Grazing Marginal Land
Eastern South Dakota has excellent soil for growing crops. Marginal land, not the best for farming but good for pasture, was used for grazing smaller flocks of sheep. Prior to the 1960s, it was common for a farm to have a small flock of sheep because you could raise more sheep per acre than cattle and make more money by selling the meat and the wool. In Turner County, where sugar beets were grown, farmers used sheep to eat the tops of the sugar beet plants prior to harvest and glean cornfields after harvest.
As farming equipment improved making it easier to farm marginal land, sheep fell out of favor. Crop prices were higher than lamb prices and crops required less maintenance.
Today, the number of farm flock and feedlot operations in South Dakota is on the rise. Sheep add diversity to an agricultural operation and more than one commodity to sell. Sheep make use of forage that may go to waste like weeds in shelterbelts and gleaning crop fields. Sheep are easier to handle and make good projects for youth compared to larger animals. Many families can trace their start in raising sheep with a 4-H or FFA project.
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Photo Courtesy: The Department of Agricultural Communications, SDSU (Sudlow Collection 90:106 04-0-1)