Self-described “old cow-milker from a previous life,” John Fastert of Rock Rapids has taken his experiences in showing and producing dairy cattle in a different direction and found success along the way. Fastert and his family have built a flock of club lambs, Southdowns and crossbred sheep and now lambing season is once again in full swing at the Fastert farm. “We lamb about 150 ewes after April 1 until about the first of June,” explained Fastert, who said he’ll sell about 400 lambs to destinations across the country in a year.
Fastert got his start in the sheep industry in 1978 when he says he bought 16 head of ewes to have as “grove cleaners” to avoid having to mow the grass. A friend, whose son was in 4-Hand FFA, wanted to show sheep at his local fair so the first year Fastert had sheep, the young man bought the bottle lambs and took them to the Osceola County Fair where he won grand champion individual and grand champion pen ofthree, according to Fastert. “The next year, he comes back, buys the bottle lambs and wins grand champion individual and grand champion pen of three,” said Fastert. “So I got interested in showing sheep.”
Fastert eventually became connected with a producer who pointed him in the direction of a large sheep sale in Oklahoma City that drew producers from across the country. “We went down there for the first time in 1985 and started chasing wether-type sheep,” said Fastert, explaining wether-type sheep are typically a meat-type sheep generally used for showing, “and I bought my first true wether sire.”
Fastert started with the Suffolk breed before he switched to the Hampshire breed in the mid-1990s. He began adding rams and additional breeds to his herd from various livestock shows and sales across Oklahoma and Texas. At the same time, he was building relationships with fellow producers who he says became his mentors.
His flock now includes Hamp-crosses and Southdown and Fastert takes pride in raising good sheep. “To this day I can produce better females than I can males in my sheep. I don’t know why,” he said. “To me a girl should be feminine and pretty and that’s what we strive for.”
Fastert sells lambs for 4-H and FFA clubs across the country, including to Texas and Oklahoma where the lambs are exercised on a track to make hard muscle desirable for showing. “Sheep have to be structurally correct,” he said, another trait he strives for in his sheep.
His efforts in building a quality flock have paid off. Several ewes and offspring from Fastert’s flock have gone on to win in some of the nation’s biggest livestock shows. In 2013, a Southdown ewe from his flock won reserve champion at the Houston Livestock Show and Auction. He says he gets calls from potential buyers in California. Recently he sent 1,300 head of sheep to Utah and has people coming from Texas for both club lambs and Southdown ewes.
But Fastert credits the many mentors in his life with helping him achieve success with his flock. “I’ve had very good mentors in this sheep deal — my family, people around here, sheep guys — that have helped me a lot. It’s one of those things where you just have to find somebody and be able to talk to them and ask them questions and absorb what they’re telling you,” he said, adding he’s learned a lot through trial and error.
For Fastert, having a quality flock to sell to others isn’t the most satisfying thing in his choiceto raise sheep. “It’s nice to have winners but it’s nice to have my kids involved,” he said. John and his wife, Sally, have four children who have all been involved. “The kids have been involved since they were 3 to 5 years old,” he said. Shelby, Sierra, Sadie and Jarrett have all been involved in most aspects of the production from keeping records, to taking trips to buy or sell and from prepping the sheep for showing to showing in local fairs and big shows. “We take a passion to showing sheep like some families take a passion to sports,” said John.
“I’ve sent my kids to lamb show camps like how some people send their kids to basketball or football camps.”
And it’s that passion and family involvement that is the real success for John.