2011 was an extraordinary year for extreme weather patterns. Heavy moisture challenged the lambing season across many northern states last winter and spring and the southwest experienced a 100-year drought that was so severe tens of thousands of sheep left the area.
"In light of such severe weather, we consider a 2-percent decline in total sheep and lamb inventory last year pretty encouraging to the industry," said Margaret Soulen Hinson (Idaho), president of the American Sheep Industry Association.
There were several other bright spots in the report. The overall 2011 lambing rate rose 2 percent and, while the overall lamb crop was down 2 percent, several states including Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan reported significant increases. Plus, the replacement lamb numbers rose significantly in many states.
Soulen Hinson continued, "It will be another year or so before we will be able to see where the drought-stricken sheep from Texas (historically the largest sheep state) and some other southwestern states ended up but, as the report implies and industry sources attest, the appropriate breeding sheep were moved to other states and only the culls were slaughtered."
Sheep and lamb death loss was up 4 percent, which was not a surprise considering the harsh weather and increased predator pressures.
Wool production was down 4 percent but the average value of shorn wool was up a record 40 percent.
"Strong lamb and wool prices, despite rising input costs last year, and confidence in the marketplace for the foreseeable future is keeping people in the sheep business and bringing on new operations," concluded Soulen Hinson.
The report is available at http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/SheeGoat/SheeGoat-01-27-2012.pdf.