boy Joe on trips around the United States. Every vacation we took was showing and selling sheep,” Susan said. “He comes home during lambing season to help us out every single year. Those are my best days.”
Looking back, the couple has put together many great days due to their steadfast dedication the animals in their care, the industry they happily serve and the many people they call friends who share the common interest of sheep production around the country.
“It really is about the people,” Bill said. “I get caught up in the numbers a good bit and I could spend more time with the numbers and less time with people most days, but in general the people have made the sheep industry great for us.”