Already encouraged by increased prices for lamb, sheep ranchers have seen prices for wool soar in recent months. Wool is trading between $1.50 and $1.90 per pound, depending on its classification, up from 85 cents last spring when most wool was available and sold.
The higher prices have caused some producers to consider expanding their flocks. Ian Anderson, a Solano country Calif., sheep rancher, said he will expand his sheep numbers after three years of shrinking them. The profitable price for lambs is especially appealing, he said, but he is also encouraged by higher wool prices.
There are fewer U.S. producers available to take advantage of the strong markets. Ranchers and processors alike recognize that the number of sheep producers and the sheep population in the United States has been declining. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service reports the nation's sheep flock at 5.6 million head in January 2010, roughly half the number of 20 years ago.
On the other hand, demand for wool and lamb now exceeds supply. Mike Harper of Harper Feedlot in Eaton, Colo., told a competition workshop this summer that prices for live lamb in 2010 are the highest in history.
Randy Hammerstrom of the USDA Marketing Service reports average wool prices in 2010 are the highest in anyone's memory. For the first time he can recall, he said, every part of the sheep business is profitable-wool, lamb and mutton.
Given the combination of reduced production and increased demand, the American Sheep Industry Association has assembled a national committee to promote the advantages of sheep production to other farmers and ranchers. The Rebuild the Sheep Inventory Committee is developing a plan to encourage expansion.
The committee will work to attract producers from other livestock, dairy and poultry sectors who are looking for ways to diversify their production. Committee members say it will develop outreach efforts throughout the country, including programs to sponsor young sheep producers and encourage producers with small flocks of 100 head or fewer.
Greg Ahart of Superior Farms, a member of the committee, said it plans to apply for a USDA grant that would provide help to potential sheep producers.
"No one can guarantee prices will remain at this high level forever," Ahart said. "However, indicators are positive for the next few years, at least."
Reprinted in part from AgAlert