By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net
For the 2018 Charles Boyles Master Shepherd of the Year, Dave Burkhart of Hardin County, sheep have been a part of the family, in one way or another, for as long as he can remember.
“Grandpa always had sheep, along with hogs, cattle and chickens,” Burkhart said. “When my dad left the farm he didn’t have any sheep of his own but he was still in the industry with a shearing business, so I was around sheep almost every day growing up.”
As it turned out, Dave’s father was pretty good at his craft as he was named the International Sheep Shearing Champion in 1939, 1947 and 1948. But Burkhart knew he wanted to be more involved with livestock than his father.
“I bought this farm in 1987 and within a month I had my own sheep,” Burkhart said. “We started out with nine and built the flock up to around 300.”
That number has been pared down in recent years and now Burkhart’s farm consists of a small group of Dorset white face cross ewes, along with some Suffolk-Hampshire cross ewes. Burkhart’s ewes will be bred each year with a couple of purebred Suffolk rams, a crossbred Hampshire and a white faced ram that isn’t always necessarily a Dorset.
“Our goal is to have superior carcasses and we have done well in some carcass contests recently,” Burkhart said. “We also sell a few club lambs, but our main project now is feeding everything out since fat lambs are so valuable and corn is cheap.”
Burkhart has been a very active member of Ohio’s sheep industry in a number of different capacities.
“He has served on both the OSIA Board of Trustees and the OSWP Board of Directors. In fact, there was a period that he served on both boards at the same time, so he has always been very engaged in the sheep industry from the membership side and the checkoff side over the years,” said Roger A. High, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA) and the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program (OSWP). “He is that farmer who is always showing up when he is needed most to teach, socialize, network and more importantly to learn what’s happening in the industry not only here in Ohio, but throughout the U.S. and around the world.”
That global outlook of the sheep business was garnered by educati
onal trips to Utah, Idaho and Oregon, domestically, and as far away as the U.K., New Zealand and Australia, internationally.
“He wants to be involved, he wants to learn and he wants to be a leader,” High said. “He has been a great role model, not only for the sheep industry, but also for agriculture as a whole.”
Even though Burkhart’s passport has been punched for some unique visits around the world, his main focus has always been right there in his home community.
“One of the earliest things that got me acquainted with Dave was the Ohio State Extension Sheep and Goat Webinar,” said Mark Badertscher, OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources educator in Hardin County. “He would not only show up, but he would bring sheep producers from neighboring counties. That has turned into quite a network of leading sheep producers from a large area of the state, who work to make each other better and the industry has excelled as a result.
“You will always see Dave, whether you are at the Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium, the Ohio Sheep Day, or at the Hardin County Fair. He is always the familiar face there to get to know and help out all of the new and upcoming producers as well as those that have been around for awhile.”
The impact that Burkhart has made locally can easily been seen when you visit the Hardin County Fair.
“Through Dave’s leadership of being on the county board, we have created a youth scholarship program and he has been instrumental in raising the floor for the funds raised at the auction at our county fair,” said Kristie Fay, treasurer of the Hardin County Sheep Improvement Association. “He is also a very big part of our lamb stand at the fair, which has grown from a tent to an actual building with his guidance.”
Realizing that rewards are a result of hard work, Burkhart also spends plenty of time at the fair in the barn helping to get the next generation of shepherds ready for a future in an industry.
“It seems so hard to get kids started in the sheep business,” Burkhart said. “There is some interest in club lambs, but it is awfully hard to keep kids interested after their county fair days pass. We have a young lady down the road that we will hopefully get a starter flock for when she is able. She comes from a cattle family and she just dearly loves the sheep industry and has done well at the country fair and at the state fair. We are hoping that she will become a life-long sheep farmer. Maybe it won’t work out that way, but at least she has been introduced to it at a ripe young age and we are getting a kick out of it.”
There are many aspects of raising sheep that Burkhart enjoys on a daily basis, but he enjoys some aspects of sheep production more than others.
“I really like seeing the little lambs this time of year,” Burkhart said. “That is what charges my batteries.”
Burkhart was honored as the 2018 Master Shepherd of the Year at the Buckeye Shepherd’s Symposium on Dec. 1 in Wooster.