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ASI Working with USDA for American Producers
Benny Cox, ASI President
I wish my story for this month was a glorious one about recovery and everything being back to normal. I can assure you ASI and many other groups, state associations and individuals have been doing all that is possible in communicating our industry’s issues to those at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We did get some good news in mid-May as USDA announced the details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, and it included direct payments to sheep and wool producers.
The livestock processing plants have had their share of problems compounded by the closeness of workers while performing their duties. There have been some cases of those with the virus showing up to work and infecting coworkers. As most have heard, plants in all classes of livestock have been forced to close and many that have tried to reopen have not yet gotten back up to speed. In some cases, they’ve found it difficult to start back up due to a lack of workers who are either sick or fearful of getting sick.
Wolverine Lamb Plant in Detroit was closed for four weeks and made an effort to reopen on May 1. My information is that they processed fewer than 300 head that first day. We wish that company good luck in their efforts to get back to business as usual. As a matter of fact, we wish all the processing companies the best of luck. The plant closures have made us aware of how important all aspects of the industry are in the production of a safe and plentiful food supply.
The PPP Paycheck Protection Plan has been great for many small businesses in keeping their workforce in place. These SBA forgivable loans are great and have worked for many, but have not made up for millions already lost in the lamb feeding business for instance.
ASI has made its message heard to the tune of $125 million at the farm gate and $350 million in industry-wide damage to the American sheep industry. In addition to the CFAP announcement, which included sheep and wool prominently, we have had success in getting USDA to accept bids on an already approved $17 million lamb purchase. Both loins and shanks will be purchased to go into government food banks. Hopefully this will help with some of the current lamb meat backlog while also feeding so many who have been affected by the pandemic.
There is a new lamb plant nearing completion in Brush, Colo., and hoping to open this month or next month. This new plant is owned by people very experienced in all aspects of the business, and I wish them all the best in their start-up. The names of the owners should be recognizable to most of you: Mike Harper, Spence Rule and Steve Raftopoulos.
Y`all keep on doing what you do best and I will see you on down the road.
JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.
Juniper Economic Consulting
No producer, wool grower or forecast model could have predicted this: COVID-19 has ravaged sheep, lamb and wool markets.
At the onslaught of COVID-19, foodservice accounts for lamb immediately cancelled contracts or cut back on orders. This put an undue burden on grocery store sales to support the industry. Even with Easter, and following Orthodox Easter, the industry saw demand quickly falling behind available supplies. Concurrently, lamb packers – responding to reduced foodservice demand – slowed slaughter rates or suspended slaughter indefinitely. Even still, the slowdown in slaughter didn’t offset the severe drop in foodservice demand. Demand for live lambs crashed, and feeder and slaughter lamb prices plummeted.
In early May, lamb plants were operating – albeit at a lower rate. Anecdotal reports revealed that lamb purchases are limited. Some plants were custom processing producers’ lambs, producers were putting their own lamb in freezers. Some plants are back online – although at a lower capacity – after a temporary shutdown. It is anticipated that cold storage inventory will build rapidly to accommodate the lambs that are being processed. The Colorado Lamb Processor plant plans to start operations in late June or early July.
In the first trimester, estimated lamb harvest was 575,205 head, down 6 percent year-on-year. Estimated lamb production was down 11 percent to 27.8 million lbs. In April, the slaughter drop was more pronounced. April’s estimated lamb harvest was down 26 percent to 127,915 head and estimated production was down 33 percent to 5.9 million lbs.
Lamb plant closures and reductions in the rate of processing speed at many lamb processing plants have, and will continue to, impact feeder and slaughter lamb demand and the supply of lamb available at foodservice and retail.
“Tyson Chairman John Tyson reported that the food supply chain is breaking. With processing plants closing, farmers will not have places to sell livestock,” (Cattle Buyers Weekly, 5/4/20).
Domestic Lamb Production Slowed
Weekly slaughter held about 30,000 head through April, however, it is expected that numbers will slow further. On May 11, the Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted that second quarter commercial harvest could be down 7 percent year-on-year to 579,000 head and lamb and mutton production could be down 4 percent from a year ago to 38.4 million lbs.
The volume of lamb in the freezers will help buffer a possible shortfall at foodservice and retail. However, it is expected that in the coming weeks, lamb demand will fall short of the reduced harvest and cold storage volume will increase before it is drawn down significantly. In early April, 38.6 million lbs. of lamb and mutton were reported in the freezers, up 3 percent monthly and up 24 percent year-on-year. In April, freezer inventory was 82 percent of the record-high of 47.1 million lbs.
In early May, 107,158 lambs were on-feed in Colorado feedlots, 109 percent of last year’s volume and 89 percent of May’s five-year average. In the first quarter of the year, feedlot placements were lower year-on-year, but increased some in April and May. Many producers are trying to keep lambs on forage for as long as possible, particularly amid reports that the major packers are slowing purchases.
Slaughter Lamb Prices Severely Weakened
COVID-19 has severely crippled the slaughter lamb market. In the last week of February, the comprehensive slaughter lamb price averaged $310.48 per cwt. For the week ending May 1, the average had lost 32 percent of its value, to $212.63 per cwt., or $106.32 per cwt. on a live weight basis. In February, a 180-lb. lamb was worth $250 per head, but lost $79 per head to $171 per head by early May.
In April, the comprehensive slaughter lamb price averaged $261.69 per cwt., down 14 percent monthly. The industry started the year strong, so the average price in the first trimester was up
7 percent year-on-year at $291.09 per cwt. Harvest weights averaged 83.50 lbs. in April, up 2 percent monthly. On a live-equivalent basis, April’s average was $130.15 per cwt.
Slaughter lamb prices at the Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales electronic auction were also lower. In late April, 165-lb. lambs brought $76.00 to $77.50 per cwt. for current delivery; 165 lbs. averaged $79.00 to $80.00 per cwt. for May delivery; and 165 lbs. averaged $80.25 per cwt. for June delivery.
Feeders Drop Sharply
In April, feeder lamb prices saw a profound drop – but were also volatile – reflecting much uncertainty in the market. Sixty- to 90-lb. feeders at San Angelo, Texas, averaged $177.33 per cwt. in April, down 19 percent monthly and steady with a year ago. At Fort Collins, Colo., feeders averaged $174.08 per cwt., down 19 percent monthly and 3 percent higher than a year ago. At Sioux Falls, S.D., feeders averaged $160.04 per cwt., down 28 percent monthly and down 21 percent year-on-year.
Reduced harvest will temper slaughter as well as feeder lamb demand. LMIC forecasted that second quarter slaughter lamb prices could fall 36 percent year-on-year to $185 to $190 per cwt. Feeder prices could be down 12 percent from a year ago at $147 to $160 per cwt. By May, many feeders were losing upwards of $100 per head.
Meat Market Remained Steady
In mid-April the wholesale composite hit a record high of $437.62 per cwt., 15 percent higher than a year ago. Lamb prices were supported in April by heightened demand for lamb, fueled by plant closures and slowing slaughter rates. The summer grilling season is typically a strong period for lamb, but this year, lamb prices at retail will likely stay high as long as lamb processing is disrupted.
The Cattle Buyers Weekly reported boxed beef cutout values “soared to unimaginable levels as beef supplies shrink from week to week. This is coinciding with last-minute orders from retailers for prompt ship of product for the start of the grilling season. So packers are able to ask dramatically higher prices each day, as they did last week.”
The 8-rib rack, medium, prices averaged $884.39 per cwt. in April, down 2 percent from the prior month. The shoulder, square-cut, was up 2 percent monthly, at $339.95 per cwt. The leg, trotter-off, held steady in April at $390.85 per cwt. The loin, trimmed 4×4, weakened by 1 percent in April.
In April, the shoulder maintained its impressive 20 percent premium over last April’s average. The leg was also higher this year, up 7 percent from a year ago. Rack prices were down one-half percent year-on-year. The loin remained unchanged from a year ago.
Pelt markets remained depressed through April. Unshorn supreme pelts saw -$3.00 to $1.19 per piece, down more than $3 per piece from a year ago. Premium pelts averaged -$3.00 to -$0.75 per piece, down 25 cents to $3.00 per pelt a year ago.
Packers Face Financial Challenges
High wholesale comparative prices and falling slaughter lamb prices do not mean record profits for packers. It is reported that the loss in foodservice sales have not been offset by grocery store lamb sales. This means a lot more lamb is placed in freezers. Further, some packers could have sold product forward at an earlier date at lower prices for orders that are currently being fulfilled. Also, some packers might be operating at reduced capacities, which raises the per pound cost of processing. Another additional cost facing lamb packers today is the cost of protective COVID-19 measures.
It is forecasted that meat prices are temporarily supported by a short-lived demand boost that will be ratcheted back if and when consumers face reduced incomes.
Lamb Imports Down; Mutton Up
Total lamb imports were down 10 percent year-on-year in the first quarter to 59.5 million lbs. Australian’s import were down 8 percent at 45.5 million lbs. and New Zealand’s lamb was down
18 percent to 13.5 million lbs.
Mutton imports in the first quarter posted some unexpected increases. Australian mutton imports were up 218 percent in the first quarter year-on-year to 40.2 million lbs. and New Zealand’s mutton was up 78 percent to 2.2 million lbs.
At 2.8 million lbs., U.S. mutton exports hit a record high in March. Mexico led the exports by a wide margin at 2.5 million lbs.
Wool Market Quiet
The American wool market has slowed considerably since the spread of COVID-19. Major wool warehouses continue to buy limited volumes, and have been storing considerable amounts of wool, but the business of buying wool is quiet.
As of this writing, one wool warehouse has a sale rescheduled for the week of May 18, but with uncertainty of grower and buyer participation. Wool prices were about $3.50 to $3.80 per lb. greasy last year, but were less than $2 per lb. in early May.
Except for some wool purchases by the military, the key buyers Chargeurs Wool USA, American Wool Services (formerly Lempriere Wool) and Pendleton Woolen Mills are very quiet. Reportedly, Chargeurs is closing its scouring and combing operation for some time. Anodyne Wool is reportedly buying some wool for its Burlington military contract. The United States military has historically been a steadfast buyer of American wool, not at whim of fashions or income fluctuations.
However steady military wool purchases are, the military primarily buys the finest, best-styled wools. Reportedly, many wools this spring are high quality and clean with higher yields. Growers with less-prepared, coarser wools face a challenging marketing outlook.
Given lower prices this spring, many wool growers are storing wool. When stored properly – clean and dry – wool will store well for up to a year. Storage space of the largest wool warehouses of Roswell Wool, Center of the National Wool, Utah Wool Marketing Association and Groenewold Fur and Wool Company is limited, however. Many growers have opted to store on their farms.
Export markets of Italy and Europe, more broadly, are closed, namely because ports have shut down. The same is the case for India. The Chinese wool trade is quiet.
The Australian Eastern Market Indicator wool price average saw its lowest point in early May since 2015, and in U.S. dollars, the lowest level in nearly 10 years. In spite of lower prices, Australian wool auctions continued to sell through mid May.
In the first week of May, the Australian wool market EMI saw Australian 1,170 cents per kg clean, down 40 percent year-on-year. In U.S. dollars, the EMI was U.S. 753 cents per kg clean, down 45 percent year-on-year (U.S. $3.41 per lb. clean). The AWEX Weekly Wool Market Report commented that good-style wools and those with good additional measurements were still in demand, but a “large number of lower-style wools and those with poor additional measurements, received less support, thus pushing prices down.”
The American wool market will rebound when the world opens back up, for it is very much an interconnected, international market. Once markets reopen, the carryover wool stocks from 2019 and the wool stored in 2020 will drag on the market for some time before the market fully rebounds.
Lamb and wool producers were featured prominently in the eligibility and damage provisions in the $16 billion of direct payments announced on May 19 under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
ASI worked aggressively to get both of its commodities included in the direct payments. A series of calls to action were issued by the Legislative Action Council in March and April to deliver relief to producers and feeders built on ASI’s pandemic damage estimates on the lamb and wool market. The association and state affiliates issued formal letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and congressional allies to form the bases for lamb and wool to be named in the assistance package.
Payments for livestock producers will be divided into two separate categories:
1. A payment for livestock that was marketed Jan. 15–April 15. The payment for this period for lambs and yearlings is $33 per head.
2. A payment for inventory on hand between April 16–May 14. The producer may choose the date on which he/she will self-certify that inventory. The payment for this period for lambs and yearlings is $7 per head. It is important to remember that this is a 20 percent coverage as announced by USDA since the agency was short funding to fully cover COVID-19 damage to markets.
Payments for wool producers will be based on inventory subject to price risk held as of Jan. 15. In other words, USDA wants to address unsold wool from 2019 shearing in this assistance package. The department estimates 25 percent of last year’s wool was still unsold as of this January.
ASI believes this is the first step on the payments needed to get sheep farms, ranches and feedlots to the other side of a market wreck that has hammered restaurant and apparel sectors.
“We welcome the announcement of the administration and look forward to helping with information dissemination on the application and payments,” said ASI President Benny Cox of Texas. “We will gear up the rest of the spring to keep the administration informed on our supply lines and market conditions with the goal of ensuring our products remain eligible for future assistance.”
The immediate damage estimates built by the ASI team were key to lamb and wool assistance, followed by solid legislative work of the association’s volunteers and staff, summarized Cox. This first package really addresses the lamb feeders that lost millions in Easter lamb sales and have been storing lamb wool for months. ASI anticipates the next assistance package will have wider impact for sheep producers, both lamb and wool.
Clearly, another assistance package will be needed to help with the 2020 market damage. In fact, USDA mentioned that expectation following this announcement.
“America’s farming community is facing an unprecedented situation as our nation tackles the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has authorized USDA to ensure our patriotic farmers, ranchers and producers are supported, and we are moving quickly to open applications to get payments out the door and into the pockets of farmers,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “These payments will help keep farmers afloat while market demand returns as our nation reopens and recovers. America’s farmers are resilient and will get through this challenge just like they always do with faith, hard work, and determination.”
ASI believes the damage will exceed $125 million at the farm gate as market lambs back up in the supply channel and most of the 2020 wool clip is unsold. ASI is further pursuing federal lamb meat purchases and an update of the wool marketing assistance program. While visiting your county office to check out the livestock assistance, ask about the wool marketing loan. In late May, the loan deficiency payment for ungraded wool was announced at 30 cents per pound grease.
USDA – through the Farm Service Agency – began accepting applications on May 26 from agricultural producers who have suffered losses. There is a payment limitation of $250,000 per person or entity for all commodities combined. Applicants who are corporations, limited liability companies or limited partnerships may qualify for additional payment limits up to $750,000 where members actively provide personal labor or personal management for the farming operation.
Additional information and application forms can be found at Farmers.gov/cfap. Producers of all eligible commodities can apply through their local FSA office. Documentation to support the producer’s application and certification may be requested. Applications will be accepted through August 28.
To ensure the availability of funding throughout the application period, producers will receive 80 percent of their maximum total payment upon approval of the application. The remaining portion of the payment – not to exceed the payment limit – will be paid at a later date as assistance funds remain available.
Rutland (Vt.) Herald
A Vermont sheep farm is helping in the effort to develop safe and reliable ways to treat COVID-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – according to Dulcie Griffith, a veterinary technician and manager of Pleasant Valley Farm.
In an email, Griffith explained the farm is part of Binding Site, a business that started out of the University of Birmingham in England. The company produces more than 30 million diagnostic tests a year.
The way the tests are created might seem unusual. The sheep at the farm aren’t raised for meat or wool; they’re raised to produce antibodies used in testing.
The process starts when the sheep are immunized just as a human receives a shot to be vaccinated for the flu. The sheep then make antibodies to the immunization that are taken through collection of their blood. The blood is shipped to the United Kingdom to be used in creating the antibody tests.
“Having the facility in Benson (Vermont) that is able to respond quickly and effectively is an important part of our business capabilities and ultimately the quality of the products,” Griffith said.
Binding Way’s expertise is in antibody specificity technology used to create specialist protein diagnostics.
“Our customers trust us to deliver specific, accurate and reliable tests for clinicians to use on their patients. We are therefore in a good position to use those skills toward the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and to help the millions of people affected,” Griffith said.
Binding Trust is in a partnership with two United Kingdom organizations, the University of Birmingham’s Clinical Immunology Service and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust to improve the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
The goal is to create a test that will detect antibodies against coronavirus to determine whether someone had a virus like COVID-19. While Griffith acknowledged scientists and medical researchers still had a lot to learn about the respiratory disease, she called the research a “potential game changer in the long-term fight against COVID-19.
“For example, it may support the testing of people who have received a vaccine, when one is available. To ensure vaccination has been successful. Our teams are working tirelessly on this project, but we are focused on getting it right rather than getting it first,” Griffith said.
Several of Binding Site’s immunodeficiency tests are used to measure the body’s response to COVID-19.
“Most people who contract COVID-19 will have a normal response as the immune system tackles the virus. However, for some, the immune system is plunged into overdrive and begins to kill healthy cells in its attempt to kill the virus,” Griffith said.
Tests created by Binding Site can be used to understand a COVID-19 patient’s condition, according to Griffith.
ASI Director of Analytics & Production Programs
Envision a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak occurred near your farm, grazing lands or operation. Movement of susceptible livestock and products would cease immediately, and you could not transport lambs, sheep, or wool to or from your location without permission from state officials. Essentially, imagine what we are experiencing now with COVID-19 pandemic induced business closures and stay-at-home orders but with your lambs, sheep or wool.
FMD is not a food safety or public health concern. But if there is an FMD outbreak in the United States, consumer confidence would falter and export markets for American sheep, lamb and wool would close immediately. As a result, producers would face a considerable risk of lost revenue and uncertainty of business. In such an event, maintaining business continuity for the sheep and wool industry is critical for industry sustainability, food security and animal health and well-being.
As we have witnessed from the COVID-19 pandemic, the inability for a business to operate during unprecedented conditions for a long period of time can have a drastic impact on the sustainability of an operation.
To address this scenario, ASI in collaboration with industry stakeholders, academic representatives, state and federal animal health officials, and the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University, developed the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan. The SSWS Plan – funded by ASI – is one of several livestock plans supported by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Others include the Secure Beef Supply program, Secure Milk Supply program and Secure Pork Supply program.
How will the U.S. respond to an FMD outbreak?
If FMD reaches the United States, regulatory officials will restrict movement as federal and state officials focus on stopping the spread of this animal disease. To do this, control areas will be setup around FMD infected and surrounding operations. Restrictions on the movement of sheep, wool and other products (e.g. embryos) will be put in place in these control areas. The sheep industry will play a supporting role to assist federal and state officials as decisions will be made by the regulatory officials based on the unique characteristics of the outbreak.
What is the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan?
The goal of the SSWS plan is to help producers and allied industries get back to business sooner during an FMD outbreak and maintain the supply of meat and wool products to consumers. The SSWS Plan provides a workable continuity of business plan for premises within FMD control areas that are under movement restrictions but not infected with FMD. It offers guidance to producers, haulers, packing/processing plants and federal and state agencies to facilitate the safe movement of sheep and wool with no evidence of disease to feedlots, harvest channels, grazing lands and wool processors.
The SSWS Plan also provides biosecurity and surveillance guidance for producers.
Participation in the SSWS Plan is voluntary, but having the SSWS Plan guidance available and implemented, when possible, prior to an FMD outbreak enhances coordination and communication between all stakeholders. It will help to reduce the response time to an FMD outbreak, and support the continuity of business for producers, haulers, packers/processors and allied industries who choose to participate.
Why is the SSWS Plan needed?
Having the SSWS Plan in place will assist operations in FMD control areas whose sheep have no signs of FMD continue to move sheep. This will help to minimize lost income for producers, feeders, haulers, packing/processing companies and other industry stakeholders. Having the SSWS Plan will help to alleviate the short and long-term negative effects on the American sheep, lamb and wool industry from an FMD impact. The SSWS Plan is also needed for animal health and well-being and to maintain the supply of lamb and wool products to consumers.
How can you voluntarily participate in the Plan?
ASI encourages producers to learn more about the SSWS Plan at SecureSheepWool.org and follow these steps to get on board now with the SSWS Plan as several of these can be done PRIOR to an outbreak:
1. Get a National Premises Identification Number from the office of your state animal health official. You can find instructions on the SSWS Plan website (SecureSheepWool.org).
2. Establish biosecurity measures. Write a site-specific biosecurity plan and create a premises map.
3. Monitor your sheep for FMD. Record what you see, know who to call and what steps to take if/when needed.
4. Maintain detailed records of animal movement, people, feed, supplies, equipment and other items so you can provide accurate trace-back information for an animal health official if asked.
If FMD hits the United States, you do not want to be sitting on the sidelines when it comes to the SSWS Plan. Taking proactive steps now to implement the voluntary program standards can help your operation get back to business sooner.
Explore the SSWS Plan website (SecureSheepWool.org) to start preparing today.
ASI and its state affiliate organizations wrote a letter in mid-May to members of the U.S. Senate urging caution in trade negotiations with the United Kingdom.
The letter was sent to the chair (Charles Grassley, Iowa) and ranking member (Ronald Wyden, Oregon) of the Senate’s Committee on Finance, as well as the chair (John Cornyn, Texas) and ranking member (Robert Casey Jr., Pennsylvania) of the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, and expressed the American sheep industry’s concerns about allowing lamb from the United Kingdom to be imported into the United States.
“While it remains to be seen what the domestic subsidy structure will look like once the United Kingdom is no longer in the Common Agriculture Policy under the European Union, the current situation is that U.K. sheep producers are highly subsidized,” read the letter. “This has been confirmed by numerous articles on the topic in the lead up to the U.K.’s exit from the E.U., as has the fact that the U.K. views the U.S. as a potentially lucrative market for lamb and sheep meat exports.”
Articles from a variety of agriculture and business publications have added to ASI’s concerns that allowing lamb and sheep meat imports from the United Kingdom places that country’s producers at a competitive advantage compared to American sheep producers.
“While sheep producers in both the U.S. and U.K. face some of the same challenges – such as high land and labor costs – the U.S. remains unique. Domestically, producers contend with a tremendous loss due to predation – which is growing as attitudes shift away from existing management of predatory species – and must overcome challenges of the great distances between areas where lambs are raised, where they are fed and where they are finally processed.
“As seen from the discussion in the U.K. press, the opportunities for U.K. lamb in the United States are readily recognized. This potential becomes more evident as the U.K. faces future barriers to entry into its traditional export markets in the European Economic Area. Should the final ‘Brexit’ agreement not allow preferential treatment for U.K. lamb exports to the EEA, upwards of a third of their production will need to find a new market. Respective tariff rates for U.K. lamb and sheep meat into the E.U. markets under a no-deal Brexit could range from 28 to 76 percent, depending on the sheep meat product exported.
“U.S. lamb producers are struggling under the weight of imported lamb and sheep meat, primarily from Australia and New Zealand. Over the past five years, imports from these countries have accounted for on average 164 percent of commercial lamb and sheep meat production in the United States. Currently, this is exacerbated by the strong U.S. dollar, particularly in relation to the Australian dollar. The scope of this import situation presents a tremendous challenge to U.S. sheep producers.
“The U.S. is the most open market in the world for lamb, and among the highest valued. There is not a market opportunity in the world for U.S. sheep producers that can offset the loss of our domestic market. Even with reciprocal trade in lamb and sheep meat with the U.K., that is not likely to be a lucrative market for American lamb, especially as New Zealand lamb has decades of presence in that market.
“We produce a great product, the only fed lamb in the world on any scale. It is a product that is tailored to an American appetite and shines in a white tablecloth setting. However, the barriers inherent to building and maintaining large scale trade in a premium product within the U.K.’s well-established structure is highly unlikely to offset the potential that currently exists in our domestic market; potential that the industry has spent millions to build through the lamb promotion efforts of the American Lamb Board.
“We understand supporting trade initiatives like the U.S.-U.K. negotiations for their potential benefit to both economies, but absolutely believe unrestricted trade in lamb and sheep meat from the U.K. would greatly jeopardize the domestic production of lamb, the livelihood of America’s 100,000 sheep farmers and ranchers, and the rural communities that depend on them.”
Kris Thorne didn’t plan on becoming the American sheep industry’s guru of online events, but COVID-19 didn’t give her any choice. And now the manager of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival has some first-hand advice to offer others who might be looking for an alternative to in-person events.
“We knew not having the show would be a big loss for our vendors, some of whom make a large percentage of their yearly profits at the festival,” said Thorne, who as a vendor herself understood the importance of providing longtime supporters with the opportunity to sell their wares during these difficult times. “There were some things we couldn’t do in moving the festival online, especially since we had such a short time to pull it all together. But shopping is such a big part of the festival, and we knew we could provide that for everyone.”
With that in mind, Thorne setup a virtual marketplace with photos and information on each vendor. Links took customers directly to the vendors’ websites and transactions were handled through each individual company. A virtual fleece show worked in similar fashion.
But not everything went to plan. The festival’s large, cult-like following overwhelmed the website. The site crashed and wouldn’t return until Sunday evening – just as the festival was supposed to be wrapping up.
“The way it worked out, we really planned three festivals in the time that we’d normally plan one,” Thorne said. “January and February are usually when I get a lot of the planning done for the traditional festival. Then March rolled around and COVID took over and shut everything down. We spent a couple of weeks making contingency plans – hand sanitizer, following CDC guidelines and everything – before we realized it wasn’t going to happen. We basically had to trash everything we’d done the first three months of the year.
“So, we moved to the online plans, but then the website crashed. We’d already setup a Facebook group, so we had to shift everything to that page on Saturday. We were able to cobble together at least partial information from the vendor marketplace and fleece sale pages and make it available as pdf files, first on Google Drive, and eventually in the files tab of the Facebook Group.”
Saturday’s nightmare provided two important lessons for those planning online events: 1. know how much traffic your website can handle, and 2. have a backup of the information you post to your website in case it crashes.
Fortunately, the online crowd managed to go with the flow and make the best of the situation. Given the nearly country-wide shutdown the first weekend in May, Thorne had a somewhat captive audience with plenty of time to navigate the ongoing changes in the plan.
“I’m pretty pleased with how it all came together,” she said. “Obviously it would have been better if the website hadn’t crashed, but we were able to work around that. The Facebook community was a real lifesaver, and even two weeks later it’s still really active. People are receiving their orders from the show now and posting their pretty little hearts out with all of the great products they purchased.”
Thorne credits a regional yarn event that moved online in the spring with providing a blueprint for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival to make the transition to an online show.
“We got some information from them and really followed their model,” she said. “I didn’t have to come up with all of this on my own, but I did have to pretty much run the thing by myself.”
Reviews have been so positive that some are clamoring for an online component in the future.
“I had fun doing this, but I’m not sure I want to try and run an online festival and regular festival at the same time. That would be like managing two festivals at once.”
Visit Sheepusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Virtual-Maryland.pdf for more on Thorne’s planning process.
Mark your calendars now, as the deadline for the 2020 ASI Photo Contest is Aug. 3. All entries must be submitted by 5 p.m. mountain time on that date. The top three finishers in each category will receive a cash prize and be featured in the October issue of the Sheep Industry News.
“The ASI Photo Contest is one of the most exciting times of the year for me,” said Sheep Industry News Editor Kyle Partain. “I have the opportunity to travel to and take photos of some beautiful farms and ranches all across the United States, but our producers are on those farms and ranches every single day. They capture images that I could never get in just showing up for a few hours on a specific day of the year.
“I’ve overseen the photo contest for five years and each year I’m more and more amazed by the entries we receive. We made a change in adding a working dog category in 2019 and it was well received. This year, we would like to invite those with other protection animals (llamas, donkeys, etc.) to submit photos in that category, as well.”
Other than that one small change, rules and prizes for the 2020 contest are the same as last year. Photographs entered in the contest will be judged on clarity, content, composition and appeal. More than $1,000 will be awarded, with awards of $125 going to the first-place photographer in each of the five categories listed below; $75 for the runner-up in each category; and a $50 prize for third place in each of the five categories. Again, entries must be received in the ASI office by 5 p.m. mountain time on Monday, Aug. 3, to be considered. Only the top three photographers in each category will be notified of their winnings.
Photographers are advised to submit photographs in the largest file size possible. Also, judges and ASI staff encourage entrants to provide both horizontal and vertical photos. This will better assure these talented and creative photos can be shared in future issues of the Sheep Industry News, as well as in the 2021 ASI Calendar and other American sheep industry publications.
The five categories in this year’s contest are:
1. Action – Photographs of activities such as moving/trailing sheep, lambing, tagging, feeding, shearing, etc.
2. Scenic (East) – Photographs of sheep outdoors located east of the Mississippi River. Photos entered in this category cannot include people.
3. Scenic (West) – Photographs of sheep outdoors located west of the Mississippi River. Photos entered in this category cannot include people.
4. Working Dogs and Protection Animals – Photographs in this category should show herding dogs, livestock guardian dogs or any other livestock protection animal in their natural environments. Photos must also include sheep in some fashion, as proof that these truly are working animals.
5. Open – Photographs with subject matter that does not fall into the four above-listed categories.
Other contest rules:
• ASI can use or reproduce all entries at the discretion of ASI. In addition, entries will not be returned.
• ASI is not required to notify photographers when photos are used in materials.
• Photographs can be submitted via hard copy or electronically.
• All entries must be at least 3 inches by 5 inches, color or black-and-white, high-resolution photos (larger sizes encouraged).
• Entries must be submitted in the name of the person who took the photograph.
• Entries are limited to two per category per person.
• Only photographs that have been taken in the past six years can be entered.
• Photographs submitted in previous years cannot be re-entered.
• The following needs to be included with each submission: title of photo; category (from the five listed above) into which it is being entered; photographer’s name; mailing address; phone number; email address; and approximate location/date of photo.
• If there is a particular story or background that goes with the photo, please include that, as well, with the entry.
Entries should be emailed to Partain at email@example.com with the subject line of ASI Photo Contest. Those mailing photos should send them to ASI; Attn: Photo Contest; 9785 Maroon Circle, Suite 360; Englewood, CO 80112.
Mountain Meadow Introduces Taiga Tots
Mountain Meadow Wool is proud to introduce its Mountain Merino Taiga Tots line, a comfortable and durable children’s clothing line made from 100 percent Mountain Merino wool.
The company introduced the new line on Kickstarter seeking pledges of $11,400 – a goal it had nearly reached as press time on this issue.
“Taiga Tots came from an idea that children should be able to play outside during any season, staying warm in the cold but cool in the summer months,” the company wrote on its Kickstarter page. “To do so, they need clothing that can withstand years of fun, propel them to the limits of their imagination and above all keep them safe while getting dirty.
“I can personally attest to washing my wool hoodie every six months with nearly every day use. A synthetic garment would need to be collected with a face mask and rubber gloves after such rough use. That said, food gets spilled, that favorite irresistible mud puddle keeps popping up in the backyard when it rains, etc. We pre-shrink each Taiga Tots garment and recommend future washing with a simple method: soak in warm water and detergent for 20 to 30 minutes. Spin out water and then hang dry or tumble dry on low heat.
“Made with 100 percent Mountain Merino wool, these hoodies and leggings are essential for toddlers and kids. We have designed the line with parents in mind who were tired of buying clothes and having them outgrown in six months. There are only two sizes: ages 9 to 24 months and 3T to 6T. Sized for toddlers and kids respectively. We designed the garments with rolled cuffs and our extra stretchy flex-fit knit to provide years of use.”
In addition to hoodies and leggings, the company was also offering beanies, baby blankets and adult hoodies through the Kickstarter campaign.
“We have the benefit of overseeing the whole production, start to finish here at our facility. We process the wool, knit and construct the garments, and ship right here in Buffalo, Wyo. Our streamlined production gets Taiga Tots into your hands, as quickly as possible.”
For more information, visit MountainMeadowWool.com.
Rambouillet Show Cancelled
The 2020 National Rambouillet Show and Sale – scheduled for July 6-11 in Springfield, Mo. – has been cancelled.
“It was a unanimous decision of the board of directors to cancel and strive to make 2021 the best it has ever been,” wrote American Rambouillet Sheep Breeders Association President Rodney Kott. “This is a decision that was not easy for the board, and in the past month they have gone back and forth trying to sort out leaving their personal opinions out of the equation and listening to what the membership had to say. The health and well being, as well as the liability of our membership was taken into account and was the number one concern for the board.”
Moving forward, the association is looking at several opportunities and decisions for the remainder of the year, including:
• An online sale to give everyone an opportunity to buy and sell sheep.
• Plans to possibly replace the comeback futurity show at the national show and sale.
• The year-end point futurity and how it will conclude.
• The time and location for the 2021 show and sale.