The New Shepherds on the Block
By Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association
This time of year Nikki and Rueben Sprung bring a new definition to parenting. For four months starting in January, they tend to their flock of sheep and care for newborn lambs.
The job isn’t for the faint of heart as they work around the clock to keep everything in order. As days stretch into nights, they proficiently work to keep the sheep fed while always watching the health of newborn lambs. All while also taking care of their cattle and hogs.
“We’re good together,” Nikki said about working with her husband on a daily basis.
”To work with your best friend and your spouse is great,” Rueben added. “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”
In 2011, the duo traveled to eastern Montana to transfer 250 ewes back to Iowa. Since that time they have been steadily growing their operation while working to make everything run as smooth as possible.
“We visited a farmer in western Iowa, and he told us to be successful in raising sheep we needed to do as much of the work as we could on our own,” Rueben said.
They took that advice to heart and now, with the help of family, do all the chores and maintenance themselves. That includes mending fences, moving sheep, grinding feed, handling immunizations and on and on.
Since 2011, the couple has worked side by side to grow their flock to 600 ewes that produce 800 to 1000 lambs each year.
“You learn something new every year,” Rueben said while watching a playful lamb spring from the ground. “There isn’t too much I don’t like. I don’t like problems, but otherwise, it is fun all the way around.”
Rueben said that he knew he wanted to work with livestock at an early age, but Nikki would’ve never imagined working with animals on a daily basis. She grew up in Riceville and didn’t have connections to farm life until she started dating and eventually marrying Rueben.
"It has been a learning experience,” she said with a smile. “But living and working on this farm is something I love.”
Watching Nikki move from pen to pen you would think that she has been a part of farming for all of her life.
“We both have our expertise here,” she said. “I have more patience for some things than Rueben does so I tend to spend time with bottle lambs and entering records.”
The work doesn’t end for Rueben and Nikki in the barns. The couple has been implementing a computerized record keeping system to help them grow their business. To do that they tag the sheep and lambs to watch their health, immunizations and also keep track of their lineage. The tags of each animal can be scanned to access the information. Nikki and Rueben hope the information will lead to better marketing decisions in the future.
“We’re young and new to the industry so networking and making connections is important,” Rueben said.
For Nikki, it has been fun to show the world what life is like on their farm by sharing photos on popular social media platforms like Instagram (@nsprung).
“I guess I would have to say I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures,” Nikki said. “Instagram and Facebook make it easy for me to share the things I get to see and do with the livestock with my friends and family and anyone else that follows along. My grandma has to be my No.1 fan. I think she prints off almost every photo I share with her!”
She has also found social media as a tool to help with ideas and practices to implement on their farm.
“We are still pretty new to the sheep industry so I guess I also use it as a tool to see how others are doing things to raise their sheep,” she said.
So as another lambing season comes to a close the couple can look back on all the memories they shared. They can also look to the future of their farm knowing that they will continue to grow their flock and be working with more lambs in eight to twelve months.