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Securing the Future of our Industry

Susan Shultz, ASI President

Let’s look at the future of our sheep industry through the lens of our ASI vision for producing a premium protein and a premium fiber while being environmentally regenerative and economically sustainable.

There are several recent indicators that provide insight into possible industry-wide priorities to support this vision. Dr. Julie Shiflett’s market report in the March issue of the Sheep Industry News reviewed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service inventory data for 2021. The total sheep and lamb inventory was 5.17 million, down 1 percent annually and down a total of 2 percent in the past five years. Those numbers are not spread across our nation equally. In several states and regions, numbers have held steady or increased. This makes for healthy conversations on how we as an industry can collaborate to support growth. We must seek out production efficiencies and new marketing strategies from these growth pockets that could allow more operations to prosper.

A second data driven indicator is the USDA Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years. The most recent data collected in 2017 shows that the number of sheep operations in the United States is 101,387 – an increase of 13,049 or almost 15 percent from the five years prior. This trend toward increasing numbers of new producers indicates to me a real educational challenge. There is a need for increased mentoring and wider access to sound educational information. We must discover effective methods to help these new producers be successful and grow.

We are very fortunate now to have an energetic group of sheep educators and researchers who are collaborating across states and regions to support outreach efforts. We have seen them produce a variety of excellent educational podcasts, webinars and symposiums just this past year. As an industry, let’s find ways to support their cooperative projects.

The third recent development is the large investment being made in the infrastructure of our industry by dedicated multi-generational sheep producing families. This is not a new phenomenon as many producer families in the past have expressed their allegiance to our sheep industry by investing in infrastructure. To showcase these efforts, in 2019 then ASI President Mike Corn initiated the ASI Industry Innovation Award to recognize some of these producers for this commitment. This past year an additional four multi-generational sheep families have shown their belief in the future of the sheep industry by investing in two new harvesting facilities – one in Colorado and one in Texas. I personally want to say thank you to all four of these families for demonstrating their faith in our industry and to all the other dedicated families who are making long-term commitments to maintain a profitable and successful future.

On the wool side, ASI is partnering with the Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Lab at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in San Angelo, Texas, to modernize and upgrade their lab with state-of-the-art equipment in order to service commercial wool testing needs in the United States. This new collaboration will make a difference in our opportunities for wool marketing.

A quote attributed to Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Let’s concentrate our energy on working together to move our industry forward by supporting new initiatives while respecting the accomplishments of our past.

My best.

When Will Restaurants Reopen?

JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.
Juniper Economic Consulting

When will restaurants fully reopen? When will the foodservice sector return to normal? The lamb industry wants to know.

The facts are startling: “U.S. restaurants lost billions of dollars in sales during the pandemic due to stay-at-home orders and dine-in restrictions,” according to the Wall Street Journal. More than 110,000 restaurants and bars closed for good or temporarily last year, according to the National Restaurant Association. Further, a recent survey found that only 53 percent of consumers are ready to return to dining in.

There is hope, however. The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index saw a moderate gain in January, reflecting the current restaurant condition and outlook for the next six months. When surveyed, restaurant operators remain “cautiously optimistic” that the restaurant industry will improve in the coming months. Against this backdrop, the lamb industry faces plenty of challenges, but also opportunities.

The industry challenge in 2021 and beyond will be to rebuild the foodservice sector. In 2018, it was found that lamb incidence on restaurant menus had been increasing according to Dataseential for the American Lamb Board. The largest foodservice category, casual, had a 25-percent penetration rate, meaning 25 percent of restaurants in this segment menu lamb. Casual restaurants – one step lower in price offerings than fine dining – have waiter service and often offer a full bar. The fine dining segment – while a smaller segment – has a penetration rate of 62 percent. Rebuilding these numbers will be critical for lamb industry growth.

As the American lamb industry emerges from the pandemic, endless opportunities abound. Lamb remains a premium protein which could see even more rapid restaurant penetration following significant retail lamb sales in 2020. The virus encouraged first-time and seasoned lamb consumers to buy lamb at retail, buying patterns that can be returned to, and expanded upon at foodservice.

As the sheep and lamb industry emerges from the pandemic, solidifying and expanding unique target markets will resume. It is believed that the industry is assimilating lighter-weight lambs at a faster rate than perhaps reported data reveals. Packers are already adopting multiple accounts from lighter-weight hair sheep to heavier Western wooled breeds, for product lines at varied price points.

While industry growth is predicted, what that growth looks like should be a concern. It is possible that the industry will become more consolidated with vertically integrated segments defined by producer contracts with packers. It is important that price transparency remains an industry objective, to serve those not served by packer contracts.

 

Lamb Production Down Year-on-Year

In the first nine weeks of the year through February, an estimated 293,097 lambs were harvested, down 3 percent year-on-year. Lamb production was also estimated lower, down 3 percent year-on-year at 14.3 million lbs.

In January, total lamb imports were 18.5 million lbs., up 0.2 percent year-on-year. Australian lamb imports were down 2 percent to 14.6 million lbs., and New Zealand imports were up 10 percent to 3.7 million lbs.

 

Lamb Market Mixed

Feeder lamb prices at auction fell 2 percent in February, but were 30 percent higher year-on-year. Prices in San Angelo, Texas, averaged $273.50 per cwt., $239.66 per cwt. in Fort Collins, Colo., and $342.44 per cwt. in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Slaughter lamb prices in the live, negotiated trade averaged $163.77 per cwt. in February, up 4 percent monthly and up 2 percent year-on-year. Average live weights were 143 lbs. in February, down 4 percent monthly and down 3 percent from a year ago as lighter-weight lambs were increasingly reported in the live, negotiated market report.

Wooled and shorn slaughter lambs at auction averaged $167.98 per cwt. for choice 1-3 lambs, 16 percent lower monthly and 7 percent higher year-on-year. Prices in Fort Collins averaged $172.19 per cwt., up 8 percent monthly and down 1 percent from a year ago.

At the New Holland, Penn., auction good and choice 1-2 hair sheep averaged $252.50 per cwt. for 80- to 90-lb. lambs, up 7 percent monthly; and 90- to 100-lb. lambs averaged $260 per cwt., 14 percent higher monthly.

 

Wholesale Composite Stronger Still

The wholesale composite – gross carcass value – averaged $459.01 per cwt. in February, up 4 percent monthly and up 8 percent from a year ago. The wholesale composite was strengthened by the sharply higher loin, gaining 7 percent, followed by the 4-percent higher leg. The shoulder gained 2 percent monthly and the rack remained flat.

The loin, trimmed 4×4, averaged $688.46 per cwt. in February, continuing its unprecedented climb with a 29 percent increase compared to last February. The leg, trotter-off, averaged $418.50 per cwt., 6 percent higher year-on-year. The shoulder, square-cut, saw $364.02 per cwt. in February, up 12 percent year-over-year. The 8-rib rack, medium, averaged $851.08 per cwt., down 3 percent year-on-year.

Ground lamb averaged $609.85 per cwt., 2 percent higher monthly and 9 percent higher from a year ago.

 

Retail Lamb Prices Higher in 2020

In 2020, retail lamb prices were generally higher. Overall, lamb saw about a 2 percent gain from 2019 to 2020, lower than the 3.5 percent gain seen overall at retail in 2020. In 2020, lamb at retail saw mixed prices with the rack and leg seeing lower values, but the loin chop and shoulder blade chop higher. In 2020, the rack averaged $12.29 per lb., 14 percent lower; the loin chop averaged $8.46 per lb., 3 percent higher; and the shoulder blade chop saw $5.92 per lb., also 3 percent higher. The bone-in leg and semi-boneless leg both saw lower 2020 prices.

In general, as the price for select cuts such as the loin and shoulder moved higher, feature activity fell because lamb didn’t need feature activity.

In 2020, the rack was repositioned from foodservice into retail. The rack saw an uptick in feature activity as grocers attempted to move more racks, but its price weakened in 2020.

 

LMIC Forecasts

It is anticipated that commercial slaughter lambs will continue to see prices strengthening in the next few months before stabilizing and then weakening in July. Feeder lamb prices typically are highest during the first quarter and early second quarter then begin to weaken through the second and third quarters before rising again into the fourth quarter.

The Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted second-quarter total production at 37.7 million lbs., 4 percent higher year-on-year. Imports could reach 68 million lbs. up 1 percent year-on-year, with total disappearance – or consumption – at 102 million lbs., 10 percent higher year-on-year.
For the year, however, total disappearance – or available supply – is forecasted down 9 percent year-on-year to 396.4 million lbs. Domestic production is expected to increase 3 percent in 2021 to 141.6 million lbs., but imports could be 10 percent lower year-on-year to 272.0 million lbs.

This year, it is anticipated that Australian lamb exports could increase by 10 percent, supported by heavier carcass weights and slaughter levels, according to Meat & Livestock Australia. However, its U.S. lamb export trend might not continue, given growing incomes internationally mean alternative attractive export markets. The Australian sheep industry will likely see its first year of sustained inventory gains this year (up 5 percent) due to improved growing conditions.

The lower United States projected lamb disappearance in 2021 can hamper burgeoning demand that was created in 2020. Increased demand – the goal of the industry – means selling more lamb at higher prices. If demand is indeed higher and lamb consumers want to continue buying lamb, it is critical that lamb continues to be available at retail. Due to COVID-19, we might see sustained growth of lamb sales at retail in the near term.

Potentially lower imports in 2021 will support the live domestic lamb market, but again, higher prices are only one part of the growth equation. Sustained expansion in domestic production is also key. The opening of two new lamb processing plants is a good sign of optimism for the future.

 

Wool Market on Slow Recovery

As wool shearing continues across the United States, in a few weeks’ time all eyes will be on the Australian wool market. While Australian wool prices are still below pre-COVID-19 levels, some price recovery has occurred. In February, the Australian Eastern Market Indicator averaged Australian $1,296 cents per kg clean, up 6 percent monthly, but 17 percent lower year-on-year.

In recent weeks, the Australian dollar has strengthened against the U.S. dollar to the highest level in three years. This will reduce the competitiveness of Australian wool – and lamb – exports. More importantly for American growers, is that it will support the price of Australian wool in U.S. dollars, which is how much of the international wool trade is conducted.

For example, in February, wool in Australia averaged A$5.88 per lb., down 17 percent year-on-year compared to when the Australian dollar was 16 percent stronger. By contrast, the price in U.S. dollars didn’t fall as steeply, down 5 percent to $4.56 per lb. In U.S. dollars, wool held its value in the face of exchange rate volatility.

In late February, the Australian finer wool market – between 18 to 21 microns – saw a pronounced lift to prices not seen for more than a year. A relatively short supply of finer wool, coupled with stronger demand from China and India helped boost the fine wool market.

Broader wools remained challenged, however. Nutrien Ag south-east wool manager David Hart told Farmonline National, “the broader lines of wool are finding support as the higher fine wool prices drag the broader wools along with them.”

If higher fine-wool prices lend support to more medium and broader wools, this is favorable news for American wool growers this spring.

Meet the Exec. Board: Ben Lehfeldt

Newly elected as secretary/treasurer and the youngest member of the ASI officer team, Ben Lehfeldt will lean heavily on knowledge gained as a fifth-generation sheep rancher in Big Sky Country. But he also brings unique experience as a past member of ASI’s Wool Council and Let’s Grow Committee, as well as having served on the American Lamb Board. And, while he’s got a tremendous respect for those who have led the industry to where it is today, he’s also got a few ideas of his own that he’d like to see take center stage in the years to come.

WE RUN COMMERCIAL RAMBOUILLET EWES and have a 200-head registered Rambouillet flock. My great, great grandfather started the sheep operation in 1885 after coming over from Iowa. We have maintained the sheep ranch and integrated targeted grazing into our summertime grazing for the last 30 years on both public and private land. Recently, we have been able to add more sheep and cows by helping control noxious weeds and adding multi-species grazing on those same properties.

I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO MAINTAIN SOME OF THOSE BLOODLINES in the registered flock. We have, what my grandpa said was the oldest polled, registered Rambouillet flock in the United States. He purchased those initial registered Rambouillets in the 1940s and 50s and we have continued to improve upon that initial investment. For me, I used the registered group of sheep as my initial foray into electronic identification tags and the National Sheep Improvement Program. All our registered flock is on NSIP. After selection and culling, we sell about 40 to 50 registered Rambouillet rams with NSIP data at ram sales and private treaty each year.

I RETURNED TO THE RANCH ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO to help transition the operation by splitting the corporation between my dad and my uncle. It had been run between my dad, uncle and grandpa. So, my cousin and his dad and my dad and I operate the resulting two partnerships. Since that time, we’ve both expanded in the number of sheep and cattle that we run. What I like about sheep is the versatility to look at different avenues of income. So, whether it’s targeted grazing, the lamb product, the fiber, or better ways of marketing our wool, sheep provide different avenues for profitability that might not be available with other livestock.

MY WIFE, JAMIE, AND OUR TWO BOYS (Luke, 8, and Cade, 6) are here on the ranch, and it’s fun to have them around. We’re about a mile and a half out of Lavina, a small central Montana town, and I’m on the local school board and president of our local Farm Bureau. My grandpa built a new house at the age of 90 and we renovated his house that was constructed in the 1950s after he returned from World War II. My parents, my sister and her family, and my family are all right on the ranch, which is great in a lot of respects, but it’s not always easy sailing in a family business. It is not always easy for my wife and I must pause and make sure I keep that in perspective. I have a great deal of respect for the generations that came before me, and hopefully I can carry on and provide opportunities for my sons as they grow up.

I’VE BEEN ON THE BOARD OF THE NATIONAL GRAZING LANDS COALITION for several years now as a representative of ASI. Aggie Helle was one of the original founders of that organization back in 1992, and when she was ready to step back from it, she thought I might be a good fit. It’s a good group of diverse agricultural leaders and is a real compliment to our sheep industry. Bob Hendershot (of Ohio) also represents the sheep industry on that board. Targeted grazing has been important to our operation and I believe it will continue to offer opportunities to many within our industry. There’s so much that can be done with it, from underbrush control for fire to noxious weed control to solar farm grazing. It’s also a great opportunity for young people to start a business in the sheep industry because in some cases there are lower input costs and a low barrier of entry. I think we’ll continue to see that be a growth portion of our industry in all regions of the United States.

I’VE BEEN STRONGLY CONNECTED TO THE INDUSTRY throughout my life and especially since returning to the ranch. My mother was involved heavily in the National Make It With Wool organization. As a member of the Wool Council, Let’s Grow Committee, NSIP, Fine Wool Consortium and the American Lamb Board, I’ve developed some great relationships with people in this industry and I feel like I can bring a different perspective to the officer team. I have such respect for the people who have come before me in these roles. I made a point to reach out to several past presidents and leaders in the industry, and I felt like I could help represent some of the individuals I’ve served with in those different groups. I’d also like to continue to grow the genetic side of the industry, develop some of the philosophies we’ve supported through Let’s Grow, and maintain a priority as an industry of highlighting the many sheep benefits both in the public and in the legislative arena. I feel like I can bring some of those ideas and relationships with me and I look forward to working with all of you to keep moving forward as an industry.

What Producers Need to Know About SSWS

Center for Food Security and Public Health
Iowa State University

Swine producers are nervously watching the outbreaks of African Swine Fever that are happening around the world. Did you know there is a disease just as devastating that can impact sheep? It is called foot and mouth disease.

Luckily, the United States has not had a case of FMD since 1929. But with global travel and trade, the risk of an FMD introduction exists. An FMD outbreak could cost the industry $15 to $100 billion dollars. The American sheep industry has benefited from an expansion in lamb exports. More than half of our wool is exported. One case of FMD in the United States and our export market would be shut down. ASI values preparedness, which is why it funded development of the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan (SecureSheepWool.org) to help producers protect their flocks from FMD. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered with ASI to fund outreach materials and efforts to increase FMD awareness to producers and other stakeholders.

 

What Does FMD Look Like?

Foot and mouth disease causes blisters on the feet and in the mouth of cloven-hooved animals. Cattle infected with FMD show signs of lameness, drooling and reluctance to move or eat because of the painful sores. However, FMD-infected adult sheep often show no, or only mild signs, of infection. Signs of FMD in adult sheep can be easily confused with other common diseases, making an FMD diagnosis very difficult. Young lambs with FMD are much more likely to die, often due to heart problems.

 

Preventing FMD Spread

Controlling the spread of FMD involves stopping animal and animal product movement. Animal products include raw wool, wool products, semen, embryos and manure. This could happen in the areas around infected animals, throughout a state, or even a region. Once stopped, restarting movement will require a special permit. The permit will be issued by regulatory officials after a producer meets certain requirements.

The SSWS Plan is for producers who have sheep with no evidence of FMD infection. The SSWS Plan provides guidance to meet movement permit requirements.

 

Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan

The SSWS Plan was written with input from industry, state and federal animal health officials, and university partners. The plan supports FMD control for infected farms and business continuity for uninfected farms. State and federal animal health officials recognize the need to destroy FMD without destroying the sheep and livestock industry. It is a tough balancing act. The SSWS Plan allows for voluntarily preparation before an FMD outbreak.

Following the guidance will help producers with sheep that have no evidence of infection, to:

• Limit exposure of their animals to FMD through enhanced biosecurity;

• Move animals to processing or another premises under a movement permit issued by regulatory officials;

• Maintain business continuity for the sheep industry, including producers, haulers, packers and wool processors during an FMD outbreak.

Producers wanting to tip the scales in favor of surviving an FMD outbreak can prepare now by:

• Having a National Premises Identification Number issued by the office of the State Animal Health Official: APHIS.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/traceability/state-pin;

• Working with your flock veterinarian to write an operation-specific, enhanced biosecurity plan. Resources are available on the SSWS website, such as biosecurity checklists, information manuals for enhanced biosecurity for FMD prevention, and an enhanced biosecurity plan template;

• Keeping movement records of animals, people and equipment. Movement logs are available on the website.

 

Disease Monitoring

To limit disease spread during an FMD outbreak, animals must be monitored often. Animal caretakers should be trained on the signs of FMD in sheep. Producers should have or establish a relationship with a USDA Category II Accredited Veterinarian. These veterinarians might be a needed for disease monitoring and sample collection during an FMD outbreak.

To find an accredited veterinarian, use the USDA Accredited Veterinarian locator at APHIS.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/nvap/ct_locate_av.

Producers should report suspicious signs of disease to their flock veterinarian or state or federal animal health official. More guidance to help producers identify FMD signs in their flock, keep records and report signs of disease is under development.

 

Wool Handling and Movement

During an FMD outbreak, it’s possible that FMD-infected sheep could be shorn and their wool stored or moved before the flock is diagnosed. FMD does not cause any visible damage to the wool and it is not possible to detect FMD virus in wool by looking at it.

There are no USDA-approved tests to detect FMD in wool (as of March 2021). Depending on several factors, FMD might survive in raw wool for months. There are several methods to kill FMD virus in wool. Biosecure wool storage, identifying bales and keeping accurate, complete wool movement records are critical in controlling disease spread.

 

Preparing for Stopped Movement

At the beginning of an FMD outbreak, the USDA recommends a 72-hour national movement standstill for all cloven-hoofed livestock and their products. It might take several more days or weeks for regulatory officials to have confidence that animals can be moved safely. Producers should be prepared to manage their sheep if they are not allowed to move animals or animal products during a stop movement period.

 

FMD vaccination

Vaccination of animals against FMD is one tool that might be used during an outbreak. Many factors affect the use of FMD vaccine and are explained in this eight-minute video at YouTube.com/watch?v=MKf-aMgb-y0

Explore the SSWS Plan resources at SecureSheepWool.org to help you protect your animals and business in the event of an FMD event.

ALB Enlists Michigan State in Environmental Footprint Study

AMERICAN LAMB BOARD

Environmental concerns about livestock production continue to gain traction, and the American lamb industry entered the spotlight when a 2011 Environmental Working Group Study characterized lamb as one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. The study’s outcomes are still cited at influential conferences and in the media.

“Sustainability issues have proven to be very important to consumers. They are definitely not a fad. And, consumers are showing they are willing to make purchases based on their concerns, including the choices being made to select plant-forward meals and reduce meat consumption,” said Gwen Kitzan, chair of the American Lamb Board. “Food companies of all sizes are putting demands on producers and suppliers to provide environmental footprint data.”

Recently, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a proclamation promoting March 20 – which is traditionally National Agriculture Day – as MeatOut Day. Influencers and celebrities are prominent in sustainability activism.

For example, Bill Gates was quoted as saying, “I do think all rich countries should move to 100 percent synthetic beef,” as a way to address climate change.

ALB is working with a multidisciplinary team at Michigan State University to evaluate the environmental footprint of the American sheep industry in order to have accurate and robust data to contribute to this very important issue.

The initial focus of the study has been to define a comprehensive model of GHG emissions for the diverse array of American sheep production systems, such as range, farm flock pasture and intensive, and feedlot. MSU will conduct a partial life cycle analysis of lamb production in these types of operations to quantify GHG emissions.

As work progresses, data will be assembled on various GHG mitigation strategies, primarily via land and crop management practices. During the final phase, MSU will define environmental improvement strategies that are the most feasible and impactful for sheep producers to employ according to their particular production system.

A blueprint for producer education strategies to address these priorities will wrap up the project.

 

ALB Releases Annual report

“Upheaval. That describes 2020,” said American Lamb Board Chairman Gwen Kitzan in the checkoff group’s annual report released for fiscal year 2020. The industry was already facing significant processing infrastructure changes when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Literally within days, your American Lamb Board shifted programs, and continued to do so for months as situations evolved. Promotions and communications intensified. As dining out became almost nonexistent, home cooks became our primary consumers. Many had never prepared lamb, so making our product more accessible and approachable was paramount,” continued Kitzan.

Even though emphasis shifted to promotions, the new American lamb environmental footprint research was launched.

“Your checkoff dollars are enticing consumers to make American lamb part of their meals. Whatever comes in 2021, you can be sure ALB will meet the challenges head-on. Thank you for your continued support and valuable input,” said Kitzan.

The annual report is available for download at LambResourceCenter.com. The site also contains additional program information, as well as promotional tools. ALB’s FY 2020 ran from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020.

 

Second Lamb Summit Postponed to 2022

The next American Lamb Summit has been postponed to Aug. 8–10, 2022, at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. The move is due to the ongoing pandemic situation.

The second Lamb Summit will continue to focus and expand on the goals of the first Lamb Summit held in Fort Collins, Colo., in 2019:

• Increase the quality and consistency of American lamb;

• Improve the American lamb industry’s competitiveness and productivity.

The American Lamb Summit is an educational conference designed to inspire production improvements and collaboration among all segments of the American lamb industry. Premier 1 Supplies, the American Lamb Board, Michigan State University and the Michigan Sheep Producers Association are partnering to host this unique educational event.

Learn more at LambSummit.com.

Pipestone’s On-Farm Visits Make Multi-State Impact

MIKKEL PATES
Agweek

The Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program is nearly 50 years old and using new tools to shepherd producers into an increasingly profitable enterprise.
Instructors are based at Minnesota West Community and Technical College at Pipestone, Minn., but spend much of their time on the road to the 120 farms they serve, primarily in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

The staff is led by veteran instructor Philip Berg, who grew up on his family’s Pipestone area sheep farm. He’s been an instructor with the Pipestone program since 2005.

 

LIKE ‘CROP CONSULTING’

The Pipestone program is the only one Berg knows of in the U.S. with all of its parts — research-backed education, consultation, networking and risk management through marketing.

“I consider part of our program is very similar to crop consulting, where they’re coming out and viewing their crop,” Berg said. “We’re going out and viewing their facilities, viewing their ewes, looking at their body condition, looking at the lambs, at how they’re growing.

“Recently we’ve had a lot of excitement in the sheep industry because of some of the economics that we’ve seen,” Berg said.

Ann Kolthoff of Brookings, S.D., joined as a new instructor in July 2020. She says the best thing about the program is helping producers.

“Right now we’re starting our lambing season,” Kolthoff said. “What they’re worried about at this point in time is items that are going to affect their lambing season, and keep their lambs alive.”

 

YOUNG & GROWING

On a February farm visit, Kolthoff visited the snug lambing barn that Brian Fruechte and his wife, Kim, built in the past year in Verdi, Minn. As they strolled through the Fruechte’s new facilities, the topics ranged from nutrition to equipment.

The Fruechtes, both 37, said they’re making sheep a focal point of their diversified farming family life. After graduating from Pipestone High School, Brian and Kim went on to SDSU. They graduated in 2005 — Brian in ag economics/ag business, and Kim in consumer affairs/human resources. They married, worked briefly in Sioux Falls, S.D., and returned to farm when his grandfather — David — moved to town. The young couple raise corn and soybeans, sharing equipment with his father, Michael, who lives nearby. Brian also has started a crop insurance agency and a seed dealership.

Brian said raising sheep is part of his heritage. Michael once had about 600 ewes when his three sons were in high school. “As we slowly left the home he slowly replaced them with cattle,” Brian said.

In 2017, Brian and Kim bought 150 ewes.

Brian and Kim built two 30-by-85 foot hoop barns, but after the tough winter in 2019, they invested in an insulated, 30-by-36 foot pole shed lambing barn, situated between the hoop barns. This allows January lambing, instead of delaying until April.

The best part is that the Fruechte’s four children, ages 5 to 12, all can help. The kids can care for lambs and ewes, putting them into a “jug” — a small pen that confines the ewe with a new lamb – usually for three to five days. The kids have a handful of 4-H ewes and work with chores such as bedding, feeding and vaccinating.

Some younger producers see sheep as a “stepping stone” in their farming enterprise, Berg said.

“On average, probably 25 percent to 50 percent of their income comes from sheep,” he said.

Sheep offer profit opportunities in most years, he said. One thing that’s universal is that management plays a big role in profitability.

“If we’re doing a very good job managing our ewes, getting a lot of lambs born, keeping those lambs to market, it can be very profitable,” Berg acknowledged.

 

CHANGING TOOLS

Participants in the program pay for four to 10 college credits a year, which figures at $600 and up. They can earn a diploma from Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

The farms in the program average 400 to 500 ewes and range from 50 to 1,200 ewes.

Cost is based in part on the distance from Pipestone, but also on the flock size. The small flock rate is for 100 ewes or less, one visit per year in February to March. The intermediate level is for 100 to 200 ewes, with the February-March visit and a mid- to late-summer consultation. Farms of 200 ewes and above are full members, usually with three or four visits. Still another 15 are members more than 200 miles away and belong under the Sheep Central Consulting program, allowing two virtual visits per year.

The program officially started in 1972, then a joint effort of the National Sheep Industry Development Board, the technical college and the Minnesota Department of Education.

It’s done what it was designed to do — make a strong sheep region even stronger.

The idea was to help crop farmers to be more fully employed through the year by adding a livestock enterprise that could use existing facilities and include families.

The program became known for its in-person short courses and bus tours. Producers would come to central locations for evening meetings, planned according to work schedules. As production grew, farmers built some infrastructure in the sheep health and feed industries. Many years, more than 500 people would have participated.

Producers in the program sell about 35,000 to 40,000 lambs annually. The majority of the lambs are sold under a supply agreement. The current agreement is with Superior Farms of Dixon, Calif., which also maintains a processing plant in Denver. Even in the 2020 COVID-19 year, the agreement provided guaranteed delivery of lambs for harvest.

“One of the key components of the program is that we’re marketing a high-quality product in a low-supply time period, when the industry needs high-quality animals,” Berg said.

The group lambs now through the spring and feeds aggressively, so the lambs are market-ready at 5 to 6 months of age.

“Our group averages around 133 pounds. We probably market at 120 to close to 150 pounds,” Berg said.

 

SHARING WINS & LOSSES

Berg said one of the key assets is how program participants share ideas with each other — things that have worked and things that haven’t.
The tools for sharing are changing, especially during a pandemic.

“Today we’re using Zoom to reach a larger population, allowing them to participate without the travel,” Berg said. About six years ago they shifted to smaller “Farm Focus Group” meetings at individual farms.

Berg holds a bachelors degree from South Dakota State University and a masters in range science from North Dakota State University. He worked at NDSU’s Hettinger Research Extension Center before returning to Pipestone and is still involved in the farm.

Kolthoff grew up on a small grain and cattle farm at New Hampton, Iowa, achieved bachelors and masters degrees in animal science (ruminant focus) from SDSU, and managed SDSU’s Sheep Research and Teaching Unit. Before coming to the program, she worked for two years with Strauss Brands Inc., of Milwaukee, Wis., a smaller, niche-market meat packing company that handles lamb, beef and veal.

The two conduct lambing time short courses for members and non-members via Zoom.

This year, a winter-spring webinar series focused on late gestation management, getting lambs off to a good start and milk replacer information, among the topics. Another webinar featured University of Minnesota health specialists zeroing in on controlling coccidiosis, an intestinal tract infection, as well as genomics.

On the farm, instructors evaluate various risk management tools, including the feed side.

A perennial theme is how to manage larger numbers of sheep with the same amount of labor.

“We probably spend 60 percent to 70 percent of our labor time feeding and taking care of the sheep,” Berg said. “If we can find ways to feed, bed and water those sheep more efficiently, it allows us to run larger numbers.”

They counsel members on how to manage breeding so that a controlled number of ewes are lambing at any given time. With ewes that have recently lambed, Kolthoff also offers tips on how to get them effectively rebred for a successful fall lambing season.

Every winter is unique. The 2020-21 winter had been mild until mid-February. Producers were able to keep the barns opened and ventilated for better respiratory health.

“We haven’t had to put quite as much feed into them, which helps from a profitability standpoint,” she said. With the cold, producers like the Fruechtes focus on increasing energy into diets, especially after shearing.

And they’ll look ahead to a spring that will also be unique.

Ewe Nutrition is Key to Less Mastitis

Lambs get 100 percent of their nutrition from ewes’ milk during the first eight weeks of life, so it’s vital to maintain udder health. On top of that, weaning occurs shortly after peak milk production for the ewe – making the risk for mastitis high. An easy way to proactively manage udder health and mastitis is through nutrition.

“Managing mastitis via nutrition and management are simple ways to keep mastitis in check and ewes and lambs thriving through weaning and beyond,” says Maggie Amburgey, small ruminant technical specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Heading off mastitis can help reduce long-term udder quality issues and maintain future milk production – and keep ewes in the flock longer.”

Follow these tips to reduce the risk of mastitis and maintain ewe and lamb health.

 

Slow down milk supply

One of the best ways to avoid mastitis is by gradually slowing down milk production leading up to weaning.

“There’s a higher risk of mastitis, hard bag and other issues if milk production is still high at weaning,” says Clay Elliott, Ph.D. and small ruminant nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “The goal is to reduce energy in the diet and slow down milk production before removing lambs.”

At peak production, typically five to eight weeks after lambing, ewes are commonly fed a high-energy, corn-based ration and high-quality hay to maximize milk production and lamb growth. At the eight-week mark – while lambs are still on the ewes – start a 10- to 14-day dry-off period. During this time frame, gradually remove grain and switch to grass hay to lower energy levels in the diet and reduce milk production while keeping ewes full.

Reduce water availability for ewes 24 hours after weaning to further decrease milk production, but don’t eliminate water access, especially during warm weather.

 

Let ewes lead the way

“One of the biggest mistakes made with mastitis management is weaning lambs too early – before milk production has sufficiently decreased,” says Elliott.

If ewes are still producing high volumes of milk at eight weeks post lambing – even after changing to a low-energy diet – wait to remove lambs. Watch ewes closely to monitor milk production and wait to wean until milk production has slowed to protect udder health and limit mastitis risk.

Operations with ewes and lambs on pasture throughout lactation typically see ewes wean lambs around six months old. Mastitis isn’t common because ewes gradually dry up themselves.

 

Prepare ewes for the next phase

With so much excitement around weaning, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and not look ahead to the next phase of life for the ewe. But, it’s a phase to monitor and manage closely – especially with breeding season on the horizon.

“Ewes coming into lambing with an acceptable level of body condition – a 3 on a 5-point scale – are in a better position to rebound quickly after weaning,” says Amburgey. “But don’t wait until flushing begins to start getting ewes back in the correct body condition.”

Start feeding a mineral supplement designed for consistent intake once ewes are dry and moved out to pasture – no more than two weeks after weaning. Adding a mineral to the diet helps get ewes back in shape quickly so they’re ready for breeding season.

Drying up ewes with a proper nutrition and management strategy can increase their longevity in the flock.

Contact your local Purina nutritionist or visit PurinaMills.com/sheep-feed to learn more.

Sheep Month is a Hit for Livestock Conservancy

The Livestock Conservancy wrapped up its first Sheep Month in February, and the promotion was a success.

The group’s six live video chats on Facebook were viewed by 8,600 individuals, and averaged almost 150 engagements for each event (comments, likes and shares). Episodes included:

• A Sheep Chat with Marie Minnich, shepherdess to the largest registered flock of Romeldale/CVM sheep in the United States and co-founder of the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em Program;

• Navajo Churro Sheep Chat with Nikyle Begay, Zefren Anderson, Rose and Eugene Vigil and Cyndi Dvergsten;

• Sheep Chat with Lisa Pregent, livestock manager at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon and home to one of the largest flocks of Hog Island sheep;

• The first Woolly Wednesday featured Sarah Anderson, author of The Spinner’s Book of Yarn Designs. Woolly Wednesdays will continue once a month throughout 2021;

• Marketing Monday with Keisha Cameron of High Hog Farm addressed the business side of owning sheep on a small farm. Marketing Mondays are also an on-going monthly feature;

• Sheep Chat with Lexie Hain, co-founder of the American Solar Grazing Association.

Livestock Conservancy staff interviewed each of these guests and invited questions from viewers. The episodes are available for viewing anytime on the group’s YouTube channel.

February saw lots of growth on the Livestock Conservancy’s social media channels. The group surpassed 3,000 total followers on Twitter and gained more than 400 followers on Instagram. Post engagement also hit a high on the two platforms. Some of the Livestock Conservancy’s sheep posts were twice as successful as posts in the previous months. For Twitter, total tweet impressions for the month were 94,000 – the highest since last May when the Livestock Conservancy celebrated International Heritage Breeds Week. This doubles and triples the previous months’ numbers.

Since March 2019, more than 9,371 people have participated in the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em Program through official enrollment or as a member of a dedicated Livestock Conservancy social media group:

• 649 fiber providers, including shepherds, are officially enrolled;

• 1,356 people follow SE2SE on Ravelry, which boasts 9 million subscribers;

• 2,245 fiber artists have received SE2SE Passports;

• 5,300 fiber enthusiasts follow the SE2SE Facebook page;

• 500,000 viewers accessed sheep content on the Livestock Conservancy’s website last year;

• 2 million people were reached via the rarewool.org website.

The Livestock Conservancy’s initial SE2SE goal was to attract 1,000 fiber artists in three years. The group met that goal within three months, and the program continues to grow at a steady pace, with new artists joining daily.

In the past few weeks, generous gifts from Charlotte Hanes and the Noah Foundation have fully funded the Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em Program costs for the entire year. Work has just begun on a series of wool profiles for each of the 23 breeds of sheep on the Conservation Priority List – an important promotional tool for shepherds and educational resource for fiber artists. And the Livestock Conservancy hopes to begin reaching out to fiber guilds across America for the next phase of the wildly popular conservation program.

“We’re building on Sheep Month’s momentum to continue growing the market for heritage breed wool sustainably,” said Livestock Conservancy Development Director Karena Elliott. “This will enable small farmers to contribute to a more vibrant and productive American sheep and fiber market for the long term and save endangered sheep.”

Around the States

CALIFORNIA
RAM SALE SET FOR APRIL 10

The California Wool Growers Association is hosting the 101st Annual California Ram Sale on April 10 at the International Agri-Center in Tulare, Calif.
More than 500 rams including crossbred, Hampshire, Oxford, Suffolk and white-faced rams will be offered from California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

Ultrasound carcass measurements (i.e. loin eye area) and a Range Ram Index will be provided on all sale rams. The Range Ram Index utilizes ultrasound carcass data collected at the sale and will help to identify the potential genetic merit of those rams in passing superior genetic traits such as larger loin eye area or heavier carcass weights into producer flocks.

This years’ Ram Sale Trade Show will feature a variety of sheep health and equipment companies showcasing products developed to address sheep production, nutritional and health needs. Buyer check-in begins at 9 a.m., lunch is at 11:30 a.m. and the sale begins at 1 p.m.

Ram sale information including the sale catalog, schedule, lodging information, directions, etc., is available on the CWGA website at CaliforniaWoolGrowers.org. To request a catalog, contact the CWGA office at 916-444-8122 or info@woolgrowers.org.

Contributions and proceeds from the California Ram Sale support CWGA in its continued efforts to deliver lasting value to support and grow all segments of the California sheep industry. For questions, contact the CWGA office at 916-444-8122 or info@woolgrowers.org, Wes Patton at 530-514-7250 or John Olagaray at 209-663-7322.

Source: CWGA

 

TEXAS
LAMB & GOAT MARKETS REMAIN HOT

Texas lamb and goat meat producers continue to command high prices in a niche market driven by high demand and low supplies, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Reid Redden, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension sheep and goat specialist and interim director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, said the Texas lamb and goat markets have thrived despite COVID-19 and that travel restrictions likely helped spur demand higher.

“The lamb and goat markets are in another world as it relates to market conditions most Texas ag producers have been dealing with,” he said. “The market for Texas lambs and goats is diverse, resilient and growing. It avoided supply chain bottleneck issues other livestock markets dealt with, and I think the COVID restrictions kept the regular consumers home, which means more family functions to eat lamb and goat meat.”

Texas producers continue to command top prices as they supply a niche market around the United States, Redden said.

In January, the base price for 60-pound lightweight slaughter lambs was $3 per pound, up 70 cents per pound from this time last year, he said. Those lambs are selling $1 per pound more than the five-year rolling average.

Overall, consumer demand for lamb has expanded in recent years. But Redden said Texas lambs have commanded premium prices through the non-traditional market compared to the traditional market for restaurants or retail sale.

The traditional feeder market, which prefers larger framed, wool-type lambs fed to 140 to 180 pounds, and mimics the beef industry as far as processing and logistics, is not as common in Texas as it used to be, he said. The vast majority of Texas lambs are smaller-framed hair sheep that typically weigh 40 to 80 pounds – and go to ethnic consumers.

Prices for Texas lambs are driven primarily by the demand from nontraditional ethnic consumers, who are concentrated in major population centers around the state and nation, Redden said.

Lambs are shipped live to the markets where they are sold directly to consumers or harvested by ethnic processors and distributed to ethnic grocers and butcher shops. These nontraditional markets demand smaller, leaner lambs and pay a premium for them.

“The market has been strong for some time now, but prices continue to trend upward,” he said.

A significant piece of the traditional American lamb market is supplied by imports and they are one-third to half the cost of domestic lamb, but imported lamb do not appear to have as large an effect on the ethnic market supplied by Texas lambs and goats, he said.

Many consumers want lambs at 40 to 60 pounds, but producers are realizing better margins at 60 to 80 pounds, Redden said. These market conditions factor into maintaining and inflating strong prices as buyers jockey for specific weight and class lambs.

“It’s a specialty market, and it’s become harder and harder for supplies to meet demand,” he said. “The prices reflect that.”

Goat prices continued to experience a price trajectory similar to lamb, Redden said.

“The kid goat market is even brighter than lambs,” he said. “The goat market has been on fire the last several years and getting better and better. Producers don’t understand it, but they’re just riding the wave as far as it will go.”

Unlike Texas’ lamb market, goats have never been part of the traditional meat production apparatus, Reid said. There are no big processing plants or packers, and production feeds non-traditional, primarily ethnic demand.

From January and February, goat prices fluctuated between $3.50 to $3.80 per pound compared to a five-year average of $2.50 to $2.75 for the same time of season. January to March is typically when prices are the best. Kidding season is just now getting started and most market goats are sold in the summer and fall.

Goats are lighter, slower-growing animals compared to sheep, Redden said. Market kid goats tend to be lighter than lambs – typically averaging 35 to 65 pounds – but are achieving comparable prices per head due to higher prices. Some goats have brought more than $4 per pound at market.

“There was one down week last year when buyers were worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, but as soon as the orders kept coming in, prices took off and have continued to climb,” Redden said. “There just aren’t enough goats to meet demands.”

Source: AgriLife Today

 

OKLAHOMA
SHEPHERD’S CROSS PLANS SHEARING SCHOOL

It is that time of year again. Shepherd’s Cross is taking registrations for its annual shearing school. The classes are held on an authentic working sheep farm at Shepherd’s Cross. This is one of only a few ASI-certified classes taught in the whole nation. It is instructed by Israel Vasek and Dr. Diane Dickinson.

Vasek is a professional sheep shearer, and shears more than 10,000 sheep per year. He learned to shear with his father, and is carrying on the family tradition. He and his family live in South Dakota.

Dickinson is a licensed veterinarian and an agriculturalist, with more than 30 years of livestock and farming experience. Her unique perspective of animal husbandry care includes that of a producer, a veterinarian for small flocks and herds, global agriculture, Biblical agriculture, sustainable living, natural production, agritourism and niche markets.

Each participant will learn, and then have an opportunity to effectively shear sheep. Proper handling and animal welfare will be taught, as well as proper handling and maintaining shearing equipment. Shepherd’s Cross is an animal welfare approved facility.

Upon request a portion of the class can be taught virtually.

Shepherd’s Cross provides the sheep and shears for your use during training. You are welcome to bring any shearing tools you have for consultation and use, if desired. Upon completion of the class, each student will have earned a certificate of accomplishment from Shepherd’s Cross and from ASI. Students will also be given an official ASI Shearing tutorial handbook, a DVD & an educational gift bag.

The registration form is available at ShepherdsCross.com. The class fee is $245.00 (the form and a deposit of $75.00 are due by April 5). Please be prepared to sign a waiver & heed Shepherd’s Cross rules. Please bring a sack lunch. Beverages will be provided.

Shepherd’s Cross and Heart of the Shepherd (the nonprofit 501-C3) host many classes including animal husbandry, wool processing and veterinary care all around the world. Fiber classes go a step farther than most classes – Shepherd’s Cross teaches some history of fiber arts, and practical technology. Workshops are augmented by hands-on learning tools available in the Educational Farm Museum. These fiber classes are offered on an individual or group basis throughout the year.

Source: Shepherd’s Cross

NSIIC Nominations Dues By April 23

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service is seeking nominees for one producer position and one expert in finance and management to serve three-year terms on the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center Board of Directors.

ASI is a recognized by USDA as a Certified Nominating Organization to submit nominations. USDA selects appointees from candidates nominated by a CNO – a certified national organization with a principal interest in the production of sheep in the United States and whose membership consists primarily of active domestic sheep producers. The sheep producer director and director with finance and management emphasis are currently served by Leo Tammi of Virginia and Burton Pfliger of North Dakota. ASI is looking to submit two nominations for each position. Applications for nomination must be submitted to ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick at porwick@sheepusa.org by April 23.

The board of directors comprises seven voting members and two non-voting members. Voting members include four active American sheep producers, two members with expertise in finance and management and one member with expertise in lamb or wool product marketing.

The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center was established as part of the 2008 Farm Bill and administers a grant program designed to improve the infrastructure of the American sheep industry by strengthening and enhancing the production and marketing of sheep and sheep products.

For more information on NSIIC, visit SheepUSA.org/resources-alliedorganizations-nsiicnominations.

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