"No Show"
Moving On Up To Production Flock Status

By Tim King

Sheep! Magazine, Sept/Oct 2011



Bruce and Donna Fournier sell natural lamb right at the farm—whole lambs, halves, roasters and by the cut. All the lamb is humanely raised, USDA inspected, cryo-vac packed, with custom orders always welcomed.



Bruce Fournier has tasted humble pie and he didn't mind the flavor at all. With help from his wife Donna, Fournier raises Dorset lambs for the retail and wholesale market at their Meadowsweet Lamb and Herb Farm near Denmark, Maine.

But that's not what the Fourniers were doing with their flock some years ago.

"We used to go to the fairs with 50 to 60 of these nice, great big long-legged show sheep that were not really producing animals," Bruce says. "We used to go to fairs all over New England. There were times that I'd be gone three weeks straight. That doesn't do much for your home life."

It proved not to be very profitable either.

"The club lambs that we were selling back at that time just didn't bring in enough money to sustain our farming," Bruce said. "When we first started selling them back in the late '80s and early '90s you were getting $50 to $75 per lamb."

A good comparison of the differences between American-type Dorsets and production Dorset sheep with English bloodlines. Notice by the coloration on her rump that the front ewe is already bred in June! She has shorter legs; wider body.


"At that time we also played the Easter market. Some years you get burned because prices are so low. Other years you do pretty well but it still wasn't a consistent market."

Then one day Bruce woke up and told Donna he'd had enough. He'd had enough shows to last him a lifetime.

"I told her I wasn't going any more," Bruce said.

It was at around this time that Donna made a suggestion to Bruce.

"One fall, Donna said that we ought to try going to the farmers' market," Bruce recalls. "I said you've got to be kidding me. But I committed to her that we would try one year. We worked together and we did a lot of cooking of not only kabobs but ground lamb and two or three other different things."

"We built the business up and it was amazing, I will now eat humble pie and admit there are people out there who will eat lamb if you present a good product."









Bruce Fournier with a production Dorset ewe. He increases the amount of protein in the diets of ewes he wants bred. He says increased protein makes for a better chance of a ewe producing two to three ova. Soybean meal is used for increasing the dietary protein.



From Fickle-Price Easter Lamb
To Faithful-Profit All-Year Demand

So Bruce and Donna set out to transform their farm to assure that they had a consistently excellent product that would dependably bring prices that beat the unpredictable Easter market.

"It has been quite a transformation," Donna said. "We have gone from breeding Oxfords and Corriedales that looked pretty in the show ring to focusing on Dorsets that produce and satisfy the increasing year-round demand for local meat in our area."

The Dorset breed of sheep is indeed the secret to the success of the production and marketing program at Meadowsweet Lamb and Herb Farm. But these Dorsets are different.

"We've gone away from the show Dorsets, which are the ones that stand 34 to 36 inches to the top of their back, to what are called production lambs," Bruce said. "The genetics are primarily from K Bar K Farm in Pennsylvania. They are using an English blood line that they artificially inseminated."

A key to success is not being afraid to move to something new, in Meadowsweet's case it's the move to "early-ripening" meat lambs, bred to be ready for the butcher in any season of the year.



"We've got a fall ewe that is out with our ram now that is 24 inches to the top of her back, but you ought to see the width and the depth to her. These production Dorsets have twice the depth when you're looking from the backside than the show animals have. For example, you take this fall girl that's out there now and I cannot even get my hands around her back leg!"

The Fourniers went with the production Dorsets for other reasons as well: For the past two years they have averaged two, or slightly better, lambs per ewe. The ewes have big udders with plentiful milk. Bruce says they are the best mothers he's ever seen. Additionally, the lambs are growthy.

"We have lambs that are just a little over four and a half months old that will be going to the butcher shop in two to three weeks," he said. "You can get the Dorsets up to weight more quickly than the Oxfords that we used to raise."

It is possible that Bruce and Donna could have found another breed with all these excellent characteristics. But, although Bruce is careful not to criticize other breeds, there was one final characteristic that convinced the Fourniers that production type Dorsets were for them.

Location can also aid in lamb production. Situated in western Maine's beautiful Lakes Region, Meadowsweet Lamb and Herb Farm is sheltered by Pleasant Mountain.


Four-Seasons Of Freshness

"The number one reason for choosing Dorsets was their out-of-season breeding," Bruce said. "Because of that we can promote the fact that we have lamb year around. The Easter lamb market has been as low as a $1.05/lb. and as high as $3.00 but production costs aren't coming down."

Plenty of people are willing to buy lamb year-round at good prices. Donna says that their prices range from $8.50/lb. for stew meat to $17.50/lb. for rib and loin chops.

"When we have people come to the farm in March or April and they want a roast for Easter and you say, 'I just brought it home from the butcher shop two weeks ago,' it just boggles their mind," Bruce said. "They don't have to have something that's been in the freezer for six months. Actually, our lamb sells so fast that we can't even keep it in our freezer for as long as six weeks!"

The public's growing interest in locally produced food, along with a top quality product, is inspiring the Fourniers to increase their flock of Dorsets. And, after many years of working farmers' markets, they've built up their customer base so that most of their sales are made directly from their farm.

Those sales are supplemented by some sales to another nearby farm, that doesn't have lamb, and to an online farm market called Jordansfarm.com. Now Bruce doesn't have to travel—even to farmers' markets.

"We're able to stay home and work with our animals and with the garden," Bruce said. "That's where we want to be. It's a great life."

Anyone interested in learning more about production Dorsets can join the Yahoo internet discussion group Production Dorset Breeders at ProductionDorsetBreeders-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.


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K Bar K Farm                                                                                                                                                

Last Updated November 29, 2017

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