ASHLEY CLUB LAMBS - A VIRGINIA BASED BUSINESS

November 14, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

   Travel the USA countryside and you are bound to see all kinds of livestock. Sheep will be one of the common sights. Many of us will assume their use will be for their wool or part of our diet, but sheep are also part of a show culture supported by 4-H and FFA. The animals used in these shows are bred on club lamb farms, farms that are the source of the thousands of animals shown by the young people who compete in these shows.
   Ashley Club Lambs, one such farm in Augusta County, Virginia, is an example of how these businesses begin and grow.

      First, some background on the farm itself. Ashley’s Dad, Sonny Balsley, received the farm as a graduation present from his own father, Ashley’s grandfather. He had pressured Sonny to get a college degree and the farm was the graduation gift. At first the farm was dedicated to cattle and boarding horses. The horses were the particular interest of Sonny’s wife Delores. The lambs came gradually with some sheep the family had used for a live church nativity scene. As Ashley’s interest grew, showing lambs began with local shows when she was nine years old and progressed to the state level. For seven years in a row at the Virginia State Fair, Ashley’s lambs were either the Grand Champion or the Reserve Champion. That was 1999 to 2006.

Fast forward to 2022 and a lot has changed. Ashley’s interest has gone from showing animals to raising them for sale to other farms and individuals. The farm now produces over 70 lambs per year. Production is through two birthing cycles, one in the fall and another in late winter.

Ashley with some of the late winter lambs.

 Most of the flock are Hampshire crosses as Hampshire blood often produces more muscle and hair on the legs, so they tend to be what show judges are looking for. The farm has gone from local on-site sales to much more frequent contact with buyers over the internet. The website, www.ashleyclublambs.com, has brought her buyers from as far away as Maine, Indiana and Oklahoma.
   Aside from a couple of males kept on the farm, all the breeding is done through artificial insemination using sperm from other breeders. The sperm is shipped in set amounts called “jumps”. A jump will inseminate thirty ewes, but mostly Ashley purchases a half jump, enough for fifteen ewes. Current prices for half a jump run around $4,500 so care is taken before purchasing to research the backgrounds of the bucks, so Ashley has some idea of their potential genetic strengths and weaknesses. Most mature males that are kept on property have been neutered so they are incapable of breeding, but they are allowed to pasture with and interact with the ewes. This increases the chances of the artificial insemination being successful. Even with that, the success rate for the AI is only around 60% to 70%.
   In any given year about seventy percent of that year’s production will be sold. The rest are retained to maintain the flock, but in order to vary the gene pool at the farm, Ashley will look to add animals from other farms to hers. Some recent purchases are from a breeder in Iowa.

Ashley with the pregnant ewes in the birthing area.

   Successful sales efforts for the new lambs begins with advertising on the internet when they are around six weeks old. The optimum time for them to be sold is at two to three months of age.
   Ashley Club Lambs has grown from a nine-year old’s interest in showing lambs that receive the highest awards in the state of Virginia through several decades of growing a business. Her goal is to make Ashley Club Lambs one of the top breeding operations in the country.

Ashley's father, Sonny Balsley, with her son in the barn area.


Maybe one day, Ashley speculates, her son will develop his own interest and become the next generation at the family farm.


 

 


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