Debby Jo Holmquist and her Showgirlz Sheep Company of Paris made history at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky., in November.
Holmquist’s one-year-old ram named Morals, born and bred in Edgar County, was named as the 2018 Gold U.S. National Champion Ram during the National Polled Dorset Show. In addition, another Showgirlz ram and Morals’ son — yearling Masterpiece — also earned junior champion title and competed against his sire in the grand drive competition to name the top ram.
“This is where history was made at the most competitive/highest quality show in the world as both father and son were competing against each other to go for the Gold Medal,” an overwhelmed Holmquist explained. “This was a moment in time where your heart feels like it is literally beating out of your chest, the overwhelming feeling of achievement that a dream day had just come true.”
Holmquist noted a lot of things have to go right for a ram to make it the final drive where the gold medal ram is selected. “So there are a lot of brackets they have to win in order to keep moving up to even qualify for competing for the gold,” she explained.
Morals, now owned by Piller Dorsets in Mendota, began his march to glory at 8 a.m. Nov. 14 by winning his class of yearlings at the show. Holmquist said the ram returned to his pen while the remaining younger classes competed before returning to the showring to compete for the senior champion. While Morals was resting his nine-month old son, Masterpiece, was competing and winning his yearling class.
For Holmquist, the years and years of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, careful planning and dedication brought overwhelming emotion as she watched the rams being led into the ring.
“I put my face in my hands and just cried I was so overwhelmed with gratitude,” she said. “To see both of my rams I raised myself on my little humble farm in Paris out there in the biggest spotlight in the world representing my life was truly a dream of a lifetime.”
Holmquist said she knew both of the rams were special when they were born. “I had to assist delivery with both of them as they were so large when born,” she noted. “They just had that look of quality and great promise.”
Holmquist said she was confident, “great genes were bred in them. I carefully planned their matings based on years of genetic experience.”
Cameras were flashing around the ring as both rams stood head-to-tail tall competing for the most prestigious title in the world. “I knew at that moment, I had the gold won because vying for it were mine,” she said. “I have been raising sheep for 50-plus years and I never had two of my sheep in the ring at the same time competing on the sacred green shavings for the most prestigious title in the world.”
After Morals earned the gold as the best in the country, the judge was surprised to discover the two were father and son. He told Holmquist, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and that it was an amazing feat.”
The accomplishment was particularly emotional for Holmquist as it marked her comeback after her husband, Cliff, died a few years ago. “This victory will stay in my heart forever,” she said.
Holmquist was forced to sell the 80 sheep she had invested years of breeding and planning so she could give her full attention to him. “He was my priority,” she explained. The couple was living in their home state of Maine at the time.
Born and raised with 400 sheep and a breeder and shepherd all her life, Holmquist had to sell her herd. “I thought my dream was gone for me. I didn’t know how I could ever pull everything together that is required to start all over from ground zero building a name for myself again with all new genetics,” she said.
Setting a bucket list goal to raise another national champion, Holmquist relocated to her rural Paris farm — located near her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter — and began building her herd once again.
“The feeling of knowing that you bred and raised them yourself and didn’t just purchase one somewhere is like no other feeling in the world,” she explained. “That is the mark of a good breeder in any species of livestock.”
Praying that her dream would be realized, Holmquist admitted she never thought she, “would have two rams from my farm win gold in their respective divisions and for one to go all the way to national champion in the same day.”
Morals is now retired from the ring with the golden title on his back forever and now is at stud with many years ahead of him.
“I sold an interest in him to a very progressive large farm in Northern Illinois where I will continue to serve as their consultant in the coming years breeding more like him,” she said, noting 25 females are due to lamb by him in the spring of 2019.
Masterpiece is also expecting new babies in the spring and was scooped up by a top Dorset breeding farm in Ohio to become their new stud ram. Holmquist also noted two females bred by her company and sold placed second and third in the female classes that day.
Another feather in Holmquist’s cap is both father and son have been federally genetically tested with results that came back as high/perfectly as any sheep can achieve.
“Their genetics are highly valuable and sought after,” she said, noting the offspring of both rams will be making a grand impact in the sheep world for years to come.