Raising Polypays

It’s lambing season and as of April 9, Gerold and Robyn Van Heuvelen have around 230 new lambs at their farm in western Murray County. Gerold said they expect around 300 more before the season is over.
“We’re going to be in the middle of it for a while yet,” he said.
They started lambing around March 1. Robyn said they usually lamb for a few weeks, then have a week off before another round begins with a different group. They have three groups to cycle through, the last of those first-time mothers.
The couple raises the lambs for around five months or until they reach 130 pounds and then send most of them to market. They keep some for breeding purposes.
The Van Heuvelens have been raising sheep since 2005 when they bought their farm and moved there from Chandler. Robyn said both she and Gerold grew up on farms and they’d always intended to buy a farm of their own.
Even when they lived in Chandler, Gerold farmed with his father. Robyn grew up raising sheep and when the couple bought their own farm she said they decided to raise sheep because they thought it would provide a better return on investment than other livestock. She said that seems to have proven true.
They started with around 200 western ewes, but have since switched to raising Polypays. They now raise around 300.
Polypay sheep were developed in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the goal of creating a breed that excelled in “maternal characteristics including early fertility, prolificacy, aseasonal breeding and milk production,” in order to increase production, according to the American Polypay Association.
The breed is a mixture of Finnsheep, known for their prolificacy, early puberty and short gestation period; Rambouillets, known for their hardiness; Targhees, known for their fleece quality, large body size and long breeding season; and Dorsets, known for their mothering ability, carcass quality, early puberty and long breeding season. The breed name emerged in 1975, with ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’ and ‘pay’ referring to the return on investment from the animals, according to the American Polypay Association.
Polypays are bred for their meat and have little value in their wool. The Van Heuvelens have their sheep sheared for maintenance purposes once a year, but Robyn said the value isn’t enough to cover the cost.
“They get all matted if you don’t shear them,” Gerold said.
The Van Heuvelens said they’ve belonged to the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program since they started raising sheep.

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