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Sheep Industry Meetings Fill the Winter Season

Benny Cox, ASI President

There are states that have had their fall conventions and others that will come before the end of the year – mostly in the Northern states. The Texas winter meeting has been in February for as long as I can remember, but they changed that this year to Dec. 7 to not interfere with the rodeo and other events at that time.

Both Bob Buchholz and I presented at the meeting – Bob mostly on goats and I gave an update on ASI along with a market summary. This is Bob’s last year on the ASI Executive Board, and we have decided on his replacement. Many of you know Tammie Fisher, whose family has a long history in the sheep industry. The regions that have executive board members terming out this year need to start considering candidates. This is a very important group for our industry with lots of different individuals with knowledge of many different areas in the United States. With this diversified group, we are able to make decisions based on facts from across the whole country.

Most have already heard, I am sure, it looks like the M-44 is fully approved for use again with a few minor tweaks. This is an important coyote control tool in nearly a dozen states, and so important to our industry. We owe thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Services for their work with the Environmental Protection Agency in helping to make that possible. I’d like to thank all of those in the industry that sent in comments, along with the efforts of ASI staff, Cornerstone Government Affairs (ASI’s lobbyist) and producers that individually reached out to their lawmakers. I cannot over emphasize the importance of our methods that ASI and its members use to accomplish positive outcomes like this in many different situations. We have a big voice in Washington, D.C., but they have to hear it. So, I would ask each and every one of you to realize anytime you can get our message out there that you should do it. If you don’t, then all they will hear is the other side of the story.

It looks like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal is going to happen, which is important for many in our industry. Trade chiefs from the United States, Canada and Mexico signed an agreement back on Dec. 10. Many farmers – such as the corn growers – feel this is a big win for them. The western fruit, vegetable and nut producers are celebrating locking down access to their two largest export markets, while wheat farmers cheered Canada’s agreement to revise its grain grading policies. Mexico and Canada are also valuable trade partners for the American sheep industry, among the very top for American lamb exports in fact.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to make arrangements for our convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Jan. 22-25. Rooms at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort will fill quickly.

The sheep and goat markets in my area – which is mostly ethnic demand – are really good. We have had a big advance in our market for at least seven years or more between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is true again this year. The wool feeder lamb market has been great here in Texas with very few offered this time of year. I might add, the wool feeder lambs less than 80 pounds have gone to the ethic market, but those weighing more than 80 pounds have in many cases gone to the feedlots to be processed in our traditional markets. The reports I have heard from the traditional fat lamb markets have been good, and we really need the feeders to make money. I have also visited with feeders, and they have insisted they are current in their feedlots and are not talking about a backlog of 180-pound plus lambs that we have seen in recent years.

Y`all keep on doing what you do best and I will see you on down the road – hopefully in Scottsdale for the ASI Annual Convention.

A New Year Brings Hope, Resolve

Juniper Economic Consulting

American lamb producers continue to face many headwinds, including the currently depressed wool and pelt markets due to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war. An equally pressing concern is a market failure and a lack of communication between consumer demands at retail back down the marketing channel to lamb producers. All market participants, from producers, to feeders to packers can simultaneously grow and profit if working together.

The price spread between the wholesale lamb market and the live lamb market appears to be widening. In the five years to 2019, the wholesale cutout gained 8 percent to $390 per cwt., the formula slaughter lamb price fell 4 percent to $287 per cwt., and the difference between the two shot up to $103 per cwt., doubling from $54 per cwt. that defined the margin in 2005-2014. The wholesale cutout is not a carcass price, but a price calculated by putting the price of individual wholesale primals such as the leg and shoulder back together.

In theory, this margin can be explained by processing margins, value added and profit. As the meat market adds value in more consumer-friendly offerings, this margin will widen. It is not known empirically, however, whether added value does indeed explain the widening margin. It therefore opens the door to the possibility that large packers are using their market power to depress live lamb prices.

In recent years, the meat market has been hot. The wholesale rack hit a record $9.23 per lb. in 2017 and flirted with $9 in 2019. The wholesale shoulder averaged 93 percent of its all-time high in 2019. Meanwhile, the live lamb market remained sluggish to lower.

Americans love domestic lamb, but the stagnation in live lamb prices suggests that this message is not communicated down to producers. As agricultural markets become more concentrated, price signals between marketing channels (from producer to retail) become an increasingly poor way to communicate consumer demands to producers. There is a breakdown, a disconnect. That is, unless prices – such as the wholesale cutout – accurately reflect consumer demand.


Seasonal Analysis Forecasting Tool

A seasonal analysis can help producers determine how significant last year’s prices are as a predictor of this year’s price.

For some months, historical data is helpful, but for other months, not as reliable. A graph showing a seasonal average of slaughter lamb prices on formula (or grid) also shows the confidence interval of this average, plus and minus one standard deviation. The standard deviation measures the variability of the monthly historical data. It is useful in showing how reliable the average is as an indicator of the expected price in a particular month and year (Texas A&M). In the slaughter lamb market in the past five years, prices were most consistent around Easter year-to-year. The standard deviation is largest during January, which means the average price is not a very good predictor of prices during early 2020. The standard deviation is also large during the summer months.


LMIC Forecasts

The Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted in early December that commercial production could be down 2 percent in 2019 over 2018 and imports could be down 4 percent. However, lamb consumption was not down: A significant freezer inventory that held over from 2018 into 2019 helped support lamb availability in 2019.

LMIC painted a very different picture for 2020 with beginning stocks dropping by half compared to early 2019. Production is expected to be down 1 percent year-on-year in 2020 and imports up a modest 1 percent.

Total availability will likely stay about steady to marginally higher because a freezer inventory will be drawn down.

It is difficult to say as of this writing, but freezer inventories heading into 2020 might be higher than expected, depending upon December holiday sales. If inventories are higher, and imports slow, then it is possible that tighter supplies could help support the live lamb market. The meat market is expected to stay strong, for underlying lamb demand is solid.

Lamb imports will likely remain strained in 2020. The Australian Department of Agriculture reported in September that lamb and mutton production is expected to fall in 2019-20. Lamb slaughter is forecast to fall due to fewer lambs being available for slaughter and flock rebuilding, weather permitting.

Lamb imports totaled 182.6 million lbs. in January through October 2019, up 7 percent year-on-year. Australian lamb imports totaled 134.0 million lbs., up 7 percent and New Zealand imports were up 8 percent to 46.9 million lbs.

Although lamb production will be down, its lamb exports are not expected to fall proportionally as Australian domestic consumers switch to relatively more competitive proteins as lamb prices rise.

It is forecasted that lamb imports could rise year-on-year in 2020 by more than the LMIC-forecasted 1 percent. The United States market likely has a higher price ceiling defined by consumers’ demand compared to other export markets. ABARES commented, “Uncertainty surrounds China’s willingness to pay for increasingly expensive mutton or to substitute toward higher-priced Australian lamb,” (ABARES, 9/2019).

LMIC forecasted in early December that national, direct slaughter lamb prices on a carcass basis could average $277 to $282 per cwt. in the first quarter, up 6 percent year-on-year. LMIC also forecasted that feeder lamb prices (60 to 90 lbs.) could average $188 to $197 per cwt. in the first quarter, up 2 percent year-on-year.


Meat Market Higher

The lamb wholesale cutout averaged $401.26 per cwt. in November, 1 percent higher monthly and 6 percent higher year-on-year. All primals moved higher in November, except for the leg. The loin, trimmed 4×4, averaged $525 per cwt., 2 percent higher in November. The 8-rib rack, medium, averaged $883 per cwt., 1 percent higher monthly. The shoulder, square-cut, averaged $330.87 per cwt., 1 percent higher monthly.

The leg, trotter-off, averaged $381.76 per cwt., down 1 percent monthly.

The shoulder saw an unprecedented 17 percent gain year-on-year in November. The leg was higher year-on-year, up 6 percent annually. The rack was 2 percent higher year-on-year. The loin gained monthly, but lost 4 percent year-on-year.

Ground lamb averaged $559.64 per cwt., down 2 percent monthly and down 3 percent year-on-year.


Lamb Production Lower in 2019

Estimated lamb harvest was 1.7 million head in January through November, 1 percent higher year-on-year. Estimated lamb production was 84.3 million lbs., down 4 percent year-on-year. Production was down because dressed weights fell 5 percent in this period to 67 lbs.

In October, 20 percent of lamb harvested was yield grades 4 and 5, indicative of heavier back fat. For the year through October, 28 percent of the lamb harvested was yield grade 4 and 5.

By early December the lamb industry was current in getting its lambs to market, as seen in falling dressed weights. As dressed weights fall, so too will lambs grading 4 and 5. In early December, 192,313 head of feeder lambs were reported in Colorado feedlots which was 82 percent of 2018’s December inventory and 83 percent of the five-year average for December.

At the beginning of December, the amount of lamb and mutton in cold storage was 36.4 million lbs., down 13 percent monthly and down 7 percent year-on-year. December’s inventory was 77 percent of its record high recorded in early 2016.


Feeder Market Mixed

In general, the commercial feeder lamb market has seen a downward trend during the past five years. However, 2019 averages were higher relative to 2018. As supplies tighten in 2019, the commercial feeder lamb market could see a lift.

Commercial feeder lamb prices at auction in Sioux Falls, S.D., for 60 to 90 lb. feeders averaged $183.70 per cwt., 2 percent higher monthly and 13 percent higher year-on-year. Prices in the Billings, Mont., commercial feeder market averaged $200.58 per cwt., down 5 percent monthly and about steady with a year ago. A concern in 2020 is that as more feeder lambs are privately contracted, available information on feeder lamb auction prices might become thin.


Slaughter Lamb Market Higher Year-on-Year

Live, negotiated slaughter lamb prices averaged $151.94 per cwt. in November, 2 percent higher monthly and 13 percent higher year-on-year. Average weights were 137 lbs., 8 percent higher monthly and 10 percent lower from a year ago.

Slaughter lambs on formula averaged $295.33 per cwt. on a carcass basis, down one-half percent and up 9 percent year-on-year. Carcass weights averaged 73 lbs., down 2 pounds from a year ago. The live equivalent price was $148.08 per cwt. in November.

Lamb prices in the nontraditional lamb market – as reported in the New Holland (Penn.) livestock auction – were 5 to 18 percent higher in November year-on-year, depending upon weight and quality. Hair sheep weighing 80 to 90 lbs. live weight grading choice 2 and 3 averaged $162.70 per cwt. in November, 6 percent higher monthly and 18 percent higher year-on-year.


Predictably Unpredictable Raw Wool Market

Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. called the 2019 wool markets “predictably unpredictable,” (AWI, 12/2019). This uncertainty will likely continue into 2020.

The AWEX Eastern Market Indicator averaged Australian 1,562 cents (Ac) per kg clean in November, up 2 percent monthly yet down 14 percent year-on-year. By early December, the EMI had dipped below 1,400 Ac, down for the third consecutive week and down 19 percent year-on-year.

The ongoing United States-China trade war will be the single most important influence on wool and pelt markets in 2020. To date, the trade war has cost United States taxpayers $23 billion of earmarked trade adjustment payments. This is money that could help expand export markets to American agriculture, thus boosting farm incomes. Lamb and wool growers are immediately hurt by the trade war, for they are losing large and growing export markets. It is unknown how long it will take to recover this lost opportunity.

ABARES reported, “The global economic slowdown resulting from the China–United States trade dispute has dampened demand for textiles and forced prices of natural and synthetic fibers down. Wool and cotton prices are forecast to fall in 2019-20,” (12/2019).

American raw wool exports dropped 34 percent year on-year to 2.2 million kgs. In the October to September 2018-19 marketing year total exports were 3.4 million kgs clean, a 26 percent drop. Raw wool exports to China fell 65 percent to 896,339 kgs. Egypt was our No. 2 export market behind China. Exports to Egypt increased more than 500 percent to 686,257 kgs. In the top five largest export markets, exports to Bulgaria dropped 20 percent to 154,033 kgs.

Yarn exports were off 10 percent to 477,550 kgs while wool fabric exports were down 9 percent to 1.4 million square meters in 2018-19.

In the 2018-19 marketing year, pelt exports dropped 26 percent to 664,691 pieces. Leather exports fell 32 percent to 34,159 square meters.

EPA Issues Revised Decision on Sodium Cyanide for M-44

Environmental Protection Agency

After a careful review of the available information and extensive engagement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a revised interim decision on sodium cyanide that includes new requirements to ensure continued safe use of the M-44. The agency’s new requirements enhance protections by adding increased distances for device placement.

“EPA appreciates the commitment from USDA to work with the agency to ensure that there are safe and effective tools for farmers and ranchers to protect livestock,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn. “Through our discussions, we identified new restrictions that will raise awareness and create additional buffers around where M-44s are placed, which will reduce the potential for unintended impacts on humans, pets, and other non-target animals.”

“We rely on a variety of tools and techniques to meet our public service mission in the safest and most effective manner possible,” said Greg Ibach, under secretary for USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs mission area. “The M-44 plays an important role in achieving that mission by protecting livestock and threatened and endangered species and helping to stop the spread of disease. I appreciate EPA’s recognition of that role and consideration of our input throughout this process.”

“We sincerely appreciate USDA and EPA working together to ensure livestock producers have access to effective predator control, while also increasing public awareness and transparency,” said American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox. “Livestock producers face heavy losses from predators, amounting to more than $232 million in death losses annually. We are particularly vulnerable during lambing and calving, where we see the worst predation.”

“NASDA appreciates the EPA’s continued steps to prioritize public safety and support American ranchers, as M-44 is an essential tool for guarding our nation’s livestock. NASDA members hold highly the responsibility of ensuring the viability of American ranches, therefore, improved guidelines for safety measures are always welcomed,” said National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Dr. Barbara P. Glenn.

EPA’s two new restrictions include:

• A 600-foot buffer around residences where M-44s cannot be applied (except for that of a cooperating landowner who has given written permission for placement of the devices on their property).

• Increasing from 100 feet to 300 feet the distance from designated public paths and roads where M-44s cannot be used.

In addition, to further protect public health, the interim decision also expands upon Use Restriction 23 by requiring two elevated warning signs that face the two most likely directions of approach, within 15 feet of M-44 devices.

All sodium cyanide products, which were first registered in 1947, are restricted-use pesticides and require users to be trained and certified. Only USDA, South Dakota, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico hold registrations for sodium cyanide products and certified applicators are the only individuals who are permitted to use M-44 devices.

The updated restrictions on device use, as well as device placement and location limitations, together with the stringent certification requirements for trained certified applicators of the product, all work in concert to prevent people who are not certified M-44 applicators from coming too near to these devices.

For more information, visit

U.S. House Takes Step Toward H-2A Guestworker Reform

On Dec. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 260 to 165 to advance the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, containing language for the American sheep industry. The act was introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (Wash.). Access to a legal workforce for sheepherding and shearing is a top priority of ASI.

For the sheep industry, ASI worked to include language in the House bill that would move its H-2A program from a seasonal workforce to a year-round program with a cap of 2,500 visas per year. Including language that codified special procedures under a year-round program has become important in light of a recent D.C. Circuit Court ruling.

In Hispanic Affairs Project v. Acosta, the court found that authorizing back-to-back, 364-day approvals of H-2A sheep/goatherder petitions under a temporary or seasonal program violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act because it was creating de facto permanent herder jobs. With the court’s ruling, a change to the rules by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has already been announced, which absent congressional action will result in those who use guest herders filing applications more frequently and adding additional costs and paperwork.

“More than one-third of the sheep in the United States spend some time under the care of a guest herder and we thank Representatives Newhouse and (Mike) Simpson (Idaho) for their work on this bi-partisan legislation,” said ASI President Benny Cox. “We appreciate Congress recognizing the unique needs of the American sheep industry and long history we’ve had as good stewards of the H-2A program. As this bill continues to move through the Senate, ASI will continue to work to ensure that any final legislation conforms to our policy; preserving a viable guest worker program and codifying special procedures for range herders and shearers.”

While last-minute wrangling in the committee retained the language for a limited allocation of guest workers for range sheep and goat herding, it ultimately reduced the cap to 500. While not ideal, this places the sheep industry in a good position as it looks to work with the Senate on companion legislation and then conference the House and Senate bills before they are sent to the president’s desk.

Loan Deficiency Program Could Benefit Producers

Sheep producers who didn’t sell last year’s wool clip ought to consider the Wool Marketing loan program available at your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency office.

A marketing loan on your unsold wool can provide cash flow for up to nine months after the month the loan was taken out. At repayment, the producer pays the loan plus interest or the repayment rate – if lower than the amount you took the loan for. ASI estimates 20 percent of the clip remains unsold, so several million pounds would likely be eligible according to ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick.

ASI established the program in the 2002 Farm Bill to address drops in market prices for wool and unshorn sheepskins, and the program paid tens of millions to producers through 2008. The wool market at that point escalated progressively for most wools and the marketing loan was seldom needed.

The trade war with China – in particular with the dramatic change in price for coarser and colored wools exported to that country – increased the interest that the marketing loan would respond with favorable loan repayment rates and payments to producers. The repayment rates, however, remained unchanged this summer. ASI corresponded with all wool companies beginning in July on price reporting and followed up with the USDA market reporting service to get reports to reflect the conditions.

In November, the new price information that resulted moved the rates enough to produce a 2-cent a pound greasy loan deficiency payment. ASI continues to talk to the wool trade and market reporters to encourage prompt reporting. Several warehouses and exporters have not had sales in four months or longer, so there are no prices to update.

“What we realized is that – and I don’t want to say our systems were outdated, but we had been doing the same thing for many years – we needed to take a look and review our rates,” said FSA’s Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Program Manager Shayla Watson-Porter. “It was helpful that there is an industry representative like ASI for wool producers because they alerted us to the different changes in the rates. That gave us a reason to go take a look at the rates – which are actually set by a different office – and see if we were calculating them in relation to the current market. What we found is that market conditions did warrant some changes.”

Those changes resulted in a 2-cent per pound LDP payment for ungraded wool. That also means there’s an LDP payment for unshorn pelts, which is 6.865 lbs multiplied by the ungraded wool LDP for a rate of .1373 per pelt. These rates were effective going back to Nov. 1, 2019, and remained in effect through the middle of December when this issue went to press.

Watson-Porter said “I’m not sure if we’ll see more changes in the rates, but I can tell you that we’re monitoring that market much more closely than we have in the past. That office is now asking for more information, so that they can make sure those rates are accurately reflecting the industry in the United States.”

Any producer who thinks he or she might want to claim an LDP in 2020 needs to have a form CCC-633 EZ on file with their local FSA office before they sell their wool or sheepskins.

“Whether the current market conditions provide an LDP or not, it’s important to have that form on file at the beginning of every crop year,” Watson-Porter said. “That gives them protection to be able to come in and claim that LDP.”

LDP programs aren’t available to producers with an adjusted gross income of more than $900,000, but even then FSA has programs that might be available. The key is to visit your local office and discuss the options for each personal situation.

Additional good news comes in the form of the 2018 Farm Bill, which eliminated a $125,000 cap on LDP payments and gives producers yet another reason to investigate all of their options.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is an agency that is built on customer service, but we can only handle issues if we know they exist,” Watson-Porter said. “There’s something for everyone at the Farm Service Agency. So producers just need to take a little time to come into the office and explore what we have to offer.”

As Watson-Porter mentioned, ASI has been heavily involved in recent months in asking USDA to review LDP rates for wool producers. The American wool industry has been drastically affected by the trade war between the United States and China, and ASI clearly demonstrated the damage in wool and pelt trade in documentation submitted by the May deadline. USDA responded with additional export assistance and a $17 million authorization to purchase lamb meat.

ASI didn’t provide any market damage information on lamb meat – nor suggest that route of assistance – but has been communicating with the department and lamb companies to assist. USDA didn’t receive any bids from the lamb companies on that proposed purchase, and ASI has since coordinated a call with USDA and lamb companies to discuss options for another bid opportunity.

Cost of Production Study Updated on ASI Website

An updated United States Baseline Cost of Production Model has been posted online at

The Livestock Marketing Information Center worked with ASI to provide baseline estimates regarding the on-farm/ranch costs of producing lambs. Best-estimate industry parameters were used to generate regionally representative budgets.

Lamb production occurs across the United States and in a variety of ecological zones. Each sheep operation is different, and this diversity is what provides American consumers with the greatest amount of choice in the marketplace.

Operational diversity is also reflected through differences in economic costs of production. Farm level production costs and risks have increased in the last decade for the livestock industry. The sheep industry spans several sectors, but the producer sector is the foundation and production economic aspects require careful documentation and estimation. The changes need to be described and evaluated and needs to include feedstuff costs, management practices, labor costs, predator losses, etc. A baseline analysis of the changing costs and risks associated with lamb production in the United States will help inform the industry from an educational, policy analysis and applied research standpoint.

Many universities have budgets to assist producers, but they are not standardized, and most are updated irregularly. In this update (the second conducted), existing budgets and expertise were evaluated and adapted. As part of the lamb producer educational programs, all of the participants in this project have assisted with and reviewed development of the farm/ranch level budgets, in their respective regions.
The results of this project are useful in educational programs, policy analysis and applied research for the American lamb industry.

Input and output data from this analysis will be easy to depict graphically and help with summarizing trends and provide supporting insight for future research in the sheep industry.

In addition to the study, producers can access at cost of production worksheet through the ASI website at

Leaders, Innovators Will Speak in Scottsdale

Alternative proteins – which ASI policy terms “imitation and substitute products” – will be a key topic of conversation during the Friday afternoon keynote address by U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Mindy Brashears at the 2020 ASI Annual Convention this month in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Producers will want to make every effort to attend the ASI Board of Directors Informational Session scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24. A food safety expert dating to her days at Texas Tech University, Brashears will speak on a number of meat-related topics, including the definition of spring lamb. She’ll also address USDA programs that might assist small and medium meat processors in providing additional opportunities for lamb producers.

Caroline Lobdell of the Western Resource Legal Center will also address attendees at the information session. She’ll discuss the center’s collaborative efforts with ASI, as well as litigation the center has been involved with, including the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Southern Colorado Wishbone Allotment.

New this year is a panel discussion as part of the ASI Opening Session on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 23. The panel will feature industry innovators, including John Helle from Duckworth in Montana, as well as California producer Ryan Mahoney and Texas producer David Fisher. The session is scheduled to run from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and will lead into the Industry-Wide Welcome Reception at 6 p.m.

“This panel was prompted by the Industry Innovation Award that we started three years ago,” said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. “It’s also in keeping with this year’s theme of Reverence for the Past, Innovation for the Future. We’re also looking to add a lamb meat panelist to the discussion, but that person hasn’t been confirmed yet.”

For those who are more interested in the wool side of the industry, there will be several can’t-miss presentations. Among them will be Bianca Losekoot from Lugresso Services Sagl. An avid buyer of American wool, Losekoot will address the information session on Friday afternoon, as well as the Wool Council meeting on Thursday afternoon about growing opportunities for American wool in Europe.

Representatives from Colorado State University will also be on hand as ASI looks to work with the university to develop the American Wool Assurance Program – a new wool standard that will certify the wool growing and handling process for customers of American wool. Luigi Boccia of Brooklyn Tweed will also speak on his company’s line of breed-specific yarns.

While agendas for each of the council/committee meetings were still being finalized at press time, producers and industry insiders will also benefit from a wide variety of educational presentations from a well-rounded cast of academic and government agency speakers.

Additional information will be posted as it becomes available. Remember to check into the ASI Annual Convention on the Whova smartphone app, beginning on Jan. 7 to learn more.

Live, Silent Auctions Planned for Friday’s RAMPAC Reception

Friday night at the ASI Annual Convention has become known for spirited bidding on products ranging from wool clothing to rifles and everything in between. While that won’t change in 2020, there are some changes planned for the RAMPAC Reception and Auction.

Live bidding will still take place for a number of big ticket items – including a helicopter tour of Utah, hotel stays and more – but the night will also include a silent auction for many of the items that are donated by ASI’s generous state sheep associations.

“We’re grateful for all of the items that are donated each year, but we felt like we needed to shorten the live auction,” said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. “Adding a silent auction will allow those in attendance to bid on some great items while still socializing with industry friends and family that they might only see this one week all year.”

Some of the live auction might include:

• A two-hour helicopter ride donated by the Utah Wool Growers Association. Explore the breathtaking scenery of Northern Utah, preferably in winter when you can see herds of deer, bull elk, bull moose and more.

• A custom sheep skull covered in Pendleton Wool from ASI’s Region 8 (California, Oregon and Washington). The skull comes from Cunningham Rambouillet and will be covered in donated Pendleton wool by artist Chase Halland, whose work has been featured in the HGTV Dream Home. While the skull is still in production, view Halland’s work at

• A South Dakota pheasant hunting trip and overnight stay donated by ASI Predator Management Committee Chair Steve Clements.

• A two-day getaway to Ruidoso, N.M., donated by ASI President Benny Cox.

• A Park City, Utah, ski weekend donated by ASI Executive Board member Steve Osguthorpe.

• An ice fishing weekend in Minnesota donated by ASI Executive Board member John Dvorak.

Also up for grabs will be two-night hotel certificates to the Sheraton Denver and the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, as well as a Pendleton men’s coat, an iPad and other items.

ASI Women to Auction Pendleton Coat

For nearly 30 years, the ASI Women’s Auction on Saturday afternoon at the ASI Annual Convention has featured a coat made from a Pendleton wool blanket. The coat is always the work of Robin Hudson of southwest Washington state, with support from the Washington Wool Growers Auxiliary.

A former Make It With Wool contestant, Hudson first entered the contest at age 27 with, you guessed it, a Pendleton coat. Recognizing her talents, former ASI Women President Roberta Hoctor asked Hudson to continue making coats for the group’s auction. While the coat design is the same most years, Hudson changes things up by using different Pendleton fabrics each year.

“They’ve just got so many new designs and colors to choose from every year,” she said. “The great thing about most of their fabrics is that they aren’t the same on the front and back. I’ve even made reversible coats some years to take advantage of that fact. Every year I ask if they want me to make another coat or to maybe do something different, but they always want another coat. I’ve benefitted from it too. There have been times when someone has asked me to make a second coat because they didn’t win the auction, but they loved it so much.”

Wool Excellence Award Honors Joe, Aggie Helle

Duckworth might be among the premier fine-wool, American-made clothing companies, but it didn’t get that way overnight. Joe and Aggie Helle proved to be company cornerstones thanks to their efforts at constantly improving the family ranch’s wool clip, which provided Duckworth with the raw, natural fiber needed to produce its performance products.

For their efforts, Joe and Aggie have been chosen as the 2020 Wool Excellence Award winners by members of the Wool Roundtable. While Joe passed away in October, Aggie will accept the award this month at the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“We just always enjoyed working with and promoting wool,” said Aggie, who’s father bought his first Rambouillet sheep in the 1940s. “My dad was always keen on white-faced, fine-wool sheep. When Joe and I started in sheep in 1967, we bought a band of sheep from my family. I’d always been involved in helping dad on the ranch. I can even remember trailing a band 15 miles to town when I was
14 years old.”

Joe, who spent his childhood summers on a ranch his grandmother worked on, had a background in range ecology. But he took to the sheep quickly. As they learned the business, both Joe and Aggie took on leadership roles.

Joe served as president of the Montana Wool Growers Association, on the ASI Executive Board and is a past chair of the ASI Wool Council. Aggie ran the Montana Make It With Wool program before serving as the program’s national director. She has also served on industry committees, including the Resource Management Council and as president of the ASI Women.

“Everything they did, they did together,” said their son John, who took the family’s ranching operation to a whole new level with the development of Duckworth. “It was always a team effort with them. Dad also did a lot with Center of the Nation Wool to get that started. They were always supportive of the industry and didn’t have a problem putting their time and money into it because they realized that it would help everyone, including our ranch.”

Joe joined with a group of Montana ranchers to lobby for the Wool Trust that was established with help from then Montana Sen. Max Baucus. The Wool Trust financially supports ASI’s marketing of American wool both domestically and internationally.

“My husband was a humble man, but also very capable and talented,” Aggie said. “We’ve been supportive of the wool and sheep industry since before ASI even existed, so I’m happy to accept this award.”

Joe also served as chief product tester for Duckworth. A longtime fan of wool, he wore Pendleton shirts, fine wool suits and wool socks in the years before new manufacturing processes developed wool that could be worn next to the skin.

“He became one of my first product testers, and he wore Duckworth products all the time. That’s just who he was. He was always wanting to do more and more with our wool, and he was my greatest supporter on the ranch. He was a great sounding board when we started developing Duckworth.”

The Wool Excellence Award will be presented during the Wool Recognition Lunch on Thursday, Jan. 23, beginning at 11:30 a.m. A ticket is required at attend the lunch.

Leading Edge Group Achieved Project Goals

Boyer Land and Livestock Owner


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor of Animal Breeding and Genomics


The Leading Edge Project – funded through the ASI Let’s Grow Program – was designed to assess if quantitative genetic selection improves the performance and value of commercial crossbred lambs. If you wish to read no further, it clearly does.

In this third article in this series, the focus is on lambs at harvest.


First, where we have been

Stepping back momentarily, there were three objectives to the Leading Edge project. The first was to track the growth and quality of project lambs from birth to harvest by using Shearwell EID electronic identification. The second was to demonstrate the value of using sires with performance-based Estimated Breeding values in an industry setting. The final goal was to assess the utility of assigning parentage – specifically a lamb’s sire – using DNA alone.

Parentage: Among the 1,457 lambs born, 92 percent could be assigned a sire based on their own and their sire’s DNA samples. When such was not possible, it was almost always because of quality checks on the DNA in the lab.

Selection for heavier weights at weaning: Based on the EBV for post-weaning weight, lamb’s sired by high growth Suffolk rams were predicted to weigh close to 5 pounds more at weaning. In close agreement with that prediction, the project lambs weaned 4.5 pounds more when sired by such rams. This was the case even though the growing conditions on the western range differed from that in the seedstock operations where these rams were bred. That advantage in weaning weight would be worth $6.30 per lamb, assuming a market value of $140 cwt.

Rearing the twin lamb: The project also compared the productivity of lambs born and reared as twins versus singletons. Litters of twins produced on average 83.5 pounds more weight at weaning than singles (more than 70 percent more). That increase – again assuming a $140 cwt market value – would be worth $116.90 for each litter of twins weaned. Clearly, producing and rearing twin lambs offers tremendous opportunity for improving the economic efficiency of the American sheep industry.



At finished condition, the lambs were shipped to Superior Farms in Dixon, Calif., for slaughter. With the company’s generous support, a comprehensive evaluation of each carcass was carried-out. Hot carcass weights were recorded, with dressing percentages then calculated. Saleable meat yields, quality grades and fat thickness were predicted using Superior Farms’ electronic grading system (VSS2000 system camera).

The lambs were sired by three groups of Suffolk rams designated as growth, muscle or industry. The muscle rams were selected on their loin eye muscle depth EBV, while the growth rams were chosen on their post-weaning weight EBV. These rams were purchased from flocks in the National Sheep Improvement Program, which provides such EBVs. The industry rams were purchased from seedstock producers using traditional selection criteria. There were between 13 and 15 rams per group.

The muscle and growth rams could be compared based on their EBVs for loin eye muscle depth. On average, the muscle group would be expected to produce progeny with 2.6 mm deeper loin eye muscles than the growth group. However, unlike with weaning weight, no direct corresponding measure of muscle depth is yet available on the crossbred lambs in the project. Such is forthcoming. Still, an expected outcome of selection for differences in muscle depth is an improvement in dressing percentage, which could be measured.

Of the 1,056 carcasses evaluated, all but one was graded choice, and the one exception was graded good. There were differences in carcass merit, however, depending on the ram group. As anticipated, the muscle-sired lambs had higher dressing percentages than either the growth or industry sired lambs (Table 1 below). Perhaps more important, they also produced lambs with heavier carcasses (on average 1.5 to 2.3 pounds) and more saleable meat (on average 1.1 to 1.6 pounds). Those differences were significant both statistically and biologically, and particularly when multiplied across the entirety of the lamb crop. Carcasses from the muscle group had slightly, but not significantly, more fat cover.

Genetic selection for an indicator of carcass value – loin eye muscle depth EBV – resulted in more product to market at harvest.

The purchase value was based on a combination of carcass weight and dressing percentage, often referred to in the industry as double the dress. Since a carcass with a higher dressing percentage yields more per pounds, it is worth more. Based on such calculations, a producer would be paid for on average an additional 5.18 pounds for the muscle sired lambs, 1.45 pounds for the growth sired lambs, and 2.56 pounds for the industry sired lambs.

Assuming a live price for the lambs of $1.40 per pound, this equates to a difference of $5.23 per lamb between the muscle and growth sired groups. The difference between the muscle and industry sired groups would be $3.67 per lamb. The final project summary will also take into consideration the cost in the feedlot to fully capture the cost/benefit of the different lamb groups.


Summing up

The aim of the Leading Edge project was to demonstrate the potential value of genetic selection, and the use of EBVs, to the American sheep industry. The results were conclusive.

Depending on the goal of an individual producer’s breeding program – lamb marketed at weaning or following finishing at harvest – reliable genetic tools are available to assist them in achieving greater gains and profitability.

The Sheep Industry’s Roadmap highlighted the goal of productivity improvement. Quantitative genetics provides a vital tool for achieving permanent, cumulative and, most often, highly cost effective improvements in productivity.

However, realizing that opportunity necessitates “widespread producer use of quantitative genetic selection,” as is stated in the roadmap. Promoting such uptake was an overall aim of the Leading Edge project. Organizers hope through this truly team-based effort, they have been successful in achieving that ambition.

This project was funded through an ASI Let’s Grow Program grant. The research team would also like to recognize the contributions of other collaborators and sponsors in the study: NSIP, Superior Farms, Mountain States Rosen, Allflex, Shearwell, Forest Arthur Feedlot and Utah State University Extension.

Around the States

Bay’s Latest Work Includes Sheep

Prairie Truth is the latest offering from Colorado historical fiction writer and Colorado Wool Growers Association member Marilyn Bay.

The book is set in the San Luis Valley in 1886 and provides an in-depth look at the clash of cultures between descendants of Mexican immigrants who moved north to claim land under the Mexican Sangre de Cristo Land Grant and the influx of Anglo immigrants a generation later. It also includes a look at sheep raising traditions in the San Luis Valley, including history on the Merino breed in the area.

Prairie Truth chronicles half-white, half-Cheyenne Caroline’s flight to the San Luis Valley, where she finally finds acceptance. Her turmoil is set among the struggles of the people of the valley to keep their land and ranching traditions after southern Colorado ceases to be Mexican territory and becomes part of the United States.

“I am passionate about researching lesser known Colorado history and writing it into my historical fiction,” said Bay. “I love it when readers tell me they’ve lived in Colorado all their lives yet have learned so much about our state’s history from reading my books.”

Bay said she researches and writes to teach history that helps readers understand current culture and events.

“As recently as last year, heirs of the 1844 Sangre de Cristo Land Grant had their right to use land that is now part of the Taylor Ranch – renamed the Cielo Vista Ranch – affirmed by the Colorado Supreme Court,” she said. “In the middle of the 19th century, Mexicans living in present day New Mexico pushed north to settle the Sangre de Cristo land grant deeded to Charles Beaubien by the Mexican government. Not only were the settlers granted tracks of land, the agreement gave them the right to use large tracts of common land for grazing livestock, hunting, fishing and collecting lumber.”

The 2018 court ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the new owner of the Cielo Vista Ranch, who attempted to deny access to descendants of the original Sangre de Cristo land grant. In the last century, owners of this ranch have attempted to sever access to the land, but the courts have consistently ruled in favor of the descendants.

Prairie Truth, is the sequel to Prairie Grace, a 2014 finalist for the Colorado Book Award. In addition to the two historical fiction novels, Bay collaborated with her mother, Mildred Nelson Bay, to write All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold, a series of sheep stories, based on the mother-daughter duo’s collective six decades of sheep raising experience.

For more information on the author and her books, visit or connect with her at


South Dakota
All American Sheep Day Set for Feb. 6

The Black Hills Stock Show All American Sheep Day will be Feb. 6 at the Kjerstad Event Center in Rapid City, S.D. (915 Centre Street).

“The goal of Sheep Day is to provide a total sheep industry experience for all attendees, whether or not they are sheep producers,” said David Ollila, SDSU Extension Sheep Field Specialist. “There is a long tradition of sheep production among ranchers in this region and a lot of the sheep industry’s infrastructure can be found in these states.”

Events that will be taking place include the North American Sheep Dog Trials, in which more than 50 highly skilled dogs and their handlers will herd sheep through a series of obstacles in the fastest time possible.

The National Sheep Shearing and Wool Handlers Championships will allow the best shearers in the nation to compete in shearing pens of sheep the fastest while cleanly and proficiently removing the fleece with the fewest number of deductions.

South Dakota State University Extension is cooperating with the Black Hills Stock Show and sheep industry partners to provide education demonstrations and activities that will interest the producer and public alike.
Every effort is being made to provide interactive experiences with attendees, including:

• A spinner’s circle will provide an opportunity to experience the uniqueness of working with the wool fiber in creating clothing;

• Samples of prepared lamb will be available to experience the flavor of lamb.

• Displays and vendors of wool and lamb products will be on hand;

• Sheep handling, sheep supply and feed companies will be on hand to demonstrate and discuss their product lines and services;

• The South Dakota Sheep Growers Association is coordinating with the concessionaire at the Kjerstad Event Center to have entrées available for a lamb eating experience;

• Sheep industry promotion associations and sheep industry related organizations will be on hand to discuss the value of sheep production;

• Demonstration of the Optical Fiber Diameter Analysis Technology (OFDA) and its applications within the wool industry will be presented by Paige Anderson of North Dakota State University;

• Demonstration of ultrasound technology to measure loin muscle depth by Dr. Lisa Surber of LM Services;

• Demonstration of ultrasound technology to determine pregnancy by Dr. Sammi Hanson of Sammi’s Veterinary Services;

• Display and presentation of livestock guardian dogs by Mitch Carlisle;

• Historical display of a restored sheep wagon and sheep teepees.

For more information, visit


Wool Panels Promote Festival

Hildene – a historic mansion built in 1905 in Manchester, Vt., by Robert Lincoln – hosted a traveling exhibit in December entitled Artistic Expressions in Wool. The exhibit is a collection of felted wool panels designed by Vermont artists for the 2019 Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.

The competition – and resulting touring exhibit – are the results of the Vermont Wool Felting Project developed by Kimberly Hagen of the University of Vermont’s Agricultural Extension program. Hagen was awarded an ASI grant for the project in collaboration with the Vermont Sheep and Goat Association. The goal of the project was to convey the multiple uses of wool to the public at large.

Wool is also a natural and age-old alternative to the pervasive petroleum-based, synthetic fibers so commonplace today. Wool roving of the same type used to produce Hildene’s own yarns was used in the creation of several of the pieces on display in this fascinating exhibit that can be viewed in the Welcome Center.

Although The Lincoln Family Home is not an obvious stop for art lovers, Hildene’s mission fully supports the premise behind the Vermont Wool Felting Project and its highly artistic results. Sustainable agriculture practices are an important part of Hildene’s mission and Vermont’s economy, and a way of life for many who live in the Green Mountain State and around the world. Animal, to fiber, to utilitarian applications, to artwork – the works on exhibit speak to their collective values.

Knitters this year will find signature luxury yarns in a variety of natural colorways, spun with fleece from Hildene’s resident flocks of alpaca and Corriedale sheep. For those inspired to create their own felted artwork, kits are available in the store.

Hildene is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Admission is not necessary for visiting the Welcome Center and The Museum Store. Admission is required to tour the estate and is $23 for adults and $6 for children, ages 6 to 16.

For more information, visit

We Are the American Sheep Industry

Sheep Industry News Editor

Branding is what allows the average 2-year-old to recognize McDonald’s from half a mile away. Branding helps a business (or in our case, an industry) develop customer loyalty, and in the words of, “is absolutely critical to a business because of the overall impact it makes on your company. Branding can change how people perceive your brand, it can drive new business and increase brand awareness.”

The sheep industry in this country has worked hard in recent years to develop its brand. The two main examples are ASI’s American wool campaign – which invites consumers to “Experience Wool” – and the American Lamb Board. And yet, I constantly run into references to U.S. wool and U.S. lamb – even in ASI and ALB’s own publications. And while it might sound like a little thing, I’m going to ask you for a big favor: use American.

I wasn’t a part of the American Sheep Industry Association when it emerged from a combination of the old National Wool Growers Association and the American Sheep Producers Council in 1989, but those founding fathers decided to keep American in the name for a reason. A dozen years later, ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick fought for the newly developed lamb board to include American, as well – eschewing the “National” title that had been pegged to the beef and pork boards.

According to a 1998 commentary by the Cato Institute, an American is “anyone who loves life enough to want the best that it has to offer. Americans are not automatically satisfied with their current situation. Americans look to more than the next meal; they look to the future, the long term, a better tomorrow. An American is anyone who understands that to achieve the best in life requires action, exertion, effort. Americans aren’t idle daydreamers; they take the initiative.”

Being an American sounds like an admirable goal, and one that our great wool and lamb industries should strive to be associated with. So why are we sometimes reluctant to use the word? I’ve changed “U.S.” to “American” probably a million times in my four-plus years at ASI – whether it was in a press release, a letter to Congress or a story in this magazine. When given the chance, I make that swap every single time. What

I see is that writers are often trying to avoid the appearance of redundancy. Using American wool or American lamb over and over again can be repetitive. But that’s the point.

Consumers need that repetition. Again, I point to McDonald’s. The company didn’t decide that 10,000 restaurants with the golden arches was enough. No, they’ve continued to put that bright, yellow sign on nearly every one of their establishments. It’s a beacon to weary travelers, who can often spot the sign long before the highway exit that leads right to it. You might not be a fan of McDonald’s, but you can’t argue with their successful marketing strategies.

American wool and American lamb aren’t their own brands like McDonald’s. But they are brands which support your products every single day. Their ability to continue that support depends on their success in the consumer marketplace. And that success depends on repetition. We’ve got to drive home the value of American lamb and American wool, by talking about American lamb and American wool. There’s no such thing as too much American wool and American lamb.

So, say it proudly when you talk about your products. Say it often when you talk about your products. Use it in your advertising and promotional materials. ASI and ALB have put a lot of money into marketing American wool and American lamb, and now I’m asking that you join us in this effort.

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