FARGO — North Dakota State University Extension and the North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association are looking for applicants to apply to their starter flock program.

“We aspire with this program to incite the enthusiasm for young people to continue to be involved in the sheep industry,” said Travis Hoffman, North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota sheep extension specialist.

For 12 years, NDSU Extension and the North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association have been giving North Dakota’s youth a unique opportunity to get their foot into the sheep industry’s door. They do so by offering an interest-free loan to be used to purchase their very own flock of Rambouillet yearling ewes.

The Rambouillet ewes are born in Wyoming but make their way to the Hettinger Research Center in Hettinger, N.D. There, the ewes are housed and grown until it is time for them to go to their new homes.

The ewes given to the youth are marketed as open ewes, giving the recipients the chance to take their herd in whatever direction they please.

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“The advantage of that is the youth can choose the ram and the next generation of prodigy, whether they want to steer their flock in a wool or different direction,” Hoffman said.

To be eligible for the loan, applicants must be between the ages of 10 and 18 and be a North Dakota resident. If accepted, the applicant will have four years to pay off their loan. Applicants are only required to pay 70% of the value of the original ewes. The loan itself is interest free. The North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association oversees the loan program.

Out of 100 ewes, each accepted applicant will receive 10 Rambouillet yearling ewes of their own. The flock is assigned at random, the recipient getting the first 10 ewes that are loaded or walk onto their trailer. However, each ewe has been analyzed to ensure they are reproductively and physically sound.

The accepted applicants are also set up with a mentor. The mentors are leaders and established sheep producers scattered throughout North Dakota. The mentor will serve as a first point of contact and help with any issues, questions or learning experiences the youth may be having. The mentors are usually paired with applicants that live in the same region of the state.

The North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association, as well as NDSU Extension, hope to instill the knowledge of livestock and help the future generation of sheep producers.

“Sheep can be a great starting livestock operation that is low input compared to other species. It allows people a valuable entry into learning production management of sheep and livestock in general. Some accepted applicants continue in the sheep industry and some, as they grow up, use this as a profit generator for future education or college expenses. While some may not stay in the industry, we are still happy this program provided them with a learning opportunity,” Hoffman said.

The deadline to apply for the starter flock program is Aug. 15. For more information or to apply, please visit https://www.ndsheep.org/starter-flock.