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Celebrating the Season
In this season of celebrations with family and friends, I want to pause and share my respect and gratitude to our many producer volunteer leaders.
These individuals devote time away from their farms and ranches to provide valuable input on the numerous issues our industry faces. On conference calls, zoom calls and in-person meetings, our producer leaders bring forth their ideas, questions and suggestions so that together we can make decisions that will move our industry forward.
One current focus area is how the sheep industry is perceived by our consumers and the general public regarding sustainability. The industry-wide sustainability task force (pictured below) met recently and was charged to define our positive and collective stories of the impacts our industry has on promoting healthy communities, supporting a heathy environment and caring for the well-being of our animals.
These valuable conversations will continue at the ASI Annual Convention – scheduled for Jan. 18-21, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. Our keynote speaker at the opening session will be Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, director of AgNext at Colorado State University. CSU AgNext was launched to find solutions to feed 12.3 billion people by 2100 through focusing on innovative sustainable solutions in animal agriculture. Our convention is the one time of the year when all sections of our industry come together in one location to share information and conduct business for a stronger sheep industry.
One of the highlights of our yearly convention is the Industry Awards Luncheon, where we are able to recognize industry leaders and say thank you for their commitment to our industry. There will be opportunities for networking, educational programs (including a genetics forum), and interesting tours plus great food and fellowship. All of the ASI council and committee meetings and policy forums are open to all who wish to participate.
Early registration discounts end on Dec. 16 and online registration closes on Dec. 30. I hope you will consider being a participant in this year’s convention.
DAVID ANDERSON, PH.D.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Lamb production typically increases late in the year heading into the holiday season. So far this year, production has not experienced a seasonal increase. Less production than a year ago might set the stage for price recovery heading into the new year.
Production and Weights
Lamb and yearling slaughter during the last four weeks is 12.6 percent lower than the same period last year. Normally, slaughter begins to increase in October heading for a seasonal peak between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So far this season, slaughter has not begun to increase yet.
After climbing as high as 72 pounds back in late spring, lamb dressed weights have steadily declined – hitting 63 pounds in late October. While the 72-pound dressed weight was higher than the five-year average, the 63 pounds was equal to last year and below the five-year average. Lighter dressed weights combined with fewer lambs going to slaughter means that lamb and mutton production is 11.2 percent less than last year during the last six weeks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service data for Colorado lambs on feed indicates that fewer lambs remain in feedlots. More lambs were on feed than the prior year – according to this data – from January 2022 through August 2022. Since then, fewer lambs have been reported on feed than in 2021 with November on feed numbers down 22.4 percent compared to last year. Fewer lambs on feed combined with falling dressed weights suggests we might be moving past some of the large supplies that had been burdening the market.
Imports and Cold Storage
Lamb meat imports have totaled 211 million pounds in 2022 through September. That is a 5.9-percent increase compared to last year. Slightly more of that increase has come from New Zealand. Mutton imports are about 7 percent lower than last year, but remain historically large. At this rate, imports will total a record 69 percent of total lamb and mutton supplies.
While they might not set a new record in pounds, less domestic production suggests that they will represent a record large share of total supplies. The strong dollar will likely support lamb imports in the coming months.
Cold storage lamb and mutton stocks began to increase from June through September, reflecting larger domestic production, strong imports and struggling lamb demand. The 31.4 million pounds in storage in September was 5.8 million pounds – 22.4 percent – more than last year.
Lamb Prices Rebound
Lamb prices across all weights and markets have tended to increase in the last several weeks. Lightweight lamb prices have tended to recover more than heavy lambs. Lambs weighing 50 to 60 pounds averaged $198 per cwt. in South Dakota during the first week of November. That is a far cry from $276 at this time last year, but an increase from $143 earlier in the summer. Heavier 100 to 110-pound lambs averaged $122 per cwt. in early November – $115 per cwt. lower than a year ago.
The relatively larger increase in lightweight lamb prices has resulted in wider than usual price spreads – or price slides – by weight. San Angelo, Texas, market prices show similar trends for lightweight vs. heavyweight lambs. The New Holland, Penn., market indicates a larger light lamb price recovery relative to heavy lambs. Fifty to 60 pound, Choice 1-3, lambs increased to $290 per cwt. compared to $330 a year ago. But, the heavyweight, 100 to 150-pound category reported prices at $125 compared to $265 last year.
On the retail side, USDA’s retail lamb report for the first week of November indicated more grocery stores were featuring lamb. Prices for loin chops, shoulder chops and racks were below a year ago. The decline in wholesale prices in recent months has made domestic leg prices more competitive with Australian lamb. The U.S.-Australian leg price differential declined to under $2 per pound from a peak of almost $4 per pound late in 2021.
The lamb market continues to have some mixed signals. On the positive side, declining dressed weights and production indicates less supplies contributing to better prices. But, overall imports remain large and supplies in cold storage are growing, likely pressuring prices. The recovery in very lightweight lambs is encouraging for that part of the market, but heavy lambs continue to struggle, indicating continued potential problems with demand for those lambs.
The wool market continues to struggle compared to a year ago. Prices across all reported microns from 17 to 32 were below a year ago in mid November with the largest declines to a year ago in the 17 (down $1.82 U.S. per pound) and 18 micron (down $1.56 per pound U.S.) classes. Prices also declined for each micron except 32, which increased 2 cents to U.S. $0.73 per pound. Prices averaged during the last four weeks indicate a similar story with lower prices than last year and larger declines for finer wools.
The premium for finer wools compared to lower quality is smaller than a year ago also. For example, 17 micron wool carries a U.S. $2.47 per pound premium to 21 micron compared to U.S. $3.69 last year.
The AWEX Weekly Wool Report for Nov. 9 indicated that about 9.6 percent of wool offered for sale was withdrawn, leaving 31,095 bales for sale. That was fewer bales for sale than the week before. But, about 9,000 more bales have been offered for sale this year compared to last year.
Not only are larger supplies offered for sale weighing down prices, but it’s likely that the overall world economy is hurting demand. Countries across the world are struggling with inflation and rising interest rates. Recession fears are likely pressuring prices lower, adding uncertainty about future finished goods sales that usually struggle in difficult economic times.
The strength of the U.S. dollar is also having a negative effect on the wool trade. Those same economic fears have weighed down competing fiber prices – such as cotton – in recent months.
Adding to the pressure on prices is that buyers become hesitant to buy now when prices are declining because they might be able to get the same product cheaper later.
If you’ve been thinking about getting your flock certified through ASI’s American Wool Assurance program, California producer Ryan Mahoney can provide some insight. His family’s Emigh Livestock became the first privately-owned flock to reach Level III – Certified status this fall.
Following in the footsteps of the University of Wyoming flock, Emigh Livestock can now provide buyers of its American wool with piece of mind from reaching the highest level of a national certification program that addresses every aspect of the flock from sheep health to shearing.
“It was a very good exercise,” said Mahoney on an episode of Sheep Stuff Ewe Should Know, the podcast he hosts with Dan Macon and Dr. Rosie Busch. “It wasn’t bad at all. They were patient with us and it worked really well. I definitely encourage people to check out the program, because it is very important to have that animal husbandry certification or third-party verification nowadays.”
Wool processors and customers are increasingly looking for a certification stamp to show that sheep were raised with good care. This desire for certification is not just happening in the United States, but across the globe and with all livestock species. And although virtually all domestic sheep operations provide exceptional care to their sheep, the AWA program provides an avenue to show that.
The program offers four levels of certification that start with a simple online education course. Once that’s completed, producers can move on to Level II – Process Verified. That level requires an evaluation by one of two dozen ASI-trained evaluators that include extension educators and others familiar with the American sheep industry. From there, producers need to complete a full, third-party audit to join Mahoney’s ranch as a Level III – Certified operation. The program also offers a Ranch Group certification for multiple operations marketing together under one brand.
“It’s the realities of the marketing world we live in now. We have to have stuff like this,” Mahoney said. “It’s good to pursue. Don’t be afraid to share any concerns. This is very early in its infancy, and there’s always opportunities to improve these things as we go forward.”
In the case of Emigh Livestock, there weren’t any major operational changes to reach Level III certification. The biggest challenge was simply documenting how the sheep are handled to meet program standards.
“Most of this is what we already do,” Mahoney said. “We didn’t change anything substantially on our ranch to comply with the standard. We just documented it a little better.”
ASI’s Sheep Care Guide and a variety of resources on the AWA website at AmericanWoolAssurance.org can serve as a blueprint or template for developing a ranch’s standard operating procedures.
“It’s intimidating as heck when you first sit down with them and they say, ‘Where are your standard operating procedures for everything you do on the ranch?’” Mahoney said. “I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow. But the point is, the tiered approach is there.
You start with online training, and then you get to go and visit with Dr. Rosie Busch (or some other evaluator) and that’s super easy. Then you get to the auditors, where you sit down and they say, ‘Give me your SOPs.’ It kind of eases you into it.”
ASI chose CloverLeaf Animal Welfare Systems as the official auditing firm for the AWA program. The company is familiar with agriculture in general, and wants to work with producers in the auditing process.
“What I want producers to know about us is that we are everyday folks with ag backgrounds and down-to-earth values,” CloverLeaf President Jason McAlister said. “We are not a corporate auditing firm with hundreds of auditors. I hire and train every CloverLeaf auditor to be respectful of your time, your process and you as a person, and producers are encouraged to call me personally with any questions.”
There’s no doubt documenting a farm or ranch’s daily operations will be the most challenging aspect of certification for most operations.
“One thing I was kind of struck by, was it seemed like there was a big emphasis on written records and protocols. There was a very high level of demand of those records, reflective of what you’d find at a packing house or at a large corporation,”Mahoney said. “If this is going to be a standard for the industry, where do we draw that line?
If you take a husband and wife with a family of three sitting on the Nevada desert working everyday with two or three herders, it will be really hard for them to actually go and document all of this stuff. There’s things they need to document, and then there’s things they are required to document, but maybe not needed. How do we navigate that and make it better?”
That’s where the resources provided by ASI – such as the Sheep Care Guide and information on the AWA website – will guide producers through the process. Yes, it will take some time. And the evaluators and auditors are there to assist you in the process.
Because the audit requires a visit to the farm or ranch, Mahoney and Busch agreed that auditors will see the fruits of a producer’s labor, even if they need a little help documenting the process.
“It’s a good standard, and it’s really important,” Mahoney said. “It’s frustrating because no one trusts you, but you’re the one doing it. But they’ll trust that marketing thing that’s put on the internet. The trust is found more in brands than in the actual farms.”
And that’s exactly why ASI developed the AWA program. Certification provides wool buyers and manufacturers with assurances that sheep who produced the wool were raised humanely. That assurance can then be passed along to consumers, who continue to demand more and more information about the food and fiber they purchase.
Visit AmericanWoolAssurance.org to learn more.
The Cornell Sheep Shearing School offered something for shearers of all skill levels as a dozen students and instructors gathered at the university’s Livestock Pavilion in mid-November to learn more about the age-old art of sheep shearing.
Students ranged from those who had never picked up a handpiece to others with several years of experience, as the school was originally designed to work with intermediate and advanced students. But given the lack of shearers across the country, it’s no surprise Cornell decided to open enrollment to beginners, as well. Veteran shearer and shearing instructor Doug Rathke of Minnesota is well suited to instructing shearers of all levels.
“I’ve done this school for more than 20 years and we’ve usually had beginners,” said Rathke while sporting borrowed clothes from fellow shearer/instructor Hoyt Emmons after his checked bag decided to go to Washington, D.C., instead of Western New York. The bag with his clothes and shearing equipment finally arrived on the school’s second day. “I do find it more challenging to take these guys who have been shearing for a few years and pick them apart a bit to help them get better. For the beginners, it’s always about getting the belly and the neck down. Everyone is worried about the belly because of the nipples.
How many times did you hear me say ‘bottom tooth’ this weekend? If you don’t get that bottom tooth down, it’s not going to go through the wool.”
The traditional Dorset and Finn-Dorset composites in the university flock certainly proved challenging at times. Some of them made shearing student Julia Donoso look small by comparison.
But the New York-based Icelandic sheep producer didn’t shy away from the challenge. While she was on the less-experienced end of the school’s students, she has aspirations of shearing professionally in the years to come – even after attending the school.
“I need a lot more practice,” she admitted. “I want to start with shearing my own flock, but I’d like to shear for other people, too. “I definitely have a better idea of what I’m doing now.”
Donoso’s shearing dream began at an early age after being introduced to sheep while having dinner at a friend’s house.
“There was a little ewe lamb that followed me around the whole time and I wanted to take her home. My parents got two sheep as pets after that, and I remember someone coming to shear them. I was pretty young and thought it was so cute. I wanted to be able to give my sheep haircuts.”
At the opposite end of the student spectrum was Bill Fritz, Ph.D. He towered over even the biggest sheep in the flock and has been shearing for approximately five years after attending a school taught by Emmons. As chair of Delaware Valley University’s Department of Animal Science, Fritz likes to think of the university’s flock of 55 breeding ewes as his own.
“Hoyt asked if I might be interested in following him around and apprentice with him,” Fritz said. “So, I did that for a year or two and since then we’ve been shearing in partnership. We share a lot of our clients and shear together most of the time, but we each also have some of our own clients.”
While he enjoys shearing and sees himself doing it as a side job for years to come, there are benefits beyond the extra income. He’s gained experience with a variety of previously unfamiliar sheep breeds that translates into knowledge he can share with small ruminant classes at the university. And the skills he refined at the Cornell Sheep Shearing School will help as he teaches his own students the basics of shearing.
“Some of the nuances of the positions was the main thing I picked up this weekend,” he said. “It’s important to keep the sheep from getting away from you in those tight spots. There’s a lot of finer points of shearing that you can’t pick up without learning from someone like Doug and his trained, experienced eyes. It’s scary to try some of these things, but you use that pattern and the next sheep you shear goes so much quicker and easier. It’s about developing good habits.”
While shearing sheep quickly is often an indicator of a shearer’s skill, student Jim Powers said it’s rarely about speed when he shears at small farms throughout the Northeast.
“I’ve been shearing for five years, but I’m here as a student to get some tips from Dough and Aaron (Loux),” he said. “At these hobby farms, the sheep are more like pets than livestock for a lot of the producers. It’s not about speed, it’s about doing a clean, safe job. We also trim hooves a lot out here in addition to shearing. So it’s about animal welfare and care for these people.”
Powers has been a regular at the school in recent years despite shearing thousands of sheep since first attending the school. “I want Aaron and Doug to beat me up a bit and tell me what I’m doing wrong,” Powers said. “I think I’m doing some things right, but there’s always ways to improve. I’m really focused on calming down, full blows and making every blow count. But if I do that, I will get faster. Coming here for me is about developing consistency.”
Powers had issues with his grinding technique in the past year or two that created problems with his equipment, and it took veteran guidance from experienced shearers in the area to help him get things headed back in the right direction.
“There’s so many variables in this job. Every day is different. Every sheep is different. That’s why I keep coming back here and continue to learn from these guys. It’s the most physical job you’ll ever do, but I love it. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.”
Faribault Spreads the Warmth
Faribault Mill – maker of handcrafted wool and cotton blankets – was proud to announce a new philanthropic campaign called Spread the Warmth just in time for Youth Homelessness Awareness Month back in November. The goal is to donate thousands of woolen blankets to organizations serving youth experiencing homelessness in cities across the country.
Faribault Mill’s Spread The Warmth campaign donates blankets to nonprofits dedicated to youth experiencing homelessness like YouthLink in Minneapolis. For every bed blanket sold, Faribault Mill donates a woolen blanket to one of 13 nonprofits nationwide.
For every bed blanket sold – whether twin, full, queen or king size – Faribault Mill will donate a woolen blanket to nonprofits dedicated to serving youth experiencing homelessness in Anchorage, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Oakland, Portland (Maine), San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. The company plans to continue this initiative for years to come, expanding the number of cities and nonprofits it serves.
“We’ve been making high quality blankets for Americans right here in the USA since 1865, and for our military since WWI. These are the very blankets we’re donating to organizations serving some of the estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in America,” says Faribault Mill President and CEO Ross Widmoyer. “Providing a high-quality, long-lasting woolen blanket to children will bring them warmth, security and comfort.”
Wool is made of natural fibers, is durable, odor and stain resistant, and stays warm when it gets wet. It’s renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. The many benefits of this fabric make it ideal for serving those in need.
“Donating these blankets aligns with our mission as a company and as parents to give back to the community in a meaningful way,” Widmoyer adds. “Our employees are proud to work for a company committed to community service and to provide a constant pipeline of warm blankets for these nonprofits for years to come.”
Visit FaribaultMill.com/pages/spread-the-warmth for more information or to apply for your organization to be included in this program.
Birth Management Webinar Series
The Michigan State University Small Ruminant Extension team is offering a four-part webinar series on birth management that will lead producers through a host of topics aimed to improve birth management of sheep and goats. Each weekly session will last about 90 minutes and sessions will be recorded to allow future viewing.
Participants will learn preventative approaches, assessment skills and treatment procedures. Both novice and veteran producers alike will find this program valuable. Because of the amount and depth of information presented, students have found attending this program more than once to be valuable.
Topics will include: nutritional management, use of ultrasound, facility design, newborn care, hypothermia treatment, grafting, vaccination protocols, mortality diagnoses, health and feeding program assessment.
Each session will feature seminars, specialized instructional videos and question-and-answer sessions with an expert panel to cover each of these topics (live sessions are from 7 to 9 p.m. eastern time each Tuesday evening):
• Jan. 3, 2023: Webinar – Nutritional management to optimize birth outcomes in sheep and goats.
• Jan. 10, 2023: Webinar – Optimizing maternal and newborn health: parasite control, vaccination schedules, treating complications at birth, providing a healthy environment.
• Jan. 17, 2023: Webinar – The normal birth process, birth assistance and newborn care.
Jan. 24, 2023: Webinar – Identifying challenges on the farm and creating an improvement plan addressing health management, nutrition and facility improvements.
Jan. 28, 2023: OPTIONAL: Hands on Experience – 1 to 4 p.m. at the MSU Sheep Teaching and Research Center.
Registration is $40 per farm or family and includes a 90-plus page manual, a laminated lamb hypothermia/starvation treatment poster and access to all recorded sessions. Additional members of the same farm/family may receive additional manuals and posters for $20 per set.
Visit Events.anr.msu.edu/2023smallruminantbirthmanagement to register.
CLAY ELLIOTT, PH.D.
PURINA ANIMAL NUTRITION
As grazers, sheep rely on having sound feet and legs to easily access food and water sources. Hoof health issues can reduce mobility, making it difficult for animals to access proper nutrition and maintain body condition.
Hoof health issues can happen any time, but they are most prominent in the spring when warming temperatures and muddy, wet conditions mix to provide the perfect environment for hoof health challenges.
Here are four proactive steps you can take now to prepare for spring hoof health challenges.
Feed a mineral with zinc
A hoof health plan isn’t complete without feeding a sheep mineral with zinc, which plays a critical role in keratin production and maintaining hoof tissues to help support claw hardness. Zinc also has been shown to help support the immune system and healthy skin.
Look for a complete sheep mineral with elevated zinc concentrates or chelated zinc sources, such as zinc amino acid complex. These zinc sources are more bioavailable than other sources, such as zinc oxide. Improved bioavailability allows sheep to absorb and use more of the mineral instead of excreting it. This benefits the sheep and can give you more value for your investment.
Zinc – an essential trace mineral – can’t be stored in the animal’s body in large qualities. Feed a sheep mineral with zinc year-round to get the most effective hoof health benefits.
Provide a clean, dry environment
Many things can impact sheep hoof health, but foot rot and foot scald are the most common problems. These contagious diseases are typically caused by contamination from bacteria, either Dichelobacter nodosus or Fusobacterium necrophorum – which are often present in high-moisture environments.
Proper cleaning and sanitation can go a long way to keeping hoof diseases at bay. Evaluate your current pen and barn areas. Make sure you have proper drainage and slope in the pens so moisture doesn’t pool where animals walk. Keep a close eye on high-moisture areas – such as around water sources – and add sand or other bedding material as needed to help soak up excess moisture.
Keep up with hoof trimming
Hoof trimming is an essential step in proactive hoof care. Regular hoof trimming will help reduce hoof length to keep hooves balanced and remove extra tissues that can provide a place for bacteria to hide.
Hoof trimming also allows you to closely examine the animals’ hooves to see if a hoof health issue has already started. The earlier you can identify hoof issues, the better. Once an animal is lame, you have a bigger problem than simply a hoof disease.
Trim hooves one to two times per year, depending on the environment. Animals on rough country with lots of rocks might need fewer hoof trims compared to animals housed in smaller areas or animals fed a more nutrient-dense diet – which can encourage hoof growth.
One of the most important times to trim hooves is 45 to 60 days before breeding season. This helps to prepare rams and ewes and minimize hoof health issues that could hinder breeding.
Select replacements for structure & composition
Supporting hoof health isn’t limited to managing hoof diseases. Evaluating structural soundness is often overlooked when selecting replacement animals. If animals aren’t correctly made, they are likely to have abnormal wear on their hooves, leading to mobility issues and ultimately impacting their longevity in the flock.
When selecting replacement animals, evaluate their structural soundness. Animals’ feet should plant flat and square and not have deviation. Watch how your sheep walk and stand. Do their toes point directly forward? Are their back legs square and not angled in or out at the hock? Animals with sound feet and legs will likely make better replacements that last longer in your flock.
Make things easier for you and your sheep this spring by implementing these proactive hoof care measures.
Herdwatch – the market-leading farm management software company used on more than 18,000 farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland – is launching its award-winning Flockwatch service in the United States.
Flockwatch helps sheep farmers manage their flock in a simple, easy-to-use app, reducing paperwork and allowing them to make better decisions. Farmers who create an account before the end of the year will be able to try the new service for free for 90 days.
The ‘Flockwatch by Herdwatch’ app was launched in the UK and Ireland earlier this year and has already proved hugely popular with more than 3,000 flocks already on the platform. Flockwatch also boasts some high-profile users with YouTube sheep farming superstars Sandi Brock in Canada and The Sheep Game (Cammy Wilson) in Scotland – who have 1 million followers between them – using it to manage their flocks.
“The Flockwatch app is essentially an all-in-one app that I can input movements, individual sheep references and notes,” Wilson said. “I can register lambs against any particular sheep, all our medicines, everything you can think of doing recording next to your sheep, you can do it on Flockwatch.”
Herdwatch was co-founded out of a farmer-owned cooperative in Ireland nine years ago and has made its name by delivering a simple, reliable app which saves farmers an average of three hours a week on paperwork, according to a recent member survey by the company.
The new Flockwatch service will enable sheep farmers to:
• Manage their flock individually or in groups;
• Capture medicine records for farm assurance;
• Record lambing and track ewe performance;
• Weight recording to track average daily gains;
• Connect an electronic identification reader to scan ear tags and view an animal’s history or add records easily;
• Map their farm to keep paddock records for nitrogen use and much more.
“We are absolutely delighted to launch Flockwatch in the U.S. to help sheep farmers here make better and faster on-farm decisions,” said CEO and Co-founder Fabien Peyaud. “Flockwatch is as much about monitoring flock performance as it is about compliance and helps sheep farmers manage their flocks – individually or in groups – in a simple and easy to use app.
“Our company mission is simple, we are laser-focused on the digitalization of farming for the benefit of farmers worldwide in order to make their businesses more sustainable and profitable. Up to this point anyone who wanted to manage their flock had had very little to choose from, with most relying on pen and paper.
“With Flockwatch, sheep farmers now have an app at their fingertips which will allow rapid capture of lambing, breeding, weighing, medicine records and more. If you think you’re not tech savvy, we are also happy for U.S. farmers to take a look for themselves to see how easy our app is to use and we’re giving all U.S. sheep farmers this year a 90-day free trial with no commitments so they can see how easy it can be for themselves,” Peyaud concluded.
The Herdwatch + Flockwatch app can be downloaded for free at Herdwatch.com/download.