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To View the June 2023 Digital Issue — Click Here

ASI Investigating Trade Case

Brad Boner, ASI President

On April 25, the ASI Executive Board approved the following motion: to move forward with the preliminary investigation on dumping and countervailing duties, with ASI Guard Dog funds only and ASI’s choice of a law firm.
On May 3, the Executive Board approved the following motion: that ASI engage the firm of Kelley Drye to conduct a preliminary investigation of lamb imports and violation of U.S. trade laws. The legal agreement with the firm should not obligate ASI beyond the preliminary investigation. This action was in response to a letter sent to ASI from eight member states and the National Lamb Feeders Association in April who requested ASI investigate if there is any evidence to support a trade case against any country/countries importing lamb into the United States.
In the first phase of any successful trade case, the focus is on the affected U.S. industry and whether it can prove it is being materially injured or threatened with material injury; and, if so, whether an increase in imports is a “l cause” thereof.
As part of the investigative phase, surveys will be sent to individuals and companies involved in the American sheep industry. If you receive one of these surveys, it is important to please take the time to fill it out. The compiled results we receive will be one of the factors used to determine whether we move forward to a petition or not. All results received will be aggregated and individual company information will remain confidential.
The volume of imported lamb imported into the United States has increased during the last several years along with consumer demand for lamb. The result has been that domestic lamb has lost market share to imports, with the vast majority of gains in consumer demand going to imported lamb meat products. That fact in and of itself is not reason enough to win a trade case against importing countries.
We must be able to show that the country/countries are “dumping” lamb products into the United States. Dumping occurs when a country or company exports a product at a price that is lower in the foreign importing market than the price in the U.S. market. Dumping can occur also if the U.S. sales prices are below the fully allocated constructed costs plus a reasonable profit in the foreign home market.
Therefore, just because imported products are priced below those of similar domestic products in the United States does not meet the definition of “dumping.” In addition, if there is dumping, a duty will be imposed to offset the amount of the “dumping margin.” If it is determined that the dumping margin is low, then the potential low additional duties may not warrant continued efforts to continue with a legal case. If the dumping margins are moderate to high – and therefore the remedy may also be moderate to high – then pursuing a legal remedy makes much more economic sense.
The other potential remedy is a countervailing case. A countervailing duty is a tariff imposed to “offset” or “countervail” foreign government subsidies on certain products or goods. To be successful with this type of case, it would have to be proven that the importing country/countries were subsidizing their producers with government payments of some kind. The level of potential remedy (duty) in this type of case is also subject to the amount of subsidies being provided by the importing country/countries. The trade law firm we have retained for the investigation phase anticipates the investigation to determine the strength of our case will take between 60 and 90 days.
It is important that our investigation remain confidential. Please do not discuss this with suppliers, customers or anyone outside of your company or the participating lamb organizations.
If you have any questions, please contact ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick at or myself.
Please, stay tuned as we move down this path.
Until then, keep it on the sunny side.


Livestock Marketing Information Center

Now that the Easter holiday has passed, that means summer is quickly arriving. The outlook for lamb production is expected to decrease in 2023 as decreased weights more than offset a marginal increase in lamb slaughter levels. Feeder and slaughter lamb prices have been holding strong through the springtime and are expected to hold steady for the remainder of the year.

First quarter production statistics showed a 6.2-percent increase in commercial sheep and lamb slaughter over last year to 516,400 head. The increase compared to last year is partly due to the timing of the Easter holiday, which came earlier than normal on April 9. Weekly lamb and yearling slaughter once again showed a strong rally leading up to Easter. The four weeks leading up to Easter averaged just more than 40,000 head per week with a range between 38,703 to 41,614 head. Last year, the four weeks leading up to Easter saw weekly lamb and yearling slaughter average about 38,000 per week.
As slaughter levels ramped up, weekly dressed weights started to decline quickly as lambs were pulled through the supply chain for slaughter. Through the first quarter of the year, lamb and yearling dressed weights averaged 65.3 pounds versus 67.7 pounds last year – a decline of more than 3 percent. Weekly data shows lamb and yearling dressed weight declined in the weeks leading up to the Easter holiday and reached a low of 59 pounds the week of Easter.
Since the low, weekly lamb and yearling dressed weights have risen marginally, which is the typical seasonal pattern for this time of year. The decline in dressed weights more than offset higher slaughter levels during the first quarter, which led to a nearly 5-percent increase in commercial lamb production to 33 million pounds.
The Livestock Marketing Information Center is forecasting commercial sheep and lamb slaughter to be up marginally by half a percent for 2023 to almost 2.1 million head. Dressed weights are expected to moderate lower leading to an annual decline of 3 percent for commercial lamb production to 127.6 million pounds for 2023.

March trade statistics were recently released and first quarter totals for the year show lamb imports were down 5.5 million pounds – 8.5 percent – to 59.2 million pounds. First quarter imports declined from both Australia and New Zealand. Imports from Australia during the first quarter were 42.6 million pounds, a 7.5-percent or 3.4-million-pound decrease from the same period last year. Shipments from New Zealand fell 2.4 million pounds – 13.5 percent – to 15.6 million pounds in the first quarter.
Mutton imports declined 17.2 percent during the first quarter to 19.5 million pounds. Lower mutton imports were due to a 21.1-percent decrease in shipments from Australia to 16.9 million pounds. This more than offset a 53.1-percent increase in mutton imports from New Zealand, totaling nearly 2.5 million pounds.
Annual lamb and mutton imports are expected to moderate lower about 9 percent for 2023 to 327 million pounds. Australia will be the main factor influencing U.S. lamb imports. The most recent forecast available for Australian lamb production is pegged to be a record, rising 3.5 percent above 2022, which was the prior record. Higher production will lead to larger exportable lamb supplies for Australian lamb. Exchange rates will be a factor in determining Australia’s competitiveness to export lamb. The Australian dollar has moved higher compared to the U.S. dollar, making Australian lamb more expensive or less price competitive.

The most recent data available for lamb and mutton cold storage stocks is for the month of March. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported lamb and mutton stock levels at 25.4 million pounds, down 11 percent or just over 3 million pounds from the prior month.
Compared to a year ago, stock levels are up almost 6 percent or 1.4 million pounds. Seasonally, lamb and mutton stocks gradually climb through the summer months before a drawdown during the fourth quarter holiday season.

The first quarter three-market (Colo., S.D. and Texas) average feeder lamb price was $177.50 per cwt., down 45 percent from last year’s first quarter record level of $325.13 per cwt. In April, the three-market feeder lamb price averaged $210.38 per cwt. with some momentum carrying into prices during the first part of May. LMIC is forecasting the annual three-market feeder lamb price to range from $174 to $182 per cwt., down 24 percent from last year.
Slaughter lamb prices (national, negotiated, live) averaged $134.25 per cwt. during the first quarter, down 40 percent from the first quarter of last year, which was $224.17 per cwt. Prices in April averaged $156.83 per cwt., up more than $12 per cwt. from the first quarter’s average price, but more than 28 percent below prices in April 2022. LMIC is forecasting annual slaughter lamb prices to range from $140 to $148 per cwt., down 17 percent from 2022.
The lamb cutout value has been trending slightly lower since the start of the year from $473.40 per cwt. to $447.42 per cwt. the first week of May. Compared to last year, on average the lamb cutout value has been tracking about 25 percent or $146 per cwt. below last year’s levels each week since the start of the year. Compared to the five-year average – 2017 to 2021 – the lamb cutout value has been tracking 30 percent or just over $100 per cwt. higher, on average, since the start of the year.
Values for the rack, loin, leg and shoulder have been holding steady or trending slightly lower since the start of the year.

Wool prices across the various microns were mixed during April, but were generally showing marginal improvement at the start of May. During the month of April, prices for the finer micron wools – 17 to 19 – mostly continued the downward trend that started in March. April saw prices slide lower another 1 to 3 percent. At the start of May, fine wool prices were up marginally. Prices for medium micron wools – 20 to 24 microns – saw modest gains in April with the trend continuing into the first part of May. The 25- to 32-micron wools were slightly lower through most of April but were showing improvement at the start of May.
As discussed earlier, exchange rates are a factor in the competitiveness of wool trade globally. In recent months, the Australian dollar has strengthened relative to the U.S. dollar. A strengthening Australian dollar means that Australian wool exports are more expensive, which could limit Australia’s competitiveness to export wool globally.
Conversely, a weakening U.S. dollar can lead to American wool exports being relatively more price competitive globally. The flip side to this would be a stronger Australian dollar would mean that Australia can import goods relatively cheaper, while a relatively weaker U.S. dollar would make U.S. imported goods more expensive.

ASI’s Hubbard Offers Farm Bill Testimony

ASI Executive Board member Laurie Hubbard of Pennsylvania testified at A Review of Animal Agriculture Stakeholder Priorities hearing before the U.S. House’s Committee on Agriculture on May 17 in Washington, D.C. What follows is the written testimony provided to the committee.

Price inflation, labor challenges, lamb imports and ongoing economic uncertainty are pressuring the American lamb and wool businesses. These are in turn impacting the sustainability of the sheep industry. There is some optimism as consumer interest in sustainability has become more mainstream and is providing opportunities for our industry as wool is being recognized as a natural regenerative fiber for performance wear, and the vast environmental benefits of targeted grazing with sheep, are being recognized by private and public land managers and solar developers across the country.
We are fortunate to have an American lamb checkoff program, which proved invaluable during the disruptions of the recent years. According to the American Lamb Board, the Covid pandemic caused huge losses within lamb’s fundamental fine dining market but created opportunities for retail sales and at-home consumption. While consumers are buying lamb, elevated price levels have made it difficult for lamb to compete with other proteins. More product is coming from imports, usually with a significant price advantage over American lamb. The non-traditional or ethnic market – with demand for smaller carcasses – has grown and cultural preferences are creating new opportunities for our industry. The pandemic led to the loss of a major lamb processor in 2020, yet smaller processors are emerging and being embraced by a society seeking a more local supply structure. High production costs have made it more costly to get lamb to the consumer and the inflationary environment has impacted consumer’s willingness to purchase American lamb. Producer and lamb feeder profit margins have been pressured as lamb prices have not kept pace with higher input costs and feed prices.
I would note that commercial lamb feeders have been unprofitable for 13 consecutive months.
The American wool industry continues to endure several challenges which are adversely impacting American wool producers. The American wool market is heavily dependent on the export market. Over the last decade, approximately 67 percent of American wool is exported, with 72 percent of those exports destined for China. The ensuing global pandemic resulted in the closure of key international markets and drastically altered consumer demand for apparel products. The Chinese trade tariffs and the lost markets for American wool drove wool prices down and large supplies of wool into storage. We have classes of wool today that bring only pennies per pound to producers and the impending closure of the Mid-States Wool Cooperative headquartered in Ohio is a major concern for Midwest and Eastern sheep producers.
The American Sheep Industry Association strongly supports reauthorization of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill). The Farm Bill should provide producers with a reasonable safety net for market risk, encourage rural growth, and support the production of food and fiber.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized nonrecourse marketing assistance loans and loan deficiency payments for wool to eligible producers who grow and shear wool. This safety net needs to be drastically improved to address current market conditions including inflation and supply chain disruptions. Illustrative of how little support the wool commodity program provides, our records indicate over the life of the 2018 Farm Bill – specifically the 2019-2022 crop years – the commodity program supporting wool has only expended approximately $12.5 million. The national loan rates for graded and ungraded wool were established in 2002 and have not been adjusted since to keep pace with the market and producer costs. The outdated rates creating an ineffective support program, coupled with the recent low levels of producer income, is why ASI is supporting a re-examination of the wool loan rate and an adjustment so that sheep producers have one effective risk management tool.
The American lamb industry is currently without a market-based risk management program. As the lamb industry continues to face market challenges due to pandemic related market disturbances, lamb producers and feeders do not have the tools to address higher feed and input prices, price instability and increased market risk. The increase in interest rates is also going to impact sheep producers and lamb feeders needing to secure capital to sustain their operations. The data gaps in Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting resulting in the corresponding lack of published prices led the industry to support USDA’s withdrawal of Livestock Risk Protection – Lamb in 2021. LRP-Lamb was a federal lamb price insurance product and the only risk protection product available to lamb producers and feeders to hedge their risk.

An outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in the United States would have a devastating impact on the sheep and wool industry. That is why the American Sheep Industry Association is supporting several efforts aimed at safeguarding sheep production and promoting business continuity in the face of a foreign animal disease outbreak. ASI strongly supports continued funding of the animal disease prevention and management programs established in the 2018 Farm Bill.
These programs include the National Annual Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank – which is the only vaccine bank that allows USDA to stockpile animal vaccines and related products to use in the event of an outbreak of FMD or other high-impact foreign animal diseases – the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and the National Veterinary Stockpile. All these programs are vital to protecting the United States livestock industry against a foreign animal disease outbreak.

America’s sheep producers have limited means to protect and prevent disease in their animals as animal health and welfare are critical aspects for ensuring a sustainable sheep industry. The cost to bring a new animal drug to market is rising and many pharmaceutical companies are not investing in developing products for sheep. USDA established the Minor Use Animal Drug Program to address the shortage of animal drugs for minor species and uses by funding and overseeing the efficacy, animal safety, and human food safety research and environmental assessment required for Food and Drug Administration drug approval.
Funding for this program ceased in 2016, and as a result the program lacks the staff and expertise to meet its mission of increasing the number of therapeutic drugs approved for minor animal species. To remedy this, ASI supports an annual allocation to USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Minor Use Animal Drug Program of $5 million to fund research and development to support the approval of new drug products for sheep.

Ensuring there is not a lapse in Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting is critical to the United States sheep industry. Unfortunately for sheep producers, LMR has not adjusted to changes in the lamb industry. Of particular concern is the implementation of the current LMR confidentiality guideline, which restricts market information available to sheep producers. In 2011, there were 13 reports under mandatory price reporting for lamb. Today, there are only five reports available, all of which are national reports released on a weekly basis. Of these five reports, the amount of information provided in the slaughter lamb report has increasingly diminished over the years with the data on formula traded lambs not being reported since 2020.
The American Sheep Industry Association has proposed several potential changes to LMR that we believe would enhance the program’s effectiveness for lamb producers while protecting the interests of everyone in the supply chain. The first recommendation is to change or replace the 3/70/20 Confidentiality Guideline. This guideline is not required by statute and current market prices have a relatively short-term relevance. By the time prices are reported, they only reflect past transactions. Prices and market activity can be reported without sacrificing confidentiality and the current confidentiality guideline by USDA is stifling the information lamb producers need to make accurate marketing decisions. Additionally, ASI has recommended that USDA amend LMR, so it reflects the unique nature of today’s lamb industry and is in discussions on developing a lamb contracts library pilot program based on the recent program for cattle. ASI believes these changes would greatly enhance the program for all users.

The lamb market in the United States is heavily influenced by imported lamb, particularly from Australia and New Zealand, which make up over 50 percent of total lamb sales. The American Sheep Industry Association in response has asked successive administrations to prioritize lamb export opportunities for United States producers before allowing additional imports. Our industry still cannot access potentially lucrative markets like China, the European Union and the United Kingdom; this despite the opening of our market in 2021 to imported lamb from the United Kingdom. The domestic industry’s ability to withstand additional import pressure at this challenging time, and the United Kingdom’s tremendous potential for significant lamb exports in the wake of their departure from the European Union is a concern for United States lamb producers. A cautious and deliberative approach is necessary to ensure that while trade may be free, it is fair.
Wool trade too remains a challenge. While we have seen an increase in wool shipments to China, numbers are still significantly lower than they were prior to the tariff retaliation. Additionally, shipping challenges continue to mount. The same holds true for the export of pelts. Prior to the implementation of tariffs, 72 percent of American raw wool exports and 80 percent of sheep skins were sent to China. Continuing to build strength in the international marketing of lamb and wool requires a commitment to the promotion and export of United States wool to export markets through strong USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Program funding. ASI supports increased funding for FAS programs including the Market Access Program, the Foreign Market Development Program and the Quality Samples Program. These programs are vital for providing value to America’s wool producers through expanding export markets for American wool and sheepskins.

The American Sheep Industry Association has a decades long history of a reliable, consistent, and legal workforce. Sheep ranchers depend on the H-2A sheepherder program to help care for and protect more than one-third of the ewes and lambs in the United States. To meet those needs, the industry has participated in temporary visa programs – in various forms – since the 1950s. As a result, sheep producers employ a legal labor force with an estimated eight American jobs created/supported by each foreign worker employed. A workable temporary foreign labor program is essential for the sheep industry, including the special procedures for herding in future legislation involving immigration reform.

With 5 million head of sheep, animal drug manufacturers often find that securing FDA approval for new, innovative and even older products is not cost effective for this market. While the Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Health Act of 2004 is intended to make more products legally available for minor animal species, the current FDA animal drug-approval process is unworkable for the sheep industry. It is prohibitively expensive, which is discouraging the development of products for the prevention and treatment of sheep diseases in the United States. The lack of access to these products which are used by our competitors in other countries, places the United States sheep producers at a disadvantage, not to mention limiting their ability to ensure the welfare of their animals and the safety of the national food supply.
While imported lamb may be treated with a product that has a USDA/Food Safety Inspection Service accepted residue level, that same product often is not approved for use in the United States by the FDA. ASI is requesting a study by the General Accountability Office on the MUMS Act to evaluate if the objectives set forth are being met with respect to sheep, the effectiveness of the incentives to address the high development costs, the cost and duration to bring a new animal drug product to market versus other countries, and to review the number of products for sheep in the United States relative to the those available in our competing markets.

Coyotes, mountain lions, wolves and bears kill tens of thousands of lambs each year. Livestock losses attributed to these predators cost producers more than $232 million annually. American sheep producers rely on USDA/Wildlife Services, state and county programs to effectively control and manage predation by state managed and federally protected predatory species.
The Livestock protection program is majority funded by industry and local cooperators. Sheep producers have adopted many techniques to reduce predation, including the wide-spread use of livestock protection dogs, but access to lethal and non-lethal predator control methods must be maintained. We add our support for Congressional action to provide us more options to address avian predators, primarily the black vulture which is expanding its range and increasingly the primary predator in areas of the United States.
Thank you for your support of the livestock industry and for allowing me to visit with you about our priorities.

Grant Applications Due This Summer to NSIIC

The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center will accept 2023 grant proposals from July 1 through Sept. 15.
The NSIIC board of directors encourages grants, programs and proposals that align with priorities established during the listening sessions and are consistent with the sheep center’s mission statement. The primary objective of NSIIC’s Sheep Production and Marketing Grant Program is to fund projects determined by industry leaders to be priorities for benefitting the American sheep industry. That includes projects that:
• Strengthen and enhance the production and marketing of sheep and sheep products in the United States through the improvement of infrastructure, business, resource development and the development of innovative approaches to solve long term problems.
• Provide leadership training and education to industry stakeholders.
• Enhance sheep and sheep products in the U.S. through assistance to all segments of the industry to address sustainable production and marketing of sheep and sheep products.
• Promote marketing of sheep and sheep products through an organized method that can measure tangible results.
• Enhance the sheep industry by coordinating information exchange and by seeking mutual understanding and marketing within the industry community.
There is no dollar limit on grant applications, however the average grant is $29,000. All projects have approximately 18 months to be completed. However, if circumstances warrant a longer time period, a no-cost extension may be requested.
For more information, visit or email

2023 ASI Photo Contest Now Accepting Entries

It’s time to start sorting through those great photos you took the past few years and prepare to enter them in the 2023 ASI Photo Contest. Winning entries will be featured in the October issue of the Sheep Industry News.
“Submissions in the ASI Photo Contest continue to be of the highest quality,” said Sheep Industry News Editor Kyle Partain. “In addition, they are a valuable resource for the association as they provide ASI with photos that show a variety of breeds, regions of the country and production systems for use in publications throughout the year.”
Rules and prizes for the 2023 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.
Entries must be received in the ASI office by 5 p.m. mountain time on Tuesday, Aug. 1, to be considered. Only the top three photographers in each category will be notified of their winnings.
Photographers are advised to submit digital 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 2024 ASI Calendar and other ASI publications.
The five categories in this year’s contest are:
1. Shepherd/Shepherdess – Photographs of producers, shepherds or others working with sheep.
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, but electronic submissions are preferred.
• 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 that goes with the photo, please include that, as well, with the entry.
Entries should be emailed to Partain at 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.

Are You Ready for the Changes
to Over-the-Counter Antibiotics?

Director of Analytics & Production Programs

On June 11, FDA’s Guidance for Industry #263 will go into effect, which means the marketing status for certain medically important antimicrobial drugs will move from over-the-counter to prescription only. This is part of FDA’s effort to combat antimicrobial resistance by promoting the judicious use of medically important antimicrobials in animals.
This means some products – such as injectable penicillin and oxytetracycline (LA-200) – will require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. This does not mean you are required to purchase these products from a veterinarian, just that you need a prescription to purchase from your retail or online supplier. This guidance does not affect dewormers or vaccines.
If you have not already established a veterinary-client-patient relationship with a veterinarian, now is the time to develop that relationship as this guidance will be in effect shortly after the time of this publication. A VCPR is a formal relationship that you have with a veterinarian who serves as your primary contact for all veterinary services and is familiar with you, your sheep and your operation. To continue using medically important antimicrobials, you will need to establish a VCPR with your veterinarian.
Keeping track of which sheep have been treated with antibiotics will be important as you work with your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian for a record form that you can use to keep track of the sheep that are treated with antibiotics. You might want to consider including vaccinations and dewormer treatments as this information can help you and your veterinarian make decisions to improve the health and wellbeing of your animals.
To ensure you are ready for this change, contact your veterinarian to discuss how to move forward. Scan the QR Code to find information on the ASI website including frequently asked questions, a list of which products will be impacted, resources on antibiotic stewardship and an option to search for a veterinarian in your area.

EPA Clarifies Reporting of Animal Waste Emissions

Director of Analytics & Production Programs

On June 11, FDA’s Guidance for Industry #263 will go into effect, which means the marketing status for certain medically important antimicrobial drugs will move from over-the-counter to prescription only. This is part of FDA’s effort to combat antimicrobial resistance by promoting the judicious use of medically important antimicrobials in animals.
This means some products – such as injectable penicillin and oxytetracycline (LA-200) – will require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. This does not mean you are required to purchase these products from a veterinarian, just that you need a prescription to purchase from your retail or online supplier. This guidance does not affect dewormers or vaccines.
If you have not already established a veterinary-client-patient relationship with a veterinarian, now is the time to develop that relationship as this guidance will be in effect shortly after the time of this publication. A VCPR is a formal relationship that you have with a veterinarian who serves as your primary contact for all veterinary services and is familiar with you, your sheep and your operation. To continue using medically important antimicrobials, you will need to establish a VCPR with your veterinarian.
Keeping track of which sheep have been treated with antibiotics will be important as you work with your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian for a record form that you can use to keep track of the sheep that are treated with antibiotics. You might want to consider including vaccinations and dewormer treatments as this information can help you and your veterinarian make decisions to improve the health and wellbeing of your animals.
To ensure you are ready for this change, contact your veterinarian to discuss how to move forward. Scan the QR Code to find information on the ASI website including frequently asked questions, a list of which products will be impacted, resources on antibiotic stewardship and an option to search for a veterinarian in your area.

Meet the Exec. Board
Joe Pozzi
Valley Ford, Calif.

Several years removed from his role as the Region VIII representative to the ASI Executive Board, Joe Pozzi was elected earlier this year as secretary/treasurer for the association. A fourth-generation rancher, he’s taken the family operation in a handful of new directions that easily show the value of niche marketing for both lamb and coarse wool. Working with his daughter, Alexandra, Pozzi has positioned himself as a price giver – and not a price taker – in an effort to eliminate the volatility that often makes the day-to-day work of sheep production so difficult.

MY GREAT GRANDPARENTS IMMIGRATED HERE from Italy and Ireland in the late 1800s. Both sides had small dairies back in Italy and Ireland, so the family operated a small dairy in California until the early 1970s. We were at a point of transition where we needed to get bigger or do something else. On the ranch we also had some sheep. So, we transitioned more to beef cows and the sheep business. I went to a local junior college and then to Chico State, which is a great school here in Northern California. Both schools really opened my eyes to the opportunities that were out there.

I CAME BACK AND DECIDED TO EXPAND the sheep business. I was running 1,000 ewes and 100 cows. Even at that, I needed a side job to justify my ranch operation. I remember one day, I sold a load of lambs – beautiful lambs – and the price I got still couldn’t pay for things. The market just wasn’t there for a small producer to make it on that. So, I started to question, how do I do this and make it work? Then one day, I was at a local wool growers meeting. A local individual came to the meeting wanting to buy wool for a bedding business. At the time (in the early 1990s), our wool was worth about 16 cents a pound. It’s only worth about 20 cents a pound now, so it hasn’t changed much in all those years. After the meeting, I went and met with the individual at their showroom. Their mattresses were selling for about $3,000 each and they were filled with wool. If I hadn’t been at that meeting, I might have missed that opportunity.

THEY WERE LOOKING FOR THOUSANDS of pounds of wool and asked me what I wanted for it. I said, how about 75 cents, they said it sounded great. At one point, I was buying wool from 40 to 50 producers in Northern California. We were doing over 200,000 pounds of greased wool a year. It brought back value to the growers, and myself, as we produced a beautiful product for the consumer. In 2015, the bedding companies we were selling to wanted to shift to certified organic wool, which is very difficult to do in the United States. So, instead of selling to other companies, we started our own called Sonoma Wool Company. We started here in California, but then expanded it to Massachusetts. It’s been great because we have ties to the wool industry here, and the East Coast where we have access to a lot of small mills. We opened our first retail store in Brewster, Mass. But we sell a lot of our products online. We’ve added value to the product and provide the consumer with the story behind that product, as well as how we raise our sheep. The Sonoma name is well known and since it’s where we raise our sheep, the name seemed to fit. With all niche markets, it is challenging and hands-on, but it gives me a chance to create a value and a fair price coming back to the producers. As a small producer, you always have to think a little outside the box.

ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY CAME MY WAY when someone was looking for grass-fed lamb about 17 years ago. I talked to them and that spawned a business opportunity. We’ve built it up to where we’re selling weekly loads of grass-fed lamb to various retail outlets throughout Northern California. Instead of loading the lambs on a truck once a year, we are processing lambs every week. As it’s grown, I’ve added other producers to the program from the region. They have different lambing dates, so we have fresh lamb all year long. This a big plus for the shelf space. Once you get it, you want to keep it. I’m also able to sit down with the retailers to discuss my cost and a price I would get for my lamb. We try to keep our prices steady for both the producer and retailer. The price stability helps everybody

I THINK THERE ARE TREMENDOUS GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES out there for all wools. You have to make those connections and have a story to tell about your products. Wool – whether it’s fine or coarse – is such a great product. Our tag line at Sonoma Wool is “Rediscover The Wonders of Wool.” We moved away from that during the synthetic revolution, but if you listen to their advertisements, they are mimicking everything wool does. It wicks away moisture, it breathes, it dries, it’s odor free. Wool does all of this by itself without any chemical manipulations. It’s been exciting for us to bring consumers back to the wool market.

I WONDERED IF I SHOULD RUN FOR THIS POSITION or not. But I feel like the industry has been good to me, and it’s important to give back. Several people had asked me about doing this in the past and I decided if I was going to do it, I needed to do it now. I hope I can make a difference by providing some valuable input.

Festival Celebrates 50 Years
of Fiber in Maryland

ASI Wool Production Programs Manager

Saturday morning at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival felt like a rock concert. It was abuzz with excitement and anticipation with fiber enthusiasts itching to get their hands on the best fleeces and yarn.
Conducted May 5-7 at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Md., there were three lines of people – each stretching for almost a quarter of a mile – waiting at the gates. Once they opened, festival goers quickly made their way through the ticket lines and flooded the grounds in search of everything from fleeces to sheep to equipment to food.
It would be easy to attribute the excitement to the fact that 2023 marked the show’s 50th anniversary. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate, either. Regulars will tell you that it’s like this almost every year. With green grass and trees in full bloom, the fairgrounds welcomed huge crowds and provided warm, sunny weather in recognition of the golden anniversary.
Special events to mark the occasion included a 50th anniversary museum that offered a look back at all of the past festivals. An opening ceremony took time to recognize many of the people who worked tirelessly to create the festival in the early years. They included Dahl Denning, Charlote Dinsmore, Bob Dinsmore, David Greene, Dally Irvine, Nancy Greene and Ann Ruppert.

The Maryland Sheep Breeders Association has had a wool pool to gather and sell members’ wool for a long time. During one such wool pool, handspinners came to skim off a few of the top-quality fleeces before the rest were bagged and shipped. While this created some logistical issues, it sparked the idea of a market to sell fleeces. Thus started the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in 1973, founded by MSBA and directed by Festival Chair Janet Sorrels.
The festival has always focused on creating a place where producers can sell their wool and where fiber artists can come to buy that wool. The festival really opened up the market beyond selling commercially. The economic impact has been huge when you think about the number of visitors and the amount of food, fiber, sheep and sheep supplies sold during the festival. The number of sheep in Maryland has remained fairly constant, but the wool pool has ceased in recent years as so many producers have moved to raising high-quality wool (or hair sheep).
The festival continues to be the flagship event for MSBA and is put on by a dedicated committee led by Chairman Gwen Handler, General Manager Kris Thorne, MSBA President Jeff White and 65 volunteers. With humble beginnings working to connect producers and buyers, the festival is now among the biggest sheep festivals in the United States.

No matter when you walk into the Fleece Barn, the place is buzzing with excitement. Here’s how it works. Friday is fleece check-in and judging day. The place is filled with clean, lustrous fleeces as producers and volunteers checking them in. Lee Langstaff runs it like a well-oiled machine, handling the 860 fleeces entered in the show and sale. Fleeces must be for sale – honoring the original intent of the festival – but producers can choose if they will be judged.
Also keeping to tradition, only sheep fleeces are accepted. Nearly 500 fleeces were judged by Letty Kline, Geof Ruppert, Dr. Shawn Ramsey and Zane Bone. Most were in breed classes while 200 competed in the white fleece and natural colored fleece divisions – which can include crossbreds. There are even divisions for uncoated – although still fairly clean – fleeces and down breeds.
“We are eager to draw in more of our meat sheep breeders, who have traditionally not participated much,” said Langstaff. “It’s unfortunate since the handspinners and other fiber artists are increasingly interested in working with wool from breeds such as Southdowns, Suffolks, Shrops, Hamps, Clun Forest, Tunis and others. A few years ago, I added a new class for down-type wool as a separate class from other medium white wools so that they could be more easily found by interested buyers and so they don’t have to compete against the Corries and Finns, etc. as they are such different types. I’m still very interested in getting more participation from these producers since they are surely not getting anything meaningful for their wool from the commercial market.”
Saturday morning is the prime time to sell fleeces and it is a spectacle one has to witness to fully appreciate as hordes of fiber enthusiasts flock to the Fleece Barn to get their hands on one (or 10) fleeces to purchase and take home. There are literally traffic jams trying to get through the isles. Producers set the price and most fleeces are sold by the end of the weekend. Volunteers are also scattered through the barn to help buyers find the right fleece.
The champion fleece in each category is put into the newly named – and in honor of one of the festival’s founders – David Greene Silent Auction. This year’s white grand champion fleece was a gorgeous white, five-inch long fleece with blocky locks and stunning crimp and luster grown by Ruppert Corriedales. It was the kind of fleece that is easy for fiber artists to spin and makes everyone in the barn drool. It sold for an astounding $80 per pound.
More than 700 fleeces were purchased by buyers coming from 30 different states. Coated fleeces – where the sheep wear a coat throughout the year to keep the wool clean – typically sell for about $21 per pound, while uncoated fleeces usually sell for about $17 per pound.
“Handspinners are interested in all kinds of wool, especially unique, well taken-care-of fleeces,” Langstaff said. “This is a great opportunity for producers.”

Roughly 800 sheep came to the festival and had to be scattered throughout several barns. They kept the two show rings constantly busy throughout the weekend with breed and wool shows. The bleachers and all the way around the rings were crowded with onlookers throughout the weekend. Past numbers – when sheep numbers in the United States were higher – climbed upwards of 1,250 sheep.
While less base breeds such as Rambouillet and Corriedale participate, there has been an explosion in natural color and long wool breeds. Producers new and old flock to the show to showcase their wool sheep, which are judged by Dr. Shawn Ramsey and Zane Bone While some sheep excelled in confirmation and some shined in their wool, several excelled in both. The supreme champion drive was held late Sunday afternoon with a supreme champion ram, ewe and fleece awarded.
New this year was the junior show for youth.
“We need more youth involved,” said Dr. Mara Mullinix, who oversees the sheep show. “Youth have new ideas, but we also need to learn from the old, and all stay open minded.”
Walking into the quiet room of the Junior Skillathon, festival goers are struck by how focused the kids are and the variety of sheep related items on the tables. From sheep supplies, to hay, to different feeds, to cuts of lamb, to fleeces, kids are tested on their knowledge of the items. It’s a great, fun way to educate the next generation on the many aspects on raising sheep.

Approximately 250 booths were scattered in almost every building, tent, nook and cranny throughout the expansive fairgrounds. The main exhibit barn was packed with yarns, pelts, trinkets and even wool pillows. Outside booths offered wool shoes, honey and sheep supplies. If you’re into local food, music, fiber arts or are just an animal lover, this was the place to do your Christmas, birthday, mother’s day, and every other holiday’s shopping for the year.

Seminars were held the week prior to and during the festival and are not only for fiber artists. There were also classes specifically for producers, such as the How to Produce a Nice Fleece class. Other producer classes revolved around pest management, antibiotics, animal welfare, solar grazing and sheep breeds.
More than two dozen instructors come from across the United States. The classes on spinning were the most popular.
“You can take knitting classes all over, but spinning classes are hard to come by…especially with nationally renowned instructors,” said Lois Greer, the seminars’ co-superintendent. “Some of the classes are extremely popular and fill up fast. It’s like getting Taylor Swift tickets.”
In recent years, there have been about 50 classes held, both on and off-site.
Education came in other forms, as well. An exhibit on antique shearing equipment had people staring in awe at the old cutters, handpieces, grinding wheels, sheep bells and more. Sporting an ASI hat and leaning on a shepherd’s crook, this exhibit was prepared by David Greene, a former shearer and one of the festival’s founders.
Producers also had the chance to bid on used shearing blades, fitting stands and feed equipment on Sunday afternoon in the sunshine. The tree-lined outdoor arena drew some of its biggest crowds for a sheep dog demonstration as a Border Collie worked a small flock of sheep. Attendees even had the opportunity to see the evolution of clothing styles through Make It With Wool garments from the past 50 years.
The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is truly a place for producers, fiber enthusiasts and anyone looking to enjoy all sheep have to offer. There’s so much to see and do that this article merely scratches the surface.
“It’s wonderful what a group of people working together for a common goal can accomplish,” said Pamela Jenkins, seminars co-superintendent.

Fibershed Gets to Work on
$30 Million Grant

With Fibershed among a group of applicants that was tentatively awarded a $30 million Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities grant last fall from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American sheep industry celebrated its inclusion in the program. After all, producers have known for decades or more that sheep provide countless environmental benefits.
Of the $30 million awarded, $18 million of that will flow directly to wool and cotton growers who participate in the program. Heading into the summer, the five-year program is starting to take shape.
“We just got the official contract signed last week,” Fibershed Climate Beneficial Technician Mike Conover said in mid-April. “It’s been a long process and we’re still trying to figure out what the recruiting process looks like. We’re going to be looking to work with producers on different scales.”
Based in California, Fibershed has conducted similar climate-beneficial projects throughout the state, working with producers who run sheep on anywhere from five acres to 100,000 acres to sequester carbon, regenerate soil health and resilience, improve social equity and bolster America’s ability to produce Climate Beneficial fiber.
“Climate Beneficial wool growers took the first risk with us in 2015 and now Climate Beneficial cotton growers are putting themselves out to trial new ways of doing things for the health of the soil and the climate,” said Fibershed Founder and Executive Director Rebecca Burgess in a press release announcing the grant. “This grant allows us to build out the markets in the ways that we need to, to keep rural communities strong, farmers farming and ranchers ranching in a way that puts carbon back where it belongs.”
The National Center for Appropriate Technology is the lead organization on the grant. Fibershed, the Carbon Cycle Institute, Colorado State University, Seed2Shirt and New York Textile Lab join NCAT as the core Partnership team, which will support the expansion of climate-smart wool and cotton production on 100 farms and ranches spread across almost two million acres.
“We have a set of producers we know are already interested, but we are also actively looking for producers who want to be a part of this project,” Conover said. “We want to uplift the entire natural fiber industry – both wool and cotton – and make markets more valuable across the country while rooting these operations in practices that are actively accelerating carbon drawdown. Ideally, this program would grow to a national scale, but at the moment we’re focused on particular regions. Producers in these regions are the ones we’re specifically looking to work with.”

Fibershed and its partners will be enrolling wool producers in Montana, South Dakota,Wyoming and California to take part in the grant program. Wool growers from New York State are also eligible as New York Textile Lab – a Fibershed affiliate – is also a partner on this project. From providing technical assistance and developing a carbon farm plan, to funding for practice implementation identified in those plans, the grant will put money directly into producers’ pockets during the next five years.
“There’s an implementation fund that will provide cost share reimbursement, similar to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which many producers might be familiar with,” Conover said. “It will also provide a producer stipend fund to compensate producers for the time they spend on the carbon farm planning process.”
Carbon farm planning is a whole farm assessment that identifies opportunities for increasing carbon capture and storage, such as planting a windbreak, pasture seeding, applying compost to rangeland or pasture rotation. In many cases, these are things producers are already doing as stewards of the land they graze.
“Producers might not have the terminology to express it yet, but a lot of them are already doing climate beneficial work,” Conover said. “The project is designed to uplift what producers are doing and support them in continuing to do that work while taking it to the next level. We want them to look at any and all additional practices they might be able to implement.”
While all wool producers in the primary target states are eligible and encouraged to apply to participate in the project, wool growers must come in with an interest and an openness toward implementing climate beneficial projects. They should also be interested in the marketing opportunities that might come from taking part in the program. The project team is also upholding values around serving traditionally underserved producers, and achieving ambitious greenhouse gas benefits.
“One of our projects in California is the Climate Beneficial Wool Pool,” Conover said. “We work with producers to aggregate their wool and make connections to the Climate Beneficial supply chain. We support the pool by building connections with brands seeking to source Climate Beneficial material. Producers could sell their wool into our wool pool, and we’ll use the volume to work with a variety of different brands. We’re doing similar work with cotton, but in a slightly different way.”
Fibershed’s wool pool in California works with fine wool producers, but the USDA grant program will be open to all wool – regardless of whether it’s fine, medium or coarse. While Fibershed has traditionally worked with companies looking for fine wool, it’s hoping to develop additional markets for coarse wool, as well.
Producers can visit and fill out a form expressing interest in the program if they’d like to be considered for inclusion.
“The program creates a verification and designation for producers as Climate Beneficial Verified, and they may then use that designation in marketing their wool or cotton,” Conover said. “We’ll be connecting them to expanded marketing opportunities through brand connections that we’re strengthening. We’re working to build the whole Climate Beneficial fiber supply chain, from the producers themselves all the way to the brands.”

The grant project will leverage an existing framework developed by the Carbon Cycle Institute to walk producers through the carbon farm planning process. Growers will receive technical assistance in developing a carbon farm plan. This spring, NCAT announced the hiring process for three new carbon farm planners to work with the program in the Northern Great Plains.
“Carbon farm planning is a comprehensive process to work with producers to understand their goals and to assess particular landscapes and identify all potential opportunities for carbon capture on those landscapes,” Conover said.
In addition, producers in the program will use COMET-Planner – developed by Colorado State University, COMET Team – to quantify the greenhouse benefits resulting from implementation of climate beneficial practices on their operations.
Based on its previous work in California, Fibershed saw USDA’s Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities grant program as the perfect opportunity to expand an already successful program.
“Among our several goals for atmospheric carbon drawdown and improvement of soil health, a high priority for our ranch has been compost application onto sheep pastures,” wrote Lynn and Jim Moody of Blue Oak Canyon Ranch near San Miguel, Calif. “We are very grateful to Fibershed and honored to have been awarded a Carbon Farm Seed Fund Grant to purchase compost for nearly 10 acres. Like many small ranches, we operate on something of an ‘economic edge’ and the financial aid granted by Fibershed truly has been a boon to our ranch operations.”
Conover said many producers share the Moody’s concerns about the financial burden of new projects around the farm or ranch.
“Funding is always the main issue when you’re asking producers to take on some of these projects. Producers can have all of the interest and best intentions in the world when it comes to thinking about their practices differently, but it often comes down to can they afford to do it? In California, we have the California Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Soils Program, as well as other state and federal grants such as the NRCS EQIP program. We work closely with local resource conservation districts and NRCS conservation planners to connect producers to funding opportunities where they exist. We also have our own grant fund – the Carbon Farm Seed Fund Program – that we’re able to offer to support different practices. It’s on a much smaller scale, of course, than the state and federal funding options. But it can complement those other sources.”
Ultimately, Fibershed wants to support farmers and ranchers in their role of providing climate beneficial fiber to the consumer.
“We’ve seen producer livelihoods threatened by economic conditions and by climate change,” Conover said. “Building a more robust supply chain and rooting those practices in work that is going to accelerate carbon drawdown is the real essence of this project.”

Intensively Grazing in North Carolina

Running 100 ewes on 10 (and a half) acres, John Brasfield has an operation that Western producers can only imagine. Welcome to North Carolina, where intensive grazing and high stocking rates aren’t just a dream, they’re a reality.
The 2022 winner of the North Carolina Sheep Producers Association Shepherd Award, John currently serves as vice president of the association (and has served as president in the past). As a retired livestock agent and county extension director, he knows a thing or two about managing forage and livestock. And he’s learned quite a bit about raising sheep since getting into the industry in 1987.
Mostly a club lamb producer, John and his wife, Laurie, run a commercial operation and sell registered breeding stock and freezer lamb. They lamb in both the winter and spring to provide lambs for both spring and fall shows.
“We have a small ethnic market, and when we have extra lambs or cull ewes, I ship them to New Holland (Penn.),” John said.
The King, N.C., producer trained for his livestock career when he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in animal science/nutrition from North Carolina State University. His wife has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture that comes in handy, as well.
“We purchased our farm in July 1986. I almost named the farm ‘Speculation Farm’ because we did not know how long our experiment would last,” John said. “I have a feeling that we are now in it for the long haul. We run about 100 ewes. We raise both registered Dorsets and Hamp-Suffolk cross sheep.”
As purchased, the farm didn’t look like the type of place that would support 100 ewes. But the use of fertilizer those first few years helped build soil health. Since 1990, the only fertilizer on the place has been all-natural, provided and applied by John’s own flock.
“The farm was solid broom straw when we first purchased it,” he said. “To newcomers, intensive grazing may seem pretty complicated. All the talk about stocking rates and rest periods can be intimidating or just plain confusing. There is nothing terribly mysterious about intensive grazing. One reason is a simple matter of economics. After three years of intensive grazing, our pastures rebounded and became productive again. We are able to accomplish this type of management style by using temporary polywire electric fence with both store-bought and homemade reels.”
John divided the land into 20 half-acre paddocks and grazes each paddock for three to four days, on average.
“Concentrating sheep on paddocks creates competition for food. Like mowing your lawn, everything is consumed,” he said. “At the same time, the sheep are applying fertilizer to the paddocks. In my opinion undergrazing is worse than overgrazing. The ‘summer slump’ in production is a critical time. You need to make sure that you have enough paddocks so that the plants get sufficient rest during this period of slow growth. During the spring lush growth, I open up the paddocks to let the sheep top off the fast-growing forage in order to keep it at the vegetative stage. Spring is not the time to intensify grazing, unless you want to make hay in other pastures.
“Late summer, I select paddocks for fall and winter grazing in order to extend the grazing season. Examples are stockpiling fescue or planting winter annuals. I also keep a few paddocks in reserve for early spring grazing. Just remember the last paddock grazed in the winter recovers the slowest in the spring. More paddocks means longer rest periods for the plants. I have come to the conclusion that in order to earn a degree in intensive grazing management, you must go through three grazing seasons and one drought.”
Special thanks to Dr. Emily Cope with North Carolina Cooperative Extension for her assistance with this article on John Brasfield.

Major Contribution Fuels Raise the Shed Fundraising Campaign

The South Dakota State Fair Foundation has made some major announcements recently, all giving energy to Raise The Shed. South Dakota Farmers Union has pledged $700,000 to the Raise the Shed Fundraising Campaign.
People of all financial abilities can make an immediate and positive impact by being part of the Raise The Shed: The Grand Drive Campaign. The grand drive focuses on the variety of giving levels that are part of the campaign. Join this unique group and invest $1,000 to receive recognition on the donor wall in a prominent space of the new building. The South Dakota State Fair Foundation challenges 1,000 people to be a part of this unique drive and donate at least $1,000. Doing so will raise $1 million for the campaign.
The fundraising goal is $3 million. The total project cost is approximately $8 million.
Agriculture is South Dakota’s No. 1 industry. By supporting The Shed, donors are supporting youth involvement and education in agriculture, which is necessary to maintain a strong ag industry for future generations.
The Shed will be the new home for Open Class Sheep at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds in Huron, S.D., and serve as a multi-purpose facility including a show arena and educational center. The indoor educational center will provide a place for interactive learning about the sheep industry, opportunities in agriculture and the state’s rich agricultural history.
“A new facility is essential for the continued growth of the sheep industry in South Dakota, and your donation toward building The Shed will help support both youth and open class exhibitors,” said Fred DeRouchey, Raise The Shed committee member. “Our three sons’ involvement with their 4-H and FFA sheep projects and exhibiting at the South Dakota State Fair provided them many opportunities. It helped them develop responsibility feeding and caring for their animals, taught them showmanship and livestock judging skills, and most importantly they made friendships that will last a lifetime.”
The Raise The Shed Campaign includes several donor opportunities for all donation levels including show arena naming rights, donor wall sponsorships and a wool wall. For more information on how to donate visit
The former Open Class Sheep Barn has been demolished, and project planning and design for The Shed is underway. A ground breaking ceremony is expected to be held during the 2024 State Fair.
For additional information about the project or questions, contact South Dakota State Fairgrounds Manager Peggy Besch at 605-353-7340 or or Fundraising Campaign Chairman Larry Tidemann at 605-690-8353.

Author Looks Back on Washington Ranch Life

Noted western writer Wallace Stegner once stated that the most fruitful years for memoirists were those up to age 11. Author Richard W. Etulain thought about that statement for a long time before setting out to write his story, Boyhood Among the Woolies: Growing Up on a Basque Sheep Ranch, just released by Basalt Books.
It covers his early youth on a sprawling sheep ranch 20 miles east of Ritzville, Wash., and about 70 miles south of Spokane, Wash. – 11 years that became the launching point for his later career as a western history professor.
Etulain notes that his experiences markedly differed from those of most young men from the surrounding farms and estates. About 100 miles to the east were the rich wheat ranches of the Palouse Country; to the west, smaller stock ranches and less fertile and more compact wheat ranches. Almost no sheepmen were in this area, save for the Escure brothers, his family’s next-door neighbors.
“When I bragged about our 10,000-acre ranch (I didn’t mention that our best crop was rocks) to fellow Ritzville school students, they were convinced I was lying,” he writes.
Etulain’s memoir provides a glimpse of the annual patterns of life and activities on a sheep ranch. Lambing began in the coldest months of January and February, the sheep shearers arrived in April or early May, and the “trailing” to the mountains commenced in late May. Their four bands of sheep – totaling up to 8,000 ewes and lambs – grazed for about three months in the verdant mountains on or near the Idaho-Montana border. Meanwhile, the Etulain family resided in their St. Maries summer home. The boys swam, roamed the neighborhood, and enjoyed getting into trouble. In October, they returned to the sheep ranch and restarted the yearly routines.
“If the dry grazing lands dominated the ranch setting, the personalities of my Basque Dad and saintly Mother molded our family and home life. An immigrant from Spain, Dad was a driven, nonstop worker who tried, unsuccessfully, to convince his three rascal sons to become gung-ho ranchers. Instead, we preferred sports and ranch games. Mom was the peacemaker, helping her sons with schooling and generally encouraging our interests,” Etulain says.
He recounts their experiences in the rural, one-room Lantz School with fewer than 10 students, as well as later schools in Ritzville. Trips to town for Saturday shopping, music lessons (he dreaded them), the library (a favorite) and church on Sunday were invigorating breaks from the isolation. He also portrays the lives of their sheepherders and ranch workers, ranch animals, and delightful, frequent pranks.
The final chapter traces what Etulain considers the major legacy of early sheep ranch years – his work ethic (from his Dad), interest in books (encouraged by his Mom and grandma), and fascination with history, especially the American West, Abraham Lincoln and the Basques.
Boyhood Among the Woolies is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from Basalt Books at 800-354-7360, or online at The trade imprint of nonprofit academic publisher Washington State University Press in Pullman, Wash., Basalt Books concentrates on general interest titles about cooking, nature, history, science, and more for young children to older readers – all with a connection to the Northwest.

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