This month we are delighted to introduce you to the Gutierrez Family. We have known them for years and years, having met them through church. They raise lamb, and we really enjoyed learning about their unique operation. Please enjoy reading more about this lovely family!
Sharon and Rick Gutierrez, Gutierrez Family Farms in Nampa, ID, raise lambs for meat with their three children, Karena, Andrew, and Mariah. Karena is starting her sophomore year at Washington State University, majoring in cell biology. Andrew is 15, and Mariah is 13. Rick is also a large animal veterinarian.
The Gutierrez Family has lived in Nampa for about 18 years, raising sheep and farming for about 16 years. They didn’t start raising sheep on purpose, though! Rick and Sharon raised lambs while participating in 4-H and FFA in high school. When Karena was 4, they decided it would be nice to have a small flock of Suffolk sheep. In 2008, the family felt like it was the right time to really start focusing on their lamb operation, and have worked hard to maximize their farm since then.
The Gutierrez family keeps around 40 Suffolk (black face) and Norfolk (white face) ewes, resulting in 70-80 lambs each spring. The majority of lambs go to market in September, to local grocery stores, restaurants and individuals. The rest of the lambs are sold throughout the winter and into the next spring, providing fresh lamb to the Treasure Valley year-round.
They Gutierrez family also raises some alfalfa, which is sold locally, and they use the proceeds for their sheep operation.
Their operation is very unique in that they hardly ever have to feed the sheep. Instead, their sheep graze year-round. Usually the only time the ewes are fed is when they are inside lambing. They graze the last cutting of grass and alfalfa in the fall, and eat only grass the rest of the year.
The family has developed a very sophisticated management program for their 40 acres of pasture. The sheep are rotated every 10-14 days to a new pasture, and each pasture area is grazed every 60-90 days or so. This prevents parasite infection from overgrazing on feces-contaminated ground, and they are at the point where the sheep only need minimal doses of wormer each year!
Rotating the pastures so intensively works to beat the parasite cycle. In the spring, the pastures haven’t been grazed for over 6 months, and any parasites have been killed off during the winter. Another bonus to raising purely grass-fed animals is that they don’t have a lot of the indigestion problems that grain-fed animals might have. “We’re very fortunate that we can make this type of practice work for us,” says Sharon.
The family recently participated in a chef tour for local chefs. About 50 local chefs, food service people, and school nutritionists were taken on a tour of several local farms. The tour was to introduce participants to where Idaho food is produced, to meet Idaho farmers, and to learn how they can get Idaho products into their stores, restaurants and schools. The experience showed the family how important it is to be active in opening their farm to educational opportunities, and to show people how their animals are raised.
The Gutierrez Family is active in multiple organizations in Idaho, including Idaho Preferred, the Idaho Wool Growers Association, Farm Bureau, 4-H, and Small Ruminant Practitioners. The family also goes to regional conventions focused on sheep, learning new techniques and information.
Sharon told us that there are four main cuts of lamb: shoulder, rack, loin, leg. From their most recent convention trip, they learned that there is now a 5th – lamb by-products. Nothing in the animal is wasted. Many parts that would have been thrown out or used to make bone-meal are being used to make valuable secondary products, like dog treats.
The lamb market is a volatile one in the United States. Lamb is a seasonal product, with lambs born in the spring, and ready for market anywhere from June to September or October. The price for lamb fluctuates and affects profit for sheep ranchers just as it does for the farmers who grow wheat and corn. Lamb, while becoming more available, is still not a prevalent product in the area, with most people in the U.S. consuming less than a pound of lamb per year, compared to an average of over 40 pounds of beef per person per year!
Surprisingly, the weather can also be a challenge to their operation, with the amount of moisture dictating how the pastures can be rotated. Lower precipitation years mean that the pastures must be grazed more carefully to avoid allowing the sheep to eat the grass too far down.
Other challenges that the family faces include everyday care for the animals. They could be dressed in their Sunday best, ready to walk out the door, but if an animal is sick or injured, well, they drop everything and care for that animal. There are no days (or even hours) off for our nation’s livestock producers.
While raising sheep has it’s challenges, the family also enjoys the opportunities that it brings, namely family bonding time. I believe a “whether you like it or not” was slipped in there by one of the girls! They have spent countless hours together doctoring animals, lambing, herding sheep, and much more.
Mariah had a funny story to share. “It was year or so ago during lambing season, and we always check the ewes and lambs before bed. I had a ewe that I had shown, Angel, that we kept, instead of selling her at the fair auction. I went down to the barn to check the ewes, and didn’t want to go to bed, so I stayed and hung out at the barn. Angel’s water broke, so I was trying to get her into a stall to lamb, but she wouldn’t go. I kept an eye on her, and she started to have the baby. The legs came out, but then nothing happened. I helped pull the baby out, then got them both in a stall. After they were comfortable and happy, I went back up to the house. My mom and dad were both surprised to see me – they thought I was in bed this whole time. Instead I was out pulling lambs!