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President’s Notes

Wet Conditions Plague Much of the United States

Benny Cox, ASI President

The report is out: summer is in full swing and man what a spring we had. I heard just the other day that this was the wettest May ever. I can tell you that was certainly true in our part of Texas.

Along with an overabundance of rain, we have to work under a completely different set of management rules when it comes to sheep and goat production because we generally are dry. We saw really good performance through winter and spring, but when forage in our pastures started maturing in late May to the first of June, things started to change. Around the middle of June I started to see sheep and goats coming through the auction that were showing signs of stomach worm issues. Into late spring, most livestock looked really good. There was enough high protein tender forage to feed the worms and themselves, so their body scores stayed at good levels. With the increased percentage of hair sheep and goats in our area, many think there is no need to drench those two groups. That just isn’t true in a year like this. Even though they might look good before gathering and shipping, all the stresses in moving them through sale channels – whether it be auction, delivery to weigh scales or just simply loading on the first trailer – can start a change in the wellbeing of those livestock.

I understand this is not new information, but it seems that lots of people need to hear it from someone on down the line that is a witness after animals have gone through a number of those stresses. I hear from those handlers – order buyers, feedlot operators, truckers, etc. – and their problems mostly about the death loss. It is our responsibility as producers to sell the best product that we can to insure a good reputation. Our understanding of these problems and actions to deal with any issues related to animal health is of great importance.

Let’s change gears now and talk about the markets. The larger groups of early wool lambs from this area in truckload lots were sent out at from $1.70 to $1.98 per pound, depending on the early lambs verses the later bought lambs. Most of the wool lambs in our area this year weighed more than 90 pounds with some more than 100 pounds. As I said earlier, winter and spring was really good around here. The hair lamb market fell off big before Easter weekend and then improved and stayed above those levels so far by more than $30 per hundred.

This market swing was unusual for this time of the year. Generally when the market falls off late spring, it does not improve. Texas A&M University has done a research market project for the San Angelo market since 2010 comparing hair lambs to wool lambs moving through the ring at Producers Livestock. The last year we sold more wool lambs than hair lambs was in 2010. In 2018, we sold nine hair lambs to every one wool lamb.
We are still seeing a demand for replacement ewes mostly for the hair type, but also for wool ewes, as well. The numbers in Texas look to be holding up in my opinion, and hopefully I am right on track with my thoughts.

While I got stuck in Texas due to weather-related travel delays, the ASI Executive Board met in Pennsylvania last month for its annual summer meeting. The main topic of discussion at this meeting is always the budget. The board recommended the Wool Trust and Fund II budgets for the coming fiscal year and they will now go to the full ASI Board of Directors for final approval. The ASI American Wool Council spent part of two days in June reviewing the larger budget we use. Our unrestricted fund budget includes dues from states – which is one third of that budget – so there’s always work to do fundraising for the other portion to pay the bills.

The executive board met in Pennsylvania to catch up with students at the National Lamb Feeders Association’s Howard Wyman Sheep Industry Leadership School. This year, the school was focusing on the non-traditional, ethnic market that accounts for most of the local lamb demand on the East Coast. The groups toured the New Holland Sales Stables – an auction that mirrors what we do in San Angelo more than any other lamb market in the country. I’m sorry I was unable to get there, as I had looked forward to the trip for months. It would have been a great opportunity for me in both my role as ASI President and in my day job at the auction house. I’ve heard from several who were on hand about how much they learned on the tour.

Ya`ll keep on doing what you do best, and I will see you on down the road.

Market Report

Australian Lamb Prices Hit Record High

On the back of persistent dry conditions in Australia, strong global demand and the lower Australian dollar, Australian lamb prices hit record highs – about 30 percent higher year-on-year – in early July.

In May, Australian lamb export values averaged Australian $8.79 per kg (U.S. $2.79 per lb.), a lift of 11 percent from 2018 and 16 percent higher than the five-year average (Meat & Livestock Australia, 6/27/19).

By early July, the domestic lamb market was buoyed by higher import prices, but still wrestled with heavy freezer inventory overhang, cleaning up heavy lambs in feedlots and relatively lower demand in June due to cooler temperatures.

In coming months, MLA reported, “Demand fundamentals remain strong despite record prices from key suppliers. Limited availability in the months ahead from the two leading global sheepmeat exporters will sustain pressure on lamb prices, certainly until new season lambs enter the market,” (MLA, 6/2019).

 

It’s a Numbers Game

The American lamb industry is relatively small, thus unanticipated supply situations – in imports, in freezers or in feedlots – can prompt large swings in live lamb prices.

However, by early July, old crop lambs, those lambs stretched out from last year were likely “cleaned up,” helping to support higher prices.
Lambs on feed in the largest feeding state – Colorado – have been relatively lower this year. In 2019 through June, Colorado feedlot lambs were 75 percent from a year ago. By early July, 74,301 head were reported in Colorado feedlots, 69 percent of last July’s report and 94 percent of its five-year average. While feeding capacity exists in the Midwest and California, volume is not reported.

 

Slaughter Lambs Mostly Unchanged

June lamb prices remained strong but unimpressive, likely reflecting the clean-up of heavier lambs in the pipeline.

Slaughter lamb prices on formula/grid averaged $294.16 per cwt. on a carcass basis, down 0.5 percent monthly and up 4 percent year-on-year. The live equivalent was $146.93 per cwt. Carcass weights averaged 85.58 lbs., up 4 percent monthly and down 2 percent year-on-year.

Live, negotiated slaughter lamb prices averaged $159.93 per cwt. in June, up 2 percent monthly and down marginally from a year ago. Weights averaged 151 lbs.

 

Production Down, Imports Up

Estimated lamb harvest in the first-half of 2019 was 967,435 head, up 3 percent year-on-year. Estimated lamb production was 66.5 million lbs., down 1 percent year-on-year. Production was lower in spite of heavier slaughter rates due to lower carcass weights: 69 lbs. in January to May, down 4 percent year-on-year.

Lamb and mutton in cold storage averaged 38.5 million in July, down 6 percent monthly and up 8 percent year-on-year. January’s carryover was a three-year high.

Lamb imports totaled 92.0 million lbs. in January to May, up 32 percent year-on-year. Imports from Australia were up 28 percent year-on-year to 67.1 million lbs. and imports from New Zealand were up 43 percent to 24.3 million lbs.

 

Forecasts

In early June, the Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted that third quarter national slaughter lamb prices on a carcass basis could be $294 to $300 per cwt., up 5 percent year-on-year. Feeder lamb prices (60 to 90 lbs.) could be $167 to $177 per cwt., up 19 percent.

The boost in domestic prices is likely due to a combination of factors. LMIC forecasted that lamb imports could fall 11 percent year-on-year. Furthermore, domestic production is expected to slow and exports increase, which could result in total disappearance (consumption) slipping marginally year-on-year.

In the third quarter, Australia faces continued drought-stricken supplies, but also a seasonal low before new crop lambs are born in its coming spring. Another possible reason for lower imports is heightened competition from China. In the first half of 2019, China imported as much lamb from Australia as mutton, likely due in part to reduced pork production from the African swine flu (Farmonline, 7/8/19). Furthermore, in the 12 months to June, China’s lamb imports from Australia were 98 percent of the United State’s lamb imports from Australia.

 

Pelt Market Lower (Still)

The lambskin market continues to slide due to lower demand, increased use of synthetic leather and environmental regulations in China – the largest hide/lambskin market (Meat & Livestock Australia, 7/4/19). “Increased environmental regulation in China impacts their capacity to process hides, while also driving up overheads.” Higher costs in China are being passed onto processors and hide traders, and lowering pelt offers to sheep producers.

In January to May 2019, the total value of American pelt exports was $3.3 million, down 53 percent year-on-year. The total quantity exported was down 22 percent to 363,187 pieces. The United States is heavily dependent upon China for its export market: 71 percent of American 2019 pelt exports by value were exported to China, and 74 percent by volume.

In June, unshorn supreme pelts averaged $1.63 per piece, down 73 percent year-on-year. Shorn supreme pelts were down 82 percent to 88 cents per pelt.

In coming months, pelts are likely to remain depressed. MLA forecasted, “In the short term, prices (pelt) could continue to come under pressure as the aforementioned trends appear set to continue,” (7/4/19).

 

Meat Market Ticked Upward

The wholesale composite averaged $343.73 per cwt. in June, 1 percent higher monthly and up 4 percent from a year ago. For the first half of 2019, the wholesale composite averaged $383.56 per cwt., 3 percent higher year-on-year.

The rack, 8-rib, medium, has held historically high at $878.69 per cwt., down 1 percent monthly. Gaining 3 percent monthly, the shoulder, square-cut, topped $3 per lb. for the first time in nearly two years at $303.27 per cwt. The loin, trimmed 4×4, saw a 1 percent gain to $528.09 per cwt. The leg, trotter-off, averaged $383.78 per cwt., up 1 percent monthly.

The shoulder gained 9 percent year-on-year and the rack was up 2 percent year-on-year. The leg saw a 5-percent lift from a year ago. The loin – a popular grilling feature – slipped 2 percent year-on-year likely due to cooler June temperatures.

Ground lamb averaged $570.10 per cwt. in June, down 1 percent monthly and up 1 percent year-on-year.

 

U.S. Lamb Primed for Gen Z

There are several key attributes of Generation Z that make it a particularly noteworthy target for boosting American lamb. Gen Z – of which the older cohort is now 18-22 years old – is forecasted to reach 32 percent of the United States population this year, surpassing millennials (Meatingplace.com, 6/2019).

Lamb marketing notes: Gen Z’s are the most ethnically diverse generation thus far. They are also the most adventurous. Instead of seeking “Asian” or “Latin” foods, they seek Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese offerings. Second, this generation grew up recognizing red meat as just one protein choice among others such as yogurt and peanut butter. Meatingplace.com reports that this means red meat processors need to remind young consumers that meat is an excellent source of protein (6/2019). Third, Gen Z seeks out convenience. They aren’t cooks, but assemblers…and snackers. Gen Z will eat six times a day, not four. Lastly, Gen Z gets meal inspiration from social media.

 

Australian Wool Market Hits 15-Month Low

After a tumultuous 15 months, and a four-month slide, early July saw signs of the Australian market gaining some strength. The Australian Eastern Wool Indicator averaged 1,722 ac/kg, or 1,212 usc/kg (U.S. $5.50 per lb. clean) in early July, up 0.5 percent weekly, but down 15 percent from June 2018.

Imported Australian wool prices are a good proxy for American clean wool prices. Typically, well-prepared American wool can receive about 80 percent of Australian wool. In June, 21 micron Australian wool averaged $6.82 per lb. clean, down 4 percent monthly and down 14 percent year-on-year. Twenty-eight micron Australian wool averaged $3.59 per lb. clean, down 9 percent monthly and down 1 percent from a year ago.

Domestic clean wool prices have not been reported since May. As the wool clip contracts and the number of buyers is challenged by United States-China trade war uncertainty, it is sometimes challenging for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service to report prices due to confidentiality concerns.

By early July, the Australian wool market saw a promising uptick.

“Confidence is key to the wool market’s fortunes and that is present at the moment, but conversion to fresh forward business in volume needs to be achieved for a complete stabilization of the supply chain,” (AWEX, 7/5/19).

However, underlying concerns remain that could drag on the market. Poor global economic conditions remain a threat, as well as wool’s “overvalued position” relative to competing apparel fibers could put a drag on the market (AWI, 7/5/19). Furthermore, an Australian newspaper reported that Australian and Chinese traders report a slow-down in orders and softer prices, “largely because of escalating tension between the U.S. and China,” (Australian ABC News, 7/8/19). United States retailers are also reportedly reluctant to place orders for yarn and fabric, prompting a depressing ripple effect back to China.

What is important to remember amidst this wool market downturn is that Australian wool prices are still historically high: first-half 2019 prices were 157 percent of Australia’s 10-year price average.

 

It’s not Easy Being Green

A recent survey by AT Kearney of United States consumers found that while they appreciate “green credentials” in shopping for apparel, they are “unlikely to settle for higher costs in exchange for environmental benefits,” (WoolNews.net, 6/2019).

Reportedly, 38 percent of consumers purchased green apparel last year, (WoolNews.net, 6/2019). “Over 70 percent of respondents reported that that they consider their impact on the environment when shopping, and apparel is likely to be a major beneficiary with almost 50 percent of respondents stating they intended to shift their apparel purchasing behaviors to be greener into the future,” (WoolNews.net, 6/2019).

Another important survey finding was that consumers are skeptical of “green” claims and search for “credibility and authenticity.” Similar to lamb, it is critical to spread the story of wool, and be careful to avoid misinformation.

The American Wool Council’s AmericanWool.org website offers fact sheets delineating the many natural and environmental benefits of wool.

Coarse Wool Presents Championship Challenge

Competing in wool handling at the Golden Shears International Shearing and Wool Handling Championships in Le Dorat, France, Amelia Seifert finished 25th in the final standings and combined with Leann Brimmer (32nd overall) to help Team USA finish 14th (out of 23 teams) in the team results. Add that to a once-in-a-lifetime vacation and it was an great trip all around.

“I’ve never competed in a competition of this magnitude, so the experience was very exciting for me,” said Seifert via Facebook while touring Italy after the competition concluded. “I had only competed in three contests before I was in the world contest – one of the three contests only being a day before the world competition (the All Nations event).”

The United States team placed 13th overall (out of 29 teams) in machine shearing thanks to the efforts of Alex Moser (26th overall) and Davin Perrin (27th overall), while Kevin Ford (17th overall) and Doug Rathke (19th overall) led the blade shearing team to 10th place (out of 18 teams).

As the least experienced member of the American team, the entire competition was a learning experience for Seifert. Le Dorat hosted the world championships in early July.

“The sheep they used at the world contest, I have never worked with before and was a new experience for me. The wool was very coarse,” she said. “It was a brand new experience for me to roll and tuck a fleece and sort the wool they have. I’m more use to working with fine-wooled sheep in the area I work in. We don’t roll fleeces and we require more skirting on our finer fleeces than their coarse ones.”

The trip was even more fun since Seifert decided to turn it into a working vacation. Traveling with her mom, the two visited sites in Ireland, England, France and Italy before heading home nearly a week after the competition ended.

Shearer Kevin Ford is an old hand at the world championships, and said the Texel sheep (with possibly some Suffolk influence) made for good competition in the blade shearing.

“They were big, strong sheep, that’s for sure,” he added. “France did a wonderful job as host of the competition. The venue was a a huge fairgrounds with vendors and exhibitions, and we had a big, enthusiastic crowd for the competition.”

The biggest surprise in blade shearing came when a young New Zealander, Allan Oldfield, won the individual competition and teamed with Tony Dobbs to win the team event.

“Shearers from South Africa have won that event every year since 1996 I believe,” Ford said.

Le Dorat hosted the All Nations open competition prior to the start of the world championships and shearer Paul Astin took eighth in machine shearing, while Perrin was ninth and Moser finished 31st.

Brimmer finished 25th and Seifert was 29th in wool handling in All Nations, while Ford took 20th and Rathke was 42nd in blade shearing.
Maryland shearer Emily Chamelin-Hickman – who served as the United States Team Manager for the world competition – finished second in intermediate machine shearing and 14th in women’s machine shearing in the All Nations competition.

ASI’s Baler Program Builds Industry Infrastructure

Wool balers aren’t easy to find. Even if you’re willing to purchase one brand new, you’ll likely be stuck paying an exorbitant amount in shipping to bring one into the United States from overseas.

In an effort to assist American shearers, ASI’s American Wool Council developed a program in 2018 to provide five $5,000 grants to assist recipients in building balers domestically. While the program directly benefitted the shearers who received the grants, hundreds of sheep producers will indirectly benefit from the balers during their lifespans.

“Having newer equipment/balers enables us to press and package the wool more efficiently, which saves the wool grower money for packs and shipping,” said Bernie Fairchild of Fairchild Shearing in Idaho – one of the grant recipients. “We are truly happy with these wool presses.”

Three of the recipients have completed the grant program and the final two are on their way to meeting the final program requirements. The five operations combined shear approximately half a million sheep each year. Requirements of the program included:

• Balers must be made in the United States. This resulted in three small businesses expressing interest in manufacturing balers in the future. As mentioned, freight on balers built overseas can be cost-prohibitive, so developing domestic suppliers for this equipment is crucial to the American sheep industry.

• Balers must produce uniform bale dimensions of 32 inches by 52 inches and weighing between 400 and 500 pounds. This bale shape and weight increases transport efficiencies as these bales can be stacked to maximize space in shipping containers. Since more than half of the American wool clip is exported, this is a key factor in maximizing profits for wool producers and buyers.

ASI and the wool council will offer the baler grants once again in 2019, and will announce details of the program in the months to come.

“With the spring and fall together, we shear approximately 310,000 sheep and tag approximately 80,000,” Fairchild said. “We feel that having a successful shearing operation is important to the sheep industry as a whole. This grant enabled us to have a newer baler, which in turn will help us avoid breakdowns and loss of time.”

Utah’s Allen Christensen was also a grant recipient, and thanked ASI for helping him to replace a worn-out baler.

“The thought of a grant program for a press had never crossed my mind,” he said. “I knew I was in need of a press, but could not afford one. Then I was informed of ASI’s program. What I found was informative and fair. The builder I chose was Crestview in Idaho. As soon as I got them a down payment, they went to work and I received a press a short time later.”

Christensen said he worked with the builder to correct some minor flaws and now the baler is working great for his operation.
“ASI and this program have been a huge help to me, and to helping me move forward in building a new shearing outfit in central Utah.”

ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson said she’s happy the program has benefitted shearers and producers alike.

“That was the goal,” she said. “We wanted to create a program that would assist everyone in the process of growing and harvesting American wool, and I think we’ve been successful. We plan to continue investing in this program to assist American wool shearers and producers.”

Sheep Center Accepting Grant Proposals Through Sept. 15

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced recently that the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center’s Board of Directors is accepting grant proposals through Sept. 15.

Grants must be designed to improve the American sheep industry and must accomplish one or more of the following objectives:

• Strengthen and improve long-term sustainability of the lamb and wool industry’s infrastructure by increasing the numbers in production;

• Provide integration of performance and production data from sources that can help enhance the National Sheep Improvement Program;

• Provide leadership training and education to producers and packers within the sheep industry;

• Enhance sheep production by improving infrastructure of the American sheep industry through assistance to all segments of the industry to address sustainable production and marketing of sheep milk, meat, fiber and related services such as grazing for fire management and pasture improvements;

• Promote lamb marketing through an organized method that can measure tangible results;

• Enhance the sheep industry by coordinating information exchange and seeking mutual understanding and marketing within the international industry community.

ASI fought for the creation of the center, and annually nominates experienced producers from the sheep industry to serve on the center’s board of directors.

The sheep center was established as part of the 2008 Farm Bill and awarded funding by AMS to be used for the Sheep Production and Marketing Grant Program as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. Grant funding can be used on activities designed to strengthen and enhance the production of marketing of sheep and sheep products in the United States through infrastructure development, business development, production, resource development, and market and environmental research.

The sheep center will review each proposal, recommend funding and submit final recommendations to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service for approval. For more information, contact NSIIC Program Manager Steve Lee at 207-236-6567, stevelee@nsiic.org or send mail to NSIIC, PO Box 646, Rockland, ME 04841.

To learn more, visit NSIIC.org.

Wyo.’s Whaley Selected as 2019 SHF Scholarship Winner

Pursuing a master’s in animal science, Jaelyn Whaley is the second straight University of Wyoming student to claim the Sheep Heritage Foundation Scholarship. She picks up $3,000 from the foundation to help with her education expenses.

Whaley applied for the honor a year ago, but watched as Chad Page – her lab mate at Wyoming – earned the scholarship instead. This year, it was her turn.

“This is such a big honor,” said Whaley, who grew up helping with the family’s small farm flock in Colorado. In her scholarship applicatoin, Whaley wrote, “My family runs a Suffolk/Hampshire flock providing club lambs to youth and grass-fed lamb to local consumers. As assistant manager, my marketing role has taught me the value of genetics to product promotion. My academic career has surrounded me with passionate sheep enthusiasts and continued to promote my drive to serve the American sheep industry.”

Whaley is looking to do just that by tackling the industry-wide issue of lamb seasonality in her research.

“Seasonality of production is an inherent issue in the lamb industry as approximately 85 percent of lambs in the United States are born in the first five months of the year (USDA/APHIS, 2011),” she wrote in her scholarship application. “Ideally, lambs are harvested between 6 and 12 months of age leading to shortages in lamb supply from May to August. However, the lamb packing industry requires continual supply. In order to compensate for supply shortages feedlots must extend days on feed, pushing lambs beyond weights appropriate for their frame size. Sheep industry working groups have identified lamb products excessive in fat as a major threat to consumer satisfaction and demand for American lamb. To date, there has been no quantification of the accrued costs of excessively finished lamb carcasses in the U.S. processing sector.

“From May to August, 7,378 carcass images were captured to quantify carcass characteristics during the most seasonally constrained supply periods to assess adverse impacts of production seasonality on lamb quality characteristics. Further investigations will evaluate carcass characteristics from September to May (more than 3,000 images) when lamb supplies are more current and carcass characteristics are expected to be within acceptable ranges. Concurrent data collection at the plant, and economic analysis will calculate the cumulative cost of excessively finished lambs. Results will be used in extension and educational programs to help inform sheep producers and industry professionals of the impacts of excessively finished lambs to all production segments of the American lamb industry. The anticipated completion date is May 31, 2020.”

Whaley said she wanted her research to address a topic that was important to the industry, and that might have a real-world impact.

“Jaelyn was brought in for a very in-depth and challenging assessment of the U.S. lamb industry, and has not only risen to the challenge, but has excelled,” wrote Dr. Whit Stewart of the University of Wyoming. “Jaelyn is very deserving of this honor, and I’m proud to have her represent the University of Wyoming for this prestigious scholarship.”

The million-dollar question for Whaley as this point is what she does after finishing her masters program.

“Dr. Stewart wants me to pursue a Ph.D.,” she said. “I might, but what I do want to do is get back into the industry that I’ve grown up in and continue to promote American lamb and the American sheep industry.”

Montana Researchers Study Sheep Grazing on Cropland

REAGAN COLYER
MSU News Service

Farmers and ranchers have long been in search of ways to limit the need for tillage and chemical herbicides on farmland, and two researchers in Montana State University’s College of Agriculture are working on a project that might provide a solution.

With help from the Western Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education program – which is being hosted by MSU until 2023 – Devon Ragen, a research associate in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences, and graduate student Trestin Benson have conducted two years of tests on local farms to see if grazing sheep on vegetable or cover crop plots can help improve soil health while reducing artificial inputs to the soil.

“We’re looking at differences in microbial communities in the soil and nutrient profiles,” said Ragen. “We use sheep for a pre-graze before seeding to clean up all the weeds instead of having to spray or till it up.”

Tillage, she said, is one of the biggest detriments to organic farmers. While useful for turning fertilizer and plant matter into the soil, it also promotes wind erosion by making the upper layers of earth easier to blow away. If incorporating sheep into a farming system results in less need for tillage, it would be a win for farmers.

Ragen and Benson have partnered with Strike Farms in Bozeman, Mont., 13 Mile Lamb and Wool in Belgrade, Mont., and Black Cat Farm in Boulder, Colo., as all three farms volunteered to test out their theory and allow sheep to graze their vegetable fields.

Those tests have shown that when sheep were allowed on cropland to eat weeds and leave manure and urine – natural fertilizer – behind, it reduced the need for tillage 60 percent of the time. However, having animals in a vegetable field carries with it the concern of the sheep compacting the soil too much and interfering with seeding and growth. But fortunately, Ragen and Benson haven’t found it to be a problem in their farm tests, which is more good news for producers.

“We looked at these grazed organic fields and compared them to tilled organic and chemical fields, and we’re not really seeing a big difference in terms of compaction,” Ragen said. “From a farmer’s perspective, it’s not really a detriment to have sheep out there, and we’re actually seeing higher nitrogen in the soil after the sheep have grazed, so that’s less fertilizer they have to apply and less cost in actually purchasing the fertilizer.”

One of the upsides to the project is that it doesn’t require the producer partners to change anything in their systems – they simply allow Ragen and Benson to take soil samples before and after sheep are allowed grazed on the plots. The researchers do much of their work with a part of the MSU-owned flock of sheep that lives at Fort Ellis Research Farm. For Benson – who began working with Ragen in 2017 while finishing her undergraduate studies – the project has provided an opportunity to adapt based on farmer interests.

“When it started out, we thought it was going to be a cropping systems project,” Benson said, but farmers were keen to test the ideas in the context of vegetable farming. “It’s evolved into something a little different and unique that way. It’s been fun working with the farmers and all their different systems, which gives an interesting perspective.”

The SARE program, which focuses on supporting projects dedicated to furthering sustainable agriculture, is the nation’s top producer-led grant program in the field. MSU was selected in 2018 as the western regional host for the program, which will bring more than $27 million in grants and operational costs to MSU researchers and graduate students in the next five years.

Ragen and Benson’s project received a SARE grant in 2017 and they will dedicate the final year of that funding to producing write-ups, tip sheets and videos for producers.

They hope that their research will offer farmers and ranchers an added level of comfort in pursuing livestock-cropland partnerships in a real-life context. The whole point of their work has been to test a practical option for Montana agriculturalists, refine the process and provide reliable information to communities around the state and beyond.

“As researchers, I think it’s really important that we can do all the trials and let them know what works and what doesn’t so they can feel a little more comfortable going out there and trying it themselves,” said Ragen.

Woolly Warriors

U.S. Military Gets First-Hand Look at American Wool

From the first glimpse of a woolly head peaking into the herder’s camp on the side of Castle Peak in central Colorado, two dozen onlookers were mesmerized as a thousand sheep made their way toward the crowd.

Some had never seen live sheep from even a thousand feet away. Others see them up close and personal every day, but all stood in awe as Julie Hansmire pushed the flock closer and closer.

Two years ago, representatives of the United States military headed to the southeast to join the American Wool Council on a tour of mills that play a hand in producing the wool used in everything from uniforms to blankets for American servicemen and women. Many of those same military representatives were in Colorado in late June to see a decidedly different aspect of the American sheep industry as they once again ventured out on a joint tour with the wool council.

An adventurous ride in all-terrain Jeeps carried tour participants up the road – if you can call it that – and into the sheep camp for a scenic hillside lunch with the flock, herders, dogs and horses that keep the operation running smoothly.

As a sheep producer and former member of the council, Hansmire proved the perfect host. After herding the sheep into a picturesque setting on leased ground, she spent time describing her operation, addressing sheep care, wool quality and the challenges that can come with running a Western range flock.

“We were fortunate today that we also combined things with having the military up here on an educational tour and a chance for them to see the American sheep industry and how it starts from the ground up.” said American Wool Council Chair Randy Tunby of Montana. “Many of the people who are part of the military group were able to join us and saw the end product on the mill tour in South Carolina two years ago. But this gives them an opportunity to see the sheep on the ground, and we want to thank Julie Hansmire for hosting us.”

Educational tours of this nature have helped those who design and procure military uniforms come to understand the benefits of using American wool.

“Understanding the supply from fiber production, through the innovative research underway with wool processing and then on through production is crucial to performing my job well,” said tour participant Clay Williamson with PM Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment.

Williamson worked on developing the U.S. Army’s new-throwback World War II dress uniforms that feature American wool in nearly every piece of clothing. “Wool has always played a large role in military uniforms and it’s PM SCIE’s mission to ensure that our soldiers are equipped with the best possible clothing and equipment – and all of it needs to be 100-percent sourced in America.”

Air Force Uniform Officer Danny Weng said the tour was interesting from several perspectives.

“I learned the issues that ranch farmers are facing in their daily operations,” he said. “I also learned different kinds of wools and their values from different sheep species. Wool fiber is inherently flame-resistant and moisture-wicking. We want to show our support to promote American wool usage, and also we want to know how we can get better and consistent quality of wool fiber.”

Many of those military representatives were already in Denver to take part in the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. They were then escorted by ASI consultants Mitch Driggers and Goetz Giebel to the Marriott Mountain Resort in Vail, Colo., which served as a home base for the combined wool council meeting and tour. Shortly after arriving in the Rocky Mountains, the group hit the road for Castle Peak and an afternoon of first-hand experience on the ranch.

The following day, the combined group met in a classroom setting for a wool informational seminar that touched on a variety of topics ranging from an overview of the sheep industry to animal care, as well as trends in the use of wool and updates on the development of mercerized wool, new uniforms and cold weather gear. Once the military representatives departed, the wool council continued its regular business meeting.

ASI’s wool marketing department took advantage of the setting to work on production of videos that will promote American wool through a variety of online channels in the months to come. Digital markting firm Get Back Here Dog arrived at Hansmire’s place in the early-morning hours on tour day and filmed video with the Colorado producer and her flock. Interviews continued later in the day with Williamson, as well as Kate Young of the U.S. Army Cold Weather Team and Tara Capecci of the Naval Air Warfare Center about how and why the U.S. military incorporates American wool into uniforms and equipment.

“I think it says a lot about the way they value our product that these military representatives were willing to take time away to come and learn more about how we grow American wool,” said ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson. “We were happy to host them once again after showing them the production process two years ago. I think taking them to the ranch allows them to develop an even better understanding of how sheep producers are making decisions on a daily basis to produce quality American wool.

“I’d like to thank Julie Hansmire for everything she did to make the tour successful. She was a great host and provided a perfect venue for us to share American wool’s story. She also provided a great backdrop for the interviews we did that will help us develop more digital content to promote American wool.”

As for the wool council meeting, the group spent time on recommending ASI budgets for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, discussed the baler grant program (see page 12) and looked at the possibility of implementing its own wool standards program in the years to come.

“A wool standard program is something that the companies using American wool want to see us implement,” said Samuelson. “While we know how much American wool producers care for their sheep, it will become more and more important in the years to come to have a program like this in place.”

Lamb Makes Debut at Denver BBQ Festival

Stomachs growled and mouths watered as the line grew minutes before the opening of the Denver BBQ Festival during Father’s Day weekend. Before long however, festival goes were rewarded with an amazing lineup that included the usual beef and pork dishes. What stood out for some, however, was the addition of lamb to the 2019 menu.

In its second year, the Denver BBQ Festival at Broncos Stadium at Mile High offered two outfits serving Superior Farms lamb: Mike Johnson and Christina Fitzgerald of Sugarfire Smokehouse in St. Louis and Jean-Paul Bourgeois of New York City. Johnson cooked leg of lamb over an open pit and served it up in a bao-inspired slider, while Bourgeois offered Denver lamb ribs. Two Colorado chefs also offered lamb cooking demonstrations during the weekend event.

“This is my first time at the this festival,” Bourgeois said. “I’d been to Colorado once, but this is my first time in Denver. I met Brian Wahby at Q in the Lou (St. Louis) last year and he invited me out here to Denver. Brian had some challenges for me about whether I was going to cook lamb or turkey or a different cut of pork. I was like, ‘Bring it on, bro.’

“I’ve never been one to stick with one style of barbecue or one protein. I just look for great ways to cook delicious food, and that’s how I think about it. As we were narrowing things down, Superior Farms was having a parrellel conversation with Brian about being a part of the festival. They sent me a case, and I was blown away at the quality and consistency of the meat.”

Consistency is certainly a crucial factor for a festival chef. After all, he was required to dish up thousands of servings of lamb ribs during the festival’s three-day run.

“Consistency is crucial regardless of what meat you’re working with,” Bourgeois said. “The more consistent cut I can get, the better. I want everyone who comes through my booth to get the same experience, and I feel like I was able to provide that this weekend.”

Growing up in Louisiana, Bourgeois said his parents didn’t like lamb and he wasn’t much of a fan either. But he learned later in life that there was a reason for their distaste.

“It was always Australian or New Zealand lamb, and I feel like that’s the reason we didn’t like it,” he said. “We just weren’t eating the right lamb.

“From my perspective as a chef, American lamb has become way more popular in the past 20 years. I think there’s more focus on it now because people are more interested in what they are eating and where it came from. Consumers want American products, and that’s true whether it’s beef or lamb. I’m really happy to see American lamb more readily available in restaurants and grocery stores. It’s always on my menus.”

While Wahby was reaching out to Bourgeois about coming to Denver, he was also reaching out to Superior Farms about getting involved with the festival.

“Brian is a big fan of lamb and believes that there is more opportunity for lamb on the barbecue scene,” said Anders Hemphill of Superior Farms. “This fits really well with one of our strategies. As we all know, American consumers eat about 1 pound of lamb per year per capita compared with 60 pounds of beef, 50 pounds of pork and nearly 100 pounds of chicken. We see it as our mission to identify new usage occasions for consumers to enjoy lamb. People are used to seeing lamb at Christmas, Easter or other special occasions, but enjoying lamb in a more casual environment can get people thinking about it on a more regular basis. Barbecue fits the bill for this, as do lamb burgers and tacos.”

The demand was more than anyone imagined.

“Jean-Paul had planned on selling about 30 cases of Denver lamb ribs during the course of the weekend,” Hemphill said. “By mid-day Saturday, he knew he wouldn’t have enough to get through the weekend. We made an emergency delivery on Sunday morning of seven additional cases. By the end of the day Sunday, they were all gone. Likewise, Mike Johnson completely sold out of the legs of lamb he was smoking for his lamb bao sandwiches. So, overall, we were very happy with the event.”

Around the States

OREGON
Contest Honors McWilliam

A shearing contest at the Douglas County Lamb Show in Roseburg, Ore., in early June was dedicated to the late shearer Mike McWilliam.
In addition to shearing, McWilliam regularly taught shearing schools along the West Coast for more than a dozen years, according to sheep producer Dan Dawson.

“He’d been pretty sick and ended up passing away before the contest. We did raise about $1,100 to help his family with funeral expenses.”
Dawson said the Mike McWilliam Shearing Contest is one recent effort to increase knowledge of sheep and shearing in the area. The area was also home to a shearing school again in 2019.

“We’re trying to get some things going around here again,” Dawson said. “But we felt like it was right to honor Mike for all he did in his lifetime.”

The shearing contest included 39 contestants and Chris Cornett of California won the open division, while Duke Christener of Oregon was the intermediate champion and Shanda Zettle of Oregon took the top spot in the beginner division. Matt Bean of California won the quick shear contest with a time of 32 seconds.

Heiniger Shearing Equipment, Ralph McWilliams Shearing, Ewe 42 Shearing, Darkside Shearing and Pendleton Woolen Mills sponsored the contest.

 

OHIO
Miller Named Editor of Farm and Dairy

Farm and Dairy Publisher Scot Darling has named veteran journalist and Columbiana County (Ohio) sheep farmer Rebecca Miller as editor-in-chief.

“We are delighted to have Rebecca on board as editor of Farm and Dairy. She is an accomplished journalist with a well-developed farm background,” Darling said. “As a local Columbiana County sheep farmer, she strikes me as just as comfortable with a pen in her hand as she is pulling on a pair of boots – and that seems to me to be just what we need.”

During her career, Miller has worked at daily newspapers, national magazines, higher education marketing and as a journalist overseas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Grove City College, in Grove City, Penn.

As a reporter at daily newspapers in Wyoming, New Hampshire and Montana, Miller covered a variety of beats, including cops, courts, education, sports, city government and legislature. She has also freelanced for national magazines and contributed to Farm and Dairy throughout her career.

She spent five years in marketing and communications at her alma mater. While there, she was assistant director for her department, managing editor of the alumni magazine and adviser for the college newspaper. Her work on the alumni magazine garnered national awards.
Starting in 2012, she worked several lengthy media assignments for Christian nonprofits in East Africa. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, she did projects in country and in South Sudan, Tanzania and Niger.

Miller grew up on her family’s sheep farm, working there through high school and managing a small 4-H club lamb flock. She returned to work on the farm between Africa assignments, finally becoming co-owner in December 2016. She lives on the farm, in Lisbon, Ohio, and runs day-to-day activities with her mother, aided by three livestock guardian dogs and a border collie.

A member of Ohio Farm Bureau, she is also active in national and Ohio sheep industry organizations, and serves on several boards. In 2018, she was selected to participate in Australia’s LambEx convention, in Perth, Western Australia, as one of two young representatives of the U.S. sheep industry.

The Last Word

Producer Study Examines obstacles to Artificial Insemination in Sheep

BRYAN BEACHY

Oregon Sheep Producer

Two factors have made artificial insemination for sheep problematic. The first is a ewe’s sensitivity to phytoestrogen poisoning (clover disease), which causes cervical dysfunction (closed cervix syndrome). The second is the ewe’s species defense mechanism which gives her the ability to snap her cervix shut.

Studying the mating behavior of sheep in a variety of dietary environments revealed different styles of mating employed by rams during coitus that were dependent on the ewes’ diet. Ewes on pastures containing clover were mated by the ram mounting the ewe and making a series of rapid thrusts. These matings produced lambing rates of 150 to 175 percent. Ewes on pure grass pastures with zero lugumes (clover) were mated by the ram mounting the ewe, then shifting his weight from one hind foot to the other hind foot several times, then making a single forward thrust which he held in place for several seconds before dismounting. These matings produced lambing rates of 200 to 220 percent.

These observations led to the suspicion that clover has greater effects on cervical function than previously known, so I began investigations with an examination of the cervical state of estrous ewes that had been raised and maintained on zero legume summer pasture.

I made a plastic vaginal video probe, sized and shaped like a ram’s penis. Using this probe, I found that ewes raised in a low legume environment who wintered on alfalfa hay and summered on pure grass pasture with zero legumes came into heat with an open cervix.

However, when my plastic viewing probe touched the cervix, it would snap shut. I also found that inserting anything of a larger diameter than a ram’s penis (such as a speculum) into a ewe’s vagina caused her to close her cervix. Also, that any kind of rousting of a ewe, associated with catching, penning, haltering or pushing her into a chute, caused her to close her cervix. So a better method of sheep handling was called for.

By using a haltered teaser ram as bait, it was easy to lure estrous ewes into a pen, shrink the pen and crowd the ewes close to the ram, halter the ewes and tie them to the pen wall next to the ram, then open the pen and examine the ewes. This method of handling did not cause any ewes to close their cervix; even the wildest ewes in the barn were agreeable.

I made a different video probe of 10 mm stainless tubing – curved to approximate the angle between a ewe’s cervix and vagina – and covered on its distal end with a thin layer of semi absorbent foam. When the foam was saturated with mucus from the ram’s penis, this probe easily penetrated the ewes’ open cervixes to the uterus, providing a pathway for an AI gun that was curved to match the probe. This finding indicates chemical communication from the ram’s penis to the ewe’s cervix, likely as his species identification.

Having found penis to cervix communication, I wondered what the cervix might be communicating to the penis. So, I swabbed a sample of cervical mucus from an estrous ewe and applied the swab to the tip of the ram’s extended penis. This caused the ram to make a forward thrust involving further penis extension and a back hump, followed by the penis tip curling down and back against itself and continuing in this motion until the entire glans was inverted 180 degrees. This finding indicates that a ram’s sexual reflexes of the penis are chemically triggered, and suggests that a better method of collecting semen might involve the use of an artificial cervix – containing cervical mucus – between the artificial vagina and the collecting cone.

Although this study is not yet complete, it has demonstrated that the two primary obstacles to artificial insemination of sheep are surmountable. Closed cervix syndrome can be avoided by limiting the ewe’s access to phytoestrogens, and problems with the ewe’s defense mechanism can be avoided by mimicking the natural processes of mating sheep.

This article was excerpted and summarized from Discoveries in Ovine Reproductive Physiology and a New Method of Transcervical Insemination for Sheep. The full version can be found at this link at bryanbeachy.wixsite.com/sheepai/6-17-2019-sheep-ai-paper.

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