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Winter Heats Up as ASI Prepares for Convention

Benny Cox, ASI President

Well, we went from summer straight to winter in many areas of the country, and that’s exactly what happened to us in Texas. Our friend Brad Boner saw new all-time records set in Wyoming for both snowfall and below zero temperatures at the end of October.

Of course, when those of us down south talk about cold, people like Burton Pfliger and Burdell Johnson in North Dakota just laugh at us and go on with what they are doing. We were unseasonably warm and dry from the first of June until the last of October, so most of Texas will have a long winter with high feed bills in an effort to maintain reasonable performance in their livestock.

The sheep and goat markets have been – in my opinion – pretty darn good for sure on the non-traditional side of things. The large groups of wool feeder lambs have sold higher than last year in our area, and from reports I have gathered, that is also the case in northern states. The cattle markets have certainly had negative issues with adverse weather, not to mention a fire that shut down one of the largest slaughter plants in Kansas in August. I’m not sure it was all to blame for the big drop in fat cattle prices or just an opportunity for the packing sector. I tend to be thankful that our area of Texas is suited for sheep and goat production and not just cattle when markets are such that they are. When the cattle market is not favorable, I tend to get lots of calls from livestock producers that might have never had sheep or goats researching the possibility of getting into production of small ruminants.

The conference calls are numerous this time of year as the different councils and committees are getting ready for convention. Your ASI officers try to be on as many of those calls as possible, and most of the time at least one of us – if not all – will be listening in.

If you have not yet made your plans for convention, you need to get started. It will be here before you know it.

Lots of things are going on right now with appropriations made possible by our new Farm Bill, as well as monies that the Trump Administration have made available to counteract the trade war with China. ASI and the sheep industry as a whole have benefitted from both. Just this summer ASI was awarded $1.5 million for our wool program due to our issues with China-imposed tariffs. We also have taken some small steps forward with the Wool Loan Deficiency Program, and will continue to push for additional benefits from this important program. The Trump Administration has made more things happen for our industry than the last two administrations combined. We have gained new export opportunities with the opening of both Taiwan and Japan for lamb exports, just to name a few.

We have had requests to meet in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the sheep industry, and we have answered that call. Steve Salmon, Burton Pfliger, Bob Buchholz, Amy Hendrickson, Jim Logan and Cindy Wolf have all gone and done a great job representing our industry in various hearings. In addition, I witnessed for the sheep industry in August at the Legislative Summit led by Congressman Mike Conaway along with many others in livestock, energy and transportation.

Y’all keep on doing what you do best, and I will see you on down the road.

Volatile Imports Affect Wholesale Market

JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.
Juniper Economic Consulting

At $398.15 per cwt., the lamb wholesale composite in October hit an eight-year high for the month, and was just shy of the record high set in July 2017. While American supplies are tight, it is hypothesized that the unpredictable timing of imports also plays into supporting the domestic wholesale lamb market, but the jury is still out on the impact on live slaughter lamb prices.

Imports are typically highest during Easter, with a late spring and summer slowdown, and an upturn toward year’s end. This year, by contrast, the highs and lows were more extreme. The Easter rush ballooned compared to past years and the slowdown by late summer was sharply lower than in the recent past. It is believed that freezer stocks can buffer these extremes, but to a limited extent. Any unpredictable influx of imports can disrupt domestic supply and demand dynamics, causing year-to-year wide domestic price swings.

Australian lamb prices have continued an upward surge, which in a dynamic, international market, is likely helping to support American prices. While the domestic wholesale market was hot, prices of retail cuts were mostly lower to steady, with one cut – the bone-in leg – gaining in the past couple of years. It is assumed that the price pressure must be directed toward foodservice, for which we don’t have prices reported.

While wholesale lamb prices have been rising in the past 18 years, slaughter lamb prices have not followed suit. A rise in packers’ costs can explain much of this widening margin. Increasingly, packers are also breakers. They aren’t selling carcasses, but producing case-ready product for retail and foodservice. Additionally, the industry has added value to its products, providing more consumer convenience items. There is a significant cost to adding value, for example the Saffron Road Lamb Saag, found in your freezer aisle. It is also possible that the industry is forced to recoup the cost of higher trimming expense as lambs have gotten fatter. It is also possible that heightened concentration in the lamb market has increased packer margins.

 

China Moves to Top Spot

By October, it was clear that China outpaced the United States as the No. 1 importer of Australian lamb. For years, China has imported Australian mutton, but its lamb purchases accelerated rapidly.

According to Meat and Livestock Australia, the growing demand for lamb “largely reflects growing demand from wealthy households for premium imported meat,” (MLA, 4/13/19). A secondary drive for the increase is the far reaching spread of African Swine Fever across China, devastating pork production in the country.

In January to October, the United States imported 48,243 tons of lambs from Australia, up 7 percent year-on-year. By comparison, China imported 58,774 tons of Australian lamb.

 

American Lamb Supplies Tight

Tighter supplies this fourth quarter could mean higher-priced lamb for the December holidays. However, shipments of imported lamb and/or the release of freezer stocks will more likely keep prices at retail in check, with some uptick at foodservice.

In the 10 months through October, lamb harvested was an estimated 1.56 million head, 2 percent higher year-on-year. However, harvest weights were sharply lower and production was an estimated 76.3 million lbs., down 3 percent. Live, harvest weights were 134 lbs. in January through October, down 5 percent year-on-year.

In November, 222,258 head of lambs were recorded in Colorado feedlots – 9 percent higher monthly, yet down 13 percent year-on-year and 14 percent lower than the five-year average for November. While other states also finish lambs, Colorado acts as a barometer of the national supply situation.

Lamb and mutton in cold storage totaled 41.6 million lbs. in early November, down 11 percent monthly and up 3 percent year-to-year. Stocks were higher in 2019 compared to 2018. November’s inventory was 88 percent of the record-high volume posted in February 2016.

In January through September, the percent of lambs harvested in federally-inspected plants that graded yield grade 4 and 5 was 29 percent. This percentage is the same as last year and 20 percent higher than five years ago. It is a question whether the lamb industry is using resources most efficiently to grow fat – rather than muscle – in an attempt to smooth out production and juggle imports to fulfill domestic accounts. It is a benefit–cost calculation performed by feeders and packers. In economics, there are always tradeoffs.

 

Forecasts

At the end of October, the Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted that the fourth quarter slaughter lamb prices could be $285 to $291 per cwt., up 6 percent year-on-year. The 60- to 90-lb. feeder lamb prices could be $165 to $173 per cwt., up 8 percent year-on-year.

For the year, LMIC forecasted that lamb and mutton commercial harvest could be up 3 percent, live weights at slaughter down 5 percent and production off 2 percent year-on-year.

 

Feeder Trades Slowed Seasonally in October

Very few feeder lambs traded in October as expected seasonally. Many lambs were still out on pasture from Wyoming to the Northwest. In addition, lambs will graze out in the Imperial Valley of California through the winter. Once in feedlots, lambs will be finished according to incoming weight and breed, and target market date, be it the December holidays or the Easter rush.

The limited available supply of feeders for feedlots often means that prices gain seasonally through the fourth quarter. In October, 60- to 90-lb. commercial feeders averaged $177.96 per cwt. in Sioux Falls, S.D., up 4 percent monthly and up 15 percent year-on-year.

 

Slaughter Lamb Prices Steady, to Lower

Formula slaughter lamb prices averaged $296.92 per cwt. in October, steady with September and 8 percent higher year-on-year. Carcass weight was 77 lbs., up 5 percent monthly and down 4 percent year-on-year. The live equivalent price was $149.24 per cwt.

In October, 4,425 head of lambs traded in live, negotiated trades, down 7 percent monthly and down 66 percent year-on-year. Live, negotiated slaughter lamb prices were $149.36 per cwt., off 1 percent from September and up 9 percent year-on-year. Average harvest weights were 127 lbs., down 13 percent monthly and down 14 percent year-on-year.

In January through October, 172,675 head of lambs traded through live, negotiated trade – up 23 percent from a year ago. The volume of lambs channeled through formula/grid sales is no longer reported.
Slaughter lamb prices in Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association averaged $150.92 per cwt. in October, up 3 percent monthly and up 20 percent year-on-year.

 

Meat Prices Hold Strong

The wholesale composite averaged $398.15 per cwt. in October, slightly higher than September and up 5 percent from a year ago. Apart from some weakening of the loin, the primals remained mostly steady. The rack, 8-rib, medium averaged $871.56 per cwt., 0.5 percent higher monthly. The shoulder, square-cut, averaged $326.15 per cwt., $1 per cwt. higher than September. The loin, trimmed 4×4, averaged $512.99 per cwt. in October, down 1 percent monthly. The leg, trotter-off, averaged $387.13 per cwt., up one-half percent.

The shoulder continued its record gains, up 14 percent year-on-year in October. The shoulder is a cost-competitive, versatile cut, likely catering to fast food, case-ready products and consumer-ready retail meals. Apart from a dip in February, the shoulder saw steady gains month-after-month this year. With a reportedly up to one-third of Americans minorities, lamb offerings are catering to our diverse population.

The leg also saw significant year-on-year gains, up 7 percent in October. The rack gained 1 percent year-on-year. The loin lost 5 percent in October year-on-year.

Ground lamb averaged $573.84 per cwt. in October, down marginally from September and up 1 percent from a year ago.

Pelt prices remained unchanged in October with unshorn supreme pelts priced at -$3.00 to $0.50 per piece.

 

Wool Market Finds Footing

In recent weeks, the American wool market has been very quiet, with wool stocks still yet to be sold and exported.

Across the Pacific Ocean, the Australian wool market has been uncertain, with a general, overriding downward trend since March, dotted with periods of short-term recovery. In recent weeks, however, Australian wool prices have found some footing, perhaps due to a drawdown of Chinese raw wool and wool top makers’ stocks. In October, the Australian Eastern Wool Market Indicator averaged $1,529 per kg clean, up 1 percent monthly and down 22 percent year-on-year. In U.S.$ the October average was U.S. $4.70 per lb. clean.

China imports most of Australia’s and America’s raw wool. Ten years ago, China’s wool imports were re-exported to the United States, Japan and the European Union as finished goods. In recent years, however, most wool stays in China to fulfill a rising domestic demand. “It is quite evident now that the Chinese middle-class consumer is the single largest influencer of wool retail purchasing globally,” (Meat & Livestock Australia, 10/3/19).

Faltering demand in China and the European Union is injecting instability into the wool markets. “Until that true demand returns, instability and volatility will be in play,” (Meat & Livestock Australia, 10/3/19).

“Narrow trading movements, particularly in U.S. dollars is what instills confidence in traders as narrow bands equal smaller or reduced risk exposure to radical price reaction,” (Meat & Livestock Australia, 10/3/19).

China remained the largest export destination for American wool in 2019, although at reduced volumes due to the U.S.-China trade war. In January to September, total American raw wool exports were 7.7 million lbs., clean, down 32 percent year-on-year. Raw wool exports to China, the largest export market, were down 56 percent year-on-year to 3.6 million lbs. Egypt, India and Bulgaria were other important markets, but at much lower volumes.

It follows that wool exports were down in value in 2019. Total raw wool exports were nearly $11 million, down 37 percent year-on-year. Raw wool exports to China totaled $5 million, down 60 percent.
Where one door might close, another opens. Reduced exports is an opportunity for companies such as American Woolen in Connecticut, Burlington Textiles in North Carolina and Faribault Woolen Mill in Minnesota to further expand into American-made, high-quality casual wear and accessories, adding economic growth and jobs.

West Central Wool Growers Enjoy Education & Fellowship

Members of the West Central States Wool Growers were treated to an eclectic mix of educational seminars, industry updates and fellowship during the group’s three-day annual convention at the Roundhouse & Railyards Events Complex in Evanston, Wyo., in early November.

A session on shed lambing systems during the convention’s second day was especially informative, and carried over into the following day when the University of Wyoming’s Bridger Feuz returned to the topic to demonstrate the use of free, online economic calculators he’s developed to assist ranchers with strategic planning.

While presentations on the topic centered on the costs and difficulties producers might encounter, presenters stressed that they were not trying to discourage the use of shed lambing. Their worst-case scenarios were simply meant to prepare producers for challenges they might face in turning to this particular production system. More than half of the Idaho, Utah and Wyoming producers in the room are already shed lambing or expressed an interest in moving toward the concept.

A typical concern for most producers is the shed. And while it’s a necessary component – it is called shed-lambing, after all – that might not be the biggest concern for some producers in making the switch. Other factors to consider – according to Dr. J. Bret Taylor of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho – include: location and climate; grazing resources and feedstock availability; genetics and markets; labor and equipment availability; pre-existing infrastructure.

Dr. Jenni Dike, DVM, oversees student veterinarians during shed lambing at the USSES and stressed that cleanliness is crucial given the enclosed environment. She also urged anyone constructing a new facility for shed lambing to plan for adequate storage and work spaces related to animal health. While this includes an area for your vet to work, it also means building jugs large enough to allow vets and staff to be hands-on with lambs and ewes.

One way producers might be able to make up the extra costs associated with shed lambing is to increase flock productivity, said Dr. Tom Murphy of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb. It was also noted that flock productivity can increase simply through the use of shed lambing as the practice can in many cases cut down predation and lamb death loss.

A producer panel featuring Utah’s Tom Boyer, Idaho’s Blake Ball and Mark Williams, and Wyoming’s Regan Smith proved encouraging to those interested in the production model.

Smith emphasized the benefit of pregnancy testing ewes, so that producers can avoid dry and late ewes in their drop pens. It also provides an opportunity to better manage ewes with multiple lambs in order to graft lambs to the single moms.

Increased costs – in facilities, feed and labor – were certainly the main concerns among those looking to switch to shed lambing. Feuz took producers through the use of his Net Present Value online calculator to take a serious look at how those costs might stack up. One model showed an increased cost of $15 per ewe, but that number can vary greatly by operation.

“That’s the beauty of the tool,” Feuz said. “You can adjust the numbers to fit your operation and get a real feel for what those added costs might be. Projects like these are valuable, but they still deserve some economic scrutiny before you jump right in. The calculators on my website (UWyoExtension.org/ranchtools/) aren’t emotional.”

Feuz offered that while he’s the “wet blanket economist,” he’d be happy to work with producers considering major economic changes to their operations. Sometimes, it makes sense to spend the money, and sometimes it doesn’t.

As part of a session on ranch management strategies, Feuz split time with Utah State University Extension’s Josh Dallin, who offered a presentation on succession planning for ranch families. Like Feuz, Dallin emphasized the importance of planning for any major changes on the ranch – including ownership and management.

“Why is this important,” he asked? “Because 77 percent of farm assets in this country are owned by those who are 70 years or older. That shows that we aren’t thinking about succession planning as much as we should be. Succession planning is very personal, but a good succession plan is a good business plan.”

While he isn’t a lawyer or an accountant, Dallin said he works with ranch families to deal with the difficult questions that often come up in succession planning.

“We can give you the tools to get prepared for a transition before you visit a professional lawyer or accountant to make it official,” he said.

Minnesota producer and Shearwell representative Dan Persons was on hand to co-chair a session with Brent Roeder of Montana addressing electronic tools that producers can incorporate into their operations. And Texas A&M’s Reid Redden covered technologies and strategies to improve lamb crop profitability.

 

Industry Updates

Utah Commissioner of Agriculture Kerry Gibson was on hand to encourage producers to share their stories with a general public that often isn’t aware of all that goes into raising livestock.

“Everyone in this room understands the importance of what we do,” he said. “So, it’s important for us to engage in ways that are positive off of the farm. This is a cause in which we cannot fail. We might have dwindled in numbers through the years, but we can’t dwindle in our strength or our faith. Please join me in making sure that our voices are heard.”

ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick and Deputy Director Rita Samuelson were also at the convention to update producers on a number of association programs. Given that many in the room were fine wool producers, Samuelson discussed the association’s efforts to bridge the U.S.-China trade war and to find alternative markets for American wool until the trade war comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

Orwick stepped in to discuss ASI’s efforts to update rates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wool Loan Deficiency Program, which is administered by the Farm Service Agency.

“The program is designed to address market wrecks and USDA and wool companies are updating the market prices so we have a chance to get a payment in the works for producers and feeders,” Orwick said. “There is a unshorn pelt component, as well.”

Other ASI updates included the Trump Administration removing the USSES from the closure list, mandatory price reporting, etc.

Others on hand to provide legislative/agency updates included Karissa Maneotis and Peter Camino of the American Lamb Board, as well as Tanner Beymer of the Public Lands Council. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Murphy also provided updates on their respective research facilities. Murphy has plans to expand sheep flocks at his facility, adding that his budgeting folks have been a little shocked at how much he wants to invest in the center’s sheep programs in the years to come.

“Both the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center have a multiplier effect on our industry,” said Whit Stewart with the University of Wyoming. “We should be thankful that we have both of these great facilities working on behalf of the sheep industry.”

The 2020 West Central States Wool Growers Convention will be held in Park City, Utah. Dates will be determined in the near future by the Utah Wool Growers Association.

2020 ASI Annual Convention

Join ASI as it welcomes the entire industry to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the 2020 ASI Annual Convention: Reverence for the Past, Innovation for the Future. Every facet of the American sheep industry will be represented as we come together to address the issues, challenges and opportunities of the coming year. ASI will be joined in Arizona by the American Lamb Board, American Goat Federation, ASI Women, Food and Fiber Risk Managers, Make It With Wool, National Lamb Feeders Association, National Livestock Producers Association, National Sheep Improvement Program, National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, Sheep Heritage Foundation, Sheep Venture Company and Western Range Association.

WEATHER
Scottsdale is a hot, desert climate. The month of January is characterized by daily high temperatures around 65°F cooling to an average low of around 44°F. Remember to pack your wool sweater or jacket, and an umbrella.

HOTEL INFORMATION
Scottsdale Plaza Resort, 7200 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, Ariz. 85253

Sleeping Room Rate: $175 (single/double) plus taxes per night. The resort fee – which includes on site parking – is waived for those who book under the ASI hotel block.

Hotel/Airport Transportation:
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is 15 miles from the resort. A taxi will cost approximately $45, while apps such as Uber and Lyft are also available.

 

TOURS

Rovey Dairy, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.: $80 per person

Rovey Dairy began in 1943 when Emil Rovey purchased a farm in Glendale, Ariz. His son, Paul, now operates the dairy with his wife, Deborah, and their five children. While the dairy is best known for its Jersey cows and Watusi cattle, sheep are the fastest growing livestock population on the farm.

Paul Rovey plans to use his increasing sheep milk inventory to make cheese and ice cream. In addition to touring the farm and milking operations, you’ll hear more about the history of the dairy and the decision to expand beyond cows as sheep are added to the ever-growing operation. In addition, the dairy has played a significant role in restoring the area’s condor population, which Paul will explain on the tour.
Following the tour, participants will enjoy a lamb burger lunch at the nearby Desert Rose restaurant.

 

Desert Botanical Garden, Thursday, Jan. 23, 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.: $75 per person

This popular tour focuses on highlights of the garden’s plant collection and exploring the great diversity of form, texture and color found in the garden’s array of cactus and succulents from around the world. Guests will also learn how desert plants are adapted to survive and thrive in the desert.

The garden’s commitment to the community is to advance excellence in education, research, exhibition and conservation of desert plants of the world with emphasis on the Sonoran Desert. The facility works to ensure that the garden is always a compelling attraction that brings to life the many wonders of the desert.

Bring sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and comfortable walking shoes.

 

Butterfly Wonderland, Friday, Jan. 24, 1:45 – 4:15 p.m.: $75 per person

One of the largest butterfly conservatories in North America, Butterfly Wonderland is a lush, tropical paradise alive with thousands of friendly butterflies from all across the world. Feast your eyes on the largest emergence gallery in the United States before entering the glass atrium that provides an ideal habitat for thousands of butterflies to roam freely for guests’ enjoyment. Take in a screening of Flight of the Butterflies in the 3-D theater and go behind the scenes in the Rainforest Reptile Lab. You’ll also be introduced to entomophagy – the practice of eating insects.

 

Saturday Lunch Will Feature Gary Mule Deer

Gary Mule Deer’s comedy and music have set him apart as one-of-a-kind. He has performed on nearly every major concert stage in the country and made more than 360 television appearances, with many on both The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman. He was one of six comedians – along with Jay Leno – to star on the first HBO Comedy Special, was the comedy host of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert for four years on NBC, and a series regular on Make Me Laugh.

He is also featured on Jeff Foxworthy’s Comedy Classics and The World’s Greatest Stand-up Comedy Collection. Gary is one of the most played comedians on Sirius XM’s Laugh USA. He also appears regularly at the Grand Ole Opry. In a career spanning more than five decades, he has shared the stage with more than a hundred music legends. He has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall in New York City to Royal Albert Hall in London, and has been part of the Johnny Mathis show in major venues across the United States since 1994.

In addition to his well-known comedy, Gary is a talented singer and musician, performing classic country – including the music of Johnny Cash – in his show since the 1960s. The popularity of Gary’s comedy and music cuts across all ages and demographics.

Livestock Conservancy Celebrates All Things Sheep

Camping lanterns lit up the bathrooms at the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, Calif., and generators kicked in to power the meeting rooms as the Kincade Fire swelled to its fiercest point less than an hour up the road in late October. Rolling blackouts in the area were part of the plan to combat the high fire danger, but none of that could stop members of the Livestock Conservancy from coming together for the Heritage Livestock Conference: All Things Sheep.

The first in what will be a series of single-species conferences hosted by the Livestock Conservancy (equines are set for 2020, for instance), All Things Sheep brought together approximately 60 breeders in an intimate setting that was designed to spur conversation on issues facing this sect of the American sheep industry.

“We felt like this was a good format to give people more than just a taste, which is what happened at the multi-species conferences we’ve held in the past,” said Livestock Conservancy Executive Director Alison Martin. “Having a weekend devoted to just sheep allowed us to get a little deeper into some subjects surrounding our sheep breeders. For instance, we talked this morning about the biological challenges of raising heritage breed sheep, and that’s something we normally wouldn’t have had the luxury to do at a multi-species conference.”

Maine veterinarian Matt Rolleston joined the panel via video conference for the discussion on biological challenges and said currently it’s easier to send embryos from the United Kingdom to New Zealand and import them into the United States from there. The lack of opportunity to bring new genetics into the country is obviously a huge concern for heritage breeders, most of whom have extremely limited access to breeding stock.

“Live animal imports are caught up in the political trade wars right now,” Rolleston said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anyone at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is a good resource on this topic. I’ve been working mostly with Animal Breeding Europe.”

Livestock Conservancy Chairman Brian Larson of Michigan said the avenues available are limited and that it’s important for breeders who “go through the pain and misery of doing this” to share their expertise and knowledge with other heritage breeders. Livestock Conservancy Technical Advisor Phil Sponenberg also called on all heritage breed breeders to sell breeding stock in an effort to keep the breeds from being wiped out completely while awaiting better avenues for importing new genetics into the country.

In a session on getting the most out of your animals, Marie Hoff of Full Circle Wool touted the importance of wool sponges that she sells for less than $10. The sponges serve as a gateway to hook consumers on the merits of wool products, which then allows them to justify other, higher-priced wool purchases.

Deborah Niemann – head of the Conservancy’s Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em program that recognizes fiber artists for using wool from heritage breeds – also discussed online marketing and branding. Niemann has built a social media presence under the Thrifty Homesteader brand, and pointed out that the best place to hide a dead body is on the third page of a Google search.

“No one will see it there,” she said. “Social media content needs to be engaging. If it is, then Facebook will share it more. Ask your followers for opinions, ask about their lives. Anything that gets them to react to your posts will allow more people to see it.”

Visit Facebook.com/livestockconservancy/ to watch archived videos of presentations from the conference.

Lambing, Weaning Provide Utah Project with Crucial Info

C. KIM CHAPMAN
Utah State University Extension Small Ruminant Specialist

and

LESA EIDMAN
Superior Farms Director of Producer Resources and Sustainability

Following a winter on the deserts of western Utah, the ewes in the Leading Edge Project flock were brought back to the Sanpete Valley and shorn during the last week of March in 2018. According to Matt and Dan Mickel of Mickel Brothers Sheep Company, lambing of ewes bred by project rams commenced on April 1 and continued through April 18, 2018. During this time frame, 1,491 lambs were born to 879 ewes – equaling 1.69 lambs per ewe.

 

Lambing and Summer Management

All the ewes were lambed in a shed lambing facility and remained in lambing pens for 48 to 72 hours before being released into a mixing pen with 20 to 30 ewes with lambs. This facilitated grafting of triplets to ewes with single lambs, as well as assuring the best possible opportunity for ewe/lamb bonding. These groups later transitioned to groups of ewes with approximately 100 lambs and remained in those groups until docking.

Ohio Suffolk producer Bill Shultz – a member of the research team– worked with the Mickels to assure that each lamb was tagged with a ranch identification number and an electronic identification tag prior to release from the lambing pen. The lamb’s date of birth, sex, birth weight and litter size were also recorded. Additionally, it was noted if it was the dam’s first time lambing or if she had a black fleece, if the lamb was hairy, or if the lamb died.

Twenty-three lambs died following tagging, and tissue samples were saved so that the sire could be identified to determine individual ram serving capability. Seventy-one lambs could not be grafted and were artificially reared. These lambs were not included in the lamb performance and carcass quality analyses, but they are included in the sire serving capacity portion of the study.

The research team worked with the Mickels in April to collect DNA samples on each lamb in the study as the lambs were docked and males were castrated. These DNA samples were collected using Allflex Tissue Sampling Units.

The industry standard parentage panel was used to identify the parentage of the lambs. This panel consists of 163 genetic markers, and was used to assign lambs to their sires. Assignment was based on exclusion of sires, or which sire couldn’t have sired the lamb relative to the genetic panel. Of the 1,457 lambs with a DNA sample, 92 percent were able to be aligned to a sire. Nearly all those not able to be assigned to a sire were due to a poor sample or the DNA not passing quality control in the lab.

Although not part of the design of the project, the number of lambs sired by each ram was tracked. There was considerably more variability among the rams in their serving capacity than anticipated. Twelve rams sired 10 or fewer lambs, with two having no progeny. At the other end of the spectrum, seven rams sired more than 55 lambs each, with two producing more than 100 lambs each. Such variability in ram serving capacity deserves much greater study.

Following docking, the flock was moved onto mid-elevation spring ranges for approximately two months. Due to a variety of factors – chiefly high depredation, extremely dry conditions and rough terrain – the Mickels sustained more than 20 percent lamb mortality during this time period. This is another area that could significantly increase profit if these losses could be reduced or eliminated.
On July 1, 2018, the flock was trucked to high-elevation (7,000 feet to 10,400 feet in elevation) summer range on the Manti-LaSal National Forest east of Ephraim, Utah. According to the Mickels, there were minimal lamb losses while the sheep were on the USFS, despite having no measurable precipitation during the entire time they were there.

 

Weaning
The lambs were weaned on Sept. 22, 2018. The remaining 1,104 lambs weaned (1.26 lambs per ewe) were weighed individually on a Shearwell EID weigh crate prior to being loaded on trucks bound for the Forrest Arthur Feedlots in Burley, Idaho. Utilizing this technology to weigh and record the individual weights of lambs was accomplished in approximately four hours – which equals about 15 seconds per lamb. This proved to be an efficient way to collect individual data on the weaned lambs.

Differences among the three sire groups were found at weaning. The lambs from weight rams weighed the most on average at weaning at 108.6 pounds. The lambs from the muscle rams weaned the lightest on average at 104.1 pounds. The lambs sired by industry rams were between the other two groups at 106 pounds.

One of the main objectives of the project was to demonstrate the value of using sires with performance-based Estimated Breeding Values in an actual industry setting. The muscle and weight rams were chosen from flocks participating in the National Sheep Improvement Program. Therefore, their genetic merit for a variety of production traits were available, including weight at weaning (recorded between 45 to 90 days of age) and post-weaning (recorded between 90 to 150 days of age). Based on those EBVs, it was predicted that the lambs sired by the weight rams should weigh 2.6 pounds more at weaning, and 5 pounds more at post-weaning, than those sired by the muscle rams.

The lambs were on average 161 days of age when weaned. Those sired by weight rams weighed 4.5 pounds more than those sired by muscle rams. That advantage would be worth $6.30 per lamb (assuming $140 cwt.), which is substantial when spread across a lamb crop. Perhaps even more importantly, despite the differences in ages and the conditions in which these commercial lambs were raised, their performance closely aligned with what was predicted based on their sire’s EBVs. The value of using rams evaluated based on performance was crystal clear.

Combining this ram data with the ability to identify low performing ewes provides a significant opportunity to producers by eliminating the bottom 10 percent of the ewes producing light lambs. The averages alone, however, can disguise this opportunity. With an average weaning weight of more than 100 pounds, the heaviest weaned lamb was 160 pounds while the lightest was 54 pounds. It is important to note that more than 11 percent of the lambs weighed less than 80 pounds. If these lambs had been equal to the average, it would have added (or missed out on) an additional $5,000 of profits (again assuming $140 cwt.). Tying these underperforming lambs to specific ewes and potentially underperforming rams can help producers identify the right brood animals to keep and those that should be culled.

Of course the same analysis applies for the high-performing brood stock. Lambs weighing more than 120 pounds represented 20 percent of the lambs produced and would have generated an additional $9,500 of potential revenue. Tying these lambs back to both specific ewes and rams can provide extremely valuable culling information, as well as identifying the right lambs to keep as replacements.

Perhaps even more economically significant for the commercial producer are the differences observed between the lambs as a result of whether they were a twin raised as a twin, a twin raised as a single or a single raised as a single, and how that impacts the pounds of marketable lamb weaned per ewe. As seen in the table below, even though the average weight of a twin lamb raised as a twin is significantly lighter than either the single lamb or the twin raised as a single, the total pounds of marketable lamb is nearly doubled. This means that there is an economic advantage to selecting ewes that raise and wean twins versus ewes that only wean a single lamb. It is also important to note that despite the material difference in weight between twins and singles at weaning, that difference was much less at harvest (on average, 2.6 and 4.7 pounds for twin-born lambs reared as singles or twins, respectively).

Assuming the carrying cost of a ewe per year is $140 and the value of the weaned lambs was $140 cwt., the total potential profit of the entire lamb production was approximately $39,500 averaging $45 per ewe. Despite a higher than normal death loss, all the ewes birthing singles lost $5,097 or $17 per ewe while the ewes birthing twins produced a profit of $44,619 or $77 per ewe. Perhaps as important, the top 28 percent of the twinning ewes generated all of the $39,500 potential profit. The other 72 percent of the ewes either lost money or covered only their fixed and variable carrying costs.

 

Feeding and Finishing

The lambs were fed out at Forrest Arthur Feedlots in Burley, Idaho from late-September through April 2019. They were fed a ration designed for moderate gains during that period. The lambs were fed to a finished weight between 140 and 150 pounds. Finished lambs were shipped in six drafts to the Superior Farms harvest facility in Dixon, Calif.

Lambs sired by weight rams finished earlier than the other two ram groups, with about 61 percent being harvested in the first three drafts compared to about 47 percent and 52 percent for the muscle and industry ram groups, respectively.

The final article in this series in the January 2020 issue of the Sheep Industry News will discuss the lessons learned following harvest, including an analysis of the carcass data collected on the lambs. The first article in this three-part series appeared in the November 2019 issue of the Sheep Industry News. The research team acknowledges the contributions of the ASI Let’s Grow Program, NSIP, Superior Farms, Mountain States Rosen, Allflex, Shearwell, Forest Arthur Feedlot and Utah State University Extension.

Around the States

MICHIGAN
Innovation Grant Offered

The Michigan Sheep Producers Association will offer a $1,000 grant and an expense-paid trip to the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., to the winner of the first Rex Hannewald Innovation in Production Grant Competition on Jan. 3, 2020, during the Michigan Shepherd’s Weekend in Lansing.

The Hannewald family is sponsoring the competition in memory of Rex Hannewald. He was a lifelong farmer, sheep producer and MSPA member who died in March 2019. He was known for being innovative and always willing to try new and different production practices on his farm.

The grant competition is open to producers ages 18 to 35, as well as new producers who have been in the sheep industry for five years or less. Contestants will give a 10- to 20-minute presentation describing how a $1,000 grant would be used to fund a new or innovative production practice on their farm. Ideas could include anything from new equipment or technology to any other new/different/interesting agricultural practice.

There will be a five- to 10-minute question-and-answer period after each presentation, and questions may come from the judges or the audience. MSPA directors will serve as competition judges.
The grant can be used to continue an innovative practice that is already in use on the farm, or can be put toward a new practice that the winner would like to initiate. Contact Heather Ludlam at drhludlam@gmail.com to register.

 

South Dakota
Orwick Honored at SDSU

Peter Orwick graduated from South Dakota State University in 1984 – where he was on SDSU’s wool judging team – and was recently honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

He has remained committed to advancing the sheep industry with a unique ability to bridge the gaps from rural sheep production to international markets. For more than 20 years, Orwick, has served as executive director of ASI. His nominee noted that, “He has been a strong voice for agriculture at all levels, having the ability to adopt new technology to the industry based on sound science while retaining common sense.”

He has developed coalitions of diverse industry participants and advised elected leaders on priority issues to find real solutions to industry problems. National initiatives he has been involved with include providing leadership for development of Lamb Livestock Risk Protection insurance and implementation of a USDA mandatory livestock price reporting system that the industry has relied on for 15 years. He created country of origin labeling for lamb meat products and importantly maintained this authority in the 2014 Farm Bill, which is currently enforced at retail. He led establishment of a for-profit subsidiary of the association to provide key services to sheep producers, as well as wool and lamb businesses.

The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center was established under Orwick’s leadership. Other issues he has been involved with include creation of a national fund to support legal defense of the sheep industry in cases involving federal lands grazing and predator control, along with continued work at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station.

 

IDAHO
Trailing of the Sheep Featured

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival was featured on the Rachael Ray Show on Nov. 13 as part of a segment on unique hometown traditions and celebrations.

The daily, one-hour syndicated show is among the top ranked daytime programs on television, reaching a nationwide audience of more than 53 million viewers in 2018-19. It won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Informative Talk show in 2019, marking the third time the show has won the award.

“We are very proud of our unique event and excited to be featured on the Rachael Ray Show,” said Laura Musbach Drake, the festival’s executive director. “Our hope is that this national exposure will introduce more people to our wonderful festival and community and get them interested in coming here to experience it for themselves.”

The festival offers lamb dine arounds, a festival featuring folk music and dancing, wool classes and cooking classes – all capped by the Big Sheep Parade when a flock of 1,500 struts down Ketchum’s Main Street on its way from summer pasture in the mountains to rangeland.

Source: Karen Bossick/Eye on Sun Valley

One Problem We Can Solve

While members of the American sheep industry are welcome to their opinions on the roles played by such groups as ASI, the American Lamb Board, the National Sheep Improvement Program, the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, and so on, I believe it’s fair to say that none of these are the most maligned groups in our way of life.

I don’t even believe our elected officials – or the government agencies they oversee – fall into this category. Sure we often have a love-hate relationship with many of these groups, but are they truly the scourge of the industry? No – most of the time, anyway.

I stumbled into this realization recently at the West Central States Wool Growers Annual Convention, where time after time the conversation turned to the lowest of the low in the sheep industry – the bottom 10 percent. It appears all of our problems would be solved if we could simply rid ourselves of these seemingly unproductive creatures. Low lamb prices, cull the bottom 10 percent of the flock. Low wool prices, cull the bottom 10 percent. Livestock guardian dog keeps wondering off, cull the bottom 10 percent. Want world peace? You guessed it, cull the bottom 10 percent.

So, what’s the deal with these sheep? Are they slackers who lack motivation? Do they give their best only to fall short time and time again? Or are they simply low-performing animals who don’t have the genetic tools to do any better? Obviously, in most cases, the latter is the real problem here. So, why do we continue to let them bog down an industry that already has enough challenges to deal with? I believe there are a few reasons.

1. Producers don’t know who their bottom 10 percent is. The industry is doing its best to push producers toward tools that will help identify these lowly sheep, but some are reluctant to use those tools. I get it, implementing changes can be costly and time consuming, and I’ve yet to meet a sheep producer with too much money or too much time. It’s easy to look the other way sometimes and just try to get by on your own. But you’re hurting yourself – and possibly the entire industry – in the process.

2. Producers KNOW who the bottom 10 percent is. In the case of small and hobby-farm type flocks especially, that bottom 10 percent might include a producer’s favorite ewe. Or the one that shares a birthday with their child or any number of reasons that have led to a sentimental attachment. While it’s less likely to be a problem on large-scale operations, every producer has that one bottle lamb they’ll never forget. And the thought of culling Curly is just too much to bear. I get it. That ewe is going to die fat, old and happy on your place, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can say to change your mind. I won’t even try. Moving on.

3. The bottom 10 percent keeps changing. Some producers have taken this concept to heart and gotten started. They cut loose that bottom 10 percent and are looking to improve. So what’s the problem? Once you’ve cut the bottom 10 percent, there’s a new bottom 10 percent to deal with. Sure it might be a year or three (depending on your operation) down the road before it makes sense to evaluate again, but eventually, the bottom 10 percent you culled will be replaced by a new gang of underachievers and slackers. Progress isn’t a one-step process. It’s an ongoing, ever-changing concept that requires action on a regular basis. Are you willing to make the hard decisions year after year?

It’s time for the sheep industry to rid itself – and continue to rid itself – of the lowly bottom 10 percent. If we can do that, at least one of our problems will be solved.

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