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Industry Tackles Challenges at ASI Annual Convention

Benny Cox
ASI President

We have just made it back from Scottsdale, Ariz., and the weather was great. The Scottsdale Plaza Resort was excellent. I have heard the phrase, “It don’t get no better than this.” That one sticks in my mind.

If you were not one of the 450 that registered and attended this convention, you missed a good one. The next three convention destinations have already been set as follows: Denver, San Diego and Fort Worth. So, start thinking about all of these as a vacation or whatever, just make plans to be there.

This year, we went into convention with a number of challenges. One big one being a wool testing lab for the United States. The different monetary arms for our industry stepped up to the plate to send this project into motion. The committed monies coming from the industry are as follows: National Sheep Industry Improvement Center for $100,000, Sheep Venture Company for $50,000, and ASI for $50,000. Texas A&M University will also put up $100,000 and loan the operation the remainder to begin this lab in San Angelo, Texas. Montana State University and Texas A&M were the two possibilities, but Montana is not interested in getting into the commercial side of the business, as teaching is their focus.

I can tell you many individuals had reservations on this topic, but when we left Scottsdale most everyone was convinced this was the right decision. Texas A&M has a functional lab just north of San Angelo where it has done wool testing for years. All the lab needs is to buy more equipment that will allow it to operate at the speed of commerce.

Last year was another year of accomplishments for ASI:

• ASI initiated development of the Secure Sheep & Wool Supply Program with Iowa State University;

• ASI secured $1.5 million from the Trump Administration for assistance on raw wool and pelt export capabilities due to issues in China;

• ASI launched development of the American Wool Assurance Program with Colorado State University;

• ASI’s American Wool Council held an educational ranch tour with Department of Defense personnel in June;

• ASI paid off the Super Wash loan;

• ASI began work on alternative wool testing capabilities;

• ASI worked on specific language for H-2A sheepherders;

• ASI secured the M-44 after two-plus years of government scrutiny, and the device is approved for use in 10 states;

• ASI worked on a new strategic plan;

• ASI worked on pharmaceutical availability by setting a base;

• After 15 years of work, the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station was taken off the closer list;

As I stated last month, the ASI Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., will be March 9-11. This is one of our most important missions each and every year where we inform lawmakers of issues that affect our industry. If we do not go and tell our story all they will hear is the other side’s views, which are not always favorable.

Y`all keep on doing what you do best, and I will see you on down the road.

Ewe Numbers Reveal Pockets of Growth

JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.
Juniper Economic Consulting

As of Jan. 1, the number of breeding ewes, 1 year and older, in the United States totaled 2.98 million – down 1 percent from 2019 – but this aggregate overshadows pockets of growth.

A decline in total ewe numbers was pulled down by a contraction in Texas – the largest sheep state. At 445,000 head, its inventory contracted 2 percent from 2019 to 2020. By contrast, California – the second largest state, as reported by ewe count – grew 4 percent in 2020 to 260,000 head. Wyoming, Utah and Colorado rounded out the top five sheep states by ewe numbers, with Utah down 7 percent, Colorado up 4 percent, and Wyoming remaining steady. “Other States” collectively representing New England and mostly southern and southeastern states remained steady annually at 94,000 head.

North Dakota experienced the greatest growth in breeding ewes in 2020, growing 14 percent to 41,000 ewes. Oklahoma ranked second with 10-percent growth to 33,000 ewes. According to Dr. Travis Hoffman, extension sheep specialist at North Dakota State University/University of Minnesota, the growth in ewe numbers in North Dakota is due to “genuine interest.”

Hoffman continued that many livestock producers have ramped up sheep production in a desire to diversify their livestock mix; in part, due to year-over-year profitability in sheep. Additionally, young producers, in particular, have a growing interest in sheep. Hoffman also attributed the ewe increase to a recognition of under utilized hay and grain resources in the state. The bump in ewe numbers is reportedly not concentrated on any one sheep breed, but ranges from hair sheep to finer wool lines.

Within the United States, areas of regional growth are key to development of complementary support services such as processors, wool mills, auctions and input suppliers such as feed stores and veterinarians. Overall, the data paints a picture of range flock operations in the western United States contracting while smaller, farm flock operations added ewes in the East, Midwest and California.

The Northeast and Midwest regions grew, each by 3 percent, while the Mid-Atlantic States stabilized. The West Coast – carried by gains in California – grew by 1 percent. The Great Lakes region contracted by 1 percent. The results within the Great Lakes were mixed with Minnesota weighing down the region with a 12-percent decline and Indiana down 5 percent. However, Illinois was up 3 percent, Wisconsin was up 4 percent, and the state of Ohio was up 7 percent.

 

Wool Demand Proves Resilient

During the first week of February, the Australian wool market Eastern Market Indicator averaged Australian 1,577 cents per kg clean, or U.S. $7.15 per kg, or U.S. $4.83 per lb. clean. Although wool prices were down 19 percent year-on-year in Australian dollars, the market rebounded 16 percent since early September when it hit 1,365 Australian cents per kg (U.S. $4.22 per lb. clean). Recall that wool sales in the grease – before scouring – bring about one-half of clean wool prices.

Historically, Australian wool price strengthen between January and mid-year, so look for American wool prices to benefit as American shearing rounds up in June. Overall, it was anticipated that January 2020 would be rough for the Australian wool market, but fears had yet to materialize as of early February. The gains in the January Australian wool market are a testament to the strength of the underlying demand for wool.

The bush fires in Australia have had a particularly tragic impact on wildlife, but also on sheep and cattle losses. The expected sheep losses are 1.7 million sheep, or approximately 2 percent of the total Australian flock.

The Chinese New Year – and particularly the continued shutdown of first-stage wool processors due to Coronavirus until mid-February – sent jitters through Australian wool markets. China buys more than 70 percent of Australia’s wool clip (woolnews.net, 1/20), so auction demand during February is still uncertain. However, strong wool demand from Europe helped support the Australian market in January although many Chinese indent buyers were not in the market.

David Heart, Landmark’s North-East Wool manager, said the situation in China was volatile. There has been a slowdown in product unloading from the docks. Many Chinese banks have been closed, so there has also been a slowdown or complete halt in opening letters of credit for Australian wool exporters to China.

In spite of these concerns, the Australian wool market has done better than expected in January. “It’s extraordinary what we are seeing and it’s a complete reversal of what we were expecting,” Heart said (ABC News, 2/8/20). He added that demand from other countries has helped support Australian wool prices, but he is concerned that a downturn is coming stemming from “long-term damage to the Chinese economy and its consumer confidence,” (ABC News, 2/8/20).

As the 2020 American wool season begins in the United States, Australian wool prices are the best proxy for American wool market trends. American wool competes with Australian wools, often bringing upwards of 80 percent of Australian wool, due to differences in wool preparation.

ASI Office Staff Adds Sanko, Ayala

After many years as a consultant with ASI, Erica Sanko will join the staff full-time this month as director of analytics and production programs. Sanko joins Angela Ayala as the newest ASI staff members. Ayala started in mid-February as the new ASI executive assistant.

Sanko will provide leadership in identifying and managing issues relating to the lamb and wool markets, including Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting and LRP-Lamb in addition to expanding the availability of additional animal health products for the American sheep industry. Sanko will support the design and production of educational materials, research direction, development opportunities and programs that assist sheep producers and others to affect a more profitable sheep industry.

She is excited to begin working on the issues and challenges facing the American sheep industry, or more accurately to continue working on industry issues.

Prior to joining ASI, she was executive director for the California Wool Growers Association and the California Pork Producers Association since 2015. Previously, Sanko was with the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver, serving as the lead market analyst for sheep and hogs. While at LMIC, Sanko was involved in numerous projects. She conducted analysis for the LRP-Lamb program and on improving Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting for lamb. Sanko has also served as a senior agricultural economist within the California Department of Agriculture, where she worked on the development and feasibility of proposed legislative and marketing policy for the state’s dairy industry. Since 2013, Sanko has served as a consultant for ASI, working on lamb market and sheep production related issues.

Sanko is originally from the Sacramento, Calif., area, raised in an agricultural family operation that included row-crops and registered Hereford cattle.

Ayala brings nearly two decades of administrative experience to ASI, having worked in a variety of roles. She also took six years away from an office to work as a stay-at-home mom in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which means she’s got the organizational skills necessary to keep the ASI national office running smoothly.

“We welcome both Erica – who is no stranger to ASI and our members – and Angela to the ASI team on a full-time basis,” said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick.

LMIC Forecasts Stability in American Lamb Prices

Livestock Marketing Information Center

Two unusual developments could factor into the lamb market calculus during the next 12 to 24 months.

First, the growth rate of American lamb and mutton imports might moderate significantly as the Australian flock has downsized due to drought, and China imports more-and-more of all animal-based proteins driven by African Swine Fever epidemic inducing reductions in its pork production. However, in the near-term, the China story has a new dimension of uncertainty with the Novel coronavirus epicenter in Wuhan, China.

Second, 2020 brings on line both opportunities and potential disruptions to the sector – the opening of a modern, federally inspected lamb packing plant in Colorado (Colorado Lamb Processors, near the town of Brush). That state-of-the-art plant is scheduled to begin harvesting animals late in the first quarter of the year, or early in the second.

In the face of the developments listed above, for the next two years, annual changes in the supply of American lambs are expected to be rather modest. Across the lamb complex, prices in 2019 were mostly stronger. For the year, the lamb cutout (carcass equivalent wholesale) value increased by 3.2 percent ($10.63 per cwt.), slaughter lamb (national formula dressed) by 5.4 percent ($14.61 per cwt.), and feeder lambs (three-market average, 60 to 90 pounds) were essentially unchanged. It is realistic to post year-over-year increases in lamb and sheep prices in 2020, and at least well into 2021.

Importantly, the two unusual developments described above, provide uncertainty regarding how much prices increase and how volatile markets are.

 

Sheep & Lamb Numbers in the United States

As of Jan. 1, the American sheep and lamb count totaled 5.2 million head, slipping year-over-year by about 30,000 animals (down 0.6 percent), according to the annual U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service survey of producers. The national number of ewes 1 year and older declined by 20,000 head compared to a year ago. Even though those counts were record-small, the NASS report showed signs of stabilization.

Animals under 1 year old being held for replacement (future breeding) purposes were up by 10,000 head (rising 1.5 percent). In terms of total breeding animals (ewes, replacement lambs and rams), of the 33 states individually reported by NASS, 18 increased from a year ago.

NASS reported the 2019 American lamb crop was a modest 5,000 head below 2018. At 3.23 million animals, the 2019 lamb crop matched the record low set in 2017. The lambing percentage rebounded from that of recent years to the highest since 2014. As of Jan. 1, there were 1.39 million market lambs, which was an annual drop of 20,000 animals (-1.4 percent).

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (Market News Division) estimates the number of lambs on-feed in Colorado, the largest American lamb feeding state. That number was below a year ago throughout 2019. The latest monthly count (Feb. 1) was 127,621 animals – down more than 25,000 head (-16.5 percent) compared to a year ago. Those reductions are in line with the national drop in inventory numbers reported by NASS.

 

Domestic Production & Stocks

In 2019, domestic commercial lamb and mutton production totaled 148.1 million pounds. That was down 3.3 percent year-over-year, yet it was 2 percent above the record low set in 2017.

Commercial slaughter in 2019 was just more than 2.3 million animals, a 2.3 percent increase compared to the prior year. Average dressed weights dropped during each quarter of the year, with a large annual decline of 5.6 percent as animals were sought-out by packers. Demand for slaughter lambs by commercial packers kept pulling animals through finishing programs quicker than in recent years, keeping carcass weights down.

Frozen Tonnage Large, But Diminishing

As of the end of December 2019, frozen stocks (cold storage) in the United States of lamb and mutton were 4.7 percent below 2018’s level at 34.8 million pounds (product weight). That was down from the end of December all-time high set in 2015 (41.5 million pounds). Still, that was 13.8 percent above the prior five-year average (2013-17) and burdensome by any long-term historical measure. Critically, that tonnage is equivalent to about 10 weeks’ worth of domestic production and 19 percent of annual disappearance. In comparison to other red meats, lamb and mutton stocks are a much more important market factor and deserve close monitoring.

Year-over-year for the first nine months of 2019, American lamb and mutton frozen stocks were above 2018. But then, the last three reports of the year had declines. Most, if not all, of 2020 is forecast to bring declines compared to a year ago. Still, a significant seasonal build-up into August is to be expected. Little, if any, increase in domestic production combined with lower lamb and mutton imports should continue trimming frozen stocks relative to 2019.

 

Output Forecasts: 2020 and 2021

For calendar year 2020, American commercial production is forecast to be slightly lower year-over-year (147 million pounds carcass weight), if average dressed weights remain subdued like what occurred in 2019. Declines in carcass weights are forecast to be much less impactful during 2020 than they were in 2019. Carcass weights could post increases year-over-year during the second half of 2020. Indeed, lamb feeders need to plan ahead and not back-up market-ready animals as the industry incorporates the timelines and potential challenges that result from the packing plant adjustments occurring in Colorado and possibly elsewhere.

In 2021, American commercial lamb harvest is forecast to increase with modest growth in the national flock. Those increases might be compounded by heavier carcass weights resulting in production rising 1 to 3 percent. That translates into commercial production in the range of 148 to 151 million pounds, which would be the largest since 2018 (153.2 million pounds).

 

International Trade Dimensions

The United States exports a small percentage of its lamb and sheep meat (mutton) production. Most of the tonnage is mutton to Mexico, Caribbean countries and the United Arab Emirates. However, the United States imports more lamb and mutton than is produced domestically. Almost exclusively, imports are from Australia and New Zealand, and the bulk was lamb (80 percent in 2019).

Importantly, for several years, and throughout 2019, Australia faced a multi-year drought, which was especially problematic in their regions with the largest sheep numbers. Meat and Livestock Australia recently forecast that as of June 2020, that their national flock would be 63.7 million head and 12 percent smaller than mid-year 2017. Australian sheep and lamb slaughter declined in 2019 even with high ewe slaughter due to a smaller lamb crop (fewer ewes and historically low lambing rates). New Zealand did not face drought.

Demand for Oceana (Australia and New Zealand) lamb and mutton by China and the United States, was exceptionally strong in 2019, supported in part by depreciating currencies, especially the Australian dollar. The rapidly emerging pork shortage in China caused by African Swine Fever has underpinned demand. Mainland China – for the last 12 months (through January 2020) – increased lamb and mutton purchases by 43 percent (product weight) year-over-year. In 2019, lamb imports were 6.2 percent above 2018, continuing the long-term trend of setting new records. In contrast, for the year, mutton imports dropped by 19.5 percent. Combined lamb and mutton imported tonnage declined slightly (below 1 percent) year-over-year. Compared to five years ago (2015), last year the United States imported 32.8 percent and 77.5 percent more lamb and mutton, respectively.

Even though the Australian drought induced large slaughter levels, strong international demand helped underpin their lamb and mutton prices. That provides an economic foundation and confidence for many producers to begin rebuilding their flocks as forage conditions improve. Still, there are biological lags to the recovery of grasslands and establishing larger lamb crops.

LMIC forecasts a small drop (1 to 4 percent) in lamb and mutton tonnage imported into the United States in 2020, but relatively high prices adjusted for exchange rates might continue attracting lots of foreign products, especially lamb items. A more modest slight year-over-year decline could be repeated next year. Still, imported tonnage is expected to remain above the 2017 level.

 

American Price Prospects

A new packing plant in Colorado and uncertain lamb and mutton imports from Australia are just two factors that make price forecasts for this sector even more difficult than usual. Indeed, the potential for price volatility is magnified.

As always, Mother Nature could throw a curveball in the United States and/or Australia. Flock changes in the United States have been rather constrained in recent years, and there is potential for modest growth during 2020 and into 2021. To maintain wholesale, slaughter, and feeder prices at or above 2019 levels, we have two cautions or keys for the American industry:

1. Keep frozen stocks from returning to burdensome levels;

2. Feedlots should resist any temptation to delay marketings of slaughter-ready animals.

With the American production levels and imports discussed in prior sections of this article, the supply side of the marketplace suggests steady to higher annual prices in both 2020 and 2021. The retail demand profile for lamb in the United States looks like it has been strong, and there might not be much slippage.

To date, a very robust American consumer has more than counterbalanced weakness in the manufacturing sectors. However, there are reasons for some key big picture concerns. Specifically, the potential headwind is the intersection of two forces. First, would be a slow-down in macroeconomic conditions. Alone that would be negative, but it could become a major headwind because of the huge ramp-up that is occurring in United States pork and poultry production. United States per capita supply of all red meat and poultry was record large in 2019, and 2020 will bring significantly more, and that assumes exports of beef, pork, chicken and turkey all establish new all-time highs.

Through the years, economic analysis has shown that large domestic pork supplies – which in-turn depress ham prices – tend to impact lamb demand negatively. Lamb legs and hams are both “holiday meals.”

Overall, for the first three quarters of 2020, look for lamb prices (slaughter and feeder) to be at or above 2019. For slaughter lambs, the largest percentage year-over-year gain is expected to be in the first quarter (see table at left). The second quarter might bring the biggest gain from 2019 for feeder lambs. Note that the first quarter of 2019 had very low slaughter lamb prices compared to the balance of that year. Even though lamb supplies should remain tight during the fourth quarter, the LMIC price forecast incorporates some pressure from competing meats, especially huge pork supplies. Still, lamb prices that quarter might be very close to 2019.

Regarding longer-term producer planning prices, 2021 has the potential for further macroeconomic challenges. Another Great Recession does not look likely this year or next, and any recession might be much more modest in magnitude and duration.

LMIC’s preliminary outlook is for prices to remain close to unchanged year-over-year.

H-2A Labor Rate Impacts on Range Sheep Operations

BRIDGER FEUZ
University of Wyoming Extension

A few years ago – just before wage increases were implemented – a team from the University of Wyoming (including Tex Taylor, Roger Coupal, John Ritten and myself) analyzed the potential impacts to Wyoming sheep producers as a result of proposed H-2A wage increases.

Our results showed that it would be very difficult for Wyoming producers to remain profitable and therefore remain viable businesses. At the same time, I was working on a Western Region cost of production model which would suggest that Western range sheep producers would see similar results to Wyoming sheep producers.

John Ritten summarized our findings in an article titled, What Proposed H-2A Changes Might Look Like for Wyoming. Here are some bullet points from that article.

• We compared returns under the current regulation where foreign herders received $750/month plus room and board against the proposed wages of $2,400/month plus room and board.

• While the wage increase would be phased in during a five-year period, we simply looked at before and after the wage increase to see the impacts on range flock operators.

• Under the current regulations (prior to wage rate increases), per-ewe revenues had to be at least $97.85 to cover operating costs, while under the proposed wages per-ewe revenues would have to be $125.40 to cover operating costs.

• Using price data from the last 20 years (adjusted for inflation) for animals and wool, our “typical” producer went from being able to cover operating costs 85 percent of the time under the current regulations to only 30 percent of the time under the proposed changes.

• Further, when analyzing the ability for the ranch to produce a profit (returns above both operating and ownership costs), the proposed wage increase will potentially have a very large impact. Before any rules changes, we expect the “typical” ranch to be profitable roughly 40 percent of the time. However, under the proposed changes, our typical ranch would cover all costs only
8 percent of the time.

• The latest Census of Agriculture (at the time, 2012) showed almost 355,000 sheep in our state, and 84 percent of sheep operations had at least 1,000 head. These are the operations most likely to rely on foreign herders, and therefore, be impacted by the proposed wage increases.

• In 2013, the economic value of production for the sheep industry for Wyoming was estimated at $33.5 million. When accounting for the secondary impact of the industry (economic value of businesses that provide goods and services to the sheep industry, for example) the total economic impact of the sheep industry was estimated at more than $66 million per year, as of 2013.

This original analysis was done prior to a finalized wage rate for H-2A workers. This analysis examined a potential wage increase to $2,400 while currently the 2020 wage rate is at $1,682 per month. Additionally, our initial assumptions in conducting this analysis were that producers would maintain the same level of H-2A staffing, and that firms would have no impact on market prices. So how have producers adjusted as a result of the wage increases? Have they reduced staffing? Have they been able to influence market price, passing on increased labor costs to consumers?

In interviews with producers, I have asked about staffing since the H-2A wage increase. Firms have been able to make only marginal changes to staffing. Optimal band size has been developed through years of experience to maximize production per herder per band. Ranches that tried to significantly increase band size to become more labor efficient saw significant negative production impacts and were forced to reduce band size back to traditional levels. What operations are finding is that they were already operating at a highly efficient level and there was little room to make labor adjustments.

So, producers have had limited success adjusting staffing levels. What has the impact been on market price? Livestock agriculture – including sheep production – is a highly commoditized industry. Because of this commoditization, it is nearly impossible for any single producer to influence market price. Even relatively large groups of producers acting as one have difficulties influencing market price. This differs from other more integrated agricultural industries using H-2A labor that are better able to pass on increasing costs to the final consumer.

This reality is born out in looking at H-2A labor rates as compared to market prices for lamb. For the period of 2010 to 2015, lamb prices averaged $139.16 per cwt. for 60- to 90-pound lambs as reported in the three-market average (see Table at left). The three-market average is made up of the three key regionally distributed feeder lamb auctions in the western United States. H-2A labor rates were $750 per month per employee. For the period of 2016 to 2019, lamb prices averaged $147.38 per cwt. The H-2A labor rate for 2019 was $1,633 per month.

Lamb prices increased a modest 6 percent during this time frame, while labor rates increased by 118 percent in the same time frame. While some industries are able to pass on increased labor rates to their customers through price increases, it is clear that the sheep industry is not able to pass on those added costs, and therefore is forced to absorb most of those costs at the peril of its business viability.

In 2010, a producer needed to sell 78 lambs to account for one H-2A salary. In 2019, a producer needed to sell 135 lambs to account for one H-2A salary. That represents a 73 percent increase in the number of lambs required to offset an H-2A salary. The impacts of labor rate changes are significant to range sheep producers.

To further understand the impacts, we can look at the U.S. Baseline Lamb Cost of Production Analysis: 2018 Update. This analysis looks at cost of production on a regional basis to develop a national model, and the Wyoming region represents western range flock type operations. As a result of increasing costs of production, including H-2A labor rate increases along with increasing costs for securing, housing and feeding H-2A employees, profit in this region for the model or average ranch is showing a negative return. For the six years prior (2010 to 2015) to the implementation of the wage increase, the average return above total costs on a per ewe basis was a modest $28. As labor rates increased, the average during the last three years (2016 to 2018) was a loss of $4.87 per ewe. In 2018, with the labor rate being fully implemented, the loss was $15.67 per ewe. If these losses continue, it will be extremely difficult for Western range flocks to maintain viability.

When we – as a group of Wyoming researchers – looked at the potential impacts associated with losses to sheep producers, we used the number of ewes currently in Wyoming of 355,000 and
arrived at a potential total impact to the Wyoming economy of $66 million dollars. However, these impacts are not unique to Wyoming.

If we look just at the intermountain region comprised of the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, there are 1,558,000 ewes. This total is nearly five times the size of our original analysis. A new analysis would need to be conducted to understand the true total dollar value impact given a loss of sheep producers in the region, but it is reasonable to assume that it would also be nearly five times the amount we found in the original analysis.

 

Conclusions

Ideally in commoditized markets, labor rates are set in a competitive, market-driven process. It is not unusual for society to wish to protect workers through artificial wage standards. However, when wages are set at an arbitrary minimum, there will be ripple effects in the industry. This is especially evident when the minimum wage is set at a rate that creates a negative return for business owners.

It is still too early to assess the ultimate economic impact of the H-2A labor rate increases on the sheep industry and the region. The initial analysis conducted at Wyoming is valid and shows that profitability is a significant challenge as labor rates increase.

Additionally, we see that individual producers have no ability to pass the increased cost of production on to consumers. Since the labor rate increase, lamb prices have remained relatively stable and strong, allowing producers to remain just below the long-term profit break-even.

We know that the sheep market experiences variability, and significant downturns are not uncommon. Will ranches be able to survive those inevitable downturns when ranch equity is stretched thin from increases in labor costs? Will the market be able to adjust as ranchers are forced out of business and supplies are significantly reduced?

Make It With Wool Crowns National Winners

The Make It With Wool National Finals and Awards Banquet closed out the 2020 ASI Annual Convention on Saturday night with the crowning of junior and senior ambassadors, as well as recognition of the previously determined adult and fashion/apparel design winners.

Charlotte Waldron of Ohio claimed the senior division with her bold, cobalt blue tall collar wool coat featuring 12 panels for a fit and flare silhouette. Her refined dress was a playful take on the classic, little black dress and was made from superfine Merino worsted suiting wool with a fitted waistband and soft gathers. The neckline featured a dramatic scoop in the back while the scalloped hem and sleeves kept the styling fresh and youthful.

Madeline Douglas of Indiana was the junior division winner with a three-piece wool outfit. Her fully lined Mohair, silver-gray coat featured a front zipper and self-made knot toggle closures with buttons. Her red and black plaid wool pencil skirt was teamed with a versatile black wool jersey knit shirt. She accessorized the outfit with boots, a red and black scarf and a crocheted hat made by her aunt Carol.

Yiling Lai of Drexel University in Pennsylvania claimed the fashion apparel design award with a wool coat that was inspired by a fabric shortage. She had two different types of beige wool, but neither were enough to make a full coat. So, she collaged the two fabrics and designed the coat with an attached scarf, which can be tied and draped in various ways. The oversized silhouette with dolman sleeves was inspired by the cocoon and butterfly shape.

Meighan Stevens of Ohio claimed the adult division title with a Merlot-colored, semi-fitted coat made from 100 percent Pendleton wool. The coat featured a modified shawl collar, princess seams and side seam pockets accented with couture arrow points. Topstitching throughout the outer garment lended to a smooth look, and the antique-finished buttons added pizazz.

Building on Storied Past, Industry Looks to Future

Reverence for the Past, Innovation for the Future was more than just a theme for the 2020 ASI Annual Convention. Sheep industry leaders from across the United States came together Jan. 22-25 at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Plaza Resort to put those words into action.

Front and center was the ASI Board of Directors’ financial support of a commercial wool testing lab at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas. The American wool industry has been researching the need to continue wool testing in a facility in the United States for the last couple of years. In 2019, wool industry leaders met first in San Angelo to discuss options, and later traveled to New Zealand to tour that country’s testing facility.

While the New Zealand facility will be open to American wool producers in 2020, the goal is to have the lab in San Angelo test the 2021 wool clip. Texas A&M leadership supports the idea and provided a six-figure financial support package, as well as an existing building and some personnel related to the research that is conducted there today. Organizers worked with the Angelo State University Small Business Center to develop a plan for opening and operating the lab. Projections show the lab breaking even after three years in operation.

The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center and ASI’s for-profit Sheep Venture Company are partnering on a commitment of $150,000 in grant money toward equipment and training costs, while ASI will contribute $50,000 of wool funds.

“I think it’s amazing that such a small industry was able to come together and commit $200,000 to ensure we have access to wool testing in the United States,” said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. “Most of the American wool clip could not compete in the domestic or international markets without objective measurement, and the ASI leadership is pleased to support the wool experts at Texas A&M to provide this service.”

While details of the new lab put a nice bow on the final day of the convention, attendees were indoctrinated with the week’s theme from the outset. Thursday’s opening session provided a panel discussion with four industry innovators who built on the foundations established by their parents and grandparents and have worked to expand and grow those operations in ways their predecessors might never have imagined.

Producers Reed Anderson of Oregon, David Fisher of Texas, John Helle of Montana and Ryan Mahoney of California formed the panel. Each gave a presentation on where their operations began and worked from there to show how they’ve innovated from what were most often humble beginnings. Helle and his family earned the 2019 ASI Industry Innovation Award for developing the Duckworth clothing line that promotes a “sheep to shelf” dynamic that has proven popular with consumers. Anderson won the innovation award this year for building his own lamb processing facility to eliminate a bottleneck in his supply chain.

“I’m a fifth-generation sheep guy, but the first four generations took up all the ranch and all the money,” he said. “So, when I came along, I got the opportunity to work my ass off.”

Which is exactly what he did. Anderson got his start in the industry as a shearer and eventually started running his own flock on the grass seed fields of Oregon’s Willamette Valley – where moving sheep is as inevitable as death and taxes. But it never failed that when it came time to get the lambs out of the fields, Anderson had a hard time getting them processed. So, he cut out the middleman and built Kalapooia Processing. With his wife, Robyn, and sons, Jake and Travis, the family-run operation now provides lamb to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Along the way, Anderson built his own distribution system, learned to compost everything that he couldn’t sell and established an operation that will stand the test of time.

“I really love the sheep business. I really love the people in the sheep business, and I love people that like to eat lamb, especially when they pay me for it,” Anderson said.

Helle took on a similar challenge on the wool side of the industry. His parents, Joe and Aggie, had devoted their lives to building a fine-wool operation in Montana. But to see the true value of the wool, they developed the Duckworth clothing line and started processing their own American wool.

The idea was hatched on an area ski lift with branding expert Bernie Bernthal. He and Helle would talk business on the way up, ski their way down and start all over again – which lends a certain Montana-style credibility to the entire operation.

“We’re selling more than just wool,” Helle said during his presentation. “We’re selling Montana. We’re selling a way of life. Marketers love to sell products with a story, and millennials in particular, want to know where their wool comes from.”

While Anderson and Helle looked to create new businesses to sustain their sheep industry involvement, Fisher and Mahoney are developing new programs and implementing new technology within their flocks to increase productivity and secure the bottom line.

Running fine-wool Rambouillet sheep, Fisher looked at two solutions: increase his flock’s lamb crop and improve their wool quality. Technology played a role in both. He learned how to ultrasound his own pregnant ewes, got involved with the National Sheep Improvement Program and signed up for Superior Farms’ Flock 54 program. While using technology comes with a cost, he believes its use has already paid dividends in his operation.

Without knowing it at the time, Mahoney saved his family’s historic operation. He was offered a job in the family’s feedlot by his grandfather. Years after accepting – and eventually working his way up to running the entire operation – he learned that his grandfather would have left the sheep business completely if Mahoney hadn’t taken the job.

Since then, he’s had plenty of crazy ideas – and some not so crazy. “Nothing replaces good animal husbandry,” he told the crowd.

Mahoney started collecting data from his flock. But the only way for him to monetize the investment in data collection was to also use that data to make smart decisions about his operation.

While he’s embraced technology, Mahoney offers one key piece of advice.

“Get what works for you,” he said.

ASI is following that advice, as well, in two key areas with the development of the American Wool Assurance Program and the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan. Wool standard programs have been popping up across the globe in recent years – mostly at the request of manufacturers and retailers – to show that wool is harvested in a responsible manner. Before long, sheep producers who aren’t involved in one of the many standards might find it difficult to sell their wool.

With that in mind, ASI is working with Colorado State University to develop a wool standard that works for both producers and the companies who purchase, manufacture and sell wool. While the program is still in the developmental stage, Dr. Jason Ahola from CSU was on hand to discuss preliminary findings with wool producers in several meetings during the week.

The Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan being developed by ASI in conjunction with Iowa State University is aimed at planning for a possible disease outbreak within the sheep industry. Dr. Danelle Bickett-Weddle – who attended the Production, Education and Research Council meeting last week – is working on disaster plans, as well as educational handouts, a website and more that will allow the sheep industry to come together to stop the spread of an infectious disease.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Mindy Brashears made her first speech of 2020 at the convention when she spoke to the ASI Board of Directors Informational Session on Friday afternoon and addressed two issues important to the sheep industry: fake protein and spring lamb.

“The good news for 2020 is that we are moving forward with labeling requirements for cell-based foods,” she said. “A labeling requirement describes the process, so there will be a requirement for it to be cell-cultured or cell-derived foods. Whatever the label is, that will go out for public comment and we expect to have that wrapped up by the end of the year.

“We are working very closely with FDA on the labeling of plant-based proteins. There is a standard of identity for the term lamb or beef or chicken or bacon that we have, and those products are not meeting that before sticking that on the label. FDA is aware of that. As an industry you need to continue to let FDA know that this is not acceptable and that you want them to take action. We’re doing that on our end and will continue to do that.”

As for a petition to change the definition of spring lamb, Brashears said USDA has taken and compiled public comments – including those from ASI against the change – and is working on a response. She said a decision is expected to be announced within a month or two.

Additionally, the Resource Management Council gathered to discuss key priorities for the industry. Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, received a standing ovation in speaking about her and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s commitment to partnership with sheep producers and ASI to keep working lands working. With sheep producers in nearly every region facing issues from wolves and bears protected by the Endangered Species Act – despite having met or exceeded recovery goals – common-sense regulatory changes to the act were welcome news.

Across all agencies represented in Scottsdale, comments mirrored a spirit of cooperation. Jacque Buchanan from the U.S. Forest Service discussed USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s commitment to “shared stewardship” of our nation’s forests to implement measures to reduce wildfire, enhance the range and mitigate conflicts.

In other association business, each of ASI’s eight regions met for individual caucuses, and three of those regions were tasked with electing new representatives to the ASI Executive Board. Region I elected Laurie Hubbard of Pennsylvania, Region III elected Anne Crider of Illinois and Region V elected Tammy Fisher of Texas. They were each elected to serve two-year terms on the board, and will be eligible for reelection to a second, two-year term.

Retiring Executive Board members Don Kniffen of New Jersey, John Dvorak of Minnesota and Bob Buchholz of Texas were all honored for their years of service to the industry during the Saturday board of directors meeting.

The 2021 Annual Convention will be Jan. 27-30 in Denver.

Annual Award Winners Include Producers, Educator, Journalists

North Carolina sheep producer Bill Sparrow Jr. attended what was billed as the “First American Sheep Industry Convention” in San Antonio, Texas, in 1988. It was nearly his last sheep convention.

“I got home on Jan. 24 and on the 25th our middle child was born. Had the timing of that been a little different, you might have never seen me again,” he joked in accepting the American Sheep Industry Association’s Distinguished Producer Award in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the ASI Annual Convention.

While the National Wool Growers Association – the predecessor to ASI – has held conventions dating back to 1865, the 1988 convention marked the first that brought together NWGA and its auxiliary along with the American Sheep Producers Council and the National Lamb Feeders Association. NWGA and ASPC would later merge to form ASI.

“When Benny (Cox, ASI President) called a couple of days before Christmas to tell us about the award, we were truly shocked,” Sparrow said. “Over the years of my association with this organization, I have met people from nearly every state in the nation. It’s been a pleasure to be involved with the sheep industry, and I look forward to being a part of this organization for many years to come.”

Sparrow was joined on the winner’s stage by: Frank Moore of Wyoming, McClure Silver Ram Award winner; Reed Anderson of Oregon, Industry Innovation Award winner; Mike Caskey of Minnesota, Camptender Award winner; Lane Nordlund of Montana, Shepherd’s Voice Broadcasting Award winner; and Susan Crowell of Ohio, Shepherd’s Voice Print Award winner.
ASI Secretary/Treasurer Brad Boner introduced Moore, as the two Wyoming producers have worked together extensively with the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative.

“He’s been a beacon on dark days,” Boner said. “When we were reeling from the loss of the Wool Act incentive, he was an important voice in helping us rise from the ashes.”
Moore was one of several winners who mentioned the awards should be presented to husband-and-wife teams, since the wives are often the ones left to deal with the farm or ranch when their husbands are away attending sheep conventions.

“It’s been an honor. I’m not going to say a lot, but know that this is appreciated,” Moore said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to serve the sheep industry.”

Anderson is the largest sheep producer, lamb processor and sheep industry supporter in Brownsville, Ore., according to NLFA Past President Bob Harlan, but his impact goes way beyond that small Oregon town.

When his family ran into problems getting lambs processed, Anderson took the bold step of building his own facility, and now supplies Oregon grass-fed lamb to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. For his efforts, he was honored with just the third Industry Innovator Award presented by ASI.

“I’m really just a plagiarizer, not an innovator. My family are the ones who really do all the work,” said the humble Anderson, who went on to add, “All of the people in this room had something to do with our success. Thank you.”

Caskey spent more than 40 years educating sheep producers through the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program in southwest Minnesota. And despite the role he played in their successes, Caskey was quick to credit the program’s producers.

“They were the ones who embraced new technology and new ideas 40 years ago,” he said. “Those producers are the ones I really need to thank. As a group, they’ve been so willing to share what they’ve learned.

As Cox said in introducing him, Lane Nordlund seems to be everywhere while “carrying our message, which he does so well.”

The Montana Ag Network reporter said the ASI Annual Convention is his favorite among the stops he makes each year covering agriculture and livestock not only in Montana but across the nation.

“That’s because of the friendships I’ve made here,” he said. “I’m honored to be recognized for mine and Russell’s (Nemetz) work on television.”

Susan Crowell retired last year as editor of Farm and Dairy, an Ohio-based ag newspaper, but her commitment to the industry lives on. In her acceptance speech, she urged producers to, “Be bold. Now’s not the time to be timid,” she said.

In addition to these awards, the Wool Roundtable chose Aggie and Joe Helle as winners of the 2020 Wool Excellence Award. The Montana couple worked diligently to develop their own fine wool flock while also looking for ways to serve the industry.

Joe, who passed away in October 2019, served as a past chair of the ASI Wool Council and as a past president of the Montana Wool Growers Association. Aggie was heavily involved in the Montana Make It With Wool program and went on to serve two years as coordinator of the national contest. It was her family that brought Joe into the fine wool industry.

Wool Assurance, Testing Lab Key to Securing Industry’s Future

Heather Pearce
ASI Wool Production & Specialty Markets Consultant

The American Wool Assurance Program – in development through ASI and Colorado State University – is being designed to provide additional marketing opportunities for American wool producers. And while the specifics of the program are still being pieced together, there’s no doubting the necessity of such a program.

The program, as well as efforts to begin an expanded wool testing facility at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas, were the main topics of discussion for the Wool Council during the 2020 ASI Annual Convention.

Dr. Jason Ahola and Jordan Marsh from CSU are working on writing the program (with input from a working producer group, industry and ASI), and presented draft standards of the program. The standards focus on the welfare of sheep before, during and after shearing, but also address management practices for the entirety of a sheep’s lifetime.

There will be three levels of the program: knowledge, implementation and third-party audit. Such a program is becoming more and more crucial to selling wool, as manufacturers and retailers are responding to customer demands surrounding certification of animal welfare. While a number of wool-related standards have been developed in recent years, most have been implemented without producer input. The American Wool Assurance Program will implement a standard that works in conjunction with American producers and standard industry practices.

Many fabric and apparel brands are asking for certification surrounding the care of sheep, so ASI hopes the new American Wool Assurance Program will provide producers with an avenue to share their stories and develop new marketing opportunities.

As for the wool testing lab, existing facilities at Texas A&M will be expanded and upgraded to meet the needs of the wool industry for objective measurement of wool for micron, yield, length and strength. American wool producers will work with a testing facility in New Zealand this year, while the Bill Simms Wool & Mohair Research Laboratory in San Angelo ramps up to take over all American wool tests in 2021.

ASI, the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center and ASI’s Sheep Venture Company have committed $200,000 toward startup costs for the project. Texas A&M University will also make a sizeable contribution toward the expanded lab, which it expects to break even within three years in operation.

The council also heard reports from Rick Powers of Lempriere and Will Griggs of Utah Wool Marketing about an ASI-sponsored trip to New Zealand that provided insight on the status of wool testing around the world. Ten American wool representatives (mainly wool buyers and warehousemen) visited the New Zealand Wool Testing Authority Lab as the group worked to develop a plan for wool testing in 2020 and beyond. The New Zealand lab also provided valuable information on expanding the Texas A&M facility to meet American needs.

In other business, the Wool Council heard from Bianca Losekoot of Lugresso Services Sagl. The company is a foreign buyer of American wool and Losekoot credited American wool for its quality. She encouraged the council to put an emphasis on wool preparation at the producer level, and said she will continue to purchase American wool in the years to come.

Burlington Industries’ Ashley Bullock spoke on the military’s current use of American wool. While the Navy peacoat is no longer standard issue, the United States military continues to use a large amount of American wool. In fact, the Department of Defense is the largest domestic customer of American wool. However, as work in the military becomes more automated – through the use of technology, such as robots and drones – the need for uniforms diminishes.

Wyoming shearer Cliff Hoopes also addressed the council about the need for more experienced shearers. He participates in a program that gives intermediate shearers the opportunity to travel to Australia to gain experience, but says there’s still a growing need for shearers capable of handling fine wool sheep on large-scale operations.

Out-of-Season Breeding Economics Might Not Add Up for Producers

While the American sheep industry has devoted quite a bit of research to out-of-season breeding, Texas A&M University’s David Anderson offered the Lamb Council an economists’ view of shifting lamb production, and the numbers weren’t optimistic.

“It’s difficult to pull off,” Anderson concluded, adding that producers would need to generate a significantly higher price per lamb to offset the fact that out-of-season breeding generally means fewer lambs to sell.

“And the higher price point you need per lamb, the less likely it is to work,” he said. “For instance, if you needed a 20 percent increase per lamb, there was less than a 50 percent chance of getting that price.”

Those numbers are based on looking at lamb prices from 1998 to 2018 and observing the number of times a seasonal price change exceeded 5, 10 and 20 percent.

“You’re bucking nature and biology,” Anderson said, adding that there’s little incentive to take on such challenges if it won’t pay off financially. While there might be producers who have other motives – besides financial – for out-of-season breeding, Anderson suggests those looking strictly at economics find another way to take advantage of seasonality.

“We can slow lambs down or speed them up,” he said. “But aseasonal breeding to take advantage of season price differences has to be profitable for producers.”

In a second presentation on the lamb market, Anderson said he expects higher lamb prices in the year to come. Once again, however, imports are a big question for the market. For instance, how will the fires in Australia affect imported lamb? Regardless, price volatility will likely remain the norm.

Megan Wortman of the American Lamb Board also provided an update that took aim squarely at fake meat. Plant-based proteins such as Impossible beef and pork products are starting to take over space in the grocery stores – more space than lamb in many cases – and are making headlines every day as more and more restaurants add the product to their menus.

To combat that, the American Lamb Board is working to put sheep producers front and center in its messaging. By telling their stories of family first and how they care for their animals, ALB is appealing to consumers who might be on the fence about fake meat products.

For example, ALB is targeting a group known as flexitarians or conscientious meat eaters. While consumers who identify in this fashion aren’t opposed to eating meat, they are often trying to reduce their red meat intake. They’re eating more fruits, vegetables and healthy grains, and they certainly care about the quality of the meat they do choose to eat.

“This is a good market for American lamb, because they’ll choose the highest quality when they are eating meat,” Wortman said. “This is a group we can reach.”

And while plant-based protein has been around forever, Brad Anderson of Mountain States Lamb Cooperative pointed out that the development of cell-based meat is what should really scare all meat producers. While it won’t appeal to vegetarians the way plant-based protein does, cell-based meat could eventually produce a product very similar to farm-raised livestock while eliminating many of the environmental concerns that come with raising livestock on a commercial scale.

In an effort to reach consumers and tell stories that promote American lamb, ALB has developed a new website, is producing videos that amplify the voices of farmers and ranchers, and is developing new printed materials that show consumers why they can feel good about choosing American lamb.

Protecting Species Should Be Based on Science, Law, Common Sense

Cat Urbigkit
The Shepherd

United States Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her address to the Resource Management Council and Policy Forum at the recent ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz. Skipwith had emphasized that effective conservation and stewardship of wildlife requires strong partnerships between federal and state agencies, natural resource industries and private landowners.

“We understand about keeping working lands working,” Skipwith said, noting that with 80 percent of habitat for endangered species found on private land, effective conservation comes from engaging with people who work the land, their communities, and accommodating the needs of people while working to conserve wildlife.

“We believe in property rights, and landowner rights,” she said, noting decisions made by her agency should be based on sound science, the rule of law and common sense.

FWS is working on revisions to its Endangered Species Act regulations in order to provide regulatory predictability, so that compliance with the ESA does not impose undue burdens to people on the ground, she said.

“We need to work in partnership with you,” to develop clear and effective strategies for wildlife conservation, and to strengthen and expand the array of tools and incentives available to landowners. Skipwith said she is looking for ideas from landowners, “so that we know what actually works on the ground.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture/Wildlife Services Deputy Administrator Janet Bucknall and Dr. Doug Eckery of the National Wildlife Research Center also addressed the council meeting. Bucknall noted that in 2019 her agency worked in 48 states to protect livestock from a variety of mammalian and avian predators. She emphasized that partnerships and cooperation between stakeholders and agencies are an important component of the way that Wildlife Services works in achieving its mission. Methods deployed by the agency included both lethal and non-lethal animal damage control, and last year about 12 percent of coyotes taken by her agency were through the use of the much-maligned M-44. Bucknall noted that the new budget for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is the largest on record, including about $1.38 million in new money for Wildlife Services, a division of APHIS.

Eckery gave an overview of predator management research activities at NWRC, including a project that examined the effects of social learning in coyotes on the probability of coyotes being trapped. Researchers found that a coyote watching an unrelated coyote getting trapped had no effect on the probability of the observer coyote being trapped. But watching a mate getting trapped decreased the probability of the observer coyote being trapped.

Tanner Beymer of the Public Lands Council encouraged sheep producers to provide written comments on several federal agency rule revisions that are in progress, including the Trump Administration’s overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act regulations, and the proposed reform of grazing regulations for the Bureau of Land Management.

Caroline Lobdell of the Western Resources Legal Center provided an overview of important litigation and reminded meeting attendees of the resources WRLC can provide to producers having problems with government agencies. WRLC is a non-profit legal organization that is the nation’s only hands-on legal training program specializing in legal education advocacy on behalf of natural resource users throughout the country. WRLC is based at the Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. (taking cases on a pro bono basis) and allows law students to work side-by-side with those in the natural resources industry in litigation. Lobdell noted that grazing permittees or other natural resource users are welcome to contact WRLC to discuss issues and potential cases. For more information, check out WRLegal.org.

The new U.S. Forest Service Shared Stewardship Initiative is an outcome-based strategy designed to allow the agency to work collaboratively with other agencies to address issues, such as catastrophic wildfires in the West.

Targeted grazing is a component of shared stewardship, since grazing can effectively reduce fine-fuel loading, and can achieve land management goals at a cost that is significantly lower than that of other available tools.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Jacque Buchanan, acting director of forest management, rangelands management and vegetation ecology for the U.S. Forest Service, adding that the challenge ahead is too great not to act – from substantial burnable landscapes, to insect and disease mortalities, watershed degradation, and drought severity.

Dr. Maggie Highland – who conducts research into pathogens affecting bighorn and domestic sheep – gave the council a quick overview of recent research on the topic and assured the group that her efforts will continue in her new role as the assistant professor of diagnostic pathology at Kansas State University.

Assessing Animal Welfare in American Wool Production

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The Shepherd

Colorado State University is working with ASI to develop animal welfare-oriented standards for the American Wool Assurance Program. AWA is intended to help textile and apparel companies identify American wool that has been produced with a set of science-based standards for animal welfare.

CSU’s Dr. Jason Ahola and Jordan Marsh presented the draft AWA standards at the Production, Education and Research Council Policy Forum session at the recent ASI Annual Convention in Arizona.

General standards include provisions that sheep are to be shorn annually at a minimum, either one month pre-lambing, or one month post-lambing, and that region, weather, insects and shelter shall be considered when timing shearing.

Pre-shearing standards recommend that the sheep be held off feed and water overnight, but no longer than 24 hours pre-shearing.

Shearing standards note that shearing efficiency and speed should be at a reasonable pace that minimizes injury to shearer and sheep, and that abrasions and lacerations – including minor nicks and cuts – are treated appropriately and promptly. The shearer must notify the producer of a severe laceration and be followed by analgesic administration and suturing, as appropriate. Sheep are never to be grabbed or handled by the wool, electric prods are never to be used, and rough handling of sheep at any time by anyone is prohibited.

There are 24 standards in the AWA proposal, and it’s important to read the specific wording for each, as the standards include words such as “shall, should, requiring,” and “never.” For more information about the draft standards, or to provide feedback, contact Marsh at jordan.marsh@rams.colostate.edu.

The AWA proposes a self-assessment to be conducted at shearing and suggests that the standards be included in an online training/certification program. Ahola also suggested that producers could hire an independent company to visit a sheep operation to perform an audit.

 

Secure Sheep & Wool

Danelle Bickett-Weddle of Iowa State University provided an update to the Secure Sheep & Wool Supply Plan which will set the stage for what happens to the industry should Foot and Mouth Disease be detected in the United States. The plan is being developed to prepare before an outbreak in which regulatory officials will limit the movement of animals and animal products while they work to control the spread of this contagious disease. FMD affects cloven-hooved animals, so if a pig farm gets an infection, all cloven-hooved animals in a control area around that farm – along with a buffer zone – will be quarantined.

Secure food supply plans are designed to ensure business continuity for affected premises, but not infected premises. Bickett-Weddle said that in the event of a foreign animal disease such as FMD, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to impose a three-day national standstill of livestock and livestock products. But as federal animal health officials work to designate a control area, animal movements will be by permit only, those permits will be based on risk, and movement controls will remain in place until the control area is released. Handling sheep in an FMD outbreak is complicated by the fact that sheep often do not show any clinical signs of the disease, and there is no diagnostic test for non-clinical sheep. So how should producers prepare contingency plans?

Helping sheep producers develop their own plans for biosecurity is about to get a lot easier, as the Secure Sheep and Wool website is set to launch this month, complete with checklists, informational manuals and templates. Information is compartmentalized for sheep producers, veterinarians and regulatory officials.
Check out the details at SecureSheepWool.org.

 

Parasites and Immunity

Dr. Scott Bowdridge of West Virginia University gave a presentation focused on the dynamic interplay between parasites and immunity in sheep. His research demonstrated that breeds do matter when it comes to parasites.

Host immune response is the key factor in determining whether an animal can resist or allow infection to establish. Parasite-resistant sheep breeds such as the St. Croix are able to combat parasitic worm infections, with the host’s genetics allowing it to produce a more effective immune response that enables the animal to resist larval establishment or worm egg shedding. Bowdridge noted that wool breeds, especially the black-faced breeds such as Suffolk, are more susceptible to infection than hair breeds. Bowdridge suggests that producers might want to consider using EBVs for improving levels of parasite resistance and reducing worm burdens without making drastic changes to management systems.

 

Infectious Disease Problems

Dr. Stephen White is the acting leader of the USDA-Animal Research Service Animal Disease Research Unit in Pullman, Wash. He spoke with the research council about continued research priorities for the unit, which include continuing to learn about ovine respiratory disease (including Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae – Movi – and its potential interplay with bighorn sheep). White said that research on the genetics of Movi nasal shedding suggests that it will be possible to identify genetically low shedders of Movi. Future work will be needed to develop and validate the DNA research on Movi, and might lead to vaccine development.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever will also receive attention at Pullman. Most sheep carry the virus, which is not harmful to sheep but can be transmitted and cause fatal disease to bison and cattle. Coxiellosis/Q Fever is a zoonotic disease that can be spread to humans.

White said that there is a potential for a $1 billion outbreak in the United States since the human minimum infectious dose is one organism and there are billions of organisms per gram of sheep placenta for infected animals. Humans can contract Q Fever without ever touching sheep since airborne transmission is possible. There is no vaccine for Q Fever in the United States.

Pullman research proposes antimicrobial treatment as a way to have a meaningful reduction in shedding to help human health, and White said data will be coming soon on these measures.

Finding Genetic Baselines of Heritable Traits Surges Ahead

Cat Urbigkit
The Shepherd

Preliminary research suggests that selection for parasite resistance increases lamb survival for several breeds, Dr. James Morgan of Katahdin Hair Sheep International told the Genetic Stakeholders Committee at the recent Annual Convention in Arizona.

He noted that a great deal of Katahdin research has been centered around parasite resistance, but the research also involves growth, maternal behavior and maternal output, with the goal to provide more accurate adjustment factors and heritability information for use in the National Sheep Improvement Program.

There are also two current genomics projects ongoing, including one in which researchers were able to isolate sections of DNA associated with parasite resistance. The bottom line is that selection for parasite resistance might increase progeny survival, Morgan said, and the data indicates that it’s a general immune response. Lambs that are resistant to parasites have a better immune response to challenges, and this finding might be helpful regardless of sheep breed.

 

Wool Index

Kansas State University graduate student Tamra Kott provided an update on the development of a fine wool index which will define wool traits (fiber diameter, staple length fleece weights, yield, etc.), measure trait relationships and determine the economic breeding values for those traits.

Kott is working on an industry survey and is hoping to collect at least 200 responses as she works to develop the index. Kott noted that the Fine Wool Index should serve the needs of three distinct branches of the American wool industry: production, processing and marketing.

 

OPP

Dr. Brad Freking gave an overview of the status of current research at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., and then took a deep dive into large and complex ovine progressive pneumonia challenge studies at USMARC. OPP is a prototypical “slow virus” with a long incubation period and gradual onset of symptoms that is irreversible and ends in death of the animal. This ovine lentivirus has a “Trojan Horse” model of infection in which the virus infects circulating white blood cells and the viral DNA inserts itself into the sheep DNA. When the infected white blood cells arrive at a site of inflammation, the virus “breaks out.” The OPP virus is primarily transmitted among ewes during lambing – through aerosolized respiratory secretions – but is also passed from dam to offspring via infected colostrum. Infections are life-long, with no treatments or vaccines available. It is estimated that 36 percent of American sheep operations are affected by OPP.

In 2012, USMARC reported the discovery of TMEM144 as a major gene affecting OPP and found that sheep have three common variants of this protein with one strain demonstrating less susceptibility to the virus, while the other two are highly susceptible. One study found the infection rate was increased 11 times for an animal with a highly susceptible genotype.

Freking suggests that producers can benefit from first determining if their flocks are infected by testing some of the flock’s oldest ewes – the serological test is about $6 to $12 per animal. His presentation included photographs of disease progression in ewes carrying the less-susceptible genotype, showing that even though they tested serologically positive, the ewes looked healthy and disease progression appeared to be slower than that experienced by ewes with the highly susceptible gene. Although the animals had serologically converted to infected status, they were not clinically symptomatic, suggesting there are not able to transmit the virus.

Of particular interest to western range sheep producers is the finding that OPP might act as an endemic disease with less progression, as both Rambouillet and Columbia breeds appear to be highly infected, so there might be additional host genes that confer susceptibility (and extensive management practices can reduce transmission).

Freking advises several steps to reduce or eradicate OPP in a flock:

1. Serologically test a random sample of the oldest ewes to determine prevalence of OPP.

2. Keep all productive ewes, regardless of infection status, for breeding.

3. Mate to rams with one or two copies of haplotype 1.

4. Naturally rear the resulting lambs and serologically test replacement ewe lambs at 7 months of age or older.

5. Permanently isolate seronegative ewe lambs from the infected flock.

6. Mate ewes in the seronegative flock to rams that will increase the frequency of haplotype 1.

7. Monitor infection status in the seronegative flock by serologically testing the oldest ewes.

8. Progression of the disease appears to be slower in less susceptible genotypes.

 

Future Research

USMARC research geneticist Dr. Tom Murphy hit on future sheep genetics research projects for the center, noting priorities remain in improving health and longevity, lifetime productivity, and wool and lamb quality.

Through sampling breeding stock from throughout the country and “deep phenotyping” the sheep population, researchers can work to identify genomic regions and expand the NSIP estimated breeding value indexes. This includes identifying the “meat and potatoes” traits of number of lambs born/weaned, lamb pre- and post-weaning growth; and fleece and fiber traits.

But it also includes more difficult traits, including:

• Health traits such as mastitis, immune function, respiratory disease and foot rot;

• Functional traits including out-of-season/accelerated lambing, milk/colostrum quality, longevity and udder confirmation;

• Performance traits of feed efficiency, lean growth, primal cut weight and eating quality.

Murphy outlined the five most common reasons for culling ewes in the United States. With age being the primary reason for culling, he noted that culling ewes prior to the end of their normal productive life (6 to 8 years of age) decreases a sheep enterprise’s profitability through increased costs and lost revenue. While nearly 56 percent of ewes were culled due to age, lesser factors include failure to lamb, teeth problems, hard bag and mastitis.

When it comes to ewe fertility, Murphy said in many USMARC flocks, ewes that are repeatedly open are retained so that the reproductive tracts between barren and fertile ewes can be harvested and compared. Researchers want to identify the genomic regions and in utero environmental effects associated with reduced fertility. Other research is focused in the work of rams, with parentage tracking results indicating a wide variation in the number of lambs sired per ram. The objective of this research is to quantify the genetic/behavioral factors contributing to ram breeding capacity.

Mouth soundness and the loss or wear of incisor teeth is an unavoidable function of ewe aging. Past work has indicated that mouth soundness is a moderate to highly heritable trait, and ongoing research will attempt to quantify this trait, identifying both genetic and non-genetic factors contributing to variation.

Murphy also noted that researchers are working to identify and evaluate traits associated with resistance to intramammary infection. Research at USMARC found that 45 percent of range ewes were culture positive for mastitis within five days of lambing, and those ewes weaned on average 11.4 pounds lighter litters, so the economic costs associated with subclinical mastitis are substantial.

The Genetic Stakeholders Committee also heard updates from Amanda Everts of the United Suffolk Sheep Association, Dr. J. Bret Taylor of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, and Kim Chapman for the Leading Edge Study. Chapman presented results of the Mickel Project in Utah, which demonstrated the value of using sires with performance-based EBVs in a commercial operation.

Identifying Animals at the Speed of Commerce

Cat Urbigkit
The Shepherd

Imagine operating a livestock auction barn and you’ve got 80 lambs coming into the sale ring at a run, with their heads down. The lambs are all wearing electronic identification tags in their ears, but how are they going to be read, and how fast and accurate is that reading going to be? The sale barn owner needs it to be fast and accurate.

Then image that you are a lamb owner that takes 40 lambs to a sale, and when the sale is over, you learn the tag reader only read 38 tags of your 40 lambs. As a producer, you need to know what happened to those two other lambs whose tags weren’t read so you can get your full payment from the auction barn.

These are examples of why we need to be able to identify animals at the speed of commerce, Pierce Bennett of the Livestock Marketing Association told members of the Animal Health Committee meeting during the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale in January.

Bennett said auction barns are caught in the middle of the EID movement, regardless of livestock species involved. Each sale barn has its own policies on tagging and equipment for reading tags, and technology might differ between livestock species. Livestock markets are in a unique position in that they must remain tightly focused on animal health and human safety, while moving animals in a highly volatile state.

Some markets will place identification tags on animals not already tagged when they arrive at the sale barn, while others will not allow an animal to be unloaded without the tag being inserted by the owner. Bennett noted that small-scale producers might not even be aware of the rule requiring a scrapie tag – even though the scrapie program has been in existence for years. Some markets install the tags for free, while others charge for the service.

 

Electronic Identification

Dr. Cindy Wolf of Minnesota gave an overview as to how the United States can use electronic identification in its National Scrapie Eradication Program, but said that there are a lot of factors to be considered, including when, where and how EID will be used, what data will be captured, what data will be sent, and how the data will be sent.

The users of EID will be varied, from auction markets to private and public breeding stock sales, club lamb sales, ethnic or on-farm butchers and markets, etc.

Wolf pointed out that the benefits of data recording with EID are substantial: accurate identification of sheep; individual animal management; improvements in productivity, meat, wool or milk; improved reproduction; improved selection for parasite resistance; real-time inventories; increased efficiency at the farm; and a lowering of labor costs. She said that there are producer-friendly tags and stick readers currently on the market both domestically and overseas, and that these systems work in cell phone and tablet applications to generate lists of scanned animals.

Wolf also laid out the challenges of moving to an EID system for small ruminants: including that producers have one best chance to adopt the right technology; prices – for the devices, applicator, reader, docking, interface with Android and Apple operating systems; equipment must operate at the speed of commerce with reliability and affordability; user-friendly scanning and data transmission; new regulations will be needed to ensure uniformity; and whether the system will enhance the efficiency and accuracy of traceability.

 

Scrapie Surveillance

Dr. Diane Sutton of the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Veterinary Services updated the committee on changes to the National Scrapie Surveillance Plan, with a regulatory change in 2019 focused on goats with the view that all female exposed goats are now considered high-risk animals. Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats, and is among a number of diseases classified as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Approximately 30 percent of American sheep are genetically susceptible to scrapie. Susceptibility varies between flocks based on breed and whether genetic selection for resistance has been used. Owners of infected flocks are encouraged to restock with rams that are resistant (RR) and ewes of resistant or less susceptible genotypes (RR or QR).

Since slaughter surveillance began in 2003, the percent of cull sheep found scrapie-positive has decreased 99 percent. There have been no positive sheep detected at slaughter in the United States since 2016, but in October 2018 samples from five sheep and one goat at a source flock in Pennsylvania tested positive for classical scrapie. That flock was depopulated. In June 2019, scrapie was confirmed in a goat tested at slaughter in Indiana.

Wool Olympics Tests Skills of Young Entrepreneurs

Cat Urbigkit
The Shepherd

The competition was both friendly and fierce during the Wool Olympics session held by the Young Entrepreneurs group at the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January.

Three teams of young producers competed in a series of wool processing activities, learning valuable skills along the way, and seeing first-hand how various qualities of wool can be processed into a variety of products.

The wool handling contest required teams to throw, skirt, roll and class a fleece. Teammates learned that properly throwing a fleece is a skilled endeavor when your goal is getting the fleece to land evenly on the skirting table, and doing it with speed is vital on the shearing floor. Skirting, rolling and classing were the next steps in this timed event.

Larry Prager of Center of the Nation Wool helped judge the Wool Olympics, highlighting its importance in helping young producers (and the not-so-young, who were also watching) learn to group wool for both value and usability.

“That’s the whole goal here – to maximize the value of the fleeces through skirting, processing and classing,” Prager said.

The end-use-determination contest required teams to determine the best end use for each sample of wool. As team members assessed each wool sample, they had to consider which would be most appropriate as dryer balls, to make a lace shawl, or as craft yarn. Which wool sample would be best suited for heavyweight woolens, upholstery or padded felt? With 15 wool samples to correspond with final products, it was a real learning experience for all team members, and the judges talked with all the teams about their determinations, pointing out strengths and weaknesses in selections.

The felting contest required taking raw wool and creating a felted product. There were two distinct approaches by the teams with some using soapy water (wet felting), while others went right to rolling and needles (dry felting). Some teams used combinations of the two techniques.

After rotating through four different tables, there was one final contest: The “Sheep Tank” had the teams face a panel of judges in a Shark Tank-style competition where they presented their sales pitches for a new product or use of sheep pelts. From beer cozies to roofing insulation, the teams took turns making their pitches.

While only one team could grab the gold, everyone was a winner at the Wool Olympics, with the judges helping both team members and the gathered spectators learn more about the versatility of American wool. Spectators watching the competition in the Arizona sunshine were equally entertained by the teams as they competed, and there was running commentary provided by broadcasters Lane Nordlund and Russell Nemetz. The pair also went live on ASI’s Facebook page during the competition.

Industry Tour at Rovey Dairy Delights ASI Convention Crowd

Cat Urbigkit
The Shepherd

Now surrounded by urban development, the Rovey Dairy in Glendale, Ariz., has been in operation since the early 1940s and serves as an agricultural stronghold among regional population growth that now includes 5.5 million people.

Acquiring more land while it was still rural (and selling a land parcel for construction of a stadium that is now home to the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League) has allowed the dairy to thrive, and for the dairy’s owner to explore his other interests, such as breeding Watusi cattle and domestic bison.

In its early years the dairy milked Holstein cows, but under Paul Rovey’s management stumbled into Jerseys in the early 1980s.

Rovey told participants in the ASI Industry Tour that he set out to buy 30 springer (ready to birth) Jerseys for his children to show, but he ended up buying 380 head. After retrofitting the existing dairy for the smaller cow breed, Rovey said he learned to raise and manage the Jerseys, and purchased another dairy, allowing the family to now milk 1,800 head. While the agricultural operation is extensive, Rovey said, “The only things we grow are things you can put in a cow or sheep’s mouth,” including corn and sorghum silage, oats, barley, alfalfa and sugar beets.

His interest in expanding his operation to sheep came about from participation in the local fair auctions. Rovey became the buyer of last resort, collecting donations from other businesses and purchasing lambs that weren’t getting bids at the auctions so that the kids could take home a check for their efforts. Eventually, he started saving the ewe lambs, and after trying various meat sheep breeds, he has now focused on milk sheep – East Friesian and Lacaune, with a few Dorpers remaining – with a flock of 1,200 ewes. The Rovey Dairy now creates various sheep cheeses – which tour participants were able to sample – and as the sheep dairy expands, hopes to install yogurt and ice cream machines with products made from sheep’s milk.

With a few Dorpers remaining, the family also sells lamb meat to local restaurants, including the Desert Rose Steakhouse. Tour participants dined on delicious lamb burgers at the establishment, attesting to the quality of the dairy’s lamb product.

Around the States

South Dakota
Dr. Jeff Held Retires at SDSU

For more than 30 years, South Dakota State University Extension Sheep Specialist and animal science professor Jeffrey Held has served as a dedicated advocate for the lamb and wool industry and an essential educator in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

“Jeff has been an incredible land grant ambassador to the university, the state of South Dakota, the region and our nation,” said SDSU President Barry H. Dunn.

Throughout his career, Held has mentored countless students, producers and industry associates as a colleague, teacher, scholar, advisor and friend. For the past 15 years, he has taught sheep and wool production courses in the department of animal science. Additionally, for the past eight years, he supervised the SDSU Sheep Research and Teaching Unit – which maintains a closed ewe flock of 250 commercial Polypay and 125 purebred Hampshire ewes.

“Dr. Held is recognized as a national leader in lamb and wool production and has provided me with a wealth of knowledge regarding South Dakota agriculture and producers,” said Joe Cassady, SDSU animal science department head. “He has served as a teacher and mentor to many faculty and staff members within the department of animal science.”

In his role as an SDSU extension sheep specialist, Held’s main responsibilities included providing industry support, assisting producers across South Dakota, making flock management recommendations and hosting a variety of county and state meetings and outreach programs. Additionally, he started the South Dakota Sheep Shearing Program that trains and educates producers on the proper techniques for harvesting, packaging and grading wool. Since the program’s start in 1990, Held has hosted more than 34 trainings.

Alongside his fellow SDSU Extension colleagues, Held helped create the All American Sheep Day Program held at the Black Hills Stock Show where farmers and ranchers can learn about and discuss topics related to flock health, wool and lamb products and observe and interact in a series of demonstrations and activities.

Held’s primary research focus was on ruminant nutrition and developing innovative diet formulation strategies using co-product feed ingredients including soybean hulls, dried distillers grains with solubles and corn stover. As a result, he quickly became a well-known resource for producers and has since trained many graduate students in the area of sheep nutrition.

With his extensive expertise, Held was invited to be an author and reviewer for the ASI’s Sheep Production Handbook.

Furthermore, Held coordinated the Dakota Performance Ram Test, initiated the SDSU Registered Hampshire Sale, served as the AKSARBEN Lamb Carcass Superintendent, worked with the South Dakota State 4-H Sheep Show for 30 years and initiated and organized the SDSU Lamb Bonanza for 28 years.

“Many of the individuals I have worked with have been working together for a long time and we all have a strong desire to serve the producers throughout the state,” said Held. “We worked hard to provide resources to help producers make better production decisions.”

 

OREGON
Pendleton Forms Outerwear Division

Pendleton Woolen Mills – the lifestyle brand with roots as a Pacific Northwest woolen manufacturer since 1863 – announced recently it has successfully re-acquired its outerwear license from Item House Inc. and has retained the team that has helped elevate Pendleton’s outerwear line.

This transaction is the culmination of a long and successful partnership for two Pacific Northwest companies. Pendleton is focused on leveraging the technical fabric and outerwear expertise of Item House to expand on its history of innovation in fabric and apparel suited for the outdoors. Item House has been a Pendleton licensee since 1999.

“We are very excited to continue the outerwear innovation and growth we have witnessed throughout our partnership with Item House,” said John Bishop, president and chief executive officer of Pendleton. “This is an investment in an important product category. We’re looking forward to leveraging the expertise that our new team members have in technical fabrics and sourcing across other Pendleton lines. Our teams have been working together for years and our cultures mesh nicely.”

“We are thrilled to see Pendleton continue to build on the outerwear momentum and take the offering to an even higher level,” said Greg Davis, president of Item House. “Since our founding in 1956, Item House has been creating outerwear with a focus on quality, design and trends, which is aligned with Pendleton’s history and vision.”

The re-acquisition is an expansion of the iconic apparel and outerwear that Pendleton has been creating since the early 1900s. The transition will be seamless and is effective with the fall 2020 line.

Obituaries

Kim Ketcham, 1953-2020

Kim Kerry Ketcham, age 66, of Edwardsville, Ill., passed away unexpectedly but peacefully, on Jan. 28 in Colorado. He was born on March 2, 1953, in Highland, Ill., the son of the late Theodore and Delores (Schoenleber) Ketcham.

Kim is survived by his wife, Joan Marie (Schwalb) Ketcham, whom he married April 26, 1975, in Edwardsville. Also surviving is his son, Kerry Kendall and wife, Jessie (Henkhaus) Ketcham and their children, Kylie Kendyl and Koy Kerry Ketcham; one daughter, Katie Kay (Ketcham) and husband, Justin Chambers. He also has two sisters and nieces and nephews.

Kim was actively involved in 4-H and FFA throughout school. He graduated from Edwardsville High School in 1971 and then attended trade school. He has been a member of the Operating Engineers Local 520 for 49 years.

At age 10, Kim started showing Suffolk sheep. He began traveling the country showing and fitting sheep for Bill Heggemeier. While traveling, he saw a need for equipment to be used specifically for sheep, and this is how Ketcham’s Sheep Equipment began in 1977. Showing sheep became a family tradition with his children and grandchildren. Kim was the foundation of the Ketcham family legacy. After 43 years in business, people that started out as customers became lifelong friends. Serving the sheep industry gave him great joy.

He was a member of the Suffolk Sheep Association and a board member for several years. Kim was a big supporter of numerous sheep organizations. He enjoyed hunting.

Memorial contributions may be made to Madison County Fair Foundation for use by the Sheep Department.

 

Taylor King Marley, 1987-2020

Taylor Marley, 32, a proud sixth-generation New Mexican rancher, passed away on Feb. 10, 2020, in Roswell, N.M. on the family ranch.

Born on Aug. 28, 1987, in Roswell, Taylor will always be remembered for his sweet and caring spirit, infectious laugh, mischievous smile, hilarious jokes and warm-hearted nature. Taylor’s competitive nature fueled him to win a Rifle World Championship with the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association and two American Quarter Horse Association Reserve World Championship titles.

A graduate of the New Mexico Military Institute in 2006 and the Texas Christian University Ranch Management Program in 2010, Taylor was passionate about his alma maters.
In 2014, Taylor married Molly McKinney of Fort Worth to begin their own family on the ranch. Molly and Taylor were blessed with two precious daughters, Margot (3) and Charlotte (1).

Taylor is survived by his wife, Molly McKinney Marley; his daughters, Margot and Charlotte; his parents, Kathryn and Mark Marley; his sister, Kate Marley; his grandparents, Betty and John King, and Lauralee Marley McCrea, his step-grandfather, David McCrea; his in-laws Mary and Paul McKinney, his sister-in-law Harriet McKinney and his brother-in-law Charles McKinney.

Mark Marley is a partner in Roswell Wool. Memorial contributions can be made to TCU Ranch Management, TCU Box 297420, Fort Worth, TX 76129.

The Last Word

Wolves and the Cost of Romance

Bonnie Brown
Colorado Wool Growers Executive Director

Colorado is a champion of equality; yet is on the brink of a great inequity as we head toward the November ballot and a vote on wolf introduction in the state.

The ballot measure asks voters to approve forced wolf introduction. Even though most voters won’t be impacted by the consequences. Even though we already have wolves in the state. Even though experts at Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have repeatedly chosen not to release wolves in Colorado. Wolf advocates are in overdrive as they rush to restore the howl in Colorado. While some may be enthralled with the romance and wildness of wolves; to others the howl is a death knell, a forewarning that on the landscape, something will die.

The inconvenient truth is wolves don’t recognize property boundaries and don’t stay on public lands. Approximately 50 percent of wolf depredation – wolves killing livestock – in Idaho and Wyoming occurs on private property. The ballot initiative gives a token nod to livestock losses, but there’s no guarantee that money will be available. Our high-country winters drive elk and deer herds – prey base for wolves – down to lower elevation, more densely populated areas which ensures conflict between wolves and people.

Trying to find a parking place at the congested trailheads and campgrounds in our national forests should give one pause for thought about the wildness of Colorado. Our state aggressively promotes Western Slope tourism and outdoor recreation. The days of yesteryear are gone, and wolves roaming unfettered across the landscape is problematic at best.

The ballot measure is devoid of any redress for the many wildlife species impacted, and costs created by the presence of this apex predator. Where wolf packs are present, elk, moose and deer populations decline due to predation and relocation. Relocation of prey species – fleeing from the presence of wolves – brings its own suite of unintended consequences. Of particular concern for Colorado is the spread of chronic wasting disease when wolves change distribution patterns of infected wildlife, and also serve as a vector to spread the disease. In other states with established wolf populations, deer and elk seek a protected haven on farm and ranch land which might increase the potential for human health concerns such as lyme disease and hydatid (gray wolf) disease.
The wolf issue is rife with irony. The latest pitch is that wolves aren’t very successful hunters, they’re often injured and their small, weak jaws can barely hold onto prey. This leads you to believe that wolves can barely feed themselves. However, wolves are doing just fine, and naturally migrating into Colorado. Wolves are highly adaptable and very successful at expanding their territory.

There are now more than 2,100 wolves roaming the northern Rockies, including Colorado.

To their disciples, wolves occupy an infallible ecological pedestal, but the cost of romance is high for those that pay the price…our elk, deer and cherished moose herds; our brave and valiant livestock protection dogs that give their lives to protect their flocks; our sheep and cattle; and most assuredly someone’s beloved dog or horse. No amount of reimbursement money can mend a broken heart when our four-legged best friends meet a terrifying and horrific death because wolves passed by.

Colorado is touted as the missing link to restore wolves to their historic range from Canada to Mexico. Some of you might remember, the call to action to restore the Mexican wolf to its historic range in New Mexico and Arizona. The Mexican wolf recovery program was created to preserve the distinct population segment and unique genetic characteristics of this small desert wolf. Now to complete the missing link, Colorado might be poised to cast upon the landscape, untold numbers of larger, more aggressive, more resilient northern gray (Canadian) wolves.

I cannot suppress my cowboy colloquialism as hypocrisy runs roughshod over the $44 million dollars spent to preserve the Mexican wolf. If you saddled the horse, ride it; and don’t change horses midstream. Distinct population segments used to be the darling of the carnivore advocacy world, but now they sing a different tune, “a wolf is a wolf is a wolf.” Apparently, they forgot which horse they rode into town on.

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