Our Story

My wife and I started raising American Blackbelly sheep in June 2022 when we got our first three ewes from a BBSAI breeder in Minnesota. 

We instantly fell in love with this breed of sheep and knew that we were all in on establishing a small flock of Blackbelly’s in Nebraska and raising awareness of these amazing and beautiful sheep. 

We became one of the first BBSAI registered breeders for American Blackbelly sheep in Nebraska.  Because of this we had to try and find breeders in neighboring states to help us get established. 

In 2022, my wife and I traveled to Minnesota and Tennessee to find ewes and an unrelated ram to get started. 

As our flock is starting to grow, we have connected with another breeder in Oklahoma and plan on getting a 2nd breeding ram in 2024 to introduce another bloodline into our flock and breeding program.

american blackbelly sheep ram with chickens
Miniature Donkey
Hazel the mini horse

Humble Beginning

We didn’t start our little farm with American Blackbelly sheep.  Our little farm, Penner Mini Farms, located near Lincoln, Nebraska was established when my parents gifted us with a miniature donkey in the Spring of 2020.  His name was Alvin and he was the start of the beautiful farming journey for my wife and I. 

We decided he needed a friend and so we purchased a couple of miniature horses (a mare named Coconut and a stallion named Rebel) that summer.  We really didn’t have much of a plan at that time. We both just love animals and we had decided that we wanted to find an acreage and establish a small farm. 

My parents have lived on a small acreage of 23 acres just Southwest of Lincoln, Nebraska where they have enjoyed rural life and hobby farming.  My parents are aging and their health is declining.  As we stopped by their farm to visit Alvin, Coconut (“Coco”) and Rebel every day we would always spend time helping my parents with stuff around the farm. 

Ultimately, we noticed that they appreciated the help as much as we loved helping them.  Then the idea occurred to all of us that we should see if it would be possible to build a house on my parents farm so that we could take care of them and make it possible for them to stay on the farm as long as possible while also allowing us to get a start on our little farm.  My parents agreed and so we started the process of building our new farm and Penner Mini Farms was established. 

Our desire was to start a miniature farm where we would raise miniature animals of all kinds.  We started with horses and our donkey but we really wanted to add some miniature goats and sheep to our farm as well.

Our first 3 goats

By the Summer of 2021 we added a few goats and a few varieties of wool sheep to our farm.  We did not know anything about raising goats and sheep but we are always eager to learn and so we started doing lots of research and just learned as much as we could as we went. 

Initially we were more interested in goats than sheep and so we focused on increasing our flock of goats.  We decided to raise Nigerian Dwarf, LaMancha and Miniature Lamancha goats

We have a small milking parlor setup in our barn where we love milking our goats.  We sell the raw milk and make goat milk soaps. 

We love all the fun, social and playful personalities of goats.  They love spending their days climbing, playing, and resting but they really love it when we visit them and spend time with them.

Sheep were more of a challenge for us at first as the breeds we had were more flighty and just more difficult for us to manage.  I quickly learned that I do not have the skills required to shear wool sheep (and I can tell you that the sheep would whole-heartedly agree).  My wife and I are quick learners and we are always willing to jump in and try things we have never done before (such as trimming hooves, ear tagging, banding kids and lambs, vaccinating, and pretty much everything related to the care of sheep and goats). 

So when it was time for the sheep to be sheared we purchased a good set of shears and we watched a few youtube videos (looked easy enough) and we grabbed the first sheep we could catch and shearing began (if you could even call what I did shearing).  My experience that day shearing sheep was nothing like the YouTube videos we watched.  My shearing attempt more closely resembles something like a wrestling match with a set of shears.  When I was done shearing our sheep my wife commented that our sheep “looked like a bunch of peeled potatoes.” 

That day, I realized that wool sheep were not something that I wanted to raise.

However, we still have a few wool sheep on the farm but some of those are my dad’s sheep and I decided to no longer do the shearing myself.

One happy sheep resembling a peeled potato

However, I had heard about hair sheep and so I got on my computer and started researching hair sheep and all of the different hair sheep breeds.  As soon as I discovered the American Blackbelly sheep, I told my wife that I wanted to try to find some American Blackbelly sheep and get a few to see how we liked them.  When I read that they are fairly low maintenance, no shearing required, social, hardy and good foragers I just knew these were the sheep for us.  The “icing on top of the cake” for me though was how beautiful and majestic these sheep are (especially the rams).  So, as I stated before, we had to drive all the way up to Minnesota (that was the closest breeder to us at the time) to pick up our first 3 ewes in June 2022 and from that moment on we have absolutely loved our American Blackbelly sheep.  It was love at first sight and love for them every day after.

All of our American Blackbelly sheep (ewes, ram, and lambs) absolutely love interacting with people.  They love when we come to the fence or come into the barn and interact with them.  They all come running up to the fence and will even climb up on the fence to get as close to us as possible.  My wife and I spend lots of time each week in their pen giving them lots of cuddles and hugs.  My wife asked me one day a while back, “If we could only have one kind of animal and had to get rid of the rest of our animals, which animals would you keep?”  I quickly answered and said that I would keep the American Blackbelly sheep.  She asked why and I told her that Leilani (one of our ewes) is the sweetest animal I have ever experienced in all of my life.  There is no way I would want to part with her or any of the other sheep we have.  It is as if they were made perfectly for our little farm.

We currently just breed one time a year in November and December so that we have late Spring lambs.  Here in Nebraska the winters are brutally cold.  Winter 2023 we had -40 degree wind chills for a two week stretch.  The American Blackbelly sheep and our miniature horses endured that cold weather like champs.  Our American Blackbelly sheep have to put up with harsh winters and extremely hot summers.  We have not had any issues with them with our extreme Nebraska weather.  We have shelters for them to get out of the weather as needed and we have good fencing to protect them from predators.  However, because of all of these factors we want to make sure that our lambs have the best possible start so we want to avoid the extreme cold or hot for lambing here in Nebraska.  We keep our ewes in our big barn (with adequate fenced off pens outside the barn) when they are lambing and provide them a clean, dry and warm area to lamb.

This past Spring (2023), my wife and I decided to focus our attention primarily on raising chickens, goats and sheep (along with keeping a few head of cattle for beef).  Sadly this meant that we decided to sell our beloved miniature donkey, Alvin, and our wonderful miniature horses.  Alvin has a new home in the Sandhills of Nebraska where he has lots of land to roam and a family who absolutely loves him and spoils him.  We are thrilled that he is living such a wonderful life.  Our horses all have new homes and are doing great as well.  Coco and Rebel blessed us with two wonderful baby girls over the years.  In July 2021, our first baby miniature horse was born on our farm.  Her name was Sandie and she was beautiful and incredibly sweet.  Horses have an 11 – 12 month gestation period so we learned we have to wait a long time for babies but it was definitely worth the wait.  Coco and Rebel gave us another baby girl, named Hazel, in April 2023.  We loved our time with Alvin and the horses but we are excited to focus our attention on sheep and goats moving forward.

Sandy the Mini Horse

At Penner Mini Farms, we are focusing on raising chickens and selling farm fresh eggs, raising dairy goats and selling milk and milk products, and raising American Blackbelly sheep for meat as well as for selling lambs for others to begin their flocks with great stock.  We strive to provide the best possible care for our animals and to give our animals good, safe and clean living environments.  We are visionaries as well…constantly looking for ways to improve our farm and how we care for our animals.  We are also always looking for sustainable ways to grow our farm and expand.  Last summer because of the extreme drought here in Nebraska my dad sold all of his Angus cattle.  This past Fall (2023), my wife and I once again started to research cattle breeds that would be a great fit for our farm.  We discovered Pineywoods Cattle.  In the Spring of 2024 we are going to start a small herd of Pineywoods to raise for beef.  Once again we will be one of the first (if not the absolute first) registered breeders of Pineywoods cattle in Nebraska.  These are cattle with a lot of history and there are a lot of conservation efforts going on to protect this breed of cattle and we are excited to join in the effort and do our part as well.  

My wife and I both work full-time at our church in Lincoln, Nebraska.  I graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science and am a computer programmer and database administrator.  I also try to bring my experience and skills in computer programming and database design to our farm operations.  I have designed several software systems to help my wife and I with our farming operations so that we can continue to scale our farm operations without adding a lot of extra work.  I have developed a complex and highly effective Inventory and Order Management System for handling the sales of all of our eggs, products, services and animals.  I have also developed an Animal Management system for tracking all of the information and data regarding each and every one of our animals.  I love incorporating my experience and skills in technology with my growing experience with farming.

– Jeffrey Penner