Cody Chambliss finally got his sheep moved in early May from his feedlot near Pierre after city and county officials ordered him in January to have them gone by early April.
Last month, Chambliss told the Capital Journal he got the sheep moved, finally, by May 7.
“The deadline was back in April but look at the weather we had,” he said, referring to the big blizzards of mid-March and mid-April. “That was probably the biggest delay.”
The whole thing has cost him plenty, Chambliss said.
He hired someone to haul the sheep out in trucks. Already the spring with blizzards had been tough on his sheep and then the ewes began lambing just before the move.
“There were a lot of losses, the weather and the big thing was the stress on ewes when we were moving,” he said.
Now his sheep have a nice place with more room, and lots of grass and well away from Pierre and Hughes County, he said.
Chambliss works for the state, as manager in charge of regulation grain elevators under the Public Utilities Commission.
He has to drive about an hour to watch over his sheep. But he seems happy to do so compared with dealing with the difficulties he was in over the past year at his 20-acre site not far east of the Pierre Regional Airport.
Chambliss stocked the place with hundreds of Merino ewes with plans to raise lambs, feed them and sell them into the meat market while selling the wool. He was buying the property on a contract for deed and was in a partnership with a New York sheep producer who owned about 80 percent of the sheep, he said.
His sheep feedlot was in the extra-territorial area that is one mile around the city of Pierre’s city limits and ruled jointly by the Pierre City Commission and the Hughes County Commission..
Once neighbors began complaining, city and county officials began telling Chambliss last fall he was out of bounds by city zoning laws which allowed him to have only 400 animals on the site.
At one point last year, he had about 1,500 and he applied for a conditional use permit to have up to 3,500 head of sheep on the place.
His neighbors began to complain as they saw the size of his operation.
A joint city/county planning and zoning panel met with him last fall and recommended to the city commission and county commission that Chambliss’ permit application be denied.
On Jan. 7, 2019, a joint meeting of the City Commission and County Commission, including a public hearing, was held in the courtroom in the Hughes County Courthouse.
About 40 people filled the gallery, most of them opponents of Chambliss’ plan.
At the meeting in January, Inman and other commissioners told Chambliss that it was clear that his neighbors did not want such a large sheep feedlot there.
Nobody other than Chambliss spoke in favor of the sheep feedlot at the public hearing on Jan. 7
Chambliss told the joint panel at that meeting he wanted to have about 2,000 Merino ewes plus their lambs each year, feeding the lambs up to slaughter weight and selling the wool from all the sheep each year.
He said the 20-acre plot would work well and he had a plan for a nearby farmer to haul off the manure to use as fertilizer on crop fields.
John Baldridge told the joint panel in January he owns land about a half-mile from Chambliss’s feedlot, which produced “sheep stench.”
“There have been range wars fought” over sheep in the West, Baldridge said at the public hearing. “We don’t want the smell of a sheep feedlot blowing over our land. It will cause the devaluation of our property.”
City and county officials have told him he needed to do his homework before he started filling his feedlot with sheep. They said the sight of his own neighbors arrayed against the operation were good evidence it wasn’t the right place.
County commissioners told him that it seemed obvious that the rural neighborhood he started the sheep feedlot in was not he place to do it, if he just looked around at his neighbors’ homes.
City Commissioner Jamie Huizenga told him in January at the public hearing that the idea of adding value in agriculture, like his plan to feed lambs, is a good one.
“I think you’re on to something good here. But you are in the wrong spot.”
The joint panel on Jan. 7 gave him 90 days to move the sheep. That would have been April 7.
Chambliss told the Capital Journal last month he did the best he could in the face of the blizzards and finally got the sheep moved by May 7.
“The city filed a suit against me May 7. I believe it will be dropped,” he said.
He remains a big booster of sheep, he said.
“This whole thing gave sheep a bad reputation,” Chambliss said. “But think about it. Most of the land in this whole area was paid for by sheep when you go back in history.”
His own reputation as a sheep producer also took an unfair hit during the controversy, Chambliss said.
“Everyone thinks I’m a bad operator, but I’m not,” he said. “I’m pretty active in the state (Sheep Growers) Association. I run a pretty tight ship.”
He’s also a leader of the Young Entrepreneurs, part of the American Sheep Industry trade group, he said.
That involved a tour last year of Colorado sheep operations, according to the Sheep Industry website,which quoted Chambliss in an article about the tour.
Now at his new place, which he describes as about 60 miles from Pierre, he has more space and a better set up and the main thing is, he’s away from Pierre and Hughes County.
“The city and county need to clean up all their laws,” Chambliss said.
Zoning regulations do need updating from time to time and that’s part of local government’s regular regulation, city and county leaders say.
But in Chambliss’ case, they say, he simply started an operation that was not allowed under the zoning laws.
Chambliss’ sheep feedlot idea might have worked out in the county at another site, where there are hog feeding operations at a distance from other residents. But it wasn’t the right fit for the extraterritorial area which is under city zoning rules, County Commission Chairman Roger Inman said.
The county’s planning and zoning office would have shown him what to expect if he had asked, Inman said.