Jon and Nathan Finifrock wash a sheep in preparation for the fair.
Jon and Ann Finifrock have been named the 2013 Carlton County Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota Extension for demonstrating commitment to enhancing and supporting agriculture.
They still managed to squeez in a birthday party for 13-year old son Nathan between loading and washing sheep for entry in the fair.
“It’s always busy on a farm,” explained Ann, while she served a birthday lunch brought by Jon’s parents, Willis and Kay Finifrock, who live east of Barnum on the farm next to Jon and Ann’s.
The two families have been farming together but that is at an end.
“Willis wants to retire, and we want to be more independent,” said Ann.
The Finifrocks raise Suffolk sheep, and call their operation Finifrock Flocks.
Jon and Kay live on the farm once owned by his great-grandfather, Percy Finifrock. The elder Finifrock raised feeder turkeys in long barns, something that was carried on by Jon’s grandfather.
Both Jon and Ann were raised on farms and they know how important the values learned on a farm are to their sons.
“I grew up with country in my blood,” said Jon, when he and Nathan took a break for the party. “No matter what job I had outside, I wanted to keep the farm going. Kids have so many opportunities on a farm to learn a work ethic and values. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
The couple has another son, Nickolas, 10, who uses a wheelcchair for mobility.
Farming is not without hardships and Jon has suffered more than his share of tragedies.
In 1995, three years after a new insulated barn was built, Jon watched in horror as the new barn burned, taking the lives of ewes that had been lambing.
“Jon stood there and cried and cried and cried,” said Kay. “That was hardest thing for a mother to see.
“Another bad time was when the lambs got feed poisoning. I watched him throw out lamb after lamb.”
Jon worked in Cloquet at one time but was injured on the job. He often couldn’t care for the sheep after his injury and had back surgery.
Nathan had worked side by side with his dad and he knew what had to be done after his dad was injured.
“After I got hurt, I struggled with feeding the sheep,” said Jon. “Nathan was only 3 but he helped me do the chores. He knew what to do when others came to help. If he had not helped out and shown an interest, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
“Nathan is very responsible,” said Ann.
“If Daddy is sick, he goes out and does the chores by himself,” added Kay.
The family owns 70 ewes and three rams of Suffolk sheep as well as 30 head of cattle. They bought the 90-acre farm in 1995 and now farm 240 acres in hay land and pasture.
Jon has been the superintendent of the Sheep Barn at the Carlton County Fair for 25 years and brings many sheep from his own flock to fill the building.
Jon’s list of community service projects includes 30 years as a 4-H leader. He assists the younger generations with showing sheep.
People come to Jon and ask for advice.
“I try to help out as much as I can,” he said. “Not a lot of people raise sheep. I get a lot of calls, especially at lambing time.”
A professional shearer comes to shear the sheep.
“I used to do that myself but not after I got hurt,” said Jon. “We catch the sheep for him and take care of the wool by putting it in great big bags. The shearer buys it when he leaves. If it pays for the shearing, I’m doing good.”
Ann added that they donate some of the wool to the school, and that she teaches the students how to work with the wool.
Jon helps others become involved with raising sheep.
“Any kid can come and get a lamb,” he said. “The lamb can stay here or it can be taken home. The kid can show the lamb at the fair. They learn hands-on experience.”
Jon said that there are drawbacks to farming.
“It is very expensive, even for a hobby farm,” he said. “But my feeling is that this farm must stay in the family for another generation.
“I don’t expect a lot of money from it. It was hard to come home from a 12-hour shift and work in the barn, especially during lambing season, but I made the choice to do it.”
“In spite of all the pain and challenges, Jon won’t ask for help,” said Ann. “Nathan asked for help. He knew what needed to be done. You couldn’t have hired a hand that knew as much as Nathan.
“Nickolas brightens our day. Nathan plays with Nickolas. He is the best big brother.”
Both Nathan and Nickolas own several sheep and entered them at the fair.