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BLM Rule Could Limit Public Land Use

Brad Boner, ASI President

The Biden Administration’s Bureau of Land Management and BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning have proposed a new rule named Conservation and Landscape Health.
The proposed rule boldly adds an entirely new designation of use to those currently identified in the Federal Land Policy Management Act and establishes a NON COMPETITIVE LEASING SYSTEM for conservation. The chilling consequence to this proposed rule is to significantly limit access to our public lands.
Conservation is not a use, but an outcome. This proposed rule would serve to undo the tremendous work that has been done for generations by embracing the multiple use mandate and a working partnership between stakeholders and the BLM. The proposed rule – written behind closed doors – would fundamentally change the BLM’s multiple use mandate without congressional, state, county or stakeholder input.
This is the first time in history that FLPMA would be rewritten without this extremely necessary input. In addition, when we consider the short 75-day comment period, BLM has woefully failed to meet its statutory obligations under the regulatory process. It has bypassed its responsibility to truly evaluate the potential impacts by eliminating the opportunity for anyone – other than BLM senior leadership – to have meaningful input.
These actions only serve to greatly decrease stakeholder confidence in any final rule that BLM might bring forward and begs the question of why a collaborative, transparent process was not used rather than the matter a fact statement to the multiple use community of what is going to happen to them.
The proposed rule contains no language or assurance that would help the grazing industry think anything other than this rule is targeted to remove grazing access. The BLM has made it abundantly clear through its public meeting format that it does not want open dialogue on the proposed rule.
In a nutshell, the new proposed rule would give BLM the ability to create de facto Wilderness Study Areas of any size with no input from state or county governments by going around the Resource Management Plan or the revision process mandated by FLPMA by granting a conservation lease for up to 10 years to tribes, non-profits or individuals. This proposed rule would undoubtedly serve to elevate conservation use above all other multiple uses.
It is times like these that we are so grateful for ASI’s membership in the Public Lands Council and the great working relationship that the association enjoys with many other agriculture and multiple use groups. ASI and its allies will continue to do everything in their power to stave off this ill-thought-out effort to fundamentally change the way our public lands are managed.

Back on Averages…For the Most Part

As we get into the middle of summer, prices along the supply chain have maintained expected seasonal trends. Additionally, prices have begun hovering around the previous five-year averages. While prices are below last year’s levels, there is positivity in that prices seem to have found stability.

The one price series that has really gone against averages – and even last year’s price levels – is the all-lamb retail feature price. The all-lamb retail feature price went up from $8.03/lb. in April to $10.29/lb. in May. Historical trend does suggest that a price increase would be expected, but the rate of change to the $10.29/lb. price range is atypical.
Through the first week of June, activity is still strong in the retail space with the activity index up 23.7 percent compared to the previous week and up 33.9 percent from the same time last year. The activity index measures the frequency of featuring activity equal to the total number of stores for each advertised lamb and veal item. For example, if a retailer with 100 outlets features four lamb and veal items, then it would have an activity index of 400. This is a strong signal of retailers pushing lamb in the meat cases throughout the country. The two big features at the retail level are roasts and chops.
At the wholesale level, the net cutout is still holding steady at $434.38/per cwt., which is down compared to the average of April and May ($442.97/per cwt.). As a refresher, the cutout is the total value of a lamb carcass ($/per cwt.) based on the prices being paid for individual lamb primal cuts (i.e., rack, loin). The cutout is below last year’s price level ($565.69/per cwt.), but still $52.92/per cwt. higher than the previous five-year average. But the gap between this year and the previous five-year average is narrowing. Unless there is an uptick in the cutout value – which is possible – the cutout will begin to start settling in on the average value.
A big factor that will impact both the retail and wholesale prices, is the total supply of lamb product in the supply chain. Thus far through 2023, there have been 817,185 head slaughtered, which is 40,200 head higher than last year at this time. But the total amount thus far this year is still 56,000 head lower than the previous five-year average at this time of the year.
While we are slaughtering more, we are slaughtering at smaller dressed weights. This year, the weekly average slaughter dressed weight is 64.5 pounds, which is 4.3 percent lower than last year and 6.2 percent lower than the previous five-year average. Thus, we have produced approximately the same total product as last year – which influences the steady cutout value – and much lower in total product compared to the previous five-year average. If the retail sector continues to remain above prior year price levels, we could see an uptick in wholesale prices, which will incentivize increased slaughter numbers.
Surprisingly, Saturday slaughter total through May is at 26,440 head, which is 40 percent lower than this time last year and 82 percent lower than the previous five-year average at this time of the year.

Weekly negotiated slaughter lamb prices have continued their upward and five-year average trend. Through the end of May, the negotiated slaughter lamb price was at $156/per cwt., which is approximately $9/per cwt. below the previous five-year average. Usually, negotiated prices continue to increase and peak in July. The market seems to be on trend for this to happen again.
If the trend holds true, $180/per cwt. seems to be around where we will peak in July. In the three-market average of Colorado, South Dakota and Texas, 60- to 90-pound slaughter lamb prices are also holding steady at $178/per cwt. The prices in these markets historically remain steady through the summer and early fall. Thus, prices could remain around the $178/per cwt. level if everything remains constant. In San Angelo, Texas, wooled and shorn (100- to 150-pound slaughter lamb), have risen above the previous five-year average ($149.14/per cwt.) to $179/per cwt.
In July of last year, prices in the San Angelo market were in the middle of the downward trend. Thus, in the coming months, it will be particularly interesting to watch how this market works through the summer. That is, does it follow the previous five-year trend, last year’s trend or neither. In New Holland, Penn., 100- to 150-pound slaughter lambs have been steady and averaging $269/per cwt. during the last few weeks, and started June at $290/per cwt.
With steady to higher slaughter prices, feeder prices have had mixed signals. In the three-market average of Colorado, South Dakota and Texas, feeders bottomed out midway through May at $152/per cwt., then increased for two consecutive weeks to $180/per cwt., before falling to $174.57/per cwt. midway through June. While prices are below the previous five-year average ($200/per cwt.), prices are still counter to what happened last year.
Last year, the average price in the three markets was in the middle of nine weeks of consecutive price declines. In Columbia, Tenn., 30- to 40-pound feeders remained steady at $235/per cwt. If slaughter prices continue to be steady to higher in certain markets, feeder prices could see the same up swings as we work through the summer.

Through May, wool prices across all microns have had consecutive months of decreasing prices due to weak buyer demand in the face of large supplies, economic uncertainty and strengthening of the Australian dollar. While April and May had consecutive price decreases, in the first week of June, American wool prices across all microns went up in U.S. dollar terms by 2.8 percent to an Eastern Market Indicator of 366 USc per lb. Notably, the Australian dollar strengthened by the same 2.8 percent. The coming weeks will signal if prices have found a floor.
One the biggest drivers that impacts the U.S. wool market and the EMI is the U.S. Dollar- Australian Dollar exchange rate. The chart below displays the exchange rate. It shows the Australian dollar appreciating compared to the U.S. dollar, which in return increases the EMI for American wool. Moving forward, this exchange rate will indicate the value and prices of American wool and it will have a significant impact on prices across all microns.
The volatility in the wool market that was characteristic of the market throughout 2022 has continued through this year. In January 2022, the AWEX EMI was at 459 USc per lb. (11.5 percent above where it was in 2021). By December 2022, the EMI had dropped to 389 USc per lb., and this June it has dropped further to 366 USc per lb. (20.3 percent below where it was in January of 2022).
During this same period, the Australian dollar has weakened by 8.3 percent, which highlights the impact of the exchange rate on the wool market. Throughout this period, demand for coarser grades and lower styles of wool have also continued to be weak and the growing inventory in the United States of these wools has continued.

While prices in the lamb industry are relatively on par with historical trends, it’s still a positive sign compared to last year at this time. For producers – with prices remaining steady and maybe some hope of increasing – this is a positive sign with the recent rains in drought-stricken areas and decreasing input prices. While profit margins aren’t huge, they have the potential to be positive and maybe bigger as we work toward the fall.



Robert (Bob) Norman Gilbert was born on Oct. 23, 1945, in Miles City, Mont., the fifth of six children of his parents, Arthur M. Gilbert and Irene Mary Gilbert. Bob passed away on June 12, 2023, after a nearly three-year deterioration from a traumatic brain injury he incurred in a fall.
After graduation from Park County High School (Livingston, Mont.) in 1963, Bob attended Miles Community College then the University of Montana where he lacked one semester for a degree.
Bob worked summers in Harlowton, Mont., on the Milwaukee Railroad in jobs as electrician apprentice, roundhouse clerk, laborer, and in the car department at both Harlowton and Miles City. As a result of his love of trains, Bob had many model railroad cars and power units from N gauge to Garden Railroad. He always dreamed of owning his own private railroad business car to hook onto Amtrak.
Bob had many memories of working from 1967 to 1970 as a newsman and disc jockey for KATL in Miles City. In November 1970, he took a disc jockey-newsman job at KBLL in Helena, Mont., and started his television career as anchor for the nightly newscasts. For several legislative sessions, Bob conducted interviews with state of Montana officials, governors and members of the legislature on CNN headline news twice an hour 24 hours a day. As the cable TV live programs matured, he was on CNN Headline News in all the major cities of Montana and a few smaller markets.
For nearly 33 years, Bob was secretary-treasurer of the Montana Wool Growers Association, earning the coveted ASI Camptender Award in 2005. During legislative sessions, Bob represented the MWGA, the Montana Dairy Farmers and Northwest Farm Credit.
In 1992, Bob met and started dating Great Falls, Mont., attorney Susan J. Rebeck, who became his partner in 1998. They were married in Billings, Mont., on Sept. 27, 2008.
“Bob would have married me sooner, but I wouldn’t take his last name because I was already established as a prominent Montana professional,” she said.
In 1997, Bob invested in the popular bar-casino-poker room-liquor store in Helena called Nickels. He took over management three years later.
Uncle Oscar left Bob his Silver Gate, Mont., cabin that Oscar and his brothers built in 1936. Bob added another sleeping cabin in 1997. The cabin was a family vacation destination, dating back to Bob’s birth in 1945. Bob enjoyed entertaining friends and spending time listening to the winds whispering through the pine trees and to the babbling of Soda Butte Creek.
He was a member of the Royal Order of Raccoons, serving as Grand Poo-Pah. Bob was a member of the Elks, Eagles, the Moose, the Shriners, the National Trappers Association, the Montana Society of Broadcasters and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Art and Irene; sister, Barbara (Gardner) Grenz; and infant siblings, Marlene and Arthur; aunts, Alice (Joe) Lindeberg and Margaret Gilbert; uncles, Oscar Gilbert and Morton Gilbert; and nephews, Paul Grenz, Greg Mitchell and Jeff Mitchell. Bob’s teacup Shih-Tzu, Ping, who died on April 8, 2023, was the love of his life and constant companion.
Bob is survived by his wife, Susan J. Rebeck; stepdaughter, Stephanie E. Hagerman; and granddaughter, Isabelle E. Thomas, all of Helena; sisters Marilyn I. (Charles) Pratt and Margaret L. (Dick) Mitchell of Billings; nieces, Stacie Hicks, Kimberley (Andy) Meyer and Cheri L. Grenz, all of Billings; Nephew, Dick (Nancy) Mitchell, Jr. of Miles City; and stepsons Geno Kreis of Bozeman and Andrew Kreis of Seattle.
A Memorial Service was held on July 22, 2023, at Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home in Helena, followed by a wake at Nickels.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Montana Wool Growers Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 1693, Helena, MT 59601.

American Wool Represented at IWTO Congress

ASI sponsored a delegation of domestic wool industry representatives to travel to and attend the 92nd International Wool Textile Organization Annual Congress in Kyoto, Japan, on May 16-18.
The group assisted in building awareness of American wool and included United States wool exporters and members of the ASI marketing team. Additional ASI staff attended the congress virtually to participate with IWTO working groups on animal welfare and sustainability.
IWTO represents the global wool textile industry and delegates represent 25 wool producing countries. It is the world’s leading organization for discussion of issues ranging from objective measurement of wool to retail updates. This was the first congress that was a fully represented in-person congress since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. There were 250 delegates in attendance in Japan with another 22 joining the virtual presentations.
Sessions covered wool from interior use to the outdoors, with plenty of insight into market trends and manufacturing statistics. One of the presentations outlined the situation in China as it slowly emerges from COVID lockdowns. China has long been an important market for all country-of-origin wool – including American wool – but experienced the closure of many of its mills during the pandemic. The wool market remains sluggish with a backlog of raw wool inventory around the world and in every wool production country. The backup in the United States began when a tariff was placed on American wool in fourth quarter in 2018. Inventories have continued to build because of reduced wool demand during COVID.
Problems delivering and processing wool have included soaring freight costs, difficulty securing transportation (land and overseas), high energy costs to process wool and difficulty maintaining trained employees. While there is some activity in wools finer than 22 micron, the wool market remains soft.
“This meeting is the central activity to exchange information about the world wool industry and make connections with wool buyers, processors, spinners and weavers from around the world,” said ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson. “It is a key source to build awareness of American wool and to better understand current conditions.”
As has been the case in recent years, sustainability was a major topic of discussion. A growing issue comes from popular indexes assessing the environmental impact of the apparel industry. The international wool industry is participating in developing programs to ensure the sustainability claims for textiles are fair and credible, including additional data on wool and natural fibers.
The 2024 Congress will be held in Adelaide, Australia, on April 15-19.

Pendleton Pays Premium for AWA Certification

When ASI developed the American Wool Assurance program several years ago, one of the potential benefits for producers included receiving a premium price for their wool clips. That day has arrived for some American wool producers, as Pendleton Woolen Mills paid a premium for certified wool in 2023.
“What we’re doing is asking wool growers to go through this process,” said Pendleton’s Dan Gutzman. “The premium we paid was designed to help offset the costs of becoming certified. I think all of our producers reached Level 1 certification through AWA, and more than half went a step further and reached Level 2. We realize it has been a tough year in the sheep industry and the added time and costs didn’t make sense for every producer. But we hope they are starting to see the value and the importance of working with the available certification programs.”
AWA and the Responsible Wool Standard are the two main programs available to American producers at this point. And they came along in recent years as clothing labels were placing an emphasis on documenting animal care in the production of wool products.
Gutzman said producers should think of the certification process as being nearly as important as the preparation of the wool clip, especially when it comes to marketing that product.
“A statement I’ve made most of my life is that the wools that are well prepared and genetics controlled are usually the premium paid lots in a lot of these auctions,” he said. “And at the same level I’m talking about classing, skirting and packaging, I would say about documenting your process and trying to adhere some label to it – whether its AWA, RWS or the next one coming down the road. It’s going to be important to market your wool. The premium you’re hoping to get is going to come with labeling. It’s going to be important to go through that process.”
While wool quality is first and foremost when it comes to getting that product sold, certification could be the difference between two equally prepared lots.
“This isn’t coming out of left field,” said Gutzman. “The consumers are pushing the importance of animal care, and the wool industry needs to adapt and address those concerns. Starting something like this takes time, but we need to keep moving in the right direction. We’re a particular target because we have a label that goes to market. We’re vertical, so our label ends up on that product. When the consumer starts asking these questions, we have to deliver an answer. That’s why these certification programs are so important to companies like ours.”
Gutzman said Pendleton has envisioned a line of AWA-branded products, but there isn’t currently enough AWA-certified wool to make that happen. He said the company will continue to ask growers to get certified, as well as move forward from Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3 of the AWA program.
“Is this the best thing since sliced bread as it stands? Not yet,” Gutzman said. “Being certified – regardless of which program you use – doesn’t mean your wool is perfect. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
Level 1 certification requires completion of two short online courses and is free to producers. Level 2 certification includes a second-party evaluation with an AWA-trained evaluator while Level 3 requires a third-party audit. AWA was developed by ASI in coordination with producers, the American wool industry and Colorado State University.
ASI Wool Production Programs Manager Heather Pearce oversees administration of the program and is available at or 303-371-3500, ext. 102, to answer any questions. Producers can also visit the AWA website at

Elevate Textiles Announces Recapitalization & New Ownership

Elevate Textiles, Inc. – a global provider of advanced, high-quality fabric and thread products and mission critical textile solutions – announced in late May that it has finalized terms of a recapitalization transaction that strengthens its balance sheet and enables Elevate to reinvest in its global operations to support the longevity of the business.
Elevate owns Burlington, which uses only American wool in the fabrics it weaves to clothe the United States military.
With the support of all key financial stakeholders, Elevate’s financial foundation will be better aligned with its operational strengths and success of its brands as an industry leader for high-quality textiles. Elevate will be owned by a consortium of leading global investment firms, who will soon appoint a new board of directors.
The recapitalization will infuse $100 million of new capital into the business, eliminate $394 million of existing debt from the balance sheet, extend the company’s debt maturities until 2027 – including the existing ABL facility – and execute the change in ownership. While there is no anticipated impact on the company’s global operations, these actions strengthen the company’s capital structure and position Elevate to increase investments in its people, operations and critical growth initiatives for long-term success.
“We are pleased with the outcome of this recapitalization process, which provides an improved balance sheet and reduced leverage to align with the strength and capabilities of our business and brands. We appreciate the support of our financial stakeholders who have demonstrated their confidence in Elevate, our business plan and our future,” said Elevate President and Chief Executive Officer Sim Skinner. “We look forward to directing our focus on delivering the high-quality service and premium products our customers have come to trust and depend on.”
Representatives from Elevate’s new shareholders collectively added, “Elevate’s leadership team, skilled employees, high-quality products and loyal customers make us confident that the company will have continued success. We are excited to be part of the company’s future and look forward to supporting and partnering with Elevate as an industry leader for years to come.”
Source: Elevate Textiles

ASI Exercises Secure Sheep & Wool Supply Plan

In May, ASI hosted a discussion-based exercise to pilot-test components of the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan and permitting process of sheep with no evidence of Foot and Mouth Disease infection during a simulated outbreak. The test was conducted in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado Wool Growers Association.
At the beginning of an FMD outbreak, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is recommending a 72-hour national movement standstill for all cloven-hoofed livestock and their products (raw wool, wool products, semen, embryos and manure). After this time, movement controls will continue in the areas around infected animals, throughout a state, or even throughout a region. This stop movement is an effort to control the spread of this contagious animal disease.
Restarting movement of sheep and their products will require a special movement permit issued by the state animal health official after a producer meets certain requirements. The SSWS Plan provides guidance for producers who have sheep with no evidence of FMD infection to meet the movement permit requirements to maintain business continuity during an outbreak. Each state determines the movement permit requirements.
Colorado has a Secure Food Supply Plan that describes the state’s expectations. The goal of the exercise was to test implementation of two sheep producers’ and one packer’s SSWS Plans specific to Colorado. The CWGA was there to support producers and be a liaison with CDA. There were more than 20 stakeholder observers from various aspects of the industry present as well as USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Veterinary Services, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the North American Meat Institute.
This exercise was the first of its kind on the SSWS Plan. It began with training webinars allowing CDA, Colorado sheep producers and the packer to learn from each other. When ready, producers invited CDA staff to visit their operations and walk through their enhanced biosecurity plans. The exercise used movement scenarios to allow CDA and producers to role play requesting a movement permit during an FMD outbreak. A virtual component was incorporated for a producer to test the information sharing process.
The exercise identified alignment with sheep industry capabilities and the SSWS Plan and CDA’s permit expectations. It also uncovered some gaps which can be addressed before the chaos of an outbreak. Lessons learned will help Colorado producers and the sheep industry maintain business continuity during an outbreak.
A key takeaway from the exercise was producers who develop a SSWS Plan and share it with CDA will be in a better position to request a movement permit. This can help minimize the impact to their operation. Producers without an SSWS Plan might experience greater disruption to their business. CDA and other regulatory officials shared their objective is to control the spread of FMD. They also recognize the impacts to the sheep industry if business cannot be continually maintained. They encourage producers to develop plans today and share them with state officials.
In the coming months, two webinars will be held. ASI, CDA, CWGA and the Colorado producers and packer will discuss the lessons learned, share preparedness tips and describe how permitting will be handled during an FMD outbreak. Watch for those dates and registration links.
To learn more about protecting your flock during an FMD outbreak, visit the Secure Sheep and Wool Plan website at

Georgia Sheep Association Draws A Crowd

Georgia Sheep Association secretary Tina Nix had the local caterer on speed dial by the time the state’s Annual Conference rolled around on June 10. As registrations continued to come in during the final weeks before the event, she increased her food order multiple times to make sure there would be enough to feed the growing crowd.
Approximately 100 producers from all across the Peach State came together at the University of Georgia’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for a day of educational presentations and networking. It was a triumphant, optimistic day for a small state association that was growing “by leaps and bounds” before the pandemic.
“We didn’t have a conference in 2020 or the next year,” said longtime producer Jan Southers. “Then we came back last year and it was kind of small, so this is a significant improvement from last year to this year in numbers. We’re doing so much more than what this organization was doing 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.”
Southers credited past association leaders Steve and Beth Warner – who were honored during the day – for pushing the association in the right direction.
“We’re really focused on trying to help people who want to do something with sheep,” Southers said. “How can you market your lamb, what can you do with your wool and how can you make those connections you need to be successful? Those are the things we’re focused on as an association.”
The day started with an hour-long networking opportunity over coffee and donuts that led into a state of the union address from current president Nathan Nix. He stressed that the association places equal value on meat and wool. Like many states in the southeast, Georgia has seen a growing hair sheep population in the past decade that caters to the large ethnic market in Atlanta. What doesn’t end up there heads to the major cities up and down the East Coast. But there’s also a fair amount of wool still being produced in the state.
Dr. Darren Seidel of Purina offered an overview of sheep nutrition, stressing the need for using body condition scoring to monitor flocks. Of course, you can’t talk about sheep health in the hot, humid Southeast without mentioning parasites. Ultimately, Seidel encouraged producers to have a plan for everything – from health to lambing to marketing their products.
Alabama producer Jimmy Parker was on hand to represent the American Lamb Board. Lamb prices have struggled to bounce back to the highs seen in 2021. However, many producers in Georgia direct market their lamb and have been a bit insulated from the dramatic dips in the market in the past year or two.
Breakout sessions on marketing, wool, government programs and for beginning shepherds filled several hours after lunch. Among those most enthralled with the afternoon sessions were soon-to-be sheep producers Torrin Mike and Margaret Armstrong. The pair purchased 23 acres and have been busy preparing the land for livestock – something they know very little about.
“It all started with a YouTube video,” Mike said with a laugh, crediting the documentary Biggest Little Farm with spurring the pair’s farming dreams. “The end product had a little bit of magic to it that made us think it would be nice to have something like that. We want something that meets our needs, but also is a resource for the community and something that we can share with people.”
While the land is the current priority, there’s been much debate as to what type of sheep will call it home – most likely in 2024. St. Croix and Katahdins have certainly been in the mix. But the pair attended Southers’ beginning shepherd session and no doubt heard about her affinity for Gulf Coast Native sheep.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of new information to think about on that after talking with everyone here,” Armstrong said. “We might be back to the drawing board on that one.”
Both formerly in the United States Army, neither comes to this endeavor with a livestock background. But their experience in raising chickens in recent years has them excited about moving up to small ruminants.
“Chickens were the gateway animal into this lifestyle,” Mike said. “That helped us build some confidence when we could keep them alive. There’s definitely some excitement now about this new adventure. This was our first involvement with the Georgia Sheep Association, and we found some things we needed to know. But we also found a real community, so that was a nice bonus.”

Georgia Wool Grower Makes Most of Gulf Coast Native Sheep

Georgia producer Joanne Maki was introduced to sheep in Dr. Keith Inskeep’s class as an undergraduate at West Virginia University in the mid-1970s. Her experience with sheep, however, ended there until she took in four Gulf Coast Native ewes nearly 30 years later.
“They’re the perfect multi-purpose sheep,” says the now veteran sheep producer who currently serves as vice president of the Georgia Sheep Association and operates Georgia Rustic Wool. “They’re small, have good enough production, great tasting carcasses and the wool is just the gravy on top.”
For many Gulf Coast producers in the state – of which there are quite a few given the breed’s hair sheep-like parasite resistance – the wool is just the gravy. For Joanne, it’s the whole biscuit. There were years when she sold rams to an ethnic market buyer from Atlanta, but those days have passed, and wool is the only product her sheep produce now. A longtime research veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim, Joanne has the luxury of skipping on the meat market in favor of producing top-notch wool with a breed that isn’t known for top-notch wool.
Don’t believe it? A fleece from one of her “too many rams” took third in the White Fine Wool Class at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival back in May. Generally considered to be medium-quality, Gulf Coast sheep are certainly capable of producing wool that is highly coveted among handspinners. But it takes work, Joanne says.
“I’ve said on calls with Gulf Coast breeders that I’m selecting for wool, and some of them have said that I shouldn’t be doing that,” Joanne adds. “I’m assuming that they realize I’m putting other things above that. But the wool is important, too. I don’t want hair, because the wool is how I make money from my sheep. My greatest criteria is good mothering, the ability to lamb on pasture, having a sufficient amount of milk and maintaining parasite resistance. Some of my sheep still shed out quite a bit on their bellies and their necks and basically go down to hardly anything in the summer. And I have others that – through selection – tend to keep their wool on their bellies.”

Joanne’s first experience with raising small ruminants came when she bought her home in Colbert, Ga. – just a short drive from Athens and the University of Georgia. She got five overgrown acres with a house that was once a private hotel for guests of a local plantation owner. She turned to goats to clear the property.
“They were like land piranhas,” she jokes. “It was solid blackberries, poison ivy and kudzu. I ended up with six or eight goats and they cleaned this place up. After they cleaned up the pastures, they started stripping the bark off the pecan trees, eating my barn and ripping holes in the fence.”
Clearly, the toddler-like goats weren’t a great fit long-term for a working professional who was away from the farm during the day. At the suggestion of sheep producers Jan Southers and Cornel Kittell, Joanne turned to Gulf Coast sheep. It was 2004, and the breed wasn’t easy to find. Southers and Kittell picked up a few who had come to Georgia by way of Florida, some from Mississippi and a ram from Louisiana. But careful research had led them to believe the breed – which is still listed as critical on The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List – would be a great fit for Georgia’s hot, humid climate. Georgia Rustic Wool is a fiber provider for the The Livestock Conservancy’s Shave ’Em to Save ’Em Initiative.
“They brought me these four ewes, and they were as sweet as they could be,” Joanne recalls. “Then they got really serious about it and bought rams and started breeding them. When I saw the wool they produced, I had to figure out what to do with it. I knew how to knit at the time, but I didn’t know how to spin. So, I got a spinning wheel for Christmas and started getting really into the wool. I figured if I was going to spin it, I needed to know what I wanted and what my customers might want.”
That process allowed Joanne to combine the artistic side she inherited from her mother and the science side that she gravitated to in her professional career into a cohesive blend as she bred for better wool and took to dyeing the wool she had manufactured into yarn.

Maxed out at 30 head on her five acres – and an additional 32 acres she leases from a neighbor – Joanne has done just that. She sold five of the seven fleeces she took to Maryland and nearly empties her inventory each year at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in North Carolina. The small Gulf Coast sheep grow a similarly small fleece at about 4.5 pounds. Joanne sells those fleeces for around $60 to $80, but her prize-winning fleece in Maryland went for $125.
“I’ve kind of found where I fit in this market,” Joanne says. “Any fleeces I don’t sell, I send to a Battenkill Fibers in New York. They turn it into yarn, send it back and I dye it. Then it goes to a local shop called Revival Yarns. I went in and talked with them and they wanted to have a local wool corner where I can sell it on a commission basis. I do demos there and they’ve been great to work with.”
While she admits her wool operation isn’t a “big money maker,” it generates enough income to justify her involvement in an industry she’s come to love. Joanne is passionate about supporting family farms, and her involvement with the Georgia Sheep Association as a great opportunity to do just that.
“Even if someone just raises sheep for a few years, they get to understand how hard it is, how rewarding it is and that this is where our food and fiber comes from,” Joanne says. “And it teaches their children that these things don’t just come from the store.”

Taking on Targeted Grazing

Andrée Soares employs thousands of sheep and goats whose only job is to mitigate fire danger throughout California’s Bay Area. So, it’s a bit ironic that she spends most of her days putting out fires of an administrative nature.
As the sheep and goats who make up most of Star Creek Land Stewards’ employees were just getting started on the important work of targeted grazing in fire prone areas this spring, Andrée found herself battling the sparks of a potential wildfire close to home in an olive grove. The Merino ewes that make up the flock of Talbott Sheep Company – which belonged to her father, Ray Talbott, who passed away in August 2022 – had stripped bark from a few of the trees and the farmer was concerned.
Andrée headed out to investigate and was happy to find minimal damage and no signs that the unacceptable behavior was going to be a reoccurring problem. In some ways, it was nice for Andrée to have a reason to get out into the field and see the animals for a couple of hours. There was a time when she first purchased Star Creek in 2014 that she was out there more regularly.
“Now, there’s just so much paperwork and planning that goes into it all,” she admits. “Targeted grazing comes with a lot of administrative work. We have to bid on projects and get contracts signed and deal with insurance. And then there’s the constant communication with the clients that goes on throughout the grazing season.”
The season started a bit later in 2023 thanks to an unusually high amount of rain and snow in the state during the winter and early spring. But things have a way of drying out fast in California, especially when vegetation gets such a great jumpstart on the growing season with the kind of moisture that California hasn’t seen in a decade or more.
Grazing companies in the state might all need more animals to eat their way through contracted land between now and the fall. It’s a good problem to have in some ways, but creates just as many (albeit different) headaches as drought years.
“Targeted grazing is a nice additional income stream from sheep and goats – or in my case the main income stream – but it is very different from just running a commercial sheep flock,” Andrée says. “It requires more levels of leadership and organization, and more herders. At dad’s, we typically ran one herder to 1,100 to 1,200 animals. During the grazing season, we need one herder for every 400 animals. The contracts don’t usually call for that specifically, but the way we manage and move them, we’ve found that herd sizes of 400 work well for the typical size projects that we get. For larger ones, we might put two herds of 400 together, but we still need two herders with them.
“These aren’t remote areas we’re grazing. They’re quite public, so the liability is greater if the animals were to get out of the area or if people are trying to feed or pet them. And lots of that kind of stuff goes on. We use temporary fencing on all of our projects, but there are some places where we can’t because of the terrain. In that case, we have to look at other ways to contain the animals.”

Andrée grew up with sheep run by her grandfather, father and uncle, but followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a nurse. By the time she decided to take the plunge and buy Star Creek Land Stewards, she was overseeing three neonatal intensive care units throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
“I went to nursing school with my sister and was a nurse for 29 years,” she says. “My dad’s foreman – Emilio Huarte (who followed in his dad’s footsteps as a foreman with Talbott Sheep Company) – got connected with a gentleman who had started putting some goats together in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He was a developer and needed to clear the land. Emilio helped him out and one thing led to another and Emilio started doing targeted grazing with these goats. Then they got a three-year contract, but the developer wasn’t really interested in being in the livestock business.
“Emilio and I grew up together, so he came to me and said he thought this was a great opportunity and that I should buy the company. I thought he was crazy. I used to see goats on people’s places and wonder why anyone would want to have a goat around, and now I own thousands of them. I will say, goats have cool personalities.”
The opportunity came along at a time when things in Andrée’s personal life were shifting. She was also taking a more active role in her aging father’s flock. And while the two operations are very different in nature, it made sense for Andrée to take on both. For more than a year, she balanced sheep (and goats) with nursing. Eventually, Star Creek’s potential was enough to persuade her to leave the mainstream profession behind.
“I loved my job and was at the same hospital for 29 years, but when I decided to pick one, I never looked back,” Andrée says. “I did feel a bit guilty when COVID hit, and even wondered if I should go back. But I’m happy where I’m at with the sheep and goats.”

While some targeted grazers in the state run only sheep, Star Creek employs both sheep and goats on most of its projects.
“We realized from grazing the same areas over and over in Marin County that those areas started out really brushy,” Andrée says. “But after four years of grazing, that vegetation has changed. The brush has been reduced and the native grasses have come back. Once those grasses come back, the sheep tend to do a better job. The goats are great for clearing out the brush.
“Over four years, we went from all goats to mixed herds of goats and sheep because that’s what the vegetation called for. This is an outcome we want to see in those areas. We want to see those native grasses coming back.”
Star Creek employs Dorper sheep for grazing alongside the Boer goats. Andrée’s wool sheep are all from her dad’s flock and have only recently begun to do select targeted grazing work.
“They seem to work better in the vineyards than my Dorper sheep,” Andrée says. “The wool sheep are less interested in the other stuff in the vineyards than the hair sheep. And they tend to like for that to be done in January and February – a time of year when I’m usually paying for all of the feed. Anything that saves on feed costs helps the bottom line.”
While sheep are often easier to contain, Star Creek’s goats have learned to live within the confines of the temporary fencing. It helps that they spend the majority of their lives grazing areas enclosed by such fencing. And the occasional stray goat is less of a problem than the alternative.
“A lot of these open spaces are in and around neighborhoods, so having crews with weed eaters and chainsaws working around everyone’s backyards is not as well received as a herd of sheep and goats,” Andrée says. “A lot of these areas have been impacted by reductions in herbicide applications, as well. The public response to targeted grazing is generally positive, so the people making those decisions tend to do what the public likes. As long as it fits in their budget and keeps the residents happy, they’re happy.”
California tends to lead the way in wage increases for ag workers, including for H-2A sheepherders. As it becomes more and more difficult for traditional commercial operations to remain viable, targeted and solar grazing looks like the future of the state’s sheep industry.
“That might be the case, but I know this: as a sheep producer, it’s easier to not have to do targeted grazing,” Andrée says. “It’d be great if we just had all the feed in the world and they could stay in this area and just go to the mountains in the summer. Most producers can’t depend on the lamb market to float their boat these days in California, so anytime I can find a way to boost my income, then I have to do it.”
Targeted grazing isn’t the only source of income, however. Like traditional commercial flocks, Andrée still sells kids and lambs for meat and produces wool from the Merinos. The wool flock is certified by the Responsible Wool Standard and works with Shaniko Wool Company out of Oregon.
“But I’m a lot less dependent on the lamb and wool checks than the average producer,” she says.

Andrée’s daughter, Bianca, serves as project manager for Star Creek. She tends to do initial site inspections with clients and determine the best way to get sheep and goats into a site, how to get water to the animals and other logistics that need to be considered when bidding on a targeted grazing project.
“It works really well right now with Bianca, Emilio and myself,” Andrée says. “She loves what she’s doing and it frees me up to handle other things. She’s traveled to Peru and Spain and is more fluent in Spanish than I am now. That allows her to be the main conduit between the herders and the clients when everyone is on site.”
Bianca graduated from the University of California-Davis with a managerial economics degree in 2018, and seems interested in one day taking over both operations as a fourth-generation producer.
“She’s always been around it,” Andrée says. “She really is the first point of contact with a lot of our clients during the jobs. At this point, she likes the hands-on, outside stuff and being around the animals. She’s also passionate about educating the general public. We’ve hosted school field trips to some of our sites and we’re constantly educating the people who live around our projects, and she’s a great voice for that.”
The main thing Star Creek’s human employees have to remind their clients is that Mother Nature is in control.
“We do our best to get these open spaces grazed as quickly as possible, but ultimately, she’s the boss.”

S.D. Lamb Benefits From CIS Certification

Wall Meat Processing – a small meat processing plant in Wall, S.D. – has opened new opportunities for South Dakota’s lamb industry by becoming the state’s first certified Cooperative Interstate Shipment facility, overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A number of key people in the sheep industry attended this milestone event in late May as Wall Meats stamped the first lambs with this new certification. The CIS certification opens doors for local lamb and meat producers, positioning South Dakota’s meat industry for growth and success and bringing benefits to producers, consumers and the local economy.
Under CIS, state-inspected plants can operate as federally inspected facilities, with specific conditions. Currently 10 states participate in the CIS program, including South Dakota. The CIS program is limited to plants with 25 or fewer employees, must be in the 29 states that have established a Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, and maintain “at least equal to” Food Safety Inspection Service regulatory standards.
Under the CIS program, Wall Meats and its producers can now sell meat products across state lines, offering new selling opportunities. This development is particularly exciting for Kitzan Family Farms of Nisland, S.D., whose lambs were the first to be inspected and stamped, and can now sell their products to schools, institutions and individuals out of state who are seeking high-quality, South Dakota lamb. This new certification could lead to increased demand for locally produced meats, benefiting producers by expanding their customer base.
“South Dakota has a tremendous reputation for producing high-quality proteins, and the demand for lamb is increasing,” said South Dakota Sheep Growers Association Lamb Promotion Chair Tammy Basel. “For many years, I have promoted and served lamb samples at the Black Hills motorcycle rally. They often ask how they can buy South Dakota lamb in their home state. What Wall Meats has done is blown the door wide open for retail and personal sales opportunities across state lines.”
“The ability to sell South Dakota’s finest lamb to a wider audience and promote the benefits of locally sourced, high-quality products ensures a brighter future for the agricultural community and its consumers,” said Gwen Kitzan of Kitzan Family Farms.
Source: Wall Meats

Oregon Contest Announces Winning Shearers

The Douglas County Shearing School was held in conjunction with the Douglas County Lamb Show in Roseburg, Ore., on June 3. Shearers from all across the state, California and Montana participated in the event with cash, handpieces and wool bedding as the prizes.
In the open division, Chad Furlong of Roseburg, Ore., took first place, followed by John Quimby of Idleyld Park, Ore., and Duke Christner of Roseburg. Michael Estes of Prineville, Ore., won the intermediate division, followed by Pony Jacobson of Astoria, Ore., and Leeland Prock of Lebanon, Ore. Ty Terry of Oakland, Ore., took first in the beginner division, while Logan Anderson of Roseburg was second and Lois Valentine of Crabtree, Ore., was third.
Leon Gilbreath, Dan Dawson and Furlong provided sheep for the contest, which is held in conjunction with the Douglas County Lamb Show as an effort to expose the public to the process of commercial shearing. The Umpqua Valley Spinners and Weavers Guild also had demonstrations of spinning, carding and weaving with many wool creations on display.
The day culminated with a lamb barbecue and market lamb sale for 4-H and FFA students.
Participants would like to thank Furlong and Dawson for their commitment to keeping this event viable and the sponsors of the event: Douglas County Livestock Association, Douglas County Farm Bureau, Western Video Market, Reed Anderson, Emigh Livestock – Ryan Mahoney, Ewescan – Tony Wutzke, Kaos Sheep Outfit, Pendleton Woolen Mill, Landquip, Heiniger USA, Chris Cornett and the Dawson Family.
A special thanks to the contest judges for their continued support: Randy Helms, Bob Murray, Harry Thomas, Paul Crawford, Chad Anderson and Mark Nicholls.

How Can I Get Ewes To Conceive on the First Service?

Clay Elliott, Ph.D.,
Purina Animal Nutrition

That’s one of the biggest questions I hear from sheep producers this time of year. And while there’s no magic answer, the more you prepare in the pre-breeding period, the fewer headaches you’ll have when it’s time to breed ewes.
Implement the following steps now to prepare ewes for breeding season and beyond.

The less stress ewes have before breeding, the better. Complete management tasks like shearing, hoof trimming and worming early to ensure ewes have time to de-stress from these activities and are comfortable come breeding time.
Pre-breeding is also an excellent time to evaluate udders, mouths, hooves, legs and overall animal soundness. Early culling decisions can help you prioritize resources to set your operation up for success at breeding and beyond.

Assessing body condition pre-breeding is crucial. Many sheep producers turn ewes out to pasture after lambing and don’t have eyes on them regularly until breeding. If ewes lose too much condition during this time, they have to play catch up, costing you time and resources.
It’s recommended for ewes to maintain a body condition score of 2 to 2.5 after lambing. Forty-five to 60 days prior to breeding, increase ewe nutrition – also called flushing – to reach a BCS of 3 at breeding time. Ewes that are too thin at breeding can have challenges conceiving and maintaining pregnancies.
There are many ways to flush ewes. A flushing program might be as simple as providing supplemental forages, especially if you’re in a drought area. Or you may need a more aggressive nutrition program to get ewes in ideal breeding condition.
Evaluate your flock’s current BCS and work with a nutritionist to develop a flushing program that takes ewes from where they are now to where you want them to be at breeding.

One of the best ways to help meet BCS goals is to increase fat in the diet. Most supplemental nutrition products range between 2.5 and 4 percent fat, but that might not be enough in the pre-breeding period. Increase fat levels in the diet to 5 to 10 percent in the 45 to 60 days before breeding.
Increased dietary fat is even more important for artificial insemination or embryo transfer programs than conventional breeding programs. Fat is a precursor to cholesterol, which helps set up the female reproductive hormones in the ewe.
Maintaining a 5 to 10 percent fat level isn’t needed – or economical – year-round. Monitor body condition post-breeding to determine when to start decreasing fat in the diet. This is especially important for ewes in confined housing because of the risk of overconsumption, leading to over-condition. If ewes have too much body condition, you might start to see challenges at parturition.

Whether ewes are in good condition or need to pack on a few pounds, mineral is a must for any flushing program. Even the highest quality forages can fall short of providing ewes with necessary minerals, including calcium, magnesium, cobalt, vitamins A and E and selenium.
AI and ET breeding programs should put extra emphasis on ensuring ewes consume enough mineral. These breeding programs put additional stress and energy demands on ewes, so any support you can give them is recommended.
In addition to providing free-choice mineral, top dress your nutritional supplements with mineral. Feeding supplemental nutrition twice a day, top-dressed with mineral, means ewes could consume an extra quarter to half ounce of mineral per head per day.
While reducing fat levels in the diet after breeding is recommended, that’s not the case with mineral. Feeding a high-quality mineral year-round will go a long way to keeping ewes prepared for not only breeding season, but gestation and parturition as well.
Breeding season can make or break the future profitability of your flock. Ensure you’re setting yourself and your flock up for success by focusing on critical management and nutrition steps 45 to 60 days prior to the start of breeding.
Visit to learn more. Clay Elliott, Ph.D., is a small ruminant technical specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. Contact him at

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