Connected To The Land Ep. 16: Show Sheep with Hickey Livestock (Jace Hickey)
Connected To The Land Ep. 16: Show Sheep with Hickey Livestock (Jace Hickey) In this episode of Connected To The...
Connected To The Land Ep. 16: Show Sheep with Hickey Livestock (Jace Hickey)
In this episode of Connected To The Land with 4Rivers Equipment, host Fred Eichler talks with Jace Hickey from Hickey Livestock about the sheep showing community/industry and how he and his family travel across the country to many sheep show competitions.
Connected to the Land With 4Rivers Equipment and John Deere.
Fred: Welcome to the 4Rivers Podcast. We are your working partner and we mean it. Well, today I’m sitting here with Jace Hickey of Hickey Livestock. And Jace, you’ve been out to my place for… You know what I mean? We’ve met through 4Rivers as well. So let’s talk a little bit about sheep. You guys raise show sheep. That’s hard to say, show sheep.
Jace Hickey: Yeah, that is… That can get tricky on the tongue, can’t it?
JH: So yeah, we raise show sheep. We started in 2005. I was coaching the local Morgan County livestock judging team for 4H and I had three girls on that team that all their families raise sheep, and their dads talked to me into buying a couple of ewes with them and that turned into… At one point, we had as many as 150 head. We were trying to make show lambs business and what we did for a living, and now we have about 75 and raise a few for our kids to show. My wife and I have three daughters, Piper Jo, Bentley, and Taney, but she goes by Tinker, if you ever get to meet her. So…
JH: And raised a handful for us to show and then showed us some good customers that have been loyal to us for years.
Fred: So it got started when you were just helping out and you had a couple of other parents talk you into doing it.
JH: Yeah, that’s kinda how it started.
Fred: And tell me about what… Does the whole family stay involved with this?
Fred: Obviously, you said the daughter’s show, but everybody gets involved? Who feeds them? Who waters them? Who…
JH: So as far as the show lambs go, my daughters are… I guess we’d say we’re hauling right now, they do, with advice from me of what to feed them, how to feed them, but they take care of their daily care. As far as taking care of the ewes go, this time of year, we’re out on pasture, not having to worry about them much, check water a couple times a week, just like we’re running cows and make sure they’re staying in and make sure the guard dogs are with them, keeping the predators at bay. And then we have… Come winter here, it becomes lamb and it’s a whole family affair. It’s all hands on deck. ‘Cause we AI them, so we synchronize them all up. So we’ll have 40 ewes lamb in the span of three days…
Fred: Holy chowder.
JH: Beginning in January.
Fred: And you guys are AI-ing them all.
JH: We’re AI-ing them all, which is an interesting process. It’s like it is in the wildlife deal, it’s a surgical process. It’s… So we’re synchronizing, knock them down… Not knock them down. I guess a better way to put that is, we put them to sleep, and we do… It’s laparoscopic procedure to get them bred and then we clean them up with natural cover, but…
Fred: And do you bring a vet in to do that or do you guys do that yourselves?
JH: We bring a vet in to do that.
Fred: Okay, nice.
0:02:40.0 JH: We bring a gentleman out of Texas in to do that.
0:02:41.7 Fred: Wow. So you guys are super serious about the whole line. And having that many lambs at one time, is that just full-on crazy… It’s gotta be cute though. I love little baby anything.
0:02:53.0 JH: It’s cute for about the first 10. [chuckle]
0:02:54.6 Fred: Okay, got it. That’s like calves then. [chuckle]
0:02:56.8 JH: Yeah, and then it gets to be a lot of work, so… But it’s over in a hurry.
0:03:00.6 Fred: Now, how would you equate raising a sheep to other stuff? Like I’ve got fainting goats, I’ve got pigs, I’ve got horses, I’ve got, you know what I mean, cattle. I’ve got a milk cow now that we milk every day. So how would you equate it to the amount of care a sheep takes? Is it very labor-intensive? Can they get a lot of diseases? Are they hard to care for?
0:03:23.0 JH: That sheep is… They’re a tough… They’re hardy tough animal, no matter what people will tell you. If they get sick and you don’t know how to identify those, that sickness, there’s… For you, you and I have been around cattle most of our life. We go, “Calf, his ears are down, he’s sick, we need to treat him. Sheep, his ears are down, he’s panting, he’s got pneumonia, he’s dead.” You need to catch it before it gets to that point.
0:03:44.2 Fred: Before it gets there.
0:03:45.1 JH: So that’s labor-intensive in that front of every morning when we’ve got baby lambs on the ground, when they first lamb, get them up, get them a drink off their mom and they’re good, as long as they’re not…
0:03:55.8 Fred: Get that colostrum in them and they’re good.
0:03:56.1 JH: Get that colostrum in them and they’re pretty good to go. It’s about two weeks to four weeks age where every morning walk the pen, make sure they get up, make sure they stretch, make sure they don’t act off and just keep going through it. We got pretty good at keeping them alive because, to be honest with you, we got tired of killing them.
0:04:13.5 Fred: Yeah, oh yeah, no, no, no, it’s good to keep them going.
0:04:17.5 JH: Right, so.
0:04:18.9 Fred: And the responsibility factor too, I was talking about that earlier, like my kids have a lot of chores and yours do too, and I think that’s great for those girls to have that responsibility of raising and caring for and then showing… I mean have you seen a difference in your daughters, I guess, from when you kinda took that on?
0:04:36.5 JH: Yeah, absolutely. Their desire to know what we’re making, I guess I could call it making from start to finish and seeing the changes of how they change and how one’s built and made, and like my oldest daughter, we were lambing this last year, in January, sheep, there’s one born that, hours old, she’s like, “We’re gonna feed that one, dad.”
0:05:00.0 Fred: Wow, she identified that was a really good one.
0:05:01.9 JH: Right, right, yeah. And she was right. He’s still in the barn and he’s gonna go with us to Billings here in two weeks.
0:05:07.3 Fred: Wow. So when do you start… So you start that really early, like the hand-feeding process and starting to work with those or like how does… I guess once you identify one that’s a show sheep, how different do you raise them?
0:05:21.3 JH: Well, they get… It didn’t used to be any different, ’cause they kinda got raised all the same until they got weaned and then they went to their new homes, to their new customers. Now with the girls picking out their own stuff, finding their stuff, the barn favorites come to the top real quick, they get messed with more, they… ‘Cause it’s…
0:05:35.0 Fred: More hands on.
0:05:36.0 JH: Right, and then they get trained how to show at a young age, the babies do, the lambs do, and so the girls will spend more time with those ones that they’re excited about. And then if we end up selling those to a customer, the customer is more excited because they have a turnkey ready-to-go animal.
0:05:50.4 Fred: I got you. Now, what kind of sheep are you raising?
0:05:53.2 JH: They’re crossbreds, but more Hampshire influence in them, more white on their… More gray on their face, gray on their legs. But we’re looking for… We’re raising animals that have plenty of muscle, plenty of product, because it is a market project, but we also want a different look in them, more style, more… Something that’s pretty, fun to look at.
0:06:13.7 Fred: Right. Now, do you utilize any of the wool or do you utilize them for food?
0:06:20.5 JH: We do utilize them for food at home. We put a couple in the freezer every year. We just took three head that were… Didn’t make the cut to keep going this fall that had gotten big, we just sold them to some neighbors and they went to the locker last week.
0:06:32.6 Fred: And do you take any to a livestock auction to sell for meat or… Okay.
0:06:35.7 JH: Oh yeah, we… Yep. If they’re not good enough to sell as a show animal, they go… We market them here in Fort Collins at Centennial Livestock.
0:06:43.1 Fred: Oh, nice, okay. What percentage do you think come out? Like I’d be curious to know like…
0:06:49.1 JH: We’re about… We’ve run about 85% that we can market as a show animal.
0:06:51.8 Fred: Oh, wow. Alright, that’s impressive.
0:06:53.8 JH: Now the… What we can use for as competitive as we are, that percentage is much smaller.
0:06:58.9 Fred: Right, ’cause you guys are trying to be top of the pack and get out there and run it.
0:07:04.1 JH: Yeah, we’re… Yeah.
0:07:05.7 Fred: Could you give me a range? Somebody may be listening to this is like, “I wanna check out a sheep,” what… And I don’t know this. A lot of other animals give you at least a range. But on a show sheep, what are you looking for to start one? Like if one of my kids or somebody else’s kid wanted to grab a sheep and maybe own one and take it to start showing…
0:07:24.5 JH: To the county fair? Just county fair type sheep?
0:07:25.3 Fred: Yeah.
0:07:26.7 JH: $500 to $1,000 to buy a nice county fair sheep. We sell… To be honest with you, Fred, if they’re not worth us selling for 500 bucks, we need to go to the sale barn with them and take our $250 and go, because of the extra responsibility that comes from us as a producer to help those families with them, that has to be monetarily worth our time. So we start at 500 bucks and… You’d think I’m crazy, tell you how much we can sell one of these things for.
0:07:52.7 Fred: Tell me, I’m curious, I think there’s people that are as curious as I am.
0:07:56.4 JH: Yeah. We castrated a buck lamb two years ago that we probably shouldn’t have that could’ve have taken our program forward. We castrated him and sold him as a show wether for $10,000.
0:08:04.5 Fred: No kidding.
0:08:05.8 JH: Yeah.
0:08:05.9 Fred: That’s fascinating. See, that’s awesome.
0:08:08.5 JH: And we sell… We don’t sell the top-end ewe lambs. Five years ago, we were selling our top-end females just trying to make a living at it, those would sell $5,000 to $10,000.
0:08:15.5 Fred: See, people don’t understand, there’s a huge market, and when you talk about the AI, what are you paying for a straw? You know what I mean?
0:08:23.1 JH: 200 to 500 bucks.
0:08:24.0 Fred: Wow, and that’s something. And for somebody that’s listening that doesn’t understand AI, refer to the semen straws, and you buy those and that’s why I was curious to see what that was.
0:08:34.9 JH: And that’s on the frozen side, which we have less success with. The bigger thing we’re doing is we’re buying fresh jumps…
0:08:40.1 Fred: Ooh.
0:08:40.8 JH: Off these elite hires that are out there in the country, and a jump can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 and you can do 30, 35 head.
0:08:49.0 Fred: Wow. But then it’s a speed, right, it’s a process getting it there immediately.
0:08:53.8 JH: Overnight, it’s crazy, and making sure it’s good and…
0:08:56.8 Fred: Yeah, testing it and making sure everything’s ready to roll.
0:09:00.5 JH: It’s great. It gets wild.
0:09:02.2 Fred: And then having the lambs ready to go. You know what I mean? There’s a lot…
0:09:04.9 JH: Synchronizing use everything going, so we figure on it, so you people less than hearing that kind of money, who didn’t understand them when those AI babies, but if that ewe lays down and has a single, we’ve got 500 anybody’s born.
0:09:15.7 Fred: Right. Before you’ve ever fed it, ordered it, taking care of it. Anything else. So I mean it justifies the price. I just think it’s interesting because when you start getting into the show class animals, there’s a big jump.
0:09:28.0 JH: It’s crazy out there. And we found with COVID, it really drove the market, because that was an industry where we didn’t listen to the government, we didn’t wanna… The mandates didn’t mean anything to those people.
0:09:42.5 Fred: To that industry.
0:09:42.7 JH: It was a place where those kids, those families could go and you don’t have to wear a mask and you’re not getting worried about getting contact tracing or anything, we were our own little…
0:09:54.9 Fred: Entity, got it.
0:09:56.3 JH: Right ’cause a lot of these fairs were run by the government and us in the industry just looked at them and like, you guys don’t wanna have them, we’ll just go do it ourselves, and just kind of a can do, we’re gonna do it attitude. And so we just… We’ve seen a very big increase over the last 18 months of families that are participating in this.
0:10:14.8 Fred: That’s great. So that kind of answers my other question ’cause I was curious is the show lamb industry growing? Is it stagnant? But…
0:10:22.3 JH: The show industry as a whole is growing.
0:10:24.2 Fred: Got you.
0:10:25.1 JH: Goats, lambs, pigs, the show pig deal if you’re in Colorado look up the CJSA Colorado Junior Swine Association, humongous, 350-400 head a weekend, two shows a weekend, and they run for 10 weekend straight.
0:10:38.9 Fred: Good night.
0:10:40.0 JH: Yeah, it’s crazy.
0:10:41.2 Fred: Well, they wouldn’t be impressed with mine, I just turn them into pork chops. Gross. [chuckle]
0:10:45.5 JH: They could eat that…
0:10:45.6 Fred: You couldn’t show them a whole lot, so… Where do you see it heading as an industry? Like the show sheep, do you see that continue to grow? Are you getting a lot more calls on your sheep?
0:10:57.1 JH: We are getting more calls, I think part of that’s us being out there as a family doing our thing and seeing the success we’re having, I think we’re gonna… And honestly, I think we can continue to grow with the really good ones, that’s where I see the industry going, and the show thing as a whole with the AI new and sheep and goats, both, you’re seeing an increase in quality and you’re just gonna have to keep making better ones…
0:11:23.2 Fred: To be able to compete.
0:11:24.2 JH: To be able to compete, absolutely. I’m not sure on the… We’re crazy people, the way we go at it, and the crazy people like me, they’re gonna keep going hard at it, but I’m not sure on the other side of it, if some of the others that aren’t as serious about it, it will fall out because they’re just not as serious about it.
0:11:42.9 Fred: Right.
0:11:43.4 JH: Wait, I don’t… I can’t answer that, but as far as the really competitive families, I think there should be more and more of them…
0:11:48.7 Fred: Getting into it.
0:11:48.8 JH: Up and coming… That, especially in the state, there’s a lot of this younger families that raise their own livestock that now have kids starting to show, it’s gonna be… Well, I’ve got 12 more years of Colorado State Fair. It’s gonna be an exciting 12 years.
0:12:01.5 Fred: That’s pretty exciting. Now, somebody that’s listening to this and wants to look into it Hickey Livestock, where do you guys have a website? Can people look in stuff online? Can they look at some of the lambs that you’re dropping? I mean quite…
0:12:13.3 JH: Yeah. We’ll have pictures showing up in January, in February when we start having stuff, Hickeylivestock.com, and then you can also find us on Facebook at Hickey Livestock.
0:12:21.2 Fred: That’s H-I-C-K-E-Y, Livestock.com.
0:12:23.5 JH: Yes, sir.
0:12:25.8 Fred: Alright. Do you raise any other animals.
0:12:27.3 JH: We raise a handful of goats.
0:12:30.2 Fred: What kind of goats?
0:12:31.4 JH: Boers…
0:12:33.2 Fred: Boers, I’ve had one of the big boars, oh, they get so friendly and they’re smelling animals.
0:12:38.1 JH: Yeah, they’re smelly animals.
0:12:39.8 Fred: I’m a firm believer in cutting them ’cause if you want one… ’cause I had one that would hang around the house and he got to where he’s eating potato chips for my clients, get the hunter, so come with us, he became so tame and guys would let him in the bunk house. And he would jump up on the couch and watch TV with the people, and I’m like, oh my gosh. So you’re constantly running them out, and then we started to lock him out and we had a big sliding glass window and he’d come and knock on it with his horns while people would learn, oh, we’ll open it up, and he’d come in and get on the couch, so I’d go down there, the goat literally will be sitting on the couch, watch TV and eating potato chips, so I’d run him out and I close the door, and then he got to where he was breaking the glass, he get irritated, like I wanna be on the couch.
0:13:17.6 JH: So he break the glass.
0:13:18.9 Fred: He broke two slides windows, and I was like, oh no, we can’t have that, so now I’m trying to keep a little more distance, a little more wild. But, now I have those fainting goats which are hysterical.
0:13:31.4 JH: I’ve actually not been around one. Are they fun?
0:13:34.6 Fred: You cannot have a bad day if you own a fainting goat. If you scare it and they pass out, it is the funniest thing in the world. And for people that don’t know, fainting goats… It’s gotta be the worst defence mechanism in the world because they get scared, they pass out. It’s like, then they would get eaten I think, so, I don’t know even how they’ve made it, but they’re super awesome, great little pets just to have… And we breed them and have a few just…
0:13:58.0 JH: For fun.
0:13:58.0 Fred: Yeah, just for fun. We’re not doing anything with them. So, tell me about… So you raise Boers and what else?
0:14:03.5 JH: And then we rent a few cows with my father-in-law, so we got a full-on ranch kind of thing going on, and then work for 4Rivers Equipment, so…
0:14:11.6 Fred: Now, are you running reds, blacks? What are you running?
0:14:13.8 JH: Oh, just commercial cows. Black bulls predominantly. Key Angus bulls, Maine Angus bulls. A good friend of mine makes some really nice Maine cattle, so we usually grab some bulls from him and it’s a conglomeration, I’ll be honest with you. You could call it a Funny Farm.
0:14:28.8 Fred: Yeah, I understand, I understand. So let’s talk a little bit about what you do for 4Rivers, because you travel… Well, first, you’re used to traveling, but just on the sheep side, how many places did you compete last year, for example? Before we jump into the 4Rivers side, I want people to get a feel for how somebody that’s a hard core competitor travels showing sheep.
0:14:52.0 JH: So, over New Year’s, for 2020-2021, we were in Ada, Oklahoma at the New Year’s Nationals. It was a new show that was started by a friend of mine named Chasten Leggett. It was to be able to have a show… Arizona Nationals usually at that time, and they cancelled. So, this guy steps up, raises, $60,000-$70,000 in a week. And two weeks later, we’re having a show. Cut us a crazy deal. My hats off to them for pulling that off. We did that, and then we were done. We came home and started lambing. Left there on the first… We had the first baby on the third. Then we reeled it in, bunkered down, got everything lambed, got everything raised, and then we started showing again in May. First weekend in May, we were here in Coursey, just down the road here from Gravy. Second weekend in May, we were in Russell, Kansas and Hayes, Kansas. Then we went to… We had a week off, then we were in Spanish Fork, Utah. And then we ran a Circuit in Kansas for four weekends in a row through the north central part of Kansas, and we went out every weekend and showed out there. The girls were on the point circuit. Piper Jo, my oldest, was the reserve goat exhibitor at the third place overall sheep exhibitor for the year. And Bentley, my middle daughter, she was third in goats and fourth in sheep.
0:16:15.1 Fred: Awesome, the girls are good.
0:16:17.9 JH: Well, we try.
0:16:19.9 Fred: The girls are good.
0:16:22.7 JH: And we actually skipped one of those shows on the circuit ’cause it was only a one-day deal for the weekend, and we didn’t feel like it was worth the 400 mile drive just to go on for one show. So if we had went to that one, we might have done a little better, but we packed it in for a weekend and stayed home. ‘Cause my girls are nine and 10 and we… Well, I get tired. I don’t know if they get tired…
0:16:40.5 Fred: Do they still get super excited right before they go up? Do they get nervous?
0:16:44.1 JH: Not as much now. Piper Jo… Well, the Well county fair is one of the toughest county fairs in the country.
0:16:50.9 Fred: Oh, wow, I didn’t know that. A lot of competition…
0:16:53.5 JH: Lot of competition. At the top end, I’d put it in the top… I’ve judged a lot of county fairs, it’d be the best one I’ve ever been to, and I’ve judged some tough ones. But it’s probably one of the top five in the country. And she got her first champion drive, showing sheep here at Well County in August or end of July, and she got nervous. That’s the first time I’ve seen her nervous in a couple of years. ‘Cause we start up, I mean they’ve been on the front of these things since they could walk.
0:17:23.4 Fred: What are the judges looking for? Break it down for somebody… I know there’s probably a lot. But we were talking before the podcast started about showmanship and that there’s a lot of different things. So I guess… As we’re talking, I have so many more questions. Talk a little bit about the different things they’re looking for.
0:17:41.0 JH: Showmanship-wise, it’s hard. As someone who has judged, it’s hard for me to tell you how to come win showmanship with me. For my answer to that would be make the animal better than he is. For my daughters, it’s about make sure we use all the ring, make sure our eye contact is on point where the judge knows we’re there. We actually have a funny part, we go in when I tell them to make sure you get their eyes. My middle daughter calls it snatching his soul…
0:18:08.3 Fred: I love it. That’s awesome.
0:18:11.5 JH: When she walks in, she says, “I’m gonna go snatch his soul, daddy.”
0:18:15.0 Fred: That’s awesome. Spoken like a lady.
0:18:18.7 JH: Right. And make sure he’s haoring, eye contact, making sure your feet and legs are set up properly. But like I said, try to make him look better. So, when when it comes to the market animals and what they need to look like, there’s a lot of different priorities that different guys have. When I’m judging the show, for me, you gotta have enough product, ’cause it’s still a market animal at the end of the day. So you still have to have enough meat, enough product and a finished product.
0:18:41.8 Fred: Not just confirmation, but enough on there to work…
0:18:44.9 JH: Right, enough on there. And then after that, I start looking for him as being something unique that’s hard to make. So, I want them taller, shouldered than they are at their hip. I want them to run uphill. I want them shallower in their chest than they are at their flank. To be extremely short shoulder-bladed as we can make them, so that’s the top of their shoulder to the bottom of their blade without them being too straight and compromising them structurally. So I’m just trying to make a zoo creature actually, I want them as unique as possible. And then, there’s other judges that will take them more what we call down the middle. A very good lamb with a lot of handle, a lot of touch, a lot of product, a lot of muscle, and it has enough look. I kind of run a different. I run a little bit different. As someone who raises them, I want something that’s fun to look at…
0:19:32.8 Fred: Right, something unique.
0:19:33.9 JH: Right.
0:19:35.2 Fred: That’s probably the toughest thing in some of those competitions, isn’t it? ‘Cause everybody has their own thing they’re looking at, so it’s probably tough to make everybody happy at one time.
0:19:43.0 JH: Absolutely, and it’s impossible. So yeah. So with that said, with us, we don’t… We only had three goats on feed this last year, but we had 13 show lambs on feed for two girls.
0:19:53.8 Fred: Wow…
0:19:54.8 JH: And that’s to try to hit the different… All the different people who judge shows. Have a little bit of something for everybody.
0:20:02.2 Fred: For everybody, wow, so it’s the…
0:20:04.4 JH: So, of those 13, we raised six. And we bought seven.
0:20:08.7 Fred: See, that’s fascinating to me, I think. I hope people that are listening to get some feel… That’s a whole lifestyle. It really is. It can be pretty consuming. Well, in closing, I wanna talk a little bit about your 4Rivers career and what you’re doing at 4Rivers because 4Rivers, that goes hand-in-hand to me with both ranching, you know what I mean, farming and everything else, you guys are the go-to. I bought a bunch of equipment from you guys and I haven’t met anybody that isn’t super. Most everybody’s… They’re either outdoors men or outdoors women, they’re into the equipment, they’re into the outdoor lifestyle. They’re into that field-to-table lifestyle, too, if you will. So talk a little bit about what you do, because somebody in Colorado, for example, may get to meet you.
0:20:55.5 JH: Right, so funny enough, through this… You’ve probably figured that I’m passionate about livestock. I mainly sell to dairies and feed lots and ranchers. I’m not a… I’m not a salesman that can go tell you how to make your corn do better and do those things, it’s not how I’m wired, but I can sure tell you how to take that corn and feed it and help your animals do better.
0:21:17.0 Fred: See, that’s awesome. So that’s perfect and that’s what I love about 4Rivers is you’re in your wheel house. You’re in your wheel house with that. Well, Jace, thanks so much for sitting down and talking to us about raising sheep. Give your website one more time in case anybody wants to check that out.
0:21:32.7 JH: Yeah, it’s Hickeylivestock.com. That’s H-I-C-K-E-Y, Livestock.com, and we’re also on Facebook at Hickey Livestock.
0:21:41.2 Fred: Hey, thank you so much and good luck this year.
0:21:44.5 JH: Alright. Thank you. Thanks for having me.