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This farm was homesteaded by Julie’s great grandfather in 1868. He had six daughters, the last of whom remained on the farm until the 1970s. We moved to the farm in 1980, eventually buying it from Julie’s uncle. The farm is located about eight miles north of Belview, along the Minnesota River.
We have had commercial ewes since 1980, lambing about 400 ewes in 1990. Then in 1993 the decision was made to create the Siremax project, and 130 Columbia-type ewes came to Belview and were bred to Texel cross rams. By 1999, we had no commercial ewes and the Siremax flock had grown to about 325 ewes. The late 1990s were very dry, so in 1999 we split the Siremax flock between the three founding couples. Since 2000 Siremax has been the work of John and Julie Essame and Cindy Wolf and Kelley O’Neill.
In 2008 we moved the Belview ewes out to Hettinger ND to be managed by Michael and Brandy Merwin. Mike and Dee Dee had been buying Siremax rams for four years. Tragically Mike was killed in a vehicle rollover accident a month before lambing in 2010. In August all the ewes came back to Minnesota. We are very grateful to all the Merwin family. Mike’s father David was among the first to recognize the benefit of the genetic technology used by Siremax and its potential to change the US sheep industry.
We have now split the Belview flock. One third is in SE Montana, one third is in NW Oregon, and the remaining third is waiting for a new home. The plan is to select top ram lambs from franchise flocks and bring them to Belview to grow out. Then the best will be redistributed to link the flocks and balance the genetics. Rams and ram lambs not used by Siremax will be sold as commercial terminal sires.
The responsibility for genetic development and data preparation for the franchise flocks will stay in Belview. John’s brother Oliver, who lives in England, will continue to manage the Siremax database and much of the data processing for the franchise flocks.