Breeds that work
As a teen, Mike Maloy raised sheep, growing his flock to 250 commercial ewes and 50 purebred Suffolks. Mike was especially successful selling Suffolk rams and continued raising sheep into his early 20s. He stopped when coyotes arrived in the area. When Mike went to college, the family dissolved the livestock operation and discontinued farming.
But Mike found that farming, and in his case raising sheep, never left his mind. “We wanted to do something different,” he said, describing the return to farming with his wife Priscilla. “We always wanted to come back to the farm. We were in a position to make it happen and wanted to start with sheep.”
When Mike was raising commercial sheep, he bred ewe lambs at about seven months of age. “I used a North Country Cheviot ram because they’re great for lambing ease,” he said. “The lambs are so hardy – they just get up and go. It was the perfect match for yearling ewes, and that’s how I became familiar with the breed.”
Today, Maloy Valley Farm in McDowell, VA, is home to 40 North Country Cheviot ewes. The Maloys’ main market for the Cheviots is to other farmers who appreciate the breed’s traits. “All ewe lambs and the best of the ram lambs are sold for breeding stock,” said Mike. “Ram lambs that aren’t good enough for breeding go for meat.” Mike said the flock size works well for now and allows sheep to graze for as long as possible through the year. Most purchased feed is for lambing, and as soon as the grass is ready in spring, the flock is out on pasture.
With coyotes in the area, Mike has taken steps to avoid losses. Sheep graze about 25 acres of pasture, guarded by several jenny donkeys. He’s considering adding livestock guardian dogs if predator issues worsen.
It’s difficult to find high quality North Country Cheviots, but the Maloys located a good North Country Cheviot ram with different bloodlines. “We use three rams,” Mike explained. “That way I can sell ewe lambs to people along with a ram that can be used with those ewes.”
The Maloys learned of an opportunity to import North Country Cheviot semen from Scotland, and they’re interested in pursuing that option to diversify and improve flock genetics. “There haven’t been any new North Country bloodlines from the UK for years, especially the Park type, which are the larger animals,” said Mike. “So far, the rams have undergone quarantines, lots of blood testing and collection has just started.”
Mike hopes new genetics will help maintain the old, heritage-style thickness and milking quality the breed is known for. “It’s what we’ve tried to sustain in our sheep,” he said. “Getting new bloodlines in will help the breed into the future.”
There’s a chance semen will be available this year, perhaps by the end of October, but that’s too late for Maloy Farms’ upcoming breeding season. “I need lambs born in February and March,” said Mike. “The semen might be too late for this year – I don’t want to start with April lambs that won’t be big enough for breeding.”
At weaning, lambs go out on pasture with ewes and remain with ewes until late June or early July. Mike said most lambs leave the farm within several weeks of weaning. “They weigh 80 to 100 pounds and they’re ready to go,” he said. “Once we wean lambs, it gets hot here and there’s more susceptibility to worms.” Mike uses FAMACHA to track eyelid color and determine which animals require treatment.
With their sheep flock well-established, the Maloys decided to add Dexter cattle. “We have plenty of grass, and needed cattle to help eat the grass down,” said Mike. “I was still away from home at times, Priscilla was doing much of the farm work and we wanted something manageable. She researched and fell in love with the Dexters.”
The Maloy Valley Farm herd includes 20 Irish Dexter cows and 25 commercial Angus cows. Mike said Dexters have a reputation for being one of the top quality grass-fed beef breeds, and although it takes a while to finish cattle on grass, Dexter steers grow to a reasonable market weight on good grass.
“There are different types of Dexters,” said Mike. “Ours look like Angus from a distance. They aren’t as big, but they’re squared-up, beefy cattle. We wanted to focus on beefy Dexters so we would have a market. Worst case, if we had difficulty marketing them, we could take them to the commercial market but we haven’t had to do that.”
The Maloys sell Dexters to a variety of customers. “Some people are looking for their first cattle to establish their own small herd,” said Mike. “Many have small children and are looking for a breed their children can start with and potentially show. Others choose Dexters for both milk and for grass-fed beef.”
In addition to seeking beefy Dexters, Mike selects for the A2/A2 trait. “Most of the cattle we’re selling are purebred and registered,” he said. “Having A2/A2 genetics is of value. Buyers have the opportunity to raise A2/A2 stock, and since it’s a dual-purpose breed, they have a meaty-type animal that can also be used for milk production.” Milk from cattle with A2/A2 genetics contains only A2 type beta protein (instead of both A1 and A2), which some people find easier to digest.
When the Maloys needed a new Dexter bull, they traveled to Wisconsin to purchase an A2/A2 bull that’s homozygous for the polled trait, a genetic combination Mike said is difficult to find. “People with small children are skeptical of the horns on Dexters,” he said. “That’s one reason we wanted a homozygous bull – we knew we would have calves that would not have horns.” However, Mike enjoys seeing horned cattle and about half his cattle are horned.
The Dexter cows are bred for spring calving, starting the first week in March. The commercial Angus herd calves in October. “One of the Dexter’s traits is calving ease,” said Mike. “Over the years we’ve had Dexters, I’ve only had to pull one calf because it was backwards. They’re like the North Country Cheviots – they just lay down and have their calves.”
Mike has used a Dexter bull on some of his Angus heifers to avoid calving issues. “The product was nice,” he said. “Calves were about 90% the size of an Angus. They didn’t get quite as big but they looked great.”
With both their sheep and cattle, the Maloys focus on obtaining the best stock they can find. “It’s always easier to sell something that’s high-quality,” said Mike. “Part of our business plan is to keep good stock.”
Visit Maloy Valley Farm online at maloyvalleyfarm.com.
by Sally Colby
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