Renee McDonald, a first-generation sheep producer in Lee County Georgia, spends many nights monitoring newborn ewes. In the last lambing season at Sheepy Acres Farm, eight out of ten of her pregnant ewes gave birth to twins. The lambing season holds many memories, but it also presents challenges, including twin births that require double the attention.
USDA has made a significant difference in the start, growth, and health of McDonald’s herds. McDonald, initially a goat producer, started her venture with USDA’s Farm Service Agency. McDonald accessed $50,000 through the Microloan Program to begin her operation, which she paid off in full in record time. She now focuses primarily on sheep production and has learned everything about small ruminant raising from the ground up.
McDonald implemented numerous conservation practices with incentive payments from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. To increase production and improve forage availability, McDonald accessed the Conservation Technical Assistance Program to develop a conservation plan that outlined numerous practices such as rotational grazing and fencing. She used the Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to support livestock management through rotational grazing. Her breeding stock and ewes' nutritional state are primarily influenced by this approach. “Grazing in just one pasture, they’re more susceptible to worms,” notes McDonald. “Rotational grazing has really helped.”
McDonald also keeps a small herd of cattle which she alternates pasture grazing between sheep to minimize parasites. Bovines and ruminants have different grazing habits, which impact vegetation differently.
McDonald also accessed EQIP to support the implementation of various upgrades to her water supply. “I felt like I hit the jackpot” she asserts. “If I hadn’t gotten NRCS help, I would have sold out; I wouldn’t have been able to keep going.”
Her father raised cattle and managed a Tennessee walking horse operation, until his unexpected passing thrusted the farm into a new season. A challenging but rewarding transition to sheep production has now paid off as she can impart her knowledge to others. Through mentoring other sheep owners, McDonald helps a new generation of growers meet the growing demand for sheep. Americans like her play an important role in agriculture.
McDonald also accessed a small business loan from the Small Business Administration to aid her enterprise during COVID. “I am so grateful for all that these programs, as they have advanced my business by leaps and bounds”, stated McDonald.
McDonald is now seeking a solar energy opportunity through USDA’s Rural Development Rural Energy of America Program to address energy efficiency on Sheepy Acres Farm.