Filling a fuzzy demand
By ROBYN KRUGER
ROCK RAPIDS – Brothers Mark and Kyle Hoogendoorn have taken their love of sheep farming and are filling a need among sheep producers throughout northwest Iowa and beyond.
Mark Hoogendoorn, 25, an Iowa State University dairy science graduate, and Kyle Hoogendoorn, 20, a junior in the ISU dairy science program, said their diary science studies are just a fall-back plan for their real love of sheep farming.
Dennis and Joan Hoogendoorn raised their sons on a 300-head sheep farm between Rock Rapids and Lester. Their sheep-shearing careers began at a young age when neighbor and mentor Alex Moser, of rural Lester, taught the boys the art of sheep shearing. After mastering the craft, the two helped Moser with shearing jobs on the week-ends.
“Demand for shearers has created a market for work in this profession.” said Mark Hoogendoorn. “In the past, shearers were leery of teaching the craft to others for fear of losing work. The older shearers are now retired or gone, and few people know the craft. We are filling that niche market.”
The brothers work as independent contractors.
At present, there are five shearers working as a group. Often, shearers who know each other will get together during the peak shearing season and travel together to take on many of the bigger jobs together.
Moser, who serves as foreman of the group, said they generally take on 500 sheep in a work day.
“Generally we like to stay within a two-hour radius of our area.” said Mark Hoogendoorn. “But we do travel throughout a four-state region which includes Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.”
Mark Hoogendoorn has traveled as far as Australia to work as a shearer.
“Two years ago, an acquaintance from Montana asked if I would be interested in taking on a shearing job in Australia for 10 weeks,” he said. “It was a great experience and I would like to go back sometime in the future.”
According to Mark Hoogendoorn, Australian herds typically number near 5,000 head – much larger than most herds in the United States.
“In the U.S., a sheep producers main income comes from the meat,” he said. “In Australia, a larger percentage of income comes from the wool. When you hear of Merino wool, it usually comes from Australia.”
Mark Hoogendoorn said China and India are the main importers of American wool and China seems to set the market price, which varies greatly depending on the quality of the product.
Most of the wool the group shears is sent to Groenewold Fur & Wool Company in Forreston, Ill. to be processed.
The group sorts the wool as they go, dividing the wool by cleanliness and color.
In January 2012, Mark Hoogendoorn and Moser took part in the national sheep shearing championships in Rapid City, S.D. Hoogendoorn took first place and Moser took second.
During the summer, the group also enjoys competing in the various state fairs.
“It’s like a convoy of sheep shearers traveling to shearing competitions from state to state,” Mark Hoogendoorn said. “We meet a lot of people and have a lot of fun.”
Looking into the future, the young men both see themselves continuing in the shearing business and running their own sheep operations.
Mark Hoogendoorn hopes to travel back to visit Australian sheep operations and perhaps to Europe and New Zealand. Kyle Hoogendoorn said his dream is to finish college and find a farm in the area to raise a 1,000-head flock.
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