Image of sheep

To View the February 2024 Digital Issue — Click Here

Image of Brad Boner
Information Abounds at Convention

Brad Boner, ASI President

Well, the 2024 ASI Annual Convention is in the books. It was great to see everyone as we had the best attendance at a convention post Covid. It was a busy three days packed with informative programs and discussions held throughout the agenda with a little fun added in at the Opening Reception and RAMPAC Auction.
In addition to ASI, more than 10 industry organizations held meetings during the convention. For those of you who were unable to attend and those who did attend but were unable to make it to all the discussions and council/committee meetings, I offer a brief synopsis.
Animal Health Committee – The National Animal Health Monitoring System gave an update on its activities along with a scrapie program update. There was discussion on the use of BioWorma for small ruminant parasite control. The Johne’s Disease and Mycoplasma Ovipneumonia updates were informative.
National Lamb Feeders Association – Held an informative discussion on lamb imports. There was good dialogue on this topic with lots of good information that helped everyone better understand the issues surrounding the import situation.
Production, Education & Research Council – The Secure Sheep & Wool Supply Plan was discussed along with new resources and outreach efforts. An informative panel discussion was held on solar grazing. Also, interesting research was discussed on the relationship between milk production and post weaning fecal egg counts in ewes.
Genetics Forum – An overflow crowd was in attendance for this informative forum that included topics such as, Don’t Overlook the Basics of Among the New Technologies, an informative panel discussed Economics of Genetics, Realizing an ROI to Genetic Selection. Dr. Tom Murphy with the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center shared his presentation on the Application and Comparison of Various Production Indices Available to the U.S. Sheep Industry. A very important and insightful panel from the Young Guns initiative shared their thoughts on Research Priorities of the U. S. Sheep Industry. Also presented were Improving Robustness & Climatic Resilience in the U.S. Sheep Populations through Genomics and a USDA Agricultural Research Service update.
Legislative Action Council – Guest speaker Joe Goggins representing the Livestock Marketing Association presented on LMA’s Sheep and Cattle Profitability initiative. This was an informative and insightful look at how livestock agriculture can work together to effect more change for our producers. Jim Richards of Cornerstone Government Affairs gave his Congressional update.
Lamb Council – held the last listening session by Watts & Associates before it sends a final report on a sheep industry risk management product to USDA’s Risk Management Agency later this month. There was great discussion on what type of risk management products will be most beneficial to the industry. Tyler Cozzens gave an insightful market update with some good information. Jessica Spreitzer with the U.S. Meat Export Federation talked about Enhancing Demand for American Lamb in Export Markets and Megan Wortman with the American Lamb Board talked about ALB’s upcoming research initiatives.
Resources Management Council – heard an update from Wildlife Services, the Public Lands Council, the Western Resources Legal Center and the National Grazing Lands Coalition. There was also an informative discussion on Movement Criteria on Public Lands During and Foreign Animal Disease Outbreak, which ties into ASI’s Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan.
Wool Policy Forum – heard updates on the Climate Smart Grant, Loan Deficiency Payments, domestic textiles and the global wool textile market. The Wool Council and Wool Roundtable had information sessions on carbon credits and a discussion from the Wool Innovation Panel.
As you can see, it was an informative and busy time for everyone in Denver. I would like to thank all the government agency folks who took time to come to our meetings. I hope it was informative for them and they are now armed with a better understanding of our industry. A huge THANK YOU to all of the ASI staff and committee/council members who work throughout the year to help our producers here in the United States.
Until next time, keep it on the sunny side.

Cutout Starts the Year Slightly Higher

The new year is off and running with some encouraging developments, so far. Severe winter weather can complicate markets from both supplies and demand. Often supplies are disrupted by difficulties in getting lambs to market and products from packers to processors or retailers. Purchases can be disrupted because the storm keeps folks indoors. But these disruptions are usually short lived.

The wholesale lamb market – as represented by the cutout value – started out 2024 slightly ahead of last year. So far, in January, the cutout has averaged $472 per cwt. compared to $467 last January. While the overall cutout is higher, there are some substantial differences in the direction of the middle and end meats. The higher cutout has been led by the shoulders and legs. Shoulders were $407 per cwt. in mid-January compared to $358 per cwt. last year.
Legs increased dramatically early in 2024, up $28 per cwt. to $525 per cwt. The higher end meats are in contrast to the lower middle meats. Loins have averaged about $700 per cwt. this year compared to about $734 last year. Racks were about $1,000 per cwt. compared to over $1,100 last year. Past seasonal patterns might suggest some increase in leg prices during the next few months.
Rising leg prices are part of the lamb trade picture. In the last six months, American lamb leg prices have increased from about $639 to $703 per cwt. (the different leg price here versus the earlier paragraph represents the primal leg cut to a more prepared version). The comparable Australian leg has declined from $427 to $385 per cwt.
The widening price gap is encouraging imports by indicating a more competitive import product. While imports have been on an upward trend through much of 2023, fewer pounds were imported in 2023 than in 2022 and 2021.
On the live lamb side of the market, heavyweight slaughter lambs have tended to increase in price early this year. The national negotiated live data series indicates lamb prices are up about $11 per cwt. during the first couple of the weeks of the year. In contrast, lightweight slaughter lambs (60 to 90 pounds) have declined about $40 per cwt. to $211 to begin the year. The lightweight lamb price data does tend to exhibit larger week-to-week volatility, so price moves of that magnitude are not unusual.

Lamb prices trended higher in most of 2023 even in the face of larger slaughter. Lamb and yearling slaughter in 2023 posted an estimated 4.3 percent increase compared to 2022. Mature sheep slaughter was also larger in 2023 than in 2022, up 11 percent in the last quarter of the year and up 6.5 percent for the year. Lamb and yearling slaughter in the last quarter of 2023 was up about 8.3 percent over the year before. The fact that lamb prices were able to advance given greater slaughter numbers was positive.
Lamb meat production was down an estimated 1.7 percent for the year. But production was up about 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter. Larger slaughter was offset by lighter weights, which continue to result from the growth in the lightweight slaughter lamb market.
Increased production in the fourth quarter and larger import volumes relative to prior months might indicate more lamb in cold storage but, that was not the case late in the year. The November data – the latest available – indicated about 22 million pounds of lamb and mutton in storage. That was larger than the seasonal decline in stocks and a more than 20-percent decline from the prior year. The decline indicates some price supporting movement of lamb to consumers in the market.

Rising prices are supposed to be the market signal to bring more product to market and that is exactly what happened in the Australian wool market. Sharply higher prices late in the year – especially for very fine wools – brought more than 50,000 bales to the market to begin the year. More than 100,000 bales offered for sale in the first two weeks of the new year was reported to be the largest new year’s offering in four years.
Weekly wool prices in U.S. dollars show higher prices for fine wools and steady to lower prices for more coarse grades in December through the first weeks of January. Under 17-micron wool has increased about U.S. $1 per pound since early November, settling at U.S. $5.90 per pound for the week ending Jan. 12. Twenty-one-micron wool started the year at U.S. $4.08 per pound, although it has been trending higher during the last couple of months. It was U.S. $4.49 per pound a year ago at this time. The coarsest wools reported prices that were slightly higher than last year. Almost all other microns were lower than this time a year ago even though they have trended higher in recent months.

It will likely be difficult to see increased domestic slaughter in 2024 compared to 2023. Continued reduced average dressed weights should contribute to tighter domestic production this year. Tighter supplies should contribute to strengthening prices this Spring compared to last.

Campaign Launched to Defeat Denver Ballot Measure Prohibiting Slaughterhouses


A campaign has been launched to defeat a ballot measure that seeks to prohibit slaughterhouses in the city of Denver. The measure unfairly targets a single employee-owned business – Superior Farms – and if passed, it would force the company to shut down.
If the measure passes, Denver will be the first and only city in the country to ban meat processing. The ban will negatively impact the state’s economy and important agricultural industry – the second largest industry in the state. The ripple effect could embolden similar efforts across the country, threatening jobs and impacting the supply chain.
For the plant’s 160 employee-owners and their families, this is personal. They face the loss of income and access to health care. Financial strain creates stress, depression and family tensions. Job loss not only impacts individuals but also has far-reaching consequences on family members, including children. The unemployment of parents puts children at risk, jeopardizing their well-being and stability. One of the most glaring problems with this measure is that while it requires the city to prioritize residents affected by the ordinance in workforce training or employment assistance programs, it does not offer any financial assistance or compensation.
An additional impact of the measure is the financial burden it places on consumers. The cost of meat shipped from out of the state will inevitably rise. This increase in prices unfairly weighs on low-income families, who rely on affordable food options. The measure effectively limits access to reasonably priced meat, exacerbating the financial strain on already vulnerable households.
Furthermore, the measure could cost taxpayers $70 million or more to compensate Superior Farms for taking its property and forcing it to shut down. This is a significant amount of money that could be used for other critical city services, such as education, infrastructure or public safety.
Thankfully, awareness about the ballot measure and the existence of a slaughterhouse in Denver are low. Recent polling shows only 12 percent of voters are aware the ban proposal will be on their ballot, and a mere 22 percent know there is a slaughterhouse in Denver. The poll also shows that while voters like farmers and ranchers, they aren’t persuaded by the impact of a slaughterhouse ban on the agricultural community. To win, the campaign must frame the election as a narrow question about a misguided idea that is both ineffective and unfair. Placing this proposal within the wider context of the agricultural community or an anti-meat agenda will be less impactful.
Denver is a young and progressive city, with 67.6 percent of its population under 50 years old. Voter registration in the city consists of 46.2 percent unaffiliated, 42.8 percent Democrat and only 9.2 percent Republican. Broadly speaking, the agricultural industry skews more conservative than the voters in Denver. While this measure does have statewide and national implications, these factors highlight the importance of local voices speaking out about this local issue.
How can you help? Share information about the proposal with your friends, family and business associates who live in Denver. Educate them about the negative impacts of this measure on Superior Farms and its employees. We need them to speak out about this unfair targeting of a single employee-owned business and inform voters about the negative consequences of the measure.
Financial support is critical. The bottom line is campaigns are costly. Join our campaign to Stop the Ban by making a financial contribution today. Together we can ensure the campaign has the resources to amplify our message, mobilize grassroots efforts and inform Denver voters about the negative consequences of the ballot measure.
Visit for more information or to donate.

Annual Convention Wraps Up in Denver

The first hour of the Lamb Council meeting at the 2024 ASI Annual Convention in Denver last month drew a larger than average crowd as representatives from Watts and Associates conducted the final listening session on creating a new federal risk management program for the sheep industry.
As was the case with previous listening sessions, some producers arrived expecting to hear the details of a product that will essentially replace the previous LRP-Lamb program. But a replacement program doesn’t currently exist. The sessions were designed to give producers a voice in designing a program that might be developed down the road.
“This is just a feasibility study,” said Mark Boyd of Watts and Associates, which conducted three listening sessions in-person and one online. “We’ll submit a report to the (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) Risk Management Agency in the next month.”
Boyd said the listening sessions looked to determine what insurance products would be most beneficial to the American sheep industry, including the possibility of covering such things as mortality, yield, price, revenue, etc.
The main deficiency of the previous lamb insurance program was the lack of price reporting due to consolidation within the industry. That problem still exists more than two years after LRP-Lamb went away for good, and the issue will have to be addressed in some form if a new insurance product is to be made available in the future. The decision on whether or not to move forward will soon be in the hands of RMA.
The opening session of the convention hosted a farm bill panel which featured senior staff from the Agriculture Committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Justin Benavidez with Chairman G.T. Thompson’s staff and Trey Forsyth with Ranking Member John Boozman’s team provided a comprehensive overview of the upcoming Farm Bill with respect to funding and the current legislative calendar, as well touching on key priorities important to the sheep and livestock industry.
In other news from the convention, ASI President Brad Boner of Wyoming and ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick addressed the ongoing issue of lamb imports – an issue Orwick said has plagued the American sheep industry since the loss of the National Wool Act in the 1990s that led to a dramatic decrease in the American flock. ASI investigated all aspects of filing a trade case against imports from Australia and New Zealand, but legal experts advised that even a victory would provide minimal relief when factoring in estimated legal costs of more than $1 million.
“Two things I think we need to do, not be shy about telling them we have a lawyer on retainer and we’re going to continue to watch this like a hawk,” Boner said. “And continue to make sure that if they ever stub their toe and give us a window, we’ll be ready.”
On the wool side, the ASI Board of Directors heard from a panel of innovators, including David Fisher of Texas, John Helle of Montana and Bob Padula of Minnesota. Fisher and Helle discussed the challenges with creating their own lines of wool textile products, while Padula walked producers through the process of establishing a partnership with WeatherWool.
Isak Statt from BKB provided a comprehensive Global Wool update at the Wool Roundtable. Additionally, innovators Albert Wilde of Wilde Valley Farms (specializing in wool fertilizer pellets) and Marie Hoff of Full Circle Wool (introducing wool sponges) shared exciting new product ideas. The event also featured a presentation from Jake Vuillemin of USDA’s Farm Service Agency about the available wool LDP/MAL program that has been used by many growers during the last three years. Mike Conover of Fibershed and Linda Poole with the National Center for Appropriate Technology discussed the Climate Beneficial Fiber Partnership that received a $30 million USDA grant in 2023. Other topics included carbon credits and an overview of the domestic textile industry.
Three new representatives were elected to the ASI Executive Board during the Saturday morning regional caucuses at the convention. Laurie Hubbard (Region I), Anne Crider (Region 3) and Tammy Fisher (Region V) were not eligible for reelection after serving two terms on the Executive Board. Those open spots were filled by Kevin Melvin of New Jersey, Larry Hopkins of Indiana and Rodney Kott of Texas, respectively. John Noh of Idaho was reelected in Region VII, as were each of ASI’s officer team: Boner as president, Ben Lehfeldt of Montana as vice president and Joe Pozzi of California as secretary/treasurer.

Mark your calendars for the next Annual Convention
on Jan. 15-18, 2025, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Farm Bill Discussion Opens Convention


Staffers from ag committees in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives attended the Opening Session of the ASI Annual Convention to assure sheep producers of their commitment to not only passing a new Farm Bill, but to addressing industry concerns in the process.
“Wool Marketing Assistance Loan rates have not kept up with parity and with many of our other commodity programs, and we do hope to address that,” said Justin Benavidez, who serves as the chief economist for the House Committee on Agriculture. “The loan rates were not adjusted in the 2018 Farm Bill. We do believe we’re going to be able to find ways to increase that marketing system loan rate. It’s not a terribly expensive ask in the Farm Bill.”
Benavidez offered hope for spending increases in a variety of areas: including the Sheep Production and Marketing Grant Program that funds the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center. In 2019, the Agricultural Marketing Service awarded a five-year grant of $1.9 million to the sheep center, which funds a handful of industry grants each year.
Other areas where additional spending would be warranted include: the Wool Research, Development and Promotion Trust Fund that provides U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for ASI and its efforts to market American wool; and funds for the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program, both of which assist ag groups in developing foreign markets for American agriculture products.
Benavidez said money spent on agriculture has proven to be a sound investment for the federal government.
“For a little less than $30 billion a year, agriculture delivers 43 million jobs, $2.3 trillion in wages, $189 million in exports and creates $7.4 trillion in output,” he said. “For every dollar we invest in traditional farm programs, you all contribute roughly $24 back to the federal government. I would defy any member of Congress to come back and tell us that there’s a higher return on investment delivered on any other investment in the federal budget.”
At the same time, he said members of Congress and the federal government realize many in agriculture have struggled recently.
“Circumstances are getting better for the sheep industry,” he said. “But we know in this room – and we’ve heard you in D.C. – that production costs and many other matters are weighing on your bottom line. We are sincerely looking at ways to address that in the Farm Bill.”
Another area where there’s room for dramatic improvement is the safety net programs that help American farmers and ranchers weather storms from one year to the next.
“We have not addressed the farm safety net in roughly 20 years,” Benavidez said. “And it certainly lags behind what we believe a modern safety net should look like.”
Now the question is, will a new Farm Bill get passed? And, if so, when might it occur.
“As of January, I’m more positive that we will have a Farm Bill this year than I was even in December,” Benavidez said.
Trey Forsyth is a professional staffer with the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and said the focus of Ranking Member Sen. John Boozman is to pass the Farm Bill. But his main goal is to pass a bill that will actually help farmers and ranchers.
“A bipartisan bill is the only way to get it passed in the Senate,” Forsyth said. “Just extending the 2018 Farm Bill another five years isn’t going to cut it. That’s one thing that’s been clear from Sen. Boozman’s listening sessions. The world has changed a lot since 2018. We need a farm safety net that is responsive to those changes.”
Among the priorities for Boozman are increased spending on ag research, conservation programs, food security and protecting against foreign disease outbreaks, Forsyth said.
He predicted the Farm Bill might move sometime between March and July. But the longer the process drags out – and the closer it gets to the fall presidential election – the tougher it will be to get the bill passed.
USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt was also on hand for the Opening Session. She addressed the crowd on many of the same issues covered in the Farm Bill discussion, touting the Biden Administration’s support of agriculture. That included the climate-smart grants – one of which was awarded to a group of applicants working with sheep and wool – as well as the work of Wildlife Services and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“It’s a pleasure to be here,” she said. “I really appreciate ASI’s strong partnership with us all along the way.”

Innovative Topics Lead Wool Discussions


Discussion at the Wool Roundtable meeting during the ASI Annual Convention on Jan. 12 in Denver centered around innovation. From wool pellets to sponges to climate beneficial programs and manufacturing, American wool producers are finding new ways to do more with less.
Since 1995, domestic mill consumption of wool has decreased from 142 million pounds to 10 million pounds due to global competition, trade agreements, the use of synthetic fibers and improved manufacturing. Approximately 60 to 65 percent of the American wool clip is now exported, but domestic mills are more efficient than ever before thanks to long-term investments in new equipment that compliments the historic machinery still in use up to a century after it was first put into production, according to ASI Consultant Mitch Driggers.
Innovators such as Albert Wilde are taking American wool into the realm of regenerative agriculture while building a market for coarser wools that are often difficult to sell. His Wilde Valley Farms developed a pelleted wool product that can be used in gardens, flowerpots and more.
“Wool is the only soil amendment in the world that solves all three problems that growers face when caring for their plants [high nitrogen, holds water and softens soil],” Wilde said. The company is introducing American consumers to a whole new side of wool as it reaches retail markets around the United States.
California’s Marie Hoff has found similar success putting wool to use in household sponges. She developed a practical, everyday dish sponge that can be ordered online and is also starting to find a home in retail outlets in her area. The sponges provide consumers with an environmentally friendly product that utilizes a readily available and abundant supply of coarse wool and, ultimately, generates revenue for wool growers.
Wool Marketing Assistance Loan and Loan Deficiency Payment program options were shared by Jake Vuillemin, economist at USDA FPAC-BC. MALs provide producers with interim financing via a nine-month loan. Producers can pay back the loan at the set rate or forfeit the wool, and if prices deteriorate, producers can pay back less than what they borrowed.
Alternatively, LDPs offer a direct payment. Ungraded LDPs ($0.40/lb. greasy) are the most popular, but many options are available to fit producers’ needs.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a
$30 million grant to a partnership of entities looking to develop climate-smart wool and cotton production in several areas of the United States. Fibershed’s Mike Conover and the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Linda Poole joined the Wool Roundtable virtually to provide an update on the program as it hits the ground running in 2024. The goal is to develop lands that are more productive and drought resistant with higher quality forage to produce healthier sheep and higher quality wool.
Producers in California, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and New York State can visit to learn more.
Delving deeper into the possibilities and challenges of innovating with wool was ASI Consultant Roy Kettlewell. While wool has great eco-credentials, it faces an uphill battle with environmental footprint assessments such as the EU PEF assessment, which is biased toward synthetic fibers. Still, wool’s scales can be used for felting and creating texture, density and wind resistance. Wool’s crimp creates bulk without weight, warmth without clamminess, Kettlewell said.
Rounding out the meeting was Isak Staats, the International Wool Textile Organization Market Intelligence Committee chairman. Australia remains the largest producer of clean wool, making the country a dominant player in the market. Staats said Australian producers are faced with high interest rates and low commodity prices, so expect that they will prioritize wool production.
Manufacturing – particularly in Germany – continues to face challenges. Fortunately, shipping rates have decreased, benefiting producers and consumers. Major consumer markets include Europe, America and China, much of where inflation is an issue. However, interest rates are expected to decrease, meaning that consumers might find some relief.
Wool makes up only 1 percent of all textiles, meaning consumers buy wool with discretionary spending. According to the European Central Bank, the probability of an economic recession has reduced from 60 percent to 25 percent in the next six to 12 months. Future challenges include climate change and the need to prove wool’s sustainability credentials, which continues to grow in demand.
In conclusion, Staats said, interest rates will be a big driver moving forward, supply will come under pressure and indicators point toward increasing wool prices.
“Baring anything major happening, I think we are moving into a better world for our product in the short term,” he concluded.

American Lamb’s Journey Continues


The crowd at the Lamb Council meeting might have gathered for the discussion on creating a new risk management program for the sheep industry – see page 10 for more details – but it stayed for updates on both international and domestic lamb programs.
Leading the charge was Jessica Spreitzer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation with a synopsis of where the small amount of exported American lamb ends up on a regular basis. Through November 2023 – the latest data available at the time of the presentation – the United States had exported 4.2 million pounds (down 11 percent) of lamb muscle cuts for a value of $11.05 million (down 11.5 percent) in 2023. A majority of those exports head to the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic, with Mexico following right behind. Smaller amounts head to Canada, Central America and Asia. Cruise lines are once again sailing and doing well after the Covid shutdown, and that accounts for some of the demand in the Caribbean.
Despite those numbers, Spreitzer said the United States is recognized as an exporter of high-quality lamb. American lamb is recognized overseas for having a milder, less-gamey taste with larger cut sizes due to genetic selection and grain feeding. Another indicator of lamb quality is that 90 percent of American lamb receives either choice or prime grades, indicating a youthful carcass that is of higher quality.
Recently, USMEF has led lamb education among chefs in the Philippines and worked to establish American lamb as a high-end product in the fairly new market of Japan.
While USMEF is shepherding American lamb overseas, the American Lamb Board is leading efforts to increase demand domestically. ALB reported an additional $800,000 in yearly income thanks to a change in the way checkoff dollars are collected at auction markets. That equates to a yearly budget of $3 million in 2024 – 70 percent of which will go toward promotion of American lamb. The remaining 30 percent supports industry programs and research.
ALB continues to put an emphasis on education with the hiring of Camren Maierle as the organization’s sustainability director. He will develop and manage ALB’s targeted grazing education program, including workshops scheduled for later this year in Texas, North Carolina and California, said ALB Executive Director Megan Wortman. These workshops come on the heals of an emerging sheep producers workshop in Kentucky in the fall of 2023, and funding is now available for states and extension to host virtual or live educational programs.
Wortman also announced that ALB’s third Lamb Summit will be conducted on July 24-26 this year at the University of Idaho. Look for more information on the summit in the months to come.
As required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ALB evaluates the effectiveness of the lamb checkoff every five years. A report is due this spring, but a 2019 study showed that ALB promotions in terms of additional industry profit ranged from $14.20 to $33.40 per promotion dollar.
Wortman ceded some of her time to North Dakota State University/University of Minnesota Extension Sheep Specialist Dr. Travis Hoffman who reported on his research into using suspended fresh technology for American lamb. Working with IQ Foods, Hoffman is looking at how the technology can maximize taste while increasing shelf life.
Hoffman said nearly every other protein is already working with the technology, which “chills” meat to 28 degrees. As part of his research, Hoffman has three objectives. The first is to test the technology with a full loin/loin chops. The test will compare suspended fresh meat with frozen with an 80-day storage period. A consumer sensory panel will then compare tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Hoffman will also evaluate physiochemical data from proximate analysis, shear force, oxidation, protein degradation, drip loss, shelf life and lean meat color. This first objective began in October of 2023. Subsequent objectives will test retail ready sirloin roasts and ground lamb.
And finally, the Lamb Council heard from its lamb market working group, which continues to look into additional ways to market “yearling” lamb. The group consists of Reed Anderson of Oregon, Nick Forrest of Ohio, Bob Harlan of Wyoming, Don Hawk of Ohio, Karissa Isaacs of Colorado and Dan Lippert of Minnesota.

PERC Investigates Sheep Solar Grazing


A year ago, the Production, Education and Research Council featured a panel discussion on targeted grazing, but in 2024 the discussion narrowed even more. Solar grazing – quite possibly the biggest boon to the American sheep industry in decades – was the topic of discussion at the 2024 meeting in Denver.
A panel moderated by American Lamb Board Sustainability Director Camren Maierle brought in solar grazers from the Eastern half of the United States to share how they got involved in the industry’s fastest growing grazing opportunity. The panel consisted of Nick Armentrout of Maine, Julie Bishop of New Jersey, Eric Bronson of Virginia, Lexie Hain of New York and Arlo Hark of Minnesota.
Armentrout serves as president of the American Solar Grazing Association and offered that solar grazing is simply targeted grazing on a solar array. It’s a service business, he said, which is why shepherds deserve to be paid a fee for grazing livestock there.
He shared that in 2023, some 72,000 sheep grazed approximately 60,000 acres in the United States. That number will continue to increase dramatically as solar sites in all sizes come into operation in the future.
ASGA is looking to work with ASI to provide guidance for sheep producers moving into solar grazing, and is developing a series of educational webinars while also providing sample contracts and moving toward a certification program that will be available in the near future.
“The solar industry and the sheep industry need each other,” said Hain.
One of the main reasons for that is utility companies have faced backlash for building solar arrays on what was traditionally agricultural land. Grazing sheep in the arrays allows for an agricultural use that quiets much of the backlash from the general public. And sheep are the perfect grazers – small enough to graze under the panels (which cows can’t) and gentle enough to cause minimal damage (unlike goats) at the site.
Hain, a solar gazer and founder of ASGA, joined the staff at Lightsource bp and works to select sites the company will invest in. She looks at each site through the eyes of a grazer, and is quick to note issues with fencing, water, etc. She also understands why sheep grazing at solar sites has been so successful.
“The reason it’s working is family farmers do a fabulous job,” she said. “Everything they’ve learned is valuable in solar grazing. The strength of the farmers is their knowledge.”
Bishop said the additional grazing land has allowed her to expand far beyond what she could have otherwise on her five-acre farm. But it comes with its own set of challenges. Water is always a concern. Solar arrays don’t need water, but the sheep that graze them need it on a daily basis.
“I’ve also had to deal with animal control,” said Bishop. “The neighbors called them because we got three flakes of snow and the sheep were out in it.”
Bronson experienced phenomenal growth as well thanks to solar grazing. He went from 75 head to 1,000 in six years, but said it was a humbling experience at times.
“I made every mistake on my own,” he said. “I was young and thought I knew everything, but it’s hot and humid in the Southeast and a lot can go wrong.”
Hark said that’s a huge consideration when determining where to place sheep because eventually things will go wrong.
“How far do you want to drive to go check those sheep,” he asked? “You have to consider that in your pricing structure. We also have to truck water to every site we graze.”
Other things to consider include the length of the grazing contract. Most grazers on the panel suggested a one year minimum, but said the industry is pushing for three, five and even 10-year contracts. Long-term contracts would definitely work better for established grazers, while short-term contracts would allow beginners to get their feet wet in the industry.
Hain said there are also opportunities for grazers to pick up additional work at the solar sites because they are often on the sites more than the solar company employees. That might include mowing of areas that aren’t grazed, general clean up, etc.
The council also heard an update on ASI’s Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan, which Dr. Danelle Bicket-Weddle provided for several council/committee meetings during the week.
Sheep Heritage Foundation Scholarship winner Kelsey Bentley offered a presentation entitled Milking More from the Post-Weaning Fecal Egg Count Estimated Breeding Value.

Animal Health Hears Research Advances


As usual, the meeting of the Animal Health Committee drew a large audience to learn about a variety of topics of importance to sheep operations.
Dr. Natalie Urie of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service presented an update on the National Animal Health Monitoring System sheep study, which kicked into action with written surveys across the country last month, and will continue with collection of fecal, blood and interdigital swab collection during farm and ranch visits from March through August.
The study aims to give a snapshot of current health and management practices on American sheep operations. Participation is voluntary, and sheep producers who participate will receive confidential and free results back from the biological testing conducted on their animals. Testing will examine parasite burdens, fecal microbes and lameness pathogens.

Dr. Diane Sutton of USDA’s Veterinary Services Small Ruminant Health Center provided an update on scrapie, which has been subject to an eradication program for nearly 70 years. Sutton noted that there have been no scrapie cases in sheep in the United States in seven years.
“While we’re nearing the finish line, there is still work to do,” Sutton said, with continued surveillance and traceback necessary to ensure the disease is eradicated in the country.
Sutton suggested that if a producer has a sheep aged from 2 to 6 years range that dies, contact your nearest VS office for a whole head box to aid in the surveillance effort. There is no charge for the collection or testing of the samples for scrapie.

USDA Animal Research Service scientist Dr. Joan Burke of the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Ark., provided an overview of the efficient use of BioWorma for small ruminant parasite control. Internal parasites (strongyle worms) are the number-one problem in the sheep industry throughout the world, Burke explained. Worldwide, dewormers are proving to no longer be effective, and with no new products on the horizon and multi-drug resistance widespread, alternatives are needed, so BioWorma has been increasingly studied.
BioWorma is a feed additive used to control the spread of parasitic larvae in the pasture. It’s a nematode-trapping fungus, so the fungal spores are fed in feed supplement and passed through the feces with no effect to the animal. The fungus traps and consumes the developing worm larvae and is effective against multiple worm species and resistance worms. The product is available through select feeds mills, veterinarians, and Premier 1 Supplies.
Burke explained that one research project is examining mixing BioWorma into a trace mineral mix, which was stored for seven days and then fed to the sheep. The project demonstrated that it works in the mineral mix, but producers are cautioned to not leave it in the mineral too long, or to allow the mineral to get wet.
Burke suggested that when considering using BioWorma, the costs are from .20 to .60 cents per 100-pound animal per day. She said it is imperative that producers use the fungus strategically based on the biology of the worm and the risk of worm infection in an animal, noting that peri-parturient dams and young animals are the most susceptible to worms.
Burke recommends using this parasite control method alongside resistant genetics, good nutrition and good pasture management to minimize worms on pasture.

Committee Co-Chair Dr. Cindy Wolf provided an overview of the process of bringing more preventative products (vaccines) to market, noting that the first step is for the industry to show a need for a product. Participation in studies like the NAHMS sheep survey help to define the need for specific vaccines to address issues impacting the sheep industry. The industry also has to convince and work with vaccine manufacturers in development of vaccines.
With warming of the environment, American sheep flocks might experience more bluetongue outbreaks, Wolf warned, as the virus is spread by biting midges.
Wolf laid out her view of future vaccine needs, including those that address a combination of abortion-causing pathogens as well as vaccines to combat virulent footrot, scald, multiple serotypes of bluetongue, Cache Valley Virus, species-specific respiratory vaccine and perhaps even an anti-internal parasite vaccine. Wolf noted that there should be a commercially available vaccine for Cache Valley Virus within the next year.

Recently a sheep flock preparing to enter public lands in California was asked to test for Ovine Johne’s Disease prior to grazing, according to Dr. Roșie Busch of University of California-Davis. While Johne’s disease has been present in the country’s cattle population since 1908, there is mounting concern of interspecies transmission risk, as well as the economic impact to American sheep production.
OJD is caused by a bacterium that infects ruminants usually through shedding of the bacterium in feces. OJD is a chronic, enteric wasting disease, with clinical signs developing within six to 12 months of infection, and causing death by the time the animals are 3 to 5 years of age. OJD is contagious, which means that it can spread from one animal to another before the producer knows that the disease is present.
Busch said OJD is estimated to be present on 4.7 percent of sheep operations in the United States, causing an estimated 4-percent increase in mortality in affected flocks. Since there is no cure for the disease, Busch said that producers are faced with complicated tradeoffs. Test and culling programs have limited application due to the cost of testing compared to the value of individual animals.
Busch recommends that producers check their ewes body condition scores at mating, and cull ewes before the high-risk shedding that occurs at lambing. Producers should also manage their stocking rates in lambing paddocks so that lambs are protected from infection by being born and raised in a clean environment.
Producers should also be aware that a recent change in the blood test for OJD in sheep appears to generate false positives, so Busch recommends that producers work with their vets to resample and follow up with fecal PCR tests.

Dr. Lindsay Piel of the Agriculture Research Service and Dr. Maggie Highland of the Wisconsin Veterinary Laboratory provided updates on Mycoplasma ovipneumonia research in their labs.
Piel explained that this pneumonia-causing respiratory pathogen is present in a large percentage of domestic sheep flocks, and is part of a polymicrobial disease, meaning it’s caused by more than one infectious agent.
Piel’s continuing Mycoplasma research has found that bighorn sheep and domestic sheep have different baseline immune systems, and detection of M. Ovipneumoniae varies depending on the strain involved. Researchers have isolated strains from sheep at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, and the samples will undergo whole genome sequencing to help characterize the different strains. Piel’s efforts will examine how these strains change through time.
Highland explained that while M. Ovi was traditionally believed to only be associated with sheep and goats, she became interested in the possibility of it occurring in other species nearly 10 years ago. Intrigued with the idea, she was able to detect the pathogen in a white-tailed deer, and eventually in a moose and other species.
But what Highland had actually detected is a novel strain of the pathogen (that has yet to be named). Improved testing protocols since the discovery has led to further detections, and Highland cautions that published testing protocols prior to 2016 caused numerous false positives for M. Ovi when it was actually this novel pathogen.
Unfortunately, the recognition of this novel strain and interest in its impacts on M. Ovi diagnostics hasn’t received much attention from researchers, even though federal land management agencies insist on separating domestic sheep from wild sheep based on fears of pathogen transmission.

Industry Hands Out Annual Awards

The American sheep industry came together to honor its own during the Awards Luncheon and Wool Lunch at the 2024 ASI Annual Convention in Denver, recognizing sheep producers, researchers and wool warehousemen who have left – or continue to leave – their marks on the industry.
A sheep and wool festival, a farm, a retirement home and even a funeral. Those are just some of the places that played host in the past year to the American Lamb Roadshow put on by Nick Forrest and his wife, Kathy, of Ohio. There’s literally no place the two won’t go to cook and talk about American lamb.
Forrest first got the idea to create the roadshow after a catering job in Texas.
“I have to thank my friend Alan McAnally from Texas,” Forrest said of feeding sheep producers in the state. “He said, ‘You ought to take this on the road.’ And that’s how we ended up calling it the American Lamb Roadshow.”
Forrest has been an ambassador for American lamb for as long as anyone can remember. A past president and member of the American Lamb Board, he’s best known for his cooking demonstrations. While he tends to travel in the Eastern half of the country, he’s well known as a lambassador who entertains crowds while his wife, Kathy, does a lot of the prep work to feed the hungry masses he’s convinced to try American lamb.
A sheep producer himself, Forrest has previously served as president of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association as well as on the board of the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program – a state check-off program.
Forrest said he was shocked when OSIA Executive Director Roger High called to tell him he’d been selected for the McClure Silver Ram Award. In fact, he thought he was being pranked.
“He said, ‘The first thing I want to do when I see you is buy you a drink,’” Forrest recalled. “Then I knew it was a prank, because he’s never bought me a drink in all the years I’ve known him.” Of course, High wasn’t joking.
“It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of the people who have received this award before me,” said Forrest, who also wanted to thank his wife for being his most honest critic. “If she eats more than two forks full, then I know it’s a good recipe. If she eats just one and walks away, I burn that recipe.”
Montana’s Brent and Tracie Roeder were just as surprised to learn they’d been selected for the Distinguished Producer Award when they got a phone call from ASI Vice President Ben Lehfeldt.
“When Ben called and said we’d won an award, I asked him, ‘For what?’” Tracie recalled during the couple’s acceptance speech in Denver. “When I told Brent, he said, ‘For what?’”
Tracie said she feels like the couple was called by God to work in the sheep and wool industries and feels fortunate that the entire family loves the work.
“The kids are going on this odyssey with us,” she said. “It’s dominated our family and our time, but hopefully we always found joy in our work and working together.”
Raising quality sheep would have been enough to earn the couple ASI’s Distinguished Producer Award, but they took it a step further in developing direct marketing opportunities for both their lamb and value-added wool products. While Brent routinely credits Tracie for handling the family’s successful wool venture, he draws extra praise from producers throughout Big Sky Country for his work as the state’s extension specialist for range sheep production.
“We have this unique life of extension and producer, and it keeps it very real for both of us,” said Tracie. “I get to watch what he goes through with all of the red tape and frustrations, and then when we have a problem on our place he can address it with fellow producers. I’m grateful to all of those folks who have brought us along and shared their knowledge.”
Through the years, members of the Montana Wool Growers Association and Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, as well as Targhee breeders around the country have provided valuable information for the family.
“I did not grow up with sheep,” Tracie said. “Brent did grow up with sheep (in Texas), but he came north to Montana. That group of people that I was constantly asking why and how and when, and they always answered.”
Kyle Farms of New York prefers to keep a low profile, but the work of Matt Kyle and his cousin, Nate Hatch, has been so phenomenal through the years that the American sheep industry can’t help but notice the farm’s success.
The farm is home to approximately 5,000 ewes in the largest commercial, indoor sheep operation East of the Mississippi River. Housed in five massive, technologically advanced barns, the operation lambs every other month to ensure a steady supply of lamb year-round for its many customers.
Kyle had planned to attend the awards ceremony in Denver, but those plans changed thanks to the 1,600 lambs who were born the same week. Longtime friend Keith Stumbo accepted the award on the farm’s behalf.
“I’m happy to accept this award because Matt and Nate go back a long ways with us,” Stumbo said. “They used to help us with the show flock many years ago when they were in 4-H.
“Matt asked me to accept this award for Kyle Farms and to thank ASI and the selection committee for the award. He also wanted to thank the Empire Sheep Producers (New York’s state sheep association) for nominating the farm for this award. In addition, Matt wanted to thank all of the people who helped get the farm put together through the years. They really appreciate this award.”
The Peter Orwick Camptender Award – named in honor of longtime ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick – was split between two individuals in 2024. Larry Prager of Center of the Nation Wool shared the award with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Dr. Ron Lewis. The award recognizes industry contributions from professionals in a field related to sheep production.
Lewis is a longtime technical director for the National Sheep Improvement Program who also led genetic and genomic research through his work at the university. Despite retiring from the university this year, he will continue to be involved with the GEMS Project.
“I’d like to thank the several individuals who nominated me for this award,” Lewis told the crowd at the awards lunch. “It was truly unexpected and very humbling. My contribution is entirely because of those individuals and many of you in this room who have given me the opportunity to work in the sheep industry.”
Lewis said the work of a handful of sheep researchers in the past paved the way for his efforts.
“From that, I’m hoping that their legacy is being passed through me to these young people here in front of you who will be the innovators of the future,” Lewis said as he motioned toward three Nebraska graduate students who have worked with him on the GEMS Project.
“I’m hoping we’ve been able to provide you with the next generation of folks who will lead research in the industry.”
Lewis also thanked his wife for her support, mentioning that she was manning the snow shovel back home in his absence.
Prager thanked his wife, as well, adding that the couple will have been married for 60 years this fall. He was appreciative of the producers who oversaw Center of the Nation Wool when he was hired so many years ago.
“They took a chance on me, and it turned out well,” he said. “For all of us sitting in this room, the wool business is truly a business of families. The mission has always been to serve the families that are the backbone of our industry. And that’s been my privilege.”
Prager has been instrumental in his own way in the area of educating sheep producers. Given his position as a wool warehouse manager, it comes as no surprise that he would constantly work with producers, shearers and wool classers on their wool clips. He’s also provided space and resources for collegiate wool judging competitions in an effort to educate the next generation on the qualities of wool.
Lorrie Boyer of Colorado is a longtime farm broadcaster who has covered a variety of agricultural issues with local, state and national implications through the years. Her efforts in support of the American sheep industry were recognized with the Shepherd’s Voice Award.
Boyer used a favorite quote from a mentor to describe her involvement with the industry, and it’s one that sheep producers can certainly relate to.
“Find something you love so much that you’d be willing to do it for free, and do it so well that you’ll get paid for it,” she said. “I’m very blessed to do this job. It’s a very niche industry, and much like agriculture, we’re a dying breed. I’ve interviewed Peter (Orwick) for years and years. It is a pleasure to be able to tell your story and make consumers understand how important agriculture is.
“Thank you for recognizing this work. It certainly is a privilege to work with ASI.”
Boyd is farm director and morning show host at KSIR Radio in Fort Morgan, Colo., and regularly appears on RFD-TV. She’s also host of the Ag Queen podcast.
Presented during the Wool Lunch on Thursday of convention week, the Wool Excellence Award went to Greg Groenewold of Groenewold Fur and Wool Company. Unfortunately, Greg passed away on Dec. 6, 2023, and the award was presented posthumously to his brother, Gary.
“I was very surprised when I found out,” Greg said after learning he’d been selected for the award last fall. “Then, I was a bit emotional because my father (Grant) had won the same award. It kind of took my breath away.”
Wool Lunch host Jason Bannowsky first met Greg in 2004 and said he worked tirelessly to produce a consistent product despite the wide range of wools the company collected from all across the country.
“He’d always say, ‘Is that the best you can do,’” Bannowsky recalled. “It was the hardest – and easiest – trade because it always took awhile to get it done, but I knew what to expect. They put out a tremendously consistent product.”
Darrel Keese had similar experiences when trying to buy wool from Greg.
“He was a unique individual, and not always easy to trade with. But he was very uniform in the way he packaged wool. He was a true friend of the wool industry.”
Before he was even old enough to drive, Greg was accompanying drivers to collect wool for the family-owned company. Eventually, he was the one driving the truck, collecting, sorting and selling the wool.
While he fought the effects of multiple sclerosis for much of his adult life, Greg was always known as a hard worker. He rarely let the disease slow him down, continuing to work until his untimely passing.
“He was a guy who was thankful for his suffering,” Gary said, adding that his brother was a man of faith. “It refined his life.”
Various sheep industry groups taking part in the ASI Annual Convention also recognized those who have contributed to the industry through the years by serving on their boards or otherwise assisting their organizations.
The National Lamb Feeders Association presented longtime wool and marketing consultant Ron Cole of Colorado with an award. Cole has officially retired from the industry.
The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center honored three retiring members in Brenda Reau, Jeremy Geske and Steve Lewis. Reau was the only one of the three in attendance.
The American Lamb Board recognized retiring members Peter Camino, who has served as chair in recent years, and Salle Scholle.
And finally, the National Livestock Producers Association honored Pierce Miller for his longtime service on the Sheep and Goat Innovation Fund. David Johnson also retired from that board this year, but was not in attendance.

Realizing a Return on Genetic Selection


Four sheep producers with different operating systems engaged in a panel discussion at the Genetics Forum session, outlining productivity challenges and how they were using genetic information to initiate improvements to their flocks.
Brian Bitner runs seven bands of sheep in Utah with breeding occurring on the desert, and was frustrated by the high rate in which he was having to replace black-faced bucks. He started purchasing quality bucks and ewes using National Sheep Improvement Program data, leading him to begin raising his own replacement bucks while increasing lamb weaning weights 8 to 10 pounds. His top priorities for trait selection include longevity, growth rates and foot issues.
Brad Carothers raises Katahdin sheep in central Ohio and uses NSIP to select for balanced estimated breeding values for fast-growing lambs without growing the body size of his mature ewes. In discussing the potential pitfalls of placing too much emphasis on one trait, Carothers said that when focused on parasite resistance, he noticed a decrease in some of his other desired traits.
At that point, he realized his flock had strong parasite resistance so he didn’t need to continue that selection pressure, which has led to production of balanced sheep that work well for his operation.
Lynn Fahrmeier raises Katahdins in Missouri and has been involved with NSIP for more than 20 years, using technology to increase efficiency, productivity and profits, even as he has shifted markets from ethnic buyers to farmer’s markets and back again. Fahrmeier said he uses NSIP data to reduce the number of sheep he has to look at in his flock, with EID eartags and a bluetooth scale making the work more efficient.
The data helps him to sort the sheep first, and from these higher performing sheep he can then make selections based on his priority group of traits such as reproduction, parasite resistance and so on.
Vance Broadbent operates a primarily Rambouillet ewe-based range sheep outfit in Wyoming and Utah, and his concern is maximizing the return on investment on rams. Longevity in rams is an issue for range producers who need rams that will hold up under tough conditions, and he now conducts breeding soundness exams twice a year.
Broadbent uses NSIP data to select both black-faced and white-faced rams that will help him in producing good replacement ewes while getting finer wool in the process. Traditional ear tags with the year and producer number recorded on the tag provides the information on which rams (and from which breeders) stand up to the challenges on this operation. On black-faced rams, he’s looking for longevity as well as good lamb weaning weights.

The Genetics Forum also heard the results of a meeting held by a group of the industry’s Young Guns. Panelists included Gavin Blonquist of Utah, who raises Suffolk and Rambouillet sheep and is a terminal sire breed representative for NSIP; Isaac Matchett, who runs a flock of 1,600 commercial Polypays in Michigan; Ryan Boner of central Wyoming, who runs a large range sheep operation with a base of two-third Targhees and one-third Rambouillet; and Dr. Andrew Weaver of North Carolina State University, who works extensively with Katahdin hair sheep.
This group developed a list of ambitious research suggestions for advancing genetic improvements: including making improvements to the overall NSIP program; collecting 40,000 genomic sequencing panels per year for five years; developing software that works for both seedstock and commercial producers; funding the necessary staff to achieve these goals; developing a chute-side test for Ovine Progressive Pneumonia; developing an automated prediction system for which ewes are close to lambing; and developing algorithms to predict the optimal finish point for lambs in feedlots.

Inheritable Traits & Selection Indexes


At the Genetic Stakeholders Forum’s all-day session during the ASI Annual Convention in Denver, retiring professor and genomics expert Dr. Ron Lewis of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reminded producers to not overlook the basics when utilizing new technologies.
In establishing breeding goals, he cautioned that selecting for more traits simultaneously results in less genetic progress in each individual trait. Producers also need to be cautious in deciding which traits to include in their breeding goals, as only economically relevant traits should be included. The solution is to look at not individual traits, but selection indexes that have been developed for use by producers in the United States.
U.S. Meat Animal Research Center Research Geneticist Dr. Tom Murphy explained that a selection index optimally weighs individual traits by their relative importance toward a defined breeding objective. He noted a favorable Estimated Breeding Value for one trait can override a less desirable EBV in another trait. To create a selection index, first the breeding objective must be defined. A productivity index seeks to improve an unmeasured composite trait – such as total weight weaned or lean growth. An economic index seeks to improve the profitability in a defined production system – as in returns and variable costs.
The next step is to identify traits that are reasonably important toward achieving the breeding objective. These are dependent upon the production/marketing system, and each additional trait reduces individual trait gains, Murphy explained.
A Carcass Plus Index developed by LambPlan and vetted by the National Sheep Improvement Program is a desired gain index that promotes high growth and muscling while maintaining leanness of meat but doesn’t consider costs and returns. The Maternal Productivity Index simultaneously improves multiple components of maternal ability but also doesn’t consider costs and returns. The Western Range Index developed by NSIP predicts the genetic merit for profitability in a Western range environment but needs to be updated to current economic conditions.
Murphy said a well-designed selection index is the most efficient means of improving multiple traits simultaneously, and that improvements will continue to be made as the indexes are revisited and updated to meet the needs of American producers.
Lewis then led a session on improving robustness and climatic resilience in the American sheep population through genomics. He explained that the industry consists of a variety of breeds raised in a range of geographies that differ in both climatic conditions and management practices, and that breeding robust animals that perform well under these conditions is key. But the challenge is that 44 percent of ewes in the United States are culled prematurely for reasons other than age, 7 percent of the lamb crop dies each year from non-predator related causes, clinically health ewes with high somatic cell counts in their milk cause economic losses of $19 to $32 per ewe, and more than 20 percent of mature ewes in most commercial flocks have been diagnosed with high somatic cell counts.
Lewis explained that climatic resilience and robustness must take into account environmental factors (location, weather and management practices) as well as gastrointestinal health and ewe longevity, and udder health and lamb survival factors. Such traits are largely absent in American sheep genetic evaluations, but research is currently underway to address these factors through the Sheep GEMS (Genetics, Environment, Management, Socioeconomics) Project. Students Hilal Yazar Gunes and Arthur Rocha Oliveira are examining current management practices in varied production systems and environments, and the impact of genomic information inclusion in genetic evaluation, including assessing the impact of missing pedigree information or misidentified sires to EBV accuracy.
The session also included a roundtable of updates from the nation’s Agricultural Research Service stations, from alternative parasite control methods in Arkansas, to udder health research in Nebraska, and comparing breed performance using the Western Range Index in Idaho, with presenters providing highlights of their work to support and improve the American sheep industry.
The Genetics Forum concluded with acknowledgment of Lewis for his years of dedicated effort to improving the genetic health of the nation’s sheep flocks, as he is retiring from his position at the University of Nebraska this year.

Council Prepares for Disease Outbreak


In the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak in the United States, federal animal health officials would impose a national movement standstill for a minimum of 72 hours, Danelle Bickett-Weddle of Preventalytics told Resource Management Council members in Denver.
The nationwide standstill would allow officials to begin an investigation and initiate control efforts for an outbreak.
But if an outbreak were to occur while domestic sheep flocks were grazing on federal land, what would the impact be to these producers, and what actions could be taken for producers to ensure the continuity of their business?
Bickett-Weddle said that planning for biosecurity for sheep grazing on public lands allotments is her current focus in developing guidance for the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan. With nearly half of the domestic ewe inventory residing in the 11 public lands states in the West, the impact of a foreign animal disease outbreak such as Foot and Mouth Disease could be substantial. When FMD is diagnosed, animal health officials will establish a control area that will include both the infected flock and a buffer zone where all animals will be quarantined and movement will be by permit only, based on risk.
FMD exposure risks include common-use roads in remote regions with limited access. A livestock carrier transporting an infected animal might contaminate the roadway, and public lands recreationalists might use the same roads or trails. Mingling with wildlife infected with FMD could also risk exposure for livestock on public lands.
Producers would need to maximize the distance between their flocks and other grazing flocks, and with wildlife species, and will need to work with animal health officials in planning for their flocks to remain in an area or be moved to lower disease transmission risks.
Logistics for ensuring flocks have feed, water and care will be of immediate concern, as well as limiting the number of people that have contact with the flock. Bickett-Weddle said additional resources for producers to plan for the continuity of business are being added to as they become available.

The council also heard an overview of Wildlife Services’ focus during the past year and how it varies from one side of the country to another. WS assisted sheep producers in 32 states, with the top five states being Nevada, Texas, California, Montana and Colorado. The top predators dealt with by the agency include coyotes, mountain lions, black bears, black vultures, and feral/free-ranging dogs. Last year the agency removed 68,651 coyotes nationwide, as well as 437 black bears, 291 gray wolves, 237 mountain lions, and six grizzly bears.
Eastern Regional Director Keith Wehner talked about how black vultures have greatly increased in both its population size and range, with resulting increases in damage. Black vultures are much more aggressive than turkey vultures and will kill small- and medium-sized livestock.
Wehner said this agency is working toward gaining a better understanding of how to prevent damage by black vultures, as well as learning about vulture ecology. Wehner said the agency just finished a vehicle and tarp preference study, learning that black vultures prefer red, green and black trucks, but don’t like white trucks. The vultures prefer tarps that are placed on vehicles and seem to be attracted to the petroleum smell from the tarps, shredding and consuming the tarps.
Since vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Wildlife Services works with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in obtaining depredation permits to deal with damage and scare congregating flocks away from farms.
Western Regional Director Wendy Anderson talked about the high interest topic of wolf depredation in Western states, where the animals are federally protected. Anderson reported that the recently revised standards of evidence for Mexican wolf depredation are working well, although they continue to generate controversy with area livestock producers. Anderson also talked about the recent release of gray wolves into Colorado, and the variety of non-lethal tools the agency is providing to ranchers to deter wolf depredation since lethal control of depredating wolves is constrained.
Although the Bureau of Land Management has prohibited the use of M-44s on the public lands it administers in the West, council members also learned that WS is continuing the process of developing a new oral toxicant for coyotes that will be delivered using a spring-loaded ejector device. Along with the new toxicant, WS is working on an antidote that can be used to reverse the toxicant effects in case of accidental exposure to companion or working dogs.

Sigrid Johannes of the Public Lands Council provided a rundown of priority issues it is advocating in Congress, including a new Farm Bill package, providing funding for the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and WS, as well as riders prohibiting listing sage grouse as a federally protected species, and requiring federal agencies to update the science being used in risk of contact models between domestic and wild sheep.
“In the current atmosphere of gridlock, this is a circus,” she said of working with the current Congress.
But in addition to working with members of Congress on appropriations and policy that serve sheep producers, PLC is working in the agency regulatory realm, as well.
Much of the regulatory changes proposed by the Biden Administration in 2023 will be “coming home to roost in 2024.”
Debbie Webster of the National Grazing Lands Coalition laid out NGLC’s plans for 2024: a new project to create a technical service provider in Florida; continuing to work on climate smart community hubs and marks in the West; promoting, measuring and studying carbon in the Southeast; and hiring staff to provide more education and support to the growing coalition.

YE Group Fired Up For American Lamb

ASI’s Young and Emerging Entrepreneurs got hands on with American lamb on Friday afternoon during their all day meeting at the Annual Convention.
Harking back to a wildly successful cooking competition at the 2019 convention in New Orleans, the group cooked up four lamb recipes that eventually drew in attendees from all around the basement of the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. It was difficult not to notice the inviting smells that wafted out of the Governor’s Square 15 meeting room.
Four teams of four took part in the competition, which was won by Cameron Lauwers, Camren Maierle, Darci Owens-Luensmann and Dr. Andrew Weaver. The group referred to itself as ACDC, based on the first initials of their first names. The four cooked up chipotle raspberry meatballs that were awarded the top spot. Other dishes included a Cajun lamb stew, a Margherita taco and a lamb curry.
“The cooking competition seemed to be a big hit,” said South Dakota producer Cody Chambliss, who organized the meeting along with Brady Rose Evans of Texas. “I heard from some people who would like us to do it at a time when even more people can attend.”
The group had an initial get-to-know-everyone meeting on Thursday evening, which saw 45 attendees. Despite its emphasis on youth, the group asked all first-time convention attendees – regardless of age – to take part in its activities if they were available.
“I think that worked out great incorporating the first-timers,” Chambliss said. “Attending the convention for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. I think we were able to male them feel welcome and help them get the most out of the trip.”
Before the cooking competition, the Young and Emerging Entrepreneurs group delved into succession planning for family farms and ranches. The group also looked into personality types, and how that affects working relationships.
Producers interested in being a part of the group can look for the American Sheep Industry – Emerging Entrepreneurs group on Facebook. In addition to meeting at the convention, the group usually hosts a summer tour.

ALB Announces Grazing Workshops

Rapid development of utility scale solar farms across the country has stimulated significant need for sheep grazing as a means of vegetation management. There are also increasing opportunities for sheep grazing contracts in wildfire-prone areas and vineyards. Sheep grazing helps to eliminate dried plants that might otherwise become wildfire fuel and grazing in vineyards and other areas helps clear weeds while reducing or eliminating herbicide use.
These paid grazing contracts present tremendous opportunity for growth of the American sheep flock, improving the availability and price competitiveness of American lamb, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through green energy production and biological vegetation management. These grazing opportunities offer current and emerging sheep producers the opportunity to increase their profitability and grow flock numbers.
Training is needed to ensure sheep producers are prepared to take advantage of these grazing contract opportunities.
“Improving the sustainability of the U.S. sheep industry through profitable growth is a top priority of the American Lamb Board,” said former ALB Chair Peter Camino. “ALB is committed to ensuring new and experienced shepherds receive education and resources to become successful contract grazers.”
ALB’s grazing workshops are designed to outline new and existing opportunities through targeted grazing across the United States, including fire suppression, vineyards and solar grazing.
Producers who attend will have an opportunity to learn about the in-depth process of using sheep to provide a grazing service. From animal performance to contracts and business setup, the goal is to provide grazers with the tools to be successful service providers and profitable shepherds.
The three grazing workshops in 2024 will be in:
• Temple, Texas, May 8-10.
• Roxboro, N.C., May 20-22.
• California, Summer.
Attendance is limited to 50 producers per workshop and the registration fee is $200. For more information and to register, contact Camren Maierle at

USDA Announces 2024 Wool MAL Rates

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodity Credit Corporation announced in late December the Marketing Assistance Loan rates for 2024 crop graded wool by micron class.
Loan rates for ungraded wool are unchanged and remained the same from the prior crop year.
Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments – which are marketing tools available to producers upon harvest or shearing – are available for graded wool, ungraded wool and mohair. Unshorn pelts are eligible for LDP only. The unshorn pelt LDP rate is based on the ungraded wool LDP rate multiplied by the average weight of an unshorn pelt (6.865 pounds).
Here are the rates (per pound, clean basis) for graded wool:
• Less than 18.6 microns: $4.43.
• 18.6 to 19.5 microns: $3.93.
• 19.6 to 20.5 microns: $3.64.
• 20.6 to 22 microns: $3.43.
• 22.1 to 23.5 microns: $3.18.
• 23.6 to 25.9 microns: $2.27.
• 26 to 28.9 microns: $1.04.
• 29 microns and higher: $0.76.
The loan rate for ungraded wool remains $0.40 per pound on a greasy basis.
Marketing Assistance Loans provide producers interim financing at harvest time to meet cash flow needs without having to sell their commodities when market prices are typically at harvest-time lows. Loan Deficiency Payments are payments made to producers who, although eligible to obtain a CCC loan, agree to forgo the loan in return for a payment on the eligible commodity.
Visit for weekly LDP rates and for more information on the programs.

Skip to content