Romy Schill had to step in when her husband got hurt, then found taking on the role full-time made a lot of sense
When I ask Romy Schill what her primary role on the farm is, her answer is simple and perhaps somewhat obvious. “I’m a farmer,” she tells me and leaves it at that.
Romy owns and operates Circle R Livestock in Wallenstein with her husband Ryan.
With 300 Dorset ewes, Romy refers to Circle R as a sheep farm but points out that the operation also runs 1,200 layer-breeder hens.
Sheep farming was never something Romy envisioned growing up on her family dairy farm in Drayton. In fact, as a teenager she told her mother she didn’t want anything to do with farming and would never marry a farmer.
But as the old saying goes…never say never.
Romy and Ryan, a farm kid himself, met through 4-H in high school and were married in 2008 after Romy graduated from the University of Guelph in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.
The couple moved to Ryan’s family hog farm and Romy started a career in feed sales.
Romy and her husband made some big decisions early on. The first was to take a government buy out and get out of hog farming. The second was to get into sheep.
Ryan would run the farm and Romy would continue to work in sales.
While Romy was on her first maternity leave, Ryan hurt his leg in a farm accident leaving him unable to work for an entire summer
It was at that time that the matriarch became responsible for managing the farm on her own just until Ryan was back up and running.
That was the plan but the more Romy thought about it the more it made sense for her to stay home and for Ryan to go to work.
“I was doing everything in the barn anyway and we wouldn’t have to find day care if I stayed home,” she says.
That was five years ago and Romy says it’s a plan that continues to work today for her family, which grown by two more over the timespan.
Circle R Livestock focuses on lambing every sheep in the flock every 8-9 months; pushing the number of lambs per ewe, and getting lambs to market faster.
Romy says the Dorset breed was selected because she wanted a ewe that is a good mom and can lamb on her own and that’s important for the farm’s year-round lambing program.
Not knowing much about the industry to begin with has given Romy a unique perspective on sheep farming, in a good way.
“We didn’t come into this with any preconceived notions on how to manage the flock,” she says, adding that her background in dairy has been a “huge benefit.”
Romy says she feeds the flock like a dairy herd using a total mixed ration (TMR) and spends a lot of attention on getting the feed just right.
“We don’t have weak lambs or pneumonia or any big health issues at all and I believe it’s because they’re fed well,” she comments.
The sheep are also kept in the barn year round. Romy says the facility is well ventilated, comfortable for the animals, and away from predators like coyotes.
Flexibility, demand for product, and good prices are the successes Romy has welcomed since becoming a shepherdess. Animal disease, bio-security, and not being taken as seriously as other livestock producers are the challenges she’s faced.
When asked if being a woman in agriculture has ever presented itself as a challenge, Romy says it has not in her experience.
“Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn and I don’t let the fact that I’m a woman hold me back,” she says. “I know the job that needs to be done and if I don’t, I figure it out. Plus, I don’t think of myself as being a woman in farming, I think of myself as a sheep farmer.”
Romy, who sends out messages from Circle R Livestock on Twitter and Facebook, joined the Ag Women’s Network three years ago as a way to network.
She was looking for a place to meet people with similar interests and she wanted a group that could talk seriously about agriculture production and business.
“Being a part of AWN has allowed me take myself more seriously as a producer. I used to think that I was only a farmer but I’ve learned that I’m just as much in the industry as someone on the business side.”
Romy says it’s also great to belong to a group that encourages open, non-judgmental discussion and she loves the articles that are shared online by the members in the AWN Facebook group.
“We all go through tedious points in our life so it’s nice to start your week off by reading something inspiring before going to the barn,” she says.