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Looking Forward to the Year Ahead

Benny Cox, ASI President

Well, by the time you read this another year has gone by since I started these articles. We are just back from the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., and I hope all that attended were pleased with this year’s convention.

The past year was another year of challenges with the problems in the wool and pelt trade most likely at the top of the list for many of you, especially for those of you in the far west and most northern states. The China trade issues have caused lots of turbulence, but as most of you know the Trump Administration has tried to make monetary allowances to counteract many of the short falls. I hope the wool and pelt markets will find new strength in this New Year. We will just have to wait and see.

Predation is another pressing and ever present issue for our industry. The interim decision by the Environmental Protection Agency allowing sodium cyanide use in M-44s is another win for us despite the continued pressure by different activist groups to stop the use of this important tool for people in the livestock industry.

Looking at the present fat lamb, wool feeder lamb or the traditional side of the markets, it seems as though there has been good demand despite excessive import pressures. The imports from Australia and New Zealand have been near 200 percent of domestic production through 2019 – with one week just after Easter at 270 percent. As we watch the world news, the devastating drought and wildfires in Australia have turned lots of those operations upside down with countless livestock being lost. We would not wish that on anyone at anytime, but this will most likely change Australia’s export capabilities in the coming months.

The ethnic market ended the year with a bang for our market, with record prices for both hair and wool lambs. The kid goats were selling mostly steady with 2018 prices. In 2018, the number of hair lambs was nine to every one wool lamb through the market in San Angelo, Texas. I might add the gap between hair lambs and kid goats at comparable weights is as small as I have ever seen. A 60-pound kid goat last year could have brought 3.20 per pound while a 60-pound hair lamb might bring 2.20 per pound. The last three or four sales of 2019 they have been more like 20 to 30 cents apart in our marketplace. Christmas and New Years both fell on Wednesday in 2019, which shut down most auctions across the United States. Our first sale of 2020 on Tuesday, Jan. 7, was good with record prices on all lambs and the goat prices were higher than the market at the close of 2019.

The dates for the ASI Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., have been set for March 10-11. This will be my 13th year – if I am not mistaken – for this trip and I feel it is important that we make our voices herd on issues that affect the sheep industry. Each year between 60 and 75 folks from all across the United States attend this function in support of our industry and are well received by the lawmakers they see at pre-arranged meetings. If you are interested in the Spring Trip and need information, call your state association office.

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

Revised Lamb Wholesale Composite Price Adds Industry Value

JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.
Juniper Economic Consulting

On Jan. 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service issued a recalculated wholesale composite lamb price (also known as the lamb carcass cutout).

The new, improved cutout better reflects the value of the lamb carcass based upon individual lamb cuts and items that packers and wholesalers sell to retailers. The calculation represents the value of all the saleable cuts and items put back together to achieve one price – a carcass value at wholesale.

The amendment to lamb price reporting allows prices to better reflect value and allow industry participants back down the marketing chain to the producer to obtain a wholesale price that better reflects how retailers value American lamb.

According to Erica Sanko, ASI economic consultant, “unlike the Boxed Beef or Pork Cutout, the Lamb Carcass Cutout (LM_XL502) is computed using one specific lamb cut value from each primal (i.e. 233A Leg Trotter Off) vs. a composite primal value (i.e. Leg).

“As part of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Stakeholder process, ASI asked USDA-AMS to review the Lamb Carcass Cutout as to whether or not it could be updated to a composite primal based cutout in an effort to report a more comprehensive Lamb Carcass Cutout.”

New cuts were added to the carcass including the Frenched Rack (International Meat Purchase Specifications code 204C), 232 Loins Trimmed 1×1, 234 Leg Boneless Tied, Fat and Bone, and Ground Lamb.

AMS also recently increased the processing/packaging costs used to calculate the net carcass value, which represents the value, less costs, of packer lamb sales. The processing/packaging cost per cwt. was increased by 32 percent to $59 per cwt. – up from $44.50 per cwt. The last processing/packaging cost adjustment was three years ago. Therefore, while the value of the carcass is higher, so too are processing costs which results in a net positive gain of about $5 to $8 per cwt.

AMS explained that “as packers and producers continually strive to improve their business, many are looking to the lamb cutout to provide a pricing basis.” AMS continued that the revised cutout can be used as a “barometer for trade negotiations with other parties. If companies can do better than what the average of the industry is, then they view that as a measure of success. The opposite is also true.”
It will be interesting to watch whether the live feeder and lamb markets see a lift in prices due to the improved valuation of the wholesale composite.

It is possible that lamb formula pricing will be impacted by the AMS revision. “Formula” pricing in the lamb industry can be a calculation of a USDA carcass price with additional math to account for kill costs and offal and pelt credits. However, formula pricing can also mean a more involved value-based pricing method whereby a base price is the live, cash price of a packers’ plant average or wholesale lamb prices. This base price is then adjusted – for each individual lamb – by a series of specified premiums and discounts for yield grade, weight or other carcass traits. Dillon Feuz of Utah State University commented that base price is more critical to receiving a higher net than grid premiums or discounts since it affects the whole lot of lambs for sale (beefmagazine.com, 2001).

This pricing method compares to pricing whereby one lot of lambs receive one average price. Ultimately, the goal of value-based pricing is to use a pricing method to award lambs of desired characteristics. It is designed to send a signal back to producers of the desired lamb characteristics at wholesale.

Wholesale Lamb Softened in December, but Stronger Annually

The wholesale composite averaged $397.78 per cwt. in December, down 1 percent monthly and up 4 percent year-on-year. Most lamb primals saw moderate gains in 2019, with the exception of the unprecedented 14-percent gain in the shoulder.

Last year was a solid year for the lamb wholesale market with a 4-percent gain over 2018 to an average $390.42 per cwt. The shoulder, square-cut, gained 8 percent to $304.52 per cwt. in 2019; the 8-rib rack, medium, saw $879.21 per cwt., up 3 percent; the leg, trotter-off, averaged $376.55 per cwt., up 3 percent; and the loin, trimmed 4×4, was down 3 percent to $523.52 per cwt. It is believed that the demand for the shoulder – and the competitive-priced shoulder chops – took some of the wind out of the ever popular, but higher-valued, loin chops.

Feeder Lamb Prices Gained Late 2019

Feeder lamb prices at auction exhibited a historical seasonal trend last year: highs in the first quarter with a June to August annual low before strengthening toward year’s end. In 2019, the average price of 60 to 90 lb. feeders at auctions in Texas, Colorado and South Dakota was about even with 2018, but in fact, was a very different year. The highs and lows were more temperate – not the extreme volatility observed in 2018.

Last year, feeder lamb prices started out sharply lower than 2018’s averages, but by the fourth quarter, were 17 percent higher year-on-year.

Slaughter Lamb Prices Saw Late Year Slump

In December, slaughter lamb prices on formula averaged $293.86 per cwt. on a carcass basis, down one-half percent monthly and up 10 percent year-on-year. The live-equivalent slaughter lamb price on formula was $143.47 per cwt. in December. The live, negotiated slaughter lamb price averaged $151.44 per cwt. in December, down by one-third percent monthly and up 15 percent year-on-year.

Year-to-year volatility in lamb prices is a function of availability of domestic supplies – and whether supplies are backed up in feedlots – and the timing of increasing imported lamb supplies.

In 2019, lamb prices on formula averaged 4287.46 per cwt., up 5 percent annually and up 20 percent from five years ago in 2015. The live-equivalent formula price averaged $143.99 per cwt. in 2019. The live, negotiated slaughter lamb price averaged $149.66 per cwt. in 2019, up 4 percent from 2018 and up 19 percent from five years ago.

Forecasts

The Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted in early January that the first quarter would see slaughter lamb prices in the $290 to $293 per cwt. range on a carcass basis – 10 percent higher year-on-year. Feeder lamb prices could see $187 to $190 per cwt., about steady with a year ago.

Looking forward, domestic production might continue to be tight in 2020. Early 2020 forecasts by LMIC indicate that lamb and mutton production could contract by about 1 percent this year. Harvest numbers could remain steady, but harvest weights could fall again year-on-year. The number of lambs on feed in Colorado feedlots was 157,635 head on Jan. 1, down 18 percent monthly and down 16 percent year-on-year.

Trade and Domestic Production

In 2019, estimated lamb harvest was 1.9 million head, down 2 percent year-on-year and lamb production was an estimated 91.2 million lbs., down 6 percent annually. Production was sharply lower because dressed weights were down 5 percent for the year at 67 lbs. As the year progressed, tight supplies – rather than backed-up supplies and overfat lambs – characterized the market.

In 2019, live weights in federally-inspected harvest averaged 132 lbs. – the lowest average live weight in 20 years. It is evident that last year the industry was challenged between the twin goals of getting timely and sufficient product to market and getting finished product to market.

By the end of 2018, freezer inventories of lamb and mutton were at a three-year high. Yet, at the beginning of December 2019, lamb and mutton in the freezers totaled 34.03 million lbs., down 10 percent monthly and down 10 percent year-on-year. Throughout the year, freezer inventories topped 2018 levels, but by November and December, inventories dropped to levels below a year ago.

The fact that American dressed weights are historically low while freezer inventory is high suggests that freezer inventory is primarily imported product.

In 2019 through November, lamb imports totaled 198.8 million lbs., up 6 percent year-on-year. Lamb imports from Australia summed to 146.3 million lbs., up 7 percent, and imports from New Zealand were up 5 percent to 50.7 million lbs.

Lamb and mutton exports totaled 4.9 million lbs. in the year through November 2019. Lamb exports were down 33 percent year-on-year to 499,000 lbs. and mutton exports were off by
7 percent to 4.4 million lbs.

Australian Wool Market Ended 2019 on High Note

As the 2020 wool season approaches for many, all eyes will be on Australia. It is the Australian wool market that sets the tone for global wool pricing, sales, trade flows and, most importantly, 2020 wool fashion trends. This spring, the expectation in Australia is for a strong market, in part due to the expected impact on supply from fires throughout Australia (particularly in New South Wales and Victoria – the biggest wool producing states) and also that stocks in China have run down.

The Australian wool market ended the first-half of its 2019-20 season on a high note last December, gaining 4 percent from November and 10-percent higher than the beginning of its 2019-20 season last summer. However, the Eastern Market Indicator ended 2019 304 cents lower year-on-year – the largest calendar year fall since 2003 (Australian Wool Network, 12/18/19).

Optimism abounded, however. It was believed that a more conciliatory tone between the United States and China regarding the trade war is a contributing factor as is some resolution with respect to the United Kingdom moving forward with Brexit (Australian Wool Innovation, Ltd., 12/25/19).

The AWEX EMI ended the first half of its season at 1,558 Australian cents clean/kg, 10 percent higher than last summer; however, 19 percent lower year-on-year. The market was volatile in the second half of 2019, dropping to 1,365 Australian cents per kg at the end of August. The U.S. dollar EMI jumped 3 percent weekly during the last sale of 2019 to 1,067 U.S. cents per kg clean.

The Pines Farm Focuses on Producing Quality Wool

Mixed in among the mansions in Maple Valley, Wash. – some of which belong to Seattle-based celebrities and athletes – is The Pines Farm of Al and Lin Schwider. Named for the Oregon dairy that Lin’s parents ran for many years, The Pines Farm has become a one-stop shop for handknitters and spinners in the Pacific Northwest.

On 15 acres, the couple has built a fiber-based farm that offers medium-coarse Romney wool and Angora mohair in all forms and fashions. Some buyers take raw fleeces, while others come for the processed roving and batting that the couple produces on site. Customers are drawn to the dyed and natural color wool that comes from both black and white Romneys who call the farm home. A small retail shop sits just off the side of the house, and the couple enjoys meeting customers both online and face-to-face.

“We have local customers, of course, who come by the shop all the time,” says Al, “but we also get calls from people who are just passing through and want to stop by the shop. We have a website and that helps, but it’s just something that I put together. We could stand to do a little better with that, but it gives potential customers the basic information about what we offer.”

When the couple first moved to Maple Valley in 1978, there were just a few houses in the surrounding area. Less than 30 miles from downtown Seattle, they have seen the metro area swallow up Maple Valley in recent years.

“It was named as a great place to raise kids – which it is – at some point and lots of people started moving here,” says Al. “Richard Sherman (when he was a Seattle Seahawk) built a house in the area. The value of the property and our taxes are both really high. We’ve thought about moving, but the grandkids are here. We’re just thankful that nobody’s complained about the noise or the smell of living next to our little farm.”

Originally, The Pines Farm was a cattle operation that provided a side job for the family when Al wasn’t at his full-time job with Boeing. But they were big and difficult to deal with. A talk with the county extension agent turned them on to sheep.

“Next thing you know we were in Oregon buying 35 Romneys, and we’ve been raising them ever since,” Lin recalls. “We added goats accidentally when a friend up north traded us baby goats for a ram. But they’ve been a good money maker for us.”

The Romneys are well suited to The Pines Farm. Their fleeces can handle the area’s habitually wet weather and the sheep are naturally resistant to foot rot.

“We have some friends who have Romneys and Dorsets and Lincolns and the Dorsets are fighting foot rot all of the time,” Al says. “I can’t imagine having to deal with that constantly on top of just trying to run the farm.”

February is lambing time around the farm. With 40 ewes who produce an average of two lambs each, life will be pretty busy for the couple this month. It’s a decent trek from the house back to the barn, especially since the farm’s most prolific product (mud) can be prevalent this time of year.

Early on the couple found a substantial market for their raw fleeces. Through time, other producers entered the market with quality fleeces of their own and Al and Lin stepped up their game with a move toward processing their own wool.

“We did well with the fleeces because we did a good job keeping them clean, which isn’t always easy to do in western Washington,” Al admits. “Then we started doing some hand carding and dying, and now we can produce our own roving and batting. Our customers really like the different colors we can get with both the black and white Romneys. From the black Romneys, we get some natural tans and grays, and then we can dye those and get some really different tones when we dye over those colors. Lin spends a lot of time dyeing wool and mohair.”

The couple’s Romney bloodlines come from Lynn Barnes in Oregon, who brings in semen from New Zealand and breeds his ewes with it. The couple breeds black and white Romney rams to both black and white ewes to generate a variety of natural colors that are impressive in their own right. Add in Lin’s dyeing ability and the sky’s the limit to the color combinations generated on the farm.

“Lin and our daughter, Amy, have created about 50 different color blends, and our customers seem to like the blends made from four or five different colors and then put into roving,” Al says. “When it’s spun on a spinning wheel, you get all different kinds of colors.”

Speaking of spinning wheels, you can get one of those at The Pines Farm, as well. Catering to their niche market, Lin is also a representative for Ashford Handicrafts of New Zealand. It truly is a one-stop shop for the area’s fiber artisans.

Most of the sheep production in Washington takes place in the eastern half of the state – where a drier climate is perfect for fine-wool sheep – but the Schwiders are doing their part to promote the sheep and wool industry in the more suburban areas of Washington. Each year, Al and Amy shear sheep at Kelsey Creek Farm’s Shearing Day. The farm is owned by the city of Bellevue, Wash., and draws a huge crowd to the family-friendly event.

“We get up on stage every hour and shear sheep in front of 7,000 people,” Al says. “They have about five sheep on the farm, and we bring in 15 or so of our own and shear two every hour. The people just love it, and it’s a great way to expose them to sheep and shearing.”

While they sometimes harbor thoughts of cashing in on the Maple Valley property and finding a new, cheaper place somewhere outside of the Seattle metro area, the Schwiders are content for now to maintain the small fiber empire they’ve built in what used to be a remote area.

“I guess if someone came along and had the perfect place for us to move to, we might consider it,” Al says. “But we’re also at an age where we’re not looking to expand the operation. We just want to keep producing some great wool and mohair for customers who have supported us through the years.”

Dairyman’s Son Fills Void with Polypay Sheep Flock

The son of a dairyman, Randy Kinney couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing in his life. In 2000, he and his wife purchased a small farm in Glenwood, Minn., and a year and a half later, lambs were filling the void.

“I didn’t have sheep growing up, but we have some pasture ground here, so for me it was just a matter of deciding between sheep and cows,” Randy said of filling that void. “The boys were young at the time and I was working full time, so my wife wasn’t excited about the thought of handling cows when I wasn’t around. Sheep seemed acceptable to everyone, and a better fit for the facilities we had here. We remodeled the old barn to fit our needs and less than two years after we moved in, we were lambing.”

The flock consisted of 20 head at first, but grew gradually until hitting Randy’s self-imposed threshold of 95 a few years back.

“That’s about the right number for us, given the time and facilities that we have,” he says. “Being able to say we have less than 100 seems about right. I don’t think we want to cross that threshold. The boys are grown now and off doing their own things, so it’s pretty much up to me to deal with the sheep now.”

The Polypay flock had a definite Finnsheep influence in its early days, which meant smaller lambs and high lambing rates. The commercial flock is almost exclusively Polypay these days, and the breed has worked out great for Randy.

“They can handle triplets fairly well, which means less lambs in the milk replacer pen,” he said. “I’ve been a member of the Pipestone program for a few years now, and they encourage producers to pull that third lamb right away. But the less lambs I have on milk replacer, the better. So, I just keep an eye on them and pull that third one if I have to.”

Pipestone has played an integral role in Randy’s flock through the years. Even before he joined the program as a producer, he was routinely making trips to southwest Minnesota for the group’s classes and educational tours. He’s also completed online course work with the program.

“There’s a lot of knowledge there, so it’s a good proving ground for figuring out what to do when I have a problem.”

Randy recently added a hoop barn to his place. The new barn won’t add sheep, but will allow more space for hay storage and equipment that seems to accumulate the longer a producer stays in the industry.

“There’s always some projects in the barn that would make things a little easier,” he said. “Adding the hoop barn is one way to make things a little easier.”

Through the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program, Randy’s lambs end up at Superior Farms. His wool goes with the shearers and results in a check usually from Mid-States Wool Growers in Ohio.

Randy first got involved with the Minnesota Lamb and Wool Producers – ASI’s affiliate in the state – around 2007, and shortly thereafter was elevated to the association’s board. He’s since served two years as the association’s president and is now in a past president role with the association.

“It’s been a good experience,” he said. “There are a lot of resources out there, and I wasn’t always aware of them until I got involved in these leadership positions. One of the best things we’ve done in the past few years was bring Travis Hoffman on as a dual sheep extension specialist for Minnesota and North Dakota. He’s based in Fargo (N.D.), but I don’t think there’s a corner of the state that he hasn’t been to in his first few years. He’s been such a great resource.

“The state association typically has two major events each year – the spring workshop and our annual conference. We’ve done some tours with the conference and that has attracted a lot of people. One thing about Minnesota is that the sheep industry here is really diverse. We’ve got commercial producers, people on the club lamb and breeding stock side, and then the fiber people. It can divide things up a bit in the state, but I think everyone is willing to work together to make the industry better in our state.

“With those niche groups, it’s just a matter of exposing everyone to what we’re doing so that we can bring them all together.”

A mechanical engineer for 3M, Randy’s hobby farm dreams became a reality after he was able to transfer from a position in St. Paul, Minn., to an office in nearby Alexandria, Minn.

“I grew up just 25 miles from here, so there’s lots of family in the area,” he said. “Growing up on the dairy farm, having livestock around just really stuck with me. I always liked taking care of the cows. In fact, I farmed with my dad for a few years before I decided to go back to school. He took care of the farming, and I took care of the cows.

“I’m getting to an age where I’m starting to think about retirement more and more, but I haven’t started dreaming of a life without sheep yet. I think I’ll stick with it for a while. I don’t see either of the boys coming back to raise sheep, so we’ll see what happens down the road.”

ASI Files Antimicrobials Comments

The American Sheep Industry Association filed comments on Dec. 24, 2019, concerning the Food and Drug Administration’s Draft Guidance #263 for Industry providing Recommendations for Sponsors of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs Approved Use in Animals to Voluntarily Bring Under Veterinary Oversight All Products that Continue to be Available Over-the-Counter.

On Sept. 14, 2018, FDA unveiled a five-year action plan for supporting antimicrobial stewardship in veterinary settings. This plan builds upon the important steps the Center for Veterinary Medicine has already taken to support the judicious use of antimicrobials in animals, and is driven by the concept that medically important antimicrobial drugs should only be used in animals when necessary for the treatment, control or prevention of specific diseases. One action item included in this plan is to ensure that any medically important antimicrobial new animal drugs that continue to remain available as OTC products are brought under the oversight of licensed veterinarians.

While ASI appreciates the public health concern that is presented with the development of resistance to antimicrobial drugs of importance to human medicine and the resulting loss of their effectiveness as antimicrobial therapies, it also appreciates that FDA is seeking a balance between this concern and the judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs necessary for assuring animal health.
Among ASI’s concerns is a shortage of large animal veterinarians, limited availability of products for use in sheep and extra-label use of products.

“The current situation regarding veterinary care for livestock in rural areas poses an animal welfare concern and is a major food supply concern,” read the conclusion to ASI’s comments. “Before finalizing the guidance document, we would like FDA to seek feedback from sponsors of antimicrobial new animal drugs that are considered medically important with approval for OTC marketing that are used in minor species, such as sheep, to see if any of these products may be in jeopardy of being removed from the market if changed to prescription only.

“If so, would the product’s loss be significant for the livestock industry? We would ask the FDA to consider that information and help develop a practical solution to ensure that this action will not pose a risk to the well-being of livestock or the viability of the nation’s food supply.

“Lastly, we would ask FDA to clarify two things. The first, will a prescription for antimicrobial new animal drugs with current approval as an OTC be per animal or per flock? And, the second, will extra-label use of antimicrobial new animal drugs be permitted?”

Read the full comments at SheepUSA.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ASI-Comments_FDA-Recom-OTC-Antimicrobials-to-Prescriptions-Draft-Guidance-for-Industry.pdf.

Obituary

Bob L. Boner, 1934-2019

Bob L. Boner passed away peacefully at his home on the ranch on Dec. 27, 2019.

Bob was born on July 1, 1934, in Lusk, Wyo., the youngest son of Jess and Izetta (Renswold) Boner. He grew up with his brothers, Ed and Jim, on the family ranch north of Lusk. He attended school in Lusk, where he was class president and played football and basketball. He graduated from Lusk High School in 1953 and after serving a stint in the army on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, he decided to further his education at the University of Wyoming.

While attending UW in the fall of 1958, he was introduced to his roommate Butch Scott’s sister, Ann. On June 13, 1959, Bob and Ann were married in Douglas, Wyo. For 50 years Ann was his best friend, helpmate and unfailing bride. To this union three sons were born: Brad, Rob and Jeff.

In March of 1964 they moved from the Lusk ranch to Glenrock where they established Cole Creek Ranch northwest of town.

Bob continued to be involved in the ranch until the day of his death. He and Ann were instrumental in giving each of their sons the ability to continue in the farming and ranching business.

Bob was an avid football fan. He enjoyed going to Wyoming Cowboy games with his friends and family and only missed one of the many bowl games the Cowboys played in through the years.

Later in life, Bob and Ann enjoyed traveling. They spent time in the winter in Fountain Hills, Ariz., and made an annual trip with the entire family to the Black Hills over the Fourth of July. After Ann’s passing, Bob enjoyed companionship with his good friend Dede Reed.

Bob was a devoted husband, loving father, grandfather and friend. He was an example of strength and integrity to all. He was a member of the Congregational United Church of Christ, Moose Lodge #602, Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, and served on the school board for Converse County School District #2, and the Glenrock Cemetery District Board.

He was preceded in death by his parents, brother, Jim, and wife.

He is survived by: his brother Edgar of Lusk; son Brad (Laurie) of Glenrock, grandchildren Braden (Amanda) Boner, Ryan Boner, and Meghan(Jake) Bratton; son Rob (Anne Marie) of Douglas and grandchildren Brian (Nicole) Boner, Tyler Boner, Michelle (Daniel) Meirose, and Laura (Frank) Kuchinski; and son Jeff (Tracy) of Douglas and grandchildren Scott (Sarah) Boner, Trent (Mariah) Boner, and Garrett (Tori) Boner; and 10 great grandchildren.

Memorials can be mailed to Moose Lodge #602, P.O. Box 168, Douglas, WY 82633.

A Few Friendly Reminders From Your Shearer

KYLE PARTAIN
Sheep Industry News Editor

Shearing season is nothing new for most of you reading this column. But even so, I think we can all use a gentle reminder when it comes to yearly tasks like this one. It’s easy to forget (sometimes) what went right and what went wrong at last year’s shearing.

By now most of you should have at least had an initial conversation with your shearer. As we all know, there’s a shortage of qualified people to handle the job, so contacting your shearer early and securing your place on his or her schedule is the first step. In that initial conversation, take a few minutes to go over your plans, your setup, changes since last year’s shearing, etc. You might not remember the challenges that arose during shearing a year ago, but there’s a good chance your shearer does.

If your shearer is honest with you about some things you could do to make the whole thing run more efficiently, please take those suggestions to heart. While it’s your farm or ranch and you certainly can dictate how you want things to run, you can’t dictate that your shearer comes back the following year. Help them out where you can, and they’ll be more likely to save you a spot on the following year’s schedule.

Sheep should be off of feed for approximately 12 hours before shearing. American Wool Council member and shearer Emily Chamelin Hickman was on a panel about shearing at the Livestock Conservancy’s All Things Sheep conference late in 2019 and mentioned this no less than four times during the discussion. She may or may not have screamed it a few of those times. It’s no different than a person who’s asked not to eat before medical procedures.

Sheep should also be dry. While a ewe with a full stomach is no fun to shear, a ewe with wet wool is impossible to shear. Emily also pointed out in a recent blog post that wet sheep won’t dry out efficiently in the barn. They should be in the barn before it rains, but if not, the best way to dry them out is to expose them to natural sun and wind. I understand that late winter and spring weather can make it difficult to keep sheep dry, but you’ve got to find a way to do it before shearing. The last thing you want is to have your shearer travel to the job site only to find they’ve wasted their time and can’t shear.

In that initial phone conversation, make sure you ask about your shearer’s needs while discussing your particular shearing setup. If you’ve got a fully-powered shearing shed with plenty of room to corral all the sheep indoors the night before shearing, then great. If you don’t, then you and your shearer need to have a serious conversation about how you’re going to meet their needs at your site. They’re generally going to need power, for instance. They’re going to need a clean, flat surface to work. They’re going to need additional labor to assist with moving sheep, bagging wool, etc. This can vary greatly depending on the size of your flock and shearer or shearing crew that you employ. But there’s no reason to go into shearing day with questions about how things will work.

A good shearer is worth his or her weight in gold to a sheep producer. As such, they should be treated in a way that would encourage them to return the following year. A hot meal and a thank you will go a long way on what can be the most stressful day (or week) of the year for many sheep operations.

There’s no doubt that sheep producers are used to doing things their own way. They like being their own boss and have developed work routines that fit their daily lives. The same can be said for your shearer. One way or the other, producers and shearers will have to put their individual preferences aside to develop a system that allows both to function at the highest level to get the job done.

Whether your wool is worth $5 a pound or 5 cents a pound, it’s in your best interest to get it off the sheep’s back quickly and efficiently. Your shearer can make that happen, with a little help. Just don’t wait until the day he or she arrives to figure out what they need.

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