An Expanding Sheep Farm
We recently interviewed Mackenzie Strawser. Mackenzie and her husband Eli own and operate Top Line Meats, LLC on Mackenzie's family farm. They started the business in late 2020 and raised shape for breeding and meat purposes. Mackenzie is also a 2021 recipient of the Horizon Farm Credit Jumpstart Grant, which awarded 15 startup farmers with a $10,000 grant.
Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and your sheep operation?
Growing up, I always knew agriculture was the industry for me. I raised beef cattle, hogs, goats, chickens, and whatever I could get my hands on all throughout my 4-H and FFA career. Sheep really became an interest of mine later in life. This interest grew during my time studying animal science at Penn State. It all started when the breeder I bought my market lambs from asked if I would be interested in buying some ewes after my last show season. It really spiraled from there. What started as 12 Suffolk crosses has quickly grown to almost 75 Polypay ewes. We only continue to grow from here.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the product you produce. How are your lambs sold, and how do you market them as well?
The way that our lambs are sold depends a lot on their gender. Our ewe lambs are generally kept as replacement females. If for some reason we decide to keep them for ourselves, we often offer them as breeding stock to other people. We may also sell them as freezer lambs by the half or whole to people that we know. Our ram lambs are almost always sold before they're even born, because of the strong ethnic community presence in our area. If they aren't born near a holiday or we have an excess, we also get a fair price for them at livestock auction, normally in New Holland. Right now we’re also talking about being a year-round supplier for a local restaurant as our flock grows.
What has been the greatest challenge for you as you got your farm business off the ground? Along with that, what resources have helped you along the way?
The biggest challenge for us getting started was the initial cost required with land, building materials, and equipment. When you start from the ground-up at a young age, straight out of college, it makes things difficult. Being able to decide how to prioritize money when you have it and plan for the future can be difficult as well. A close tie for the biggest challenge for us would also be growing fast enough to meet our consumer demand. Our most helpful resources so far have come from working with organizations like Horizon, NRCS, and Capital RC&D. We've found some really great mentorships and partnerships, as well as funding opportunities, by just reaching out for information.
In your grant application, Mackenzie, you described a bit about your plans for the future of the farm, which included some significant growth of your flock, as well as the possible addition of different types of animals. Could you share with our listeners about how you plan to grow your business in the upcoming years?
My husband and I both strongly believe in the mentality of go big or go home. We have planned the goals of our operation to align with that. By the end of this year, we plan to be right around 130 ewes with the intent of making the jump to 225 the following year. We'll continue to grow as long as the market is strong, and we have the land to sustain it. Our main joke when we talk about sheep, is that our goal is to reach 1,000 head before we die. We have discussed adding beef cattle and broiler chickens to our operation, opening a retail storefront, but all that's currently on hold as we grow our flock. You never know what the future might bring.
As we wrap up, could you share one piece of advice you have for someone who is interested in getting started farming, or starting an Ag business of any type?
My biggest piece of advice for anyone in farming, whether you're new or you've been in it for decades, is to remember that you can't do it all by yourself. Being a part of agriculture means being part of a community. You can't be afraid to ask questions, find a mentor, or ask someone for help. 99% of the time someone's going to jump at the opportunity because we've all needed help at least once before, and we understand what you're going through. It will be frustrating, but it'll also be worth it. You just have to remember that tomorrow's another day, and you can't control it all.
Finally, could you tell our listeners where they can find you online to learn more about your business and connect with you? You can follow us on our Facebook page @TopLineMeatsLLC, and stay up to date on all things sheep.