SDSU Sheep Extension Specialist honored by S.D. Sheep Growers

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS – SDSU Extension Sheep Specialist, Jeff Held was recently recognized by the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association for his devotion and contributions to the South Dakota sheep industry with the Shepherd’s Award.

The Shepherd’s Award is presented each year to an individual, business or organization that has contributed to the success of South Dakota’s sheep producers, explained Rufus DeZeeuw, a sheep producer from Elkton and district director With South Dakota Sheep Producers Organization.

“Jeff has certainly provided dedicated services and support for the sheep industry and our organization in South Dakota,” said DeZeeuw. “If it’s something sheep-related in our state, you’ll probably find Jeff is involved. His involvement stems not from a job requirement, but rather from his extreme passion and love for this industry.”

Held exemplifies the Shepherd’s Award. For more than 20 years he has helped South Dakota’s sheep producers as the SDSU Extension Sheep Specialist.

However, his ties to the sheep industry go back even further – to childhood when he and his owned a registered Hampshire flock and showed at fairs across the Midwest together.

Held attributes his early connection to the sheep industry to launching his current career.

“My experience growing up on a sheep operation and involvement in 4-H spawned a greater interest in educating producers and led me to a career, and advanced training in ruminant nutrition,” said Held, who also serves as an Animal Science Professor at SDSU, and continues to be involved in his family’s registered flock.

Held came to SDSU as a Professor and SDSU Extension Specialist in 1990 after completing his PhD in ruminant nutrition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wasted no time in providing information and training to South Dakota sheep producers. Within months he established a sheep shearing clinic to teach producers interested in learning the trade. The clinic is a yearly event which continues today.

“Shearing sheep was how I earned money in high school and college. Along with the money, I really enjoyed getting to know producers,” Held said. “I was at Buffalo SD in late-January 1990 when area sheep producers asked me to host a shearing school – a few weeks later we held the first one.”

Fondly recalling that first shearing clinic, Held said it was a great way to get to know South Dakota sheep growers. A year later he helped launch the annual ram test in Newell, which continues today at the NDSU Hettinger Extension and Research Center – Hettinger, N.D. And, together with the South Dakota Sheep Producers and SDSU Athletics, Held started the Lamb Bonanza – a scholarship program which showcases SDSU’s support of lamb and wool production in South Dakota, and it is held in conjunction with SDSU men’s and women’s basketball.

Today, South Dakota ranks fifth in the nation in sheep production. Held attributes this to the determination of its sheep growers to make genetic advancements to their flocks to improve meat and wool and the state’s strong marketing infrastructure for wool and lambs.

“Infrastructure is key for our industry to remain strong,” Held said. “South Dakota has the necessary infrastructure, whereas other areas of the country do not. Where the marketing infrastructure has weakened the price discovery mechanisms for wool and lamb industry has become vulnerable.”