Whitt and Erin Sorenson started building their dream of the Sorenson Sheep Co. in 2006 after purchasing six ewe (female) sheep to start their herd. Erin was still in college studying to be a physical therapy assistant, but they both knew that their ultimate dream was to work on either of their family’s ranches or start their own sheep ranch.
Both Erin and Whitt were raised on large family farms. Whitt grew up raising sheep, with his grandpa being one of the largest raisers of bucks (male sheep) in the nation. Erin grew up on a cattle ranch in Juab County where she enjoyed working with her family to raise food. While they both wanted to return to one of their family farms, it became evident to them that wouldn’t be an option.
“Don’t wait around to inherit what you can build yourselves. Go start building,” Erin recalled Whitt’s grandpa telling them while trying to make the difficult decision to go off on their own.
With the help of Whitt’s grandpa, they set off to start their own seed-stock sheep ranch, which means they raise male sheep to sell to other sheep ranches to use for breeding. In 2009, they moved to Delta, Utah, and began growing their business.
Both Erin and Whitt also have jobs off-the-farm to help make ends meet. Whitt works for IFA (Intermountain Farmers Association) in sales and Erin works as a Physical Therapy Assistant.
“There are things I can do on my farm because of things I have learned off the farm,” said Erin, “Most small-scale ranchers have to have off-the-farm income, and there is nothing wrong with that, but those jobs [off-the-farm and on-the-farm] can also help support each other. There are a lot of lessons you learn in agriculture that help you in any kind of job, and there is a lot you learn in other industries that you can bring back to the farm. I think if you are stuck too much in one world, you don’t get the well-rounded perspective that you need.”
While most couldn’t imagine having multiple jobs and raising a family, the Sorensons have managed to take it all in stride, knowing that it will all be worth it in the end.
A Family Affair
The Sorensons were able to purchase an almost 100-year-old farmhouse and property after moving to Delta. That farmhouse is where their business and has grown. The Sorenson’s have four children: Lee 11, Max 9, Gus 5, and Emma 2, and all have their own role on the farm.
“There is no better way to raise kids, but it’s not perfect,” said Erin. “My kids fight with me about doing chores, just like other kids fight with their parents about cleaning their rooms.”
While Gus and Emma are too young to have a lot of responsibility on the farm, they both love to be outside working with their brothers and parents on the ranch. Lee and Max both have various chores they are responsible for, with their main project being their show lambs.
Each year, kids all over the country raise and care for animals to take to their county or state fair to show and sell. This provides the kids with an opportunity to learn responsibility, learn how to care for, feed, water, and work with animals. This is the exact experience Erin and Whitt wanted to provide for their kids.
“The kids alone are responsible for their lambs,” said Erin. “We work with the kids as they work with their lambs, meaning, we don’t do anything without the kids present.”
Lee and Max both have show lambs this year. They make sure they have water each day, manage their food, and work with the lamb so they are easy to handle.
Whitt and Erin both work together to help manage the ranch as well, with Erin taking a more active role in the last year. Since going part-time with her job, she can be home more and help with things such as keeping records, day-to-day care for the lambs, managing finances, and managing their new upcoming business adventures. Whitt still has a large role on the ranch as well, but Erin has been able to step up and the two are working together more as a team than ever before.
“We have been able to expand and diversify our business because we have different strengths and recognize that even though we might not know everything individually, we are able to combine our knowledge,” said Erin.
The Future of Sorenson Sheep Co.
The Sorensons have a herd size of around 75 ewes and each ewe will have at least one lamb, though it is very common for them to have twins or triplets. Each lamb is designated for a specific purpose. Most of their buck lambs are sold to other sheep ranches for breeding, they keep around 15 ewe lambs to use for breeding on their own ranch, and the remaining lambs are sold for meat.
This business model worked well, but when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the lamb market at restaurants, the Sorensons knew that they needed to adapt. Last year, they started to sell meat from their lambs directly to consumers. A person would purchase a whole lamb, and Erin and Whitt would send it to be butchered and packaged for them when it was time. This business expansion proved to be beneficial for the Sorensons as they have many happy returning customers who can’t wait to get their lamb meat again this year.
The Sorensons were also able to provide a product for minority communities, whose cultures often consume more lamb meat than others.
“In the grocery store, you can find maybe 2-3 cuts of lamb meat. Nothing in comparison to beef or pork,” said Erin.
Not only do they eat more lamb, but several minority communities enjoy parts of the lamb that most Americans won’t eat. The Sorensons were able to order cuts of meat specific to their wants and needs, unlike what customers would find in the stores.
Erin also has dreams of being able to sell their wool to niche markets and artisan weavers. While this is still in the beginning stages, Erin’s excitement about the project is driving it forward.
“Whitt brought me home a bag of wool a few weeks ago, and I was more excited to receive that than I would have to get a dozen roses,” Erin explained while trying to contain her excitement for what the future holds for their wool.
They have big dreams, but they know that they can’t expand past what they can handle.
“I think it’s important for us to remember that it’s not a race in agriculture,” said Erin. “I don’t have to be more successful than my neighbor in order to be successful.”
Eating and Cooking Lamb
As part of their expansion into direct-to-consumer markets, Sorenson Sheep Co. has become a resource for their customers on the best ways to prepare lamb. Different areas of the country and world consume particular meats depending on culture and access to different products. In fact, the meat from the Sorenson’s ranch used to go to a buyer in California to fill a large demand in that area.
The most common cuts of lamb that you will see in the store are lamb chops. There are many other cuts of meat that you can get from a lamb, but you will most likely have to special order it from your butcher, according to Erin. Some of their family’s favorite cuts of meat to eat are lamb shanks, lamb ribs, and stew meat.
Lamb may not be one of the most commonly consumed meats in Utah, but if you ask Erin, it is the best meat you will taste.
“My dad, who is a beef cattle rancher, came over for Sunday dinner one day and asked what type of roast it was because it was the best roast he had ever had. He didn’t believe me when I told him that it was a lamb roast,” said Erin.
Erin, who didn’t really eat lamb until she and Whitt started dating, said that learning to cook lamb has been a lot of trial and error. She has created some great recipes in the process and many of their customers follow Sorenson Sheep Co. on social media to get tips and recipes to help them cook their lamb. Erin has also provided a recipe and some tips on cooking lamb for you today.
Tips on cooking lamb:
1. Lamb doesn’t need a lot of frills. It has a great natural flavor.
2. The fat really needs to be rendered down in lamb to get the good flavor.
3. The best ways to cook lamb are either under the broiler or on a BBQ grill.
4. Simple seasoning such as garlic and season salt is all that is needed.
The Future of Agriculture
“If there is one thing that I would want people to know is that the ability for America to be able to produce its own food is an issue of national security,” said Erin. “We need to be producing enough food on American soil to feed the American population.”
Erin further explained that we already do a pretty good job of this in the United States, but we need to do better about protecting agriculture and agricultural lands for the future – not only nationally, but within the state of Utah as well.
“It’s not enough to just go to the grocery store and have food brought here from all over, but we need to be doing enough to be protecting agriculture in our state so we aren’t too reliant on others for our food,” Erin said.
The Sorensons recognize that their small farm can’t provide that food security alone. Just as Erin, Whitt, and their family work together as a team, all of the farms and ranches in the United States, big and small, work together to feed the world.
“We can’t feed America without the larger-scale farms, but there are a lot of things that my small-scale farm can provide as well. It’s okay to be small. There is room and a need for all sizes of farms and ranches,” Erin explained.
The United States is unique this way, with only 2% of the population feeding the remaining 98%, these farms and ranches must be protected and supported – large or small.
“We don’t get to have niche markets if people are starving,” said Erin. “The fact that we have such a stable and abundant food supply is what allows us to be small and appeal to specialty markets.”
Many of these decisions to protect agriculture and our food supply happen among our public officials in county and town council meetings, state legislative sessions, and at the national level as well. Erin urges all that “When you vote, when you make decisions, make the decision that will protect agriculture.”
Much of this can seem daunting as we worry about the future of agriculture and continuing to have a stable food supply, but one thing is for sure, the future looks bright with many farm and ranch owners such as the Sorenson’s producing our food and fiber.
Those wanting to learn more can follow ‘Sorenson Sheep Co’.
Lamb & Veggies Recipe
½ Cup Soy Sauce
½ Cup Water
Juice from 1 Lemon
1 Tbsp Minced Fresh Garlic
½ Cup Dijon Mustard
1 Tsp Rosemary
Dice vegetables of choice in large chunks and cube lamb meat. Marinate meat and veggies separately for 6-24 hours. Place meat and veggies on skewers and grill on the BBQ until meat is cooked through.
Sorenson Sheep Co. – Building a Future in Agriculture
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