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Advocating for the Industry in D.C.

Susan Shultz, ASI President

One of the more important strengths of ASI is the association’s ongoing work in advocating for issues that are important to our American sheep industry. To that end, dedicated producer/leaders join together on a yearly basis to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit with their congressional delegations and government agencies to share our industry’s concerns.

In March 2020, the ASI delegation was one of the last commodity groups to visit those offices due to the pandemic and, in March 2022, we were one of the first groups to return. It was wonderful to be back in Washington, D.C., and re-connect with our representatives and senators and share our story. But this year, we were also able to say thank you.

For many years, the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, has struggled with inadequate funding. At one point the station was even on the government’s closure list, but ASI and its producer leaders continued to work to build relationships with supporters of agriculture research. We have advocated for the importance of modernizing the unique century old sheep station and to adequately fund its important research.

We were so pleased that the recently passed bipartisan compromise appropriations bill contains $4.2 million for improvements to the building and facilities at the station, as well as an additional $500,000 in new rangeland research funding. This would not have happened without years of advocating from ASI and its producer leaders. We are especially appreciative of Rep. Mike Simpson (Idaho) who pushed this issue forward.

Building relationships with our government agencies also helped with another positive win recently for our industry. ASI heard from producers that they were very appreciative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture providing emergency relief payments for forage losses due to the severe ongoing drought. That assistance was designed to help producers with the additional expenses of hauling feed to livestock. In the case of our sheep industry, many producers were forced instead to transport their flocks to new feed sources. ASI asked for this added flexibility for livestock hauling to be considered for relief payments. Association leaders had numerous conversations with Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and others. The request was sensible, and due to our positive relationships USDA listened. This positive action might help numerous producers survive this persistent drought.

Building relationships across the aisle in Washington, D.C., does make a difference. ASI has a respected reputation on Capitol Hill due to its dedicated producer leaders and ASI staff. ASI will continue to build relationships and advocate for our industry.

My best.

Sheep Numbers Affect Wool Production

TYLER COZZENS, PH.D.
Livestock Marketing Information Center

The Jan. 1 U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Agricultural Statistics Service Sheep and Goats report highlighted the continued downward trend for American wool production with 2021 at 22.451 million pounds – down 3 percent from the prior year. The lower wool production is due to a 2 percent decrease in sheep shorn to 3.2 million head, while the yield was down slightly from the prior year at 7 lbs. per head.

Let’s look at wool from a supply and utilization perspective. Supplies in 2021 started the year with beginning stocks of 21.2 million clean pounds which was the highest in five years. Production was 11.9 million clean pounds last year, down 3 percent with imports at 3.8 million clean pounds. This gave a total wool supply of 36.9 million clean pounds, up 12 percent from last year and the highest in three years.

On the utilization side of the balance sheet, wool mill use was estimated at 10 million clean pounds. Exports were 6.7 million clean pounds in 2021 – 2.3 million clean pounds above 2020. Total use for the year was 16.7 million clean pounds, which left ending stocks at 20.2 million clean pounds – the second highest level since 2016. Overall, wool production and use have been trending generally lower and will likely continue to do so given the decline in sheep numbers.

Focusing on state level wool production, eight states accounted for nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of total production in 2021 (Calif., Colo., Idaho, Mont., S.D., Texas, Utah and Wyo.). California and Colorado both produced nearly 2.2 million pounds last year, which was down 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from 2020. Wyoming and Utah posted declines of 9 percent and 6 percent, respectively, with production of 2.1 and 2.0 million pounds. California, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah – the only four states with wool production of more than 2 million pounds – accounted for 38 percent of total production in 2021.

Ten years ago, there were six states (Calif., Colo., Wyo., Utah, Idaho and Texas) that had wool production or more than 2 million pounds. Wool production in South Dakota rose 1 percent to more than 1.7 million pounds, the only top producing state to post an increase in production last year. Declines of 9 percent and 8 percent were seen in Montana and Idaho, respectively, to 1.5 and 1.4 million pounds. The remaining states all saw wool production figures below one million pounds and most recognized a decline from a year ago.

 

WOOL MARKET UPDATE

The Australian Eastern Market Indicator averaged just more than 1,400 per cents kg clean in March, down 2 percent from February’s 1,428 average, but an 8 percent increase over the prior year’s monthly average of 1,295. The first two weeks of April, the Australian EMI moved lower with the most recent week at 1,369 per cents kg clean, which is the lowest weekly price so far this year. Since the start of 2022, the EMI has averaged about U.S. $4.64 per lb. (Aus. $6.37 per lb.), this is higher than the same period last year which averaged about U.S. $4.48 per lb. (Aus. $5.79 per lb.).

In recent weeks, prices for the finer wools – between 17 and 21 microns – have generally been even to slightly higher than last March. Compared to a year ago, prices through the first quarter of the year have been above 2021 levels. Prices for the 17 to 19 micron wools are trending higher than last year. The 19 to 21 micron wools have been flat to slightly higher than a year ago. Prices for the 21 to 23 micron wools in early April were trending about even with prices in March.

Compared to a year ago, prices have seen smaller gains of about 2 to 3 percent. The market for 25 to 26 micron wools has moved lower in recent weeks with prices ranging from down 5 percent to as much as a 12 percent decline.

China continues its zero tolerance policy on COVID-19 cases, which has started to raise concern as to potential implications to wool demand. As of this writing, wool prices have generally remained level since the start of this year with recent prices tracking above a year ago, indicating demand repercussions so far have been limited. If China’s zero tolerance measures on COVID-19 persist, that could limit wool demand and pressure prices in the near term.

 

LAMB MARKET UPDATE

Lamb and yearling slaughter were on a slower pace through the first quarter of 2022, averaging about 30,000 head per week – 13 percent below the same period last year. The first quarter of 2022 saw lamb and yearling dressed weights track about 1 percent below a year ago at 67 pounds. The lower slaughter rate
and marginal decrease in dressed weights combined to a nearly 13 percent decline in lamb production for the first quarter of 2022.

Weekly slaughter typically rises leading up to Easter as retail stores feature more lamb. This year, Easter fell later – on April 17 – and as of this writing weekly slaughter had started to increase. The last two weeks of March saw weekly lamb and yearling slaughter jump nearly 10 to 15 percent week-over-week to more than 36,000 and nearly 40,000 head, respectively. Elevated levels were expected to occur in weekly slaughter for the week leading up to Easter. Last year, weekly lamb and yearling slaughter was about or just less than 40,000 head in the three weeks leading up to Easter, indicating that this year’s slaughter levels are tracking lower than those of 2021. The lower slaughter levels are supporting lamb prices.

This Easter, consumers were facing much higher lamb prices than they did last year. Since the start of the year, the lamb cutout value has maintained an elevated level averaging around $6 per pound. The first full week of April saw the lamb cutout value slump slightly to $5.89 per pound, which is the lowest price since late-July last year. Compared to the same week a year ago, the lamb cutout value was 39 percent – or $1.66 per pound – higher. Similar jumps in prices have also occurred in most lamb cuts. This year, the shoulder has averaged more than $4.77 per pound through the first quarter – a 31 percent increase from last year.

The first quarter average price of legs was more than $5.90 per pound – up 31 percent from 2021. The average loin price has increased 36 percent from a year ago to $9.37 per pound. The rack has been the most impressive lamb cut as it has seen the largest increase, rising 58 percent during the first quarter to more than $15 per pound.

The smaller than expected pace to lamb and yearling slaughter through the first quarter of this year has led to the Livestock Marketing Information Center revising its 2022 slaughter forecast to 2.135 million head – down 5 percent from last year. Weights are expected to trend approximately 1 percent below 2021, leading to a more than 6 percent decline in lamb production to 129.1 million pounds for the year. The lower production is expected to keep slaughter lamb prices (national negotiated live) above a year ago by about 5 percent with a range of $221 to $236 per cwt. this year. Feeder lamb prices (three-market average, Colo., S.D. and Texas) for the year are forecast at $293 to $305 per cwt, up 10 percent from last year.

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the Consumer Price Index showed inflation jumped 8.5 percent in March. This is the highest inflation rate since December of 1981, which was 8.9 percent. Inflationary pressures are likely to be a headwind to the larger macro economy, but the demand for meat looks optimistic.

For lamb demand, the lamb cutout value averaging more than $6 per pound since late-July last year is an indication that demand remains robust.

Further, the American Lamb Board study conducted in October 2021 showed that heavy lamb purchasers tend to be college-educated millennials with families making more than $100,000 a year and live in urban areas.

This would suggest that heavy lamb users have a higher degree of disposable income, allowing them some flexibility to absorb the elevated lamb prices.

ASI Looking for Producers For ALB, NSIIC Nominations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service is requesting nominations to the American Lamb Board and National Sheep Industry Improvement Center board of directors.

ASI is certified to nominate individuals to serve on both boards and is requesting nominations by May 15 to forward to USDA/AMS. USDA requires a minimum of two nominees for each impending vacancy.

For ALB, nominations are needed to succeed members that include one producer with 100 or less lambs, one producer with more than 500 lambs, one feeder at-large, and one first handler.

Any American producer, feeder or first handler who owns or purchases lambs may be considered for nomination. To satisfy the requirements of the Lamb Promotion and Research Order, the producers with 100 or less lambs or the producers with more than 500 lambs can be from either of ALB’s two regions: the area east of the Mississippi River or the area west of the Mississippi River. The at-large feeder nominees must be from Region 1: the area east of the Mississippi River.

Nomination forms are available at SheepUSA.org/resources-albnominations and must be submitted to ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick at peter@sheepusa.org by May 15.

The NSIIC vacancies are created by members whose terms will expire at the end of the board’s winter meeting in early 2023.

This year, two vacant positions will occur for the 2023 board. There is one vacancy for a sheep producer and one vacancy for a person with expertise in finance and management. Marsha Spykerman is not eligible for renomination as a producer and Francisco Iturriria is not eligible for renomination as an expert in finance and management.

AMS’ policy is that diversity of the boards it oversees should reflect the diversity of their industries in terms of the experience of members, methods of production and distribution, marketing strategies, and other distinguishing factors, including but not limited to individuals from historically underserved communities that will bring different perspectives and ideas to the table. Throughout the full nomination process, the industry must conduct extensive outreach, paying particular attention to reaching underserved communities, and consider the diversity of the population served and the knowledge, skills and abilities of the members to serve a diverse population.

Nomination forms are available at SheepUSA.org/resources-nsiicnominations and must be submitted to Orwick at peter@sheepusa.org by May 15.

Antibiotic Resistance & U.S. Policies

ROSIE BUSCH, DVM
University of California-Davis

Antibiotics are an important tool that we have available to fight diseases caused by bacteria. Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics over many years is making them less effective.

This is because the more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the better they are at developing ways to evade the effects of these drugs. As antibiotics become less effective, simple infections become more difficult to treat. Consequences of antibiotic resistance include longer treatment times, increased cost of treatment and more treatment failures leading to higher death losses.

Early in the 1990s, policies were developed in the United States to regulate the use of certain drugs in food-producing animals. These regulations were put in place in order to protect public health from potential carcinogenic or toxic compounds that might be found in the animal food product. As antibiotic resistance became a growing concern, some “medically important” antibiotics have had restricted use as early as 1997.

Baytril – enrofloxacin, in the fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics – for example can only be used by order of a veterinarian as directed on the label for food producing species. Medically important antibiotics that are within a class of drug that is used in both human medicine and veterinary medicine. This is considered important because as bacteria develop resistance to any of these drugs in either humans or animals, bacteria can share genetic material that spread globally due to how interconnected human and animal environments are today.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization declared antibiotic resistance to be one of the most critical threats to public health. The reports published by these two agencies spearheaded many conversations with all facets of the human health, animal health and food production industries involved.

The White House released a National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in 2014 and thus the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria was established. All this to say, conversations about how to reduce or combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both human health care and veterinary settings have been happening for some time now.

How do we slow the development of antibiotic resistance? By improving antibiotic stewardship. The challenge is, those of us involved in raising livestock hear that we overuse antibiotics in animal agriculture. This language tends to make us defensive of our practices and often unwilling to accept change. I’d invite us to consider that antibiotic stewardship isn’t about using fewer antibiotics in animal agriculture. Antibiotic stewardship is using antibiotics as little as possible, but as much as necessary.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has launched several initiatives designed to limit or reverse the development of resistant-bacteria while continuing to ensure the availability of safe and effective antibiotics for use in food producing animals. The FDA initiated the effort to promote the judicious use of antibiotics in 2010 with the draft of GFI #209, which established the original framework for ending production uses – e.g. improved feed efficiency – of medically important antibiotics and bringing the remaining therapeutic uses – i.e. treatment, control, or prevention of disease – under veterinary oversight.

You might remember in 2017 when the FDA changed the rule that requires a veterinary feed directive for all antibiotics in feed? Or when all medically important antibiotics in water were changed to require a prescription from a veterinarian. These were all efforts that were within the initial framework that was established in 2012. More recently – in following that initial framework – the FDA has announced that the remaining over-the-counter forms of medically important antibiotics will transition to prescription only as of June 2023. This means that the injectable, oral, intramammary and topical forms of antibiotics will require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian.

How might this impact you? What can you do to prepare? If you already have a relationship with a veterinarian, talk to that person about how this might impact access to antibiotics that you typically use in your operation. Talk about what diseases you might be treating with these drugs and discuss your current disease prevention strategies.

With your veterinarian as an important member of your animal health team, you might be able to reevaluate these practices routinely to ensure everyone is doing their part to protect these critical lifesaving medications. If you don’t yet have a relationship with a local or even remote veterinarian, consider establishing that relationship soon in order to be prepared before June 2023.

Probing the Genetic Diversity of Suffolk Sheep

CARRIE WILSON
USDA/ARS National Animal Germplasm Program

& RON LEWIS, PH.D.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

According to the American Lamb Board Industry Roadmap, the United States sheep industry needs to promote widespread use of quantitative genetic selection as a tool to cost-effectively produce quality lamb that meets consumer preferences.

The National Sheep Improvement Program contributes to that goal by generating and providing Estimated Breeding Values – predictors of an animal’s genetic merit – for growth and carcass traits, among others, to sheep breeders across all sectors of the industry.

Classical animal breeding teaches that there are four factors key to making genetic progress:

• The accuracy of our selection decisions (selection accuracy);

• The percentage of top animals we choose to keep (selection intensity);

• How quickly we replace parents with their offspring (generation interval); and

• The extent of genetic variability available for a trait (genetic variation).

Unfortunately, several of these factors work in opposition to one another. For instance, to be more accurate in our selection decisions, we need to collect more performance records on our animals. That takes more time. Consequently, we turn over generations more slowly. Although a higher selection accuracy increases the rate of genetic progress we can achieve, a longer generation interval slows that gain.

Advances in molecular-based technologies have provided a way to address this challenge. By combining information from the analysis of an animal’s DNA – so-called genomic data – with its pedigree and performance data, we can more reliably predict its EBV. This allows us to make more dependable selection decisions even in younger animals, increasing selection accuracy and reducing generation interval.

Genomic enhanced EBV – or GEBV – is the term used for an EBV derived by combining pedigree, performance and genomic data. GEBV have become routine in the beef, dairy and swine industries. For example, in the dairy industry the use of GEBV has increased accuracy of selection to the point that several years of progeny testing is no longer required to prove a bull. Rather than waiting two years for his daughters’ first lactations, the genetic merit of those heifers can now be accurately estimated the day they are born. With that information, bulls can be chosen at young ages reducing the generation interval. With the cost of genotyping decreasing, genomic data is also being used in the genetic evaluation of sheep. In the United States, GEBV were first introduced by NSIP in one breed in October 2021.

By using genomic data, we can more accurately identify and select genetically superior animals. However, that comes with some risks; it has led to a decrease in genetic variation – or diversity – in other livestock species. Establishing a baseline of genetic diversity in a breed, therefore, is a valuable starting point before obtaining and using GEBV. That was the aim of a collaborative project with NSIP Suffolk breeders funded through an ASI Let’s Grow grant and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Innovation Fund.

In this project, we evaluated the genetic diversity of the Suffolk breed as it is today. NSIP provided pedigree records from more than 64,000 animals. Flock sizes ranged from 9 to 219 with an average of 57.3 sheep per flock. Rams had a maximum of 355 offspring, while ewes had a maximum of 26 offspring. The generation interval was 2.4 years for rams and 3.4 years for ewes. Inbreeding – a measure of animal relatedness – averaged 5.5 percent. Although inbreeding has accumulated in Suffolk sheep, the annual rate of inbreeding has not increased. In some livestock breeds, only a few animals have substantially contributed to the current gene pool. Such was not the case with Suffolks. Only 14 animals contributed more than 1 percent to the current gene pool, with the most influential contributing 5 percent. This lack of highly influential individuals has helped maintain genetic diversity in the breed.

The genotyping platform used in this study measured an animal’s genetic makeup – its DNA – at more than 600,000 locations along its chromosomes. Of the 64,000 pedigreed animals that were evaluated, a cross section of 244 individual animals were genotyped from flocks enrolled in NSIP. In addition, genotypes were collected on 60 rams from the USDA/ARS National Animal Germplasm Program gene bank. Those rams did not have NSIP associated pedigree records. In total, 304 sheep representing 32 flocks were genotyped. Those genotypes were then used to define diversity at the genomic level.

Effective population size is defined as the number of individuals in a population who contribute offspring to the next generation. It, therefore, is important in understanding the genetic diversity available within a breed. An effective population size of 50 is considered acceptable. Importantly, this number can be used to predict the accuracy that can be anticipated when obtaining GEBV. The effective population size for Suffolk was computed as 79.5, which is on the low side for sheep breeds.

Still, the good news is a lower effective population size translates into higher accuracies for GEBV, and higher accuracies gives us more confidence in our selection decisions. We also looked at change in effective population size over time; it has decreased substantially. Such a decline is typical, though, of livestock breeds that have undergone years of selection.

Another measure of genetic diversity within a breed is expected heterozygosity, also called gene diversity. High heterozygosity means there is a lot of genetic variation. Since genetic variation is a key contributor to genetic change, we are interested in its value. For Suffolks, expected heterozygosity was computed as 0.317. This value indicates a high level of genetic diversity and is similar to that observed in other sheep breeds.

Using both pedigree and genomic information, we also identified genetic differences among Suffolk flocks, which likely reflects differences in breeding priorities among producers.

A baseline of genetic diversity has been established in U.S. Suffolk sheep. Our key findings were:

• Inbreeding is low but accumulating; its rate is not increasing.

• Genetic diversity in the breed is not limited by a few highly influential animals.

• Effective population size is above an acceptable number and can be used to compute the anticipated accuracy of GEBV.

• Expected heterozygosity is high, suggesting considerable genetic variation is still available for selection.

Currently, only 12.5 percent of registered Suffolk sheep are included in NSIP. To achieve the ambitions of the ALB Industry Roadmap, additional participation is needed. As the Suffolk breed works toward the development of GEBV, now is the perfect time to join NSIP and move the American sheep industry forward.

Technology, Innovation Focus of Sheep Discovery Center

As a member of the Superior Farms Producer Advisory Board that first envisioned the concept of the company’s Sheep Discovery Center, Wyoming rancher Vance Broadbent was determined to be a part of it from the beginning.

So much so, that be purchased additional ewes to make sure he could send sheep to the center before its official ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 19.

“From the very beginning, we were interested as a family just because of the benefits this center can provide to the industry as far as information and data. We just had to figure out a way we could participate without having a negative effect on our operation,” he said. “So, we ended up buying four truckloads of ewes out of Colorado. Two came directly here to the Sheep Discovery Center and two went to our ranch in Wyoming.”

Located in Nephi, Utah, the Sheep Discovery Center “will focus on animal health and wellbeing and the reduction of its environmental footprint while realizing the full potential of each sheep and meeting their needs in every phase of the animal’s life,” according to Superior Farms. “The center will converge technologies and create a more consistent and sustainable lamb production model that will benefit all American lamb industry stakeholders.”

How exactly will Sheep Discovery Center General Manager Jordan Atkinson and his staff go about that? Through the use of technology. That includes applying the company’s Flock 54 genetic management practices, optimizing nutrition and flock care, tracking data through the use of electronic identification tags, exploring ground-breaking fodder systems that use 90 percent less water, and utilizing advanced lighting that encourage accelerated lambing.

“There’s an important sustainability aspect of what we do, but we’re going to take that message to a higher level at the Sheep Discovery Center,” said Superior Farms CEO Rick Stott, adding that the center will make animal welfare a priority. “We want to make sure that every day here is a perfect day for these animals.”

On site since September 2021, Atkinson has seen the former turkey facility transformed to house sheep – which started arriving in December 2021. The center’s current staff of seven employees was just getting started on lambing 700 ewes as several hundred guests arrived for the official ribbon cutting ceremony. Those are small numbers compared to the lofty goals Superior Farms has for the new facility, which will most likely house 5,000 to 8,000 sheep by the end of 2022.

“As far as our capacity, we’re still trying to really target that number,” Atkinson said. “We have an idea, but as we continue to build this facility out, things are changing every day. So, I can’t give you an exact number right now.”

It’s important, Atkinson said, to maintain sheep numbers at a level that allows the animals to live comfortably on the facility. Sheep generally can come and go as they please between the barns and accompanying pastures, and that’s an important aspect of meeting the company’s animal welfare goals at the facility.

“The buildings were already here when we bought the place,” Atkinson said. “We’ve just gone inside and taken out some of the turkey equipment and built pens and different things that we need – feeding systems, water troughs, lighting systems – to raise sheep here and have them live comfortably in those barns.”

Sheep will come from the company’s producer partners in six states, and will lamb out at the facility while Superior Farms staff keeps records on just about everything.

“We take thousands of records each day,” Atkinson said. “Every ewe and lamb gets an EID tag, and we’re using those to record data. We’re continuing to refine that process to find more data points that we want to track. Along with our feeding system, we can track every pound of feed and where it goes. I’m just grateful to everyone who is supporting us in this journey, and we look forward to growing it out and doing our best to help improve the sheep industry. The beauty of sheep is that they are always a challenge, and I love a good challenge.”

Broadbent and his brother, Matt, visited the facility for the first time about a month before the ribbon cutting, and got an in-depth tour of the facility from Atkinson.

“They’ve done a lot of work even since then, so it’s continuing to move forward” Broadbent said. “The shed lambing concept is new to me because we range lamb. So, there’s a lot of exciting things going on here.”

The ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by a variety of Superior Farms staff, the company’s board of directors and dozens of producer partners who have or will send sheep to the center in the months and years to come.

“What you see here today is just the start,” Stott said. “We’re going to discover a ton. We still have so much to learn about how to produce these animals.”

Meet the Exec. Board: John Noh

Fourth-generation rancher John Noh was elected in January as the Region VII representative to the ASI Executive Board to fill the spot previously held by Montana’s Randy Tunby. As a teenager, he envisioned career choices that would have taken him away from the ranch. But his time away at college only cemented his passion for working with sheep and cattle, and 30 years later he’s happy that he found his way back to family ranch.

I spent my whole youth around sheep and cattle, and I never really felt like this was something I was going to do. I was going to be a school teacher or a lawyer or a fireman or police officer – those kind of things. After spending quite a bit of time at the University of Idaho and working here off and on during summers and Christmas break, I came home and really fell in love with it. I found a way to make it work so that the operation paid for me to be here. Dad (Laird Noh) is still president and chief executive officer of Noh Sheep Company, and I’m the vice president and manager. I worked for dad from 1993 to 2003 or 2004. He and my mother are still involved and have made some great decisions that affect the whole business. He’s 83 now and has stepped away quite a bit the last three or four years. He was past president of the National Lamb Feeders Association.

We haven’t made a lot of big changes, just some smaller things that I picked up when I was younger. We have an ample amount of range land in the summer for our sheep, so we move them more often in the summer. We put more of a focus on nutrition. I firmly believe that sheep were built to have twins and the only thing really holding them back is nutrition. In a shed lambing operation like we have, if you can put the right nutrition in front of them at the right time, you can increase your productivity immensely. I picked up the emphasis on nutrition just from watching and observing the sheep.

I learned a hard lesson during lambing one year. We try to stay out with at least half of the sheep on range land in the winter. The ewe lambs and older ewes we bring in on alfalfa fields. There was one year when we had tremendous amounts of feed in the winter. In normal years we would supplement with protein cubes, but I looked and said there was a lot of feed there. Of course, the sheep were full-wooled and looked good. We came in and sheared and started to lamb and those ewes were just in terrible condition. We had a lot of low birth weights. We’d get a storm and have dead lambs. Had health problems with the ewes. I looked at it and said we can’t repeat that. I went to some presentations with ASI’s Young Entrepreneurs – I wasn’t a young producer at the time, but I went to some of the presentations – and learned a lot about nutrition. Once we focused a little better on that, I saw my birth weights go up and my mortality rates go down, and my shipping weights increased. I think – I can’t prove it – but I think that the longevity of my ewes increased, and we had a lot less lambing problems. It just all clicked that this is something we need to focus on.

I’ve always been interested in ASI and tried to be involved to the best of my ability (including three years as president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association). It’s hard to make the time to do everything that needs to be done. But we all pick and choose and do the best we can. I hope I can do as good a job as Randy did of representing Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. I’m co-chair of the Legislative Action Council this year because I’ve always been politically active and paid attention to politics. My dad was in the Idaho State Senate for 25 years and served with Jim Risch, Mike Crapo and Mike Simpson (all of whom went on to serve Idaho’s U.S. congressional delegation). I grew up around those folks as a young man.

I’ve attended the ASI Spring Trip to Washington, D.C., twice in the past. I enjoyed it much more when it was in May. Things are slowed down for most everybody by then and I could take the time to focus on the job at hand instead of rushing home and worrying about what wrecks have happened in the lambing barn while I was gone. I understand that historically March is the time for marking up appropriations. But the way the government works now, they don’t even pass a budget. So, I’m going to be lobbying ASI to move the trip to late March or April.

We need to focus on reaching mid-size cities with American lamb, places like Boise, Idaho, Minneapolis, Austin, Oklahoma City. We’ve focused on the big markets, now we need to find a way to focus on the middle markets and sell more lamb. We have to figure out a way to stabilize our industry. We’ve got a product that is so thinly traded that a difference of 30,000 to 40,000 animals can cause major price swings.

Wool Pads, Sponges Offer Market for Coarse Wool

There’s no arguing the environmental benefits of using wool for scrubbing pads and sponges, but the upside for producers is that these products can be made from coarse wool – providing another market for wools that tend to have fewer end uses.

Three domestic companies have developed such products, the latest of which is The Brickle Group’s Northwest Woolen Mills in Rhode Island.

“We’ve been recycling wool fibers for 75 years, and now that the conscientiousness of most of the population is looking at reducing waste and preventing contamination of our oceans, Sam (Brickle) said we should look at making a scouring pad out of wool,” said Max Brickle, president of Northwest Woolen Mills.

“It’s 100 percent recycled fiber that is biodegradable and anti-bacterial. Scrub pads are a great way to use wool.”

The company is looking for a private label partner to market and sell its scrubbing pads. Samples went out to several potential partners this spring.

“We’re not really looking to start this product at the grassroots level,” Brickle said. “But we believe it’s a great product and that there will be some companies out there who will partner with us to get it on store shelves around the U.S.”

Learn more at NorthwestWoolen.com.

Marie Hoff of Full Circle Wool developed a line of wool sponges that she has launched on a grassroots basis. She offers wool products ranging from socks to yarn to dryer balls and coasters, and has seen great interest in the sponges.

“I first developed them in 2013 or 2014, and it’s been a great way to market coarse wool,” she said. “Nationwide, it’s an issue finding markets for that wool, but coarse wool is such a great fiber to work with. I’m not sure why it isn’t used and developed even more than it already is.”

Hoff got the idea for a wool sponge while working with a traditional kitchen sponge that just didn’t live up to her standards.

“It was just gross and stinky, so I started out using one of my wool coasters as a sponge.”

She now offers a standard sponge in addition to extra-thick and extra-firm versions, and all of them have been great sellers. Consumers also appreciate the longevity of the sponges, which can last half the year or more.

As concerns continue to grow about microplastics and how they are finding their way into the world’s oceans, all-natural and biodegradable wool sponges offer consumers the opportunity to remove one possible pollutant from their household.

“And when you’re done with it, it’s compostable,” Hoff added. “I’m excited to see that others are developing wool sponges. Wool is just so under-utilized.”

Learn more at FullCircleWool.com.

Echoview Fiber Mill in North Carolina offers a wool dish sponge in large and small sizes that is sold in packs of two.

“When you first start using the wool sponge it will naturally felt up into a smaller size and shape, but it will not shrink indefinitely,” according to the company’s website shop.

Learn more at EchoviewNC.com.

ALB Releases Live Lamb Evaluation Video

AMERICAN LAMB BOARD

Awareness of lamb live animal and carcass evaluation criteria can help producers make production decisions aimed at meeting lean meat yield and quality expectations.

Live Lamb Evaluation is the topic of the latest video released by the American Lamb Board. It is the third installment in a five-part series sponsored by ALB and Premier 1 Supplies. Using the theme of Beginning with the End in Mind, the purpose of the series is to help the American lamb industry provide a consistently high-quality product to consumers.

Travis Hoffman, Ph.D., North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota Extension sheep specialist, is spearheading the project. NDSU Extension Service is producing the video series.

“As sheep producers, we are tasked to provide enjoyable eating experiences and meet palatability expectations for the dinner plate of American lamb consumers,” said Peter Camino, ALB chair from Buffalo, Wyo.

A key part of raising sheep that meet yield and quality parameters for premium American lamb is determining when the animal is marketed. In Live Lamb Evaluation, producers learn how harvesting at compositionally correct end points produces carcasses that grade USDA Choice or better and Yield Grade 1, 2 or 3.
Age, breed type, size and body composition all play a part in grading and carcass cutability. The video series takes into account the wide variety of production systems used by American lamb producers, as each strives to work with their own specific production factors.

“Different crosses such as Suffolk-Rambouillet lambs do well in our area of West Texas, mainly because of conversion, cost of gain and the overall performance of the lamb; and then at harvest time, the yield that we see back from that animal,” said David Quam, ALB representative from 2015 to 2021.

Live Lamb Evaluation is available at LambResourceCenter.com. Previous videos can also be found there. Two more videos are planned for the series, as well as Q&A webinars.

Time To Get Back On The Road

KYLE PARTAIN
Sheep Industry News Editor

It’s a cool April morning in central Utah as I write this column. I’m spending a week in the state for a variety of stories ranging from a sheep producer to a new research farm to a wool sale to a company that manufactures sheep camps. Other than the ASI Annual Convention in January, this is my first trip of the year. It should be the first of many.

As you might imagine, my trips around the country were limited the past two years. I got out a few times, but overall I spent way too much time sitting at the desk in my office (or my home). In fact, I was sitting so much that I got one of those stand-up desks just to give my office chair (and my backside) an occasional break.

I’m sure that some of you can relate. But what I’m more sure of is that most of you will understand how much I hate sitting at a desk. As farmers and ranchers, I have to believe that you’d prefer to be doing anything over sitting at a desk and talking to people on the phone.

It’s no different for a writer. I’m wired as such that I need to get out and see things. If sitting is required, I’d prefer to do it at a producer’s kitchen table or on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked in a remote pasture as sheep and dogs take their turns visiting in hopes of getting some attention and possibly a treat.

A lot of my work travel is centered around events – many of which were canceled in the past two years. Generally, I’ll find an event that I need to be at and then pursue three to five other story opportunities that can be worked into the same trip. When the events went away, my travel opportunities followed suit. At the same time, we rearranged ASI budgets to move travel funds to other areas of need. I’m happy to report the travel budgets have been restocked and I’m anticipating a busy summer and fall of travel.

There’s a wonderful patio area at the AirBnB – cheaper than most hotels in the area – I rented for the first two nights of this trip. It provides a bit of inspiration that I’d never have sitting in my third floor office back in Denver. It’s nice to have an office where I can close the door and ignore the world when I need to, but that’s no way to live life on a regular basis.

Early in my career, I covered sports for local newspapers. If I’d spent just a bit too much time at my desk, I could easily escape by heading out to watch a local team practice and talk with the coach. Back then, I regularly huddled under various awnings and covers in the rain, looked for shade trees on a sunny day and maybe even longed for the warmth of my desk a bit while covering a football game on a snowy day. But I never regretted my escapes into the real world outside the newsroom. And with the possible exception of a cold morning spent measuring sheep scrotums at Tom Boyer’s place a few years back, I can say the same about my job at ASI.

But I need your help. I need your story ideas. I need you to let me know about events in your area. I need you to give me an excuse to escape the office at least once a month from now until the end of the year. Armed with a full travel budget and a company credit card, I’m ready to go.

I will warn you, however, that there can be a downside to inviting the media – even friendly media such as me – to your operation. Things don’t tend to go to plan. Sheep get out just minutes before I arrive. Surprise snow storms happen. I’ve been known to bring rain – which might be a selling point for the drought-stricken West – that creates generous amounts of mud. Photos tend to work best in the hour or two after sunrise and the hour or two before sunset, which aren’t always ideal times to have a stranger hanging around the operation.

But it’s my job to tell your story, and I can’t do that without you.

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