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We Could All Use A Little Rain

Benny Cox, ASI President

Here we are right up to fall praying for rain and ready to welcome cooler weather. Most all of the major sheep and goat raising areas are extremely dry here in Texas. With lots of 100-plus degree days, pastures are deteriorating each and every day to the point that people are being forced to sell off useful females.

We can still grow some feed through September – along with winter grass and weeds – if we just get some moisture. This is certainly not unusual in this part of the world. Since the 1970s we have been in one stage of a drought or another more than 60 percent of the time according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. As I speak to folks around the nation, I find the lack of rainfall is pretty common from due north of us all the way to North Dakota and to the western states. Our friend Mike Corn in New Mexico is really having a tough summer. He has sold his lambs and is having to pull his calves off the cows early. I will say this, we are getting to the time of year that rain chances pick up in our part of the world.

There has been lots of sheep and goat movement in our local auctions here in Texas and the ethnic market has been good the whole summer. We generally see the market fall off late June to mid July, but not this year. We are a totally ethnic-driven market and fortunately the wool lambs less than 90 pounds have sold better here than anywhere in the United States, to my knowledge. Of course, they are going straight to processing in most all cases.

When you get more than 75 to 80 pounds, we tend to see some pull back by the ethnic buyers. That has been true more times than not for as long as I can remember. The traditional lamb buyers or commercial lamb feeders are the opposite. They seem to want those 75 pounders and heavier weights to go to the feedlots. Lots of the larger groups of wool lambs that generally trade in the country have moved through our auction because country bids were not as good as they wanted. I have had calls from many different states with people thinking they might need to send their lambs down here, and some have.

There have been video sales for the last month and the market in mid-September improved compared to earlier sales on wool lambs to be delivered this fall in our northern states. I wish the lamb feeders the best with all the mess that is going on.

The closures of lamb plants due to the virus, Mountain States Rosen bankruptcy sale, closures of restaurants, motels, you name it and the cards have been stacked against our industry. Things seem to be moving in a better direction with restarts. People, I feel, are ready to get back to some state of normalcy. I know I am.

The new plant in Brush, Colo., should be open by the time you are reading this issue of the magazine. Jay and Jeff Hasbrouck of Double J in Colorado have bought the Ranchers’ Lamb plant in San Angelo, Texas, and hope to be up and running in November or December of this year. With the large ethnic demand here in Texas, the Hasbroucks might certainly have an opportunity to process both lambs and goats on a weekly basis.

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

An Exciting Time for the American Sheep Industry

Juniper Economic Consulting

Dave Johnson, vice president of sheep, lamb and goat marketing for Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association said recently, “It’s an exciting time.” Johnson sees a lot of opportunity ahead in the sheep business.

As the industry readjusts after the closure of Mountain States Rosen, and as Colorado and Texas processors come online, there is likely going to be more competition in the industry to the benefit of sheep producers, and smaller, but more vibrant regional markets.

In the weeks following the shutdown of one of the largest lamb processors in America, weekly federally inspected lamb harvest averaged 79 to 88 percent of last year’s harvest – perhaps not the train wreck many expected. When MSR closed, some regional harvest facilities stepped up – increasing throughput or processing lambs for the first time – to accommodate market-ready lambs that were left stranded. Reportedly, processors from Texas to Ohio to Wisconsin were processing more lambs.

However, by early September, slaughter lamb prices were still depressed, down about 18 percent year-on-year. In early August, Equity saw $112.50 per cwt. for 145-lb. slaughter lambs and hoped to see up to $122 per cwt. by mid-September.


Lamb Production Down

Estimated lamb harvest January to August was 1.2 million head, down 6 percent year-on-year. Estimated lamb production was 57.7 million lbs., down 9 percent year-on-year. Live weights at harvest in federally inspected harvest averaged 133 lbs. this year, down 2 percent from a year ago.

Cold storage stocks have been building this year. The lamb and mutton freezer inventory was 44.7 million lbs. in August – equivalent to about 18 weeks of lamb processing. Stocks came down 4 percent monthly and were 4 percent higher year-on-year.

Reportedly, freezer stocks comprise both domestic and imported product. Lamb imports in the first half of the year were 107.2 million lbs., down 16 percent year-on-year. Australian lamb imports were 80.9 million lbs., down 14 percent from a year ago and New Zealand imports were down 24 percent year-on-year to 25 million lbs.

Lamb inventory in Colorado feedlots was 45,821 head in August, down 22 percent year-on-year and down 35 percent from its monthly five-year average.


Loss of Slaughter Lamb Price Reporting

With the closure of the Mountain States Rosen lamb plant in Colorado came the loss of slaughter lamb price reporting of national direct slaughter lamb prices on a formula, or grid basis, as well as on a live, negotiated basis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marking Service ceased reporting these two slaughter lamb price series because it would violate its confidentiality guidelines. This means the industry no longer has a national, comprehensive, weekly slaughter lamb price series.

It is yet known whether the opening of the newly-built Colorado Lamb Processors will enable AMS to again report slaughter lamb prices. AMS confidentiality guidelines are more complex than simply having three entities reporting prices. It is also not known at this time how the plant in Texas will purchase lambs. Double J Lamb-Texas purchased the old Ranchers’ Lamb of Texas plant in San Angelo, Texas. What we do know is that it will likely be some time for AMS to determine whether the national direct slaughter lamb prices can be once again reported.

The loss of the national direct slaughter lamb price series means that the Livestock Risk Protection-Lamb insurance program – the primary risk mitigating tool for sheep producers – is temporarily suspended.


How to Price your Slaughter Lambs

In the absence of a national, direct slaughter lamb price, auctions – and the Sioux Falls auction specifically – can help price lambs nationally. The largest lamb packers purchase fed slaughter lambs from the Sioux Falls Regional Livestock Auction in Worthing, S.D. On Sept. 2, AMS reported that 1,075 head of wooled and shorn slaughter lambs sold at a weighted average of $125.03 per cwt. for 131-lb. lambs. This average is 13 percent higher than that last available July average of $110.53 per cwt. in the formula slaughter market.

The New Holland, Penn., auction might also be used to help predict commercial slaughter lamb prices. The New Holland Sales Stable auctions mostly hair breeds and smaller-framed wool sheep. However, in general, the lambs at auction and in the commercial market tend to trend together. Reportedly, an estimated 35 percent of lambs selling out of the New Holland auction are sold at 90 to 150 lbs. Within this range, most of these lambs weigh 90 to 110 lbs. By contrast, commercial slaughter lambs average about 160 lbs.

During the past five years, the premium received by similar-weight slaughter lambs sold at the New Holland auction ranged from $14 per cwt. in 2015 to $41 per cwt. in 2019.

The Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasting models can also help forecast fourth-quarter lamb prices. In mid-August, the national direct slaughter lamb price on a carcass basis forecast was $220 to $225 per cwt., down 25 percent year-on-year. This translates roughly to $110 to $112.50 per cwt. on a live weight basis. Average 60 to 90 lb. feeder lambs were forecasted to see $161 to $166 per cwt. in the fourth quarter, down 10 percent year-on-year.


Lamb at Foodservice Hit Hard

If the United States sees a second wave of coronavirus cases this fall, it is estimated that lamb sales could drop from $761.2 billion to $524.9 billion in 2020 (down 30 percent) and down 45 percent for American lamb, specifically, (Datassentials/IFMA Foodservice Impact Model, 7/2020).

To date, forecasters anticipate that quick service restaurants could see a 13 percent loss in sales year-on-year; fast-casual could see a
19 percent drop; midscale restaurants could be down 32 percent, casual restaurants down 31 percent and fine dining down 38 percent.

The loss of sales at fine dining will have the greatest impact on the sheep industry because its lamb penetration is significantly higher at 62 percent than other food service options. That is, more than half of fine dining establishments feature lamb. Datassentials reports that the challenge for fine dining is complex: fine dining is receiving fewer business meals and tourism, it’s difficult to pivot to takeout, it is negativity impacted by social distancing rules, often faces higher rents, and higher food costs (7/2020).

As of July, restaurant seatings (indoors and out) were down about 63 percent compared to February 2020 (CME Group Economics, 9/2/20). Although the amount spent monthly on groceries is up above last year, the challenge for lamb at retail is that the scope of grocery purchases has narrowed (The Washington Post, 9/1/20). Consumers are less adventurous, sticking to grocery lists and minimizing time in stores, and, as result, product choice on groceries shelves is shrinking.

However, lamb at retail has seen an uptick for some products amidst the changing shopping landscape. FMI Senior Vice President Mark Baum reports that “more men are claiming to be the primary shopper during the pandemic, and they do buy different things,” (The Washington Post). Mr. Baum commented that men tend to favor efficiency, and men report making fewer, larger, quicker trips for a narrower range of items.

Wholesale Lamb Remains Strong

The combination of warmer temperatures and outdoor dining means lamb at retail has had a good run, as indicated by higher retail prices for some products. In early September, shoulder blade chops were 15 percent higher year-on-year and loin chops were up 22 percent year-on-year. The product mix changes seasonally: racks were down 33 percent and legs were steady year-on-year.

The wholesale composite has remained resilient during this turbulent time in the live lamb market. Lamb prices have fallen by half for many and yet the wholesale composite was up 1 percent in August to $417.76 per cwt. and up 6 percent year-on-year.

The loin saw a substantial gain in August. The loin, trimmed 4×4, saw an 8 percent gain at $611.54 per cwt. The shoulder, square-cut, saw a marginal weakening in August at $329.26 per cwt. The shoulder chop can be a competitive substitute to the loin chop and it appears that consumers traded up in August – preferring the traditional loin chop. The rack, 8-rib medium, saw a modest drop in August at $816.18 per cwt. The leg, trotter-off, saw the steepest decline in August among primals. It weakened by 2 percent to $364.02 per cwt.

Primals were mixed in year-to-year positioning. The loin was up 17 percent from a year ago and the shoulder saw a 2-percent lift. The rack averaged 5-percent lower in August compared to a year ago and the leg was down 4 percent.

Ground lamb averaged $574.72 per cwt. in August, up 4 percent monthly and steady with a year ago.


Wool Exports Drop Dramatically

The American wool industry has seen the double whammy of sharply lower prices and lower exports. In the April to June second quarter, total American wool exports were 438.2 MT, down 70 percent year-on-year.

The value of all wool exports was $3.1 million, down 68 percent from a year ago. Raw wool exports were down 72 percent to 224.2 MT clean and down 73 percent in value to $1.9 million.

The Australian wool market continued its downward trend and prices hit the lowest level in 18 years, (WTiN Wool Market Report, 9/4/20). At the beginning of September, all micron levels lost weekly. The Australian Eastern Market Indicator averaged Australian cents 858 per kg clean, down 8 percent weekly and down 38 percent year-on-year. In U.S. dollars, the EMI averaged $2.86 per lb., down 6 percent weekly and down 32 percent year-on-year. The Australian dollar appreciated 7 percent against the U.S. dollar during the year, so the loss in U.S. dollars is not as pronounced as the loss in Australian dollars.

The United States is exporting limited shipments to China – its largest trading partner. Reportedly, however, the only wool exported to China is going into the tax-free processing zones for processing and re-export which avoids the tariffs. Reportedly, other trading partners such as India are not buying and are told to wait out the pandemic.

In sum, historical export trade patterns are currently disrupted and it might be some time before more normal trading patterns return. When more normal trading does occur, the American wool market will be flush with wool from this year, but also carryover from 2019. Wool is stored at processors, wool warehouses and an unknown volume stored on farms.

Colorado Lamb Processors Ready to Roll in October

A two-plus year roller coaster ride finally came to an end for Colorado Lamb Processors last month as the company put the finishing touches on its new Brush, Colo., harvesting plant and opened its doors to the American sheep industry.

The brainchild of sheep industry veterans Mike Harper, Steve Raftopoulos and Spence Rule, the facility is expected to fill some of the void created by the Mountain States Rosen bankruptcy and subsequent sale of its lamb processing facility in Greeley, Colo. It won’t fill the entire void, however, as it lacks fabricating capabilities.

“Two and a half years ago, the industry was getting very current and short on lambs. We were killing our way through them pretty fast and it appeared to us that the customers we had been helping serve were breakers that didn’t have a kill facility under their own purview,” Rule said after touring the nearly finished facility on Labor Day. “They were about to get shut out then and the sentiment in the industry was ‘Let them go foreign.’

“We really didn’t believe that was what needed to happen. So we stepped in and did some contract killing and some custom killing (with Superior Farms and Mountain States Rosen). We were able to maintain those customers and keep them on an American program until we finally are going to get up and running. That was the main reason we started out. We had lambs that we couldn’t get harvested on time just because of the state of the industry.”

Because the plant was designed to meet the needs of these customers, fabricating facilities weren’t the first priority. However, Rule said the plant was designed and built to add fabricating facilities down the road. Much of the preliminary infrastructure is already in place for when that time comes.

“At this point, that is why we aren’t in the fabricating business. We know that isn’t going to last forever. We’ve setup the plant so that we can just add on a break room at the end of the plant. We’re in the wrong location to be in the breaking business anyway. If you have a place on the east or west coasts to distribute out of, you can be competitive in the break business. But it would be a tough nut to crack out of Brush, Colorado.”

Raftopoulos, a producer, joined with feeders Harper and Rule with an eye on the future. All three industry insiders have children who want to continue their families’ involvement in the American sheep industry.

“We felt that if we were going to keep our kids and our next generations and all three of our families involved in this thing that we needed a place to harvest our lambs when we thought that they were ready,” Rule said. “So, that’s really what is driving this thing. We want to make it so that there is a place for the next generation to be involved. We’re all old enough that we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t have kids coming up behind us.”

Opening a new plant shortly after losing the MSR facility is great timing for the American sheep industry. Opening a new plant with the country mired in the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t such great timing, but Rule says Colorado Lamb Processors will make the best of the unfortunate situation. After all, that’s the situation everyone in the sheep industry – and the United States as a whole – finds themselves heading into in the final months of 2020.

“The most important message for today’s time is that the sheep industry isn’t at fault for what’s going on right now,” Rule said. “Heading into Easter this year we were in great shape. We had product at the right weights that was ready to be harvested and then this COVID thing hit and it just destroyed our industry from the ground up.

“It hit at Easter time and cost us that consumer market and took out the restaurants and that is what crashed this market. This is a COVID-driven market. It’s been dang tough to make it through, just like every other industry.”

Double J Lamb Buys Defunct Texas Plant

The American sheep industry will get a needed shot in the arm this fall when the old Ranchers’ Lamb of Texas plant comes back online as the newest member of the Double J Meat Packing operation, to be known officially as Double J Lamb Inc. of Texas.

“It hasn’t been used in quite a few years, so there’s a lot of work to do,” said Jeff Hasbrouck, whose family runs both Double J Meat Packing and Double J Lamb Feeders in Colorado. The plant closed to lamb processing in February 2005.

“We’ll be able to fabricate there, which is one of the main reasons we reached out about buying this plant. With the loss of Mountain States Rosen, we felt like we had to do something for the industry.”

Mountain States Rosen entered into bankruptcy protection this year and the company’s lamb processing plant in Greeley, Colo., was auctioned off. JBS USA took over the plant and has plans to turn it into a beef-processing facility. The new Colorado Lamb Processors plant in Brush, Colo., was set to come online in late September, but will only be able to harvest lambs, as it lacks fabricating facilities.

“We hope to have the plant up and running in two months,” said Hasbrouck, who was in San Angelo with his father, Jay, in late August overseeing the purchase of the lamb plant. “We’ll have to ramp up, so we’ll probably just be harvesting lambs at first, but will start fabricating soon after that. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time to get this done, so we couldn’t sit back and wait for it to happen.

“We feed lambs for a lot of the members of the Mountain States Co-Op (which owned Mountain States Rosen), so we knew how concerned they are about where they are going to get their lambs processed this year. So, we’re pushing through right now to get this done. It’s a nice facility. We looked at some others, but just didn’t see any with the capacity to really help the industry.”

The Ranchers’ Lamb plant was built with a capacity of 1,700 to 1,800 head a day. While Hasbrouck was familiar with the plant, he said he never personally sent sheep to the facility as it was built specifically to process Texas sheep.

Annual Sale Starts Rafter 7 Flock’s Return to its Roots

Sept. 12 proved to be a homecoming day for the Rafter 7 flock out of Eureka, Nev. The flock is once again owned by the University of Nevada-Reno, which purchased the sheep this summer as the centerpiece of a new Great Basin Research and Extension Center (see page 15 for more) that will call Eureka County home.

The Merino and Merino-Rambouillet crosses were originally developed by Hudson Glimp for the university.

“Knowing the wool clip intimately and having processed it since the mid-1990s, I knew the character and the value of the wool, the sheep and the breeding operation,” said wool buyer Rick Powers of Texas. “My wife and I made a big leap in 2013 to take ownership of the sheep. The transition back to UNR really started about five years ago with a first contact with Dean (Bill) Payne and Hudson.

“The university was looking to reestablish itself as a service university. So we began that conversation. About three years ago, Dean Payne hatched the idea of the range science center here in Eureka.”

The process of returning the sheep to the university has been ongoing ever since. And while it took some time to work out the details, Powers never lost sight of his responsibility as owner of the flock.

“I’m excited about the transition,” he said. “I think that the interest the university has in this flock is historical. It was their baby and their property and I’m very happy that they are interested in bringing this flock home to the university. I believe that this flock has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the sheep and wool industry in the United States.”

The transition began in earnest with the ram sale. Rafter 7 manager Tom Filbin worked with representatives from the university to plan and administer the sale. He’ll continue to help in the transition as he turns it all over to local extension educator and research center director Gary McCuin.

And while the university’s acquisition of the flock was important, buyers at the sale really only noticed the difference when it came time to make out their checks to UNR instead of Rafter 7. Powers and Filbin were determined to make the final sale under their watch a successful one.

“It’s a lot of work in preparation. Especially in the days right before. But we enjoy it,” Powers said. “We take our rams up on the mountain in May and leave them up there as long as we can. I don’t think anyone else does that. They come down about a month before the sale so we can make sure everything is healthy and in shape as we’re making our final catalogs.

“We put our animals in real life range conditions and they are performance tested in that way, as well. We’re proud of what we’re doing and think it makes a big difference in the livability and longevity of our animals going forward. Two weeks ago we were a little nervous about whether we’d get the turnout that we needed. In the last week before the sale, we had positive response. All of our regular buyers are here and we’ve got a couple of good volume phone-in buyers, as well. So, we’re feeling pretty good. We’ll see how things turn out. We’ve had good and not-so good years, but I feel comfortable that we’ll do okay.”

The sale catalog offered buyers plenty of information, including the western range index for calculation of estimated breeding values, as well as Rafter 7 EBVs for wool value, lamb value and combined value. In all, the sale included 200 rams and 30 ewes. Buyers traveled in from all across the western United States. Utah was heavily represented and the family of ASI Executive Board member Steve Osguthorpe took home more than 50 rams that will be spread throughout the family’s flocks.

Utah’s Will Talbot was on hand for the fifth consecutive year as he continues to work toward improving the wool quality of his Rambouillet flock.

“The reason we started coming out here was because the Merino gave our sheep a little finer, longer wool. Our wool clip was starting to get short. So we’ve been using the Merino rams to help with that,” he said. “We like the Rafter 7 rams because we run in a lot of country that’s just like what the rams are running on here in Nevada. They hold up and seem to be good sheep.”

“Through the years I’ve just been dirt poor and picked up what I could. Today, I came in here and had a selection. I didn’t get every one that I wanted because some of them went for a little more than I wanted to pay, but we got some good ones that we’re happy to take home.”

Talbot had help in selecting his rams as he brought three of his four daughters to the sale. They range from college age to fourth grade.

“They know that paperwork just as much as I do,” he said of using the EBVs to select his rams. “I hope to give them the ranch one day. I’m not sure why, since I’ve practically starved to death my whole life. I don’t know why I’d do that to my kids. But you know, it’s been a good way to raise them.”

University Purchases Flock, Opens Great Basin Center

University of Nevada-Reno

The University of Nevada’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources’ new Great Basin Research and Extension Center in Eureka County has begun operations in a new initiative for rural Nevada. It will address the related issues of sustainable grazing management of dryland rangelands, livestock, crop production under water-limited environments, and alternative water and irrigation strategies for crop production.

The college – one of the land-grant university’s founding colleges – is spearheading the enterprise on a 644-acre ranch in Diamond Valley near the town of Eureka, Nev., along with several grazing permits on Bureau of Land Management lands in the Diamond and Fish Creek Mountains surrounding Diamond Valley.

“This operation will address real world problems through research and extension – providing useful knowledge to the ranchers and farmers of Nevada,” Bill Payne, dean of the college, said. “It’s also a Nevada showcase, as much of the world looks like this, and the knowledge we generate here will be useful throughout drylands of the world.”

Drylands are defined as areas in which lack of moisture limits crop and/or pasture production during part of the year, and generally occur in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of the world. Drylands constitute about 41 percent of the earth’s land surface, including most of Nevada.

Payne noted that 2.5 billion people – or 30 percent of the world’s population, including most of the world’s poor – live in drylands and face several common challenges including desertification, salinization, soil nutrient depletion, poor water quality, invasive species, declining biodiversity and soil erosion.

The center in Eureka found its new home through the generous gift of the Ruby Hills Mining Company, LLC, which is donating the ranch to the university.

“We really appreciate the support and generosity from Ruby Hills Mining Company for our new center and the community,” Payne said. “It makes this important project possible, and we are proud to have them associated with the center.”

Payne said there are three main focuses at the center: sheep genetics and management, range restoration and improvement, and water-efficient cropping systems.

“This fits exactly into the goals of the experiment station – contributing knowledge and meeting the needs of stakeholders,” Chris Pritsos, the college’s associate dean for research and director of the experiment station, said. “Ranchers and farmers have unique challenges and problems that the research faculty can help them address and solve.”

At the center of the operation is the world-renowned Rafter 7 flock of sheep, which was purchased by the university in July. One of the first major projects for the university under its operation of the center was the annual Rafter 7 Ram Sale on Sept. 12.

The sheep are both purebred Merinos and Rambouillet-Merino crossbreeds that were initially developed about 30 years ago under the direction of Hudson Glimp, professor emeritus of animal biotechnology at the university, in order to improve the national and state of Nevada sheep industry.

Subsequently, the flock was sold and moved from the Walker Lake area to the Eureka area. The sheep are extremely well adapted to rangeland production and to producing fine wool despite the harsh climate.

“Right now, we are busy with getting the ranch and center established,” Pritsos said. “We’ve already built a new lambing facility.”

But the center isn’t just about selling sheep. It will also help fund more research, much of which will be led by a sheep geneticist the university has hired from New Zealand. A Nevada native, he’s anxious to return home and get started as soon as travel restrictions allow him to do so.

At the helm of the Great Basin Center operation is Gary McCuin, interim director of the center and long-time extension educator for the university in Eureka County. With his new assignment, he’ll be splitting time between the two positions.

“I am excited and intrigued by the potential that this center has to help us meet the mission of this land-grant institution, and the needs of our producers,” he said. “I see the center as a means of achieving extension’s mission through applied research and operations of farming, rangeland and livestock production, and conveying the knowledge gained through these endeavors to stakeholders in Nevada, the West and globally.”

McCuin is a cowboy and rangeland manager by trade and education. He is also fairly local, having grown up and worked on ranches within a hundred miles south of Eureka. He’s been working with Pritsos and Payne on getting this project off the ground for the past two years.

“This position will greatly expand my ability and that of university researchers to deal with real-world and real-time challenges and opportunities faced by producers,” he said.

Meet the Executive Board Member: Sarah Smith, Washington, Region VIII

Sarah Smith grew up in an Idaho operation that raised purebred sheep for large range flocks, but has embraced the diversity of the sheep industry up and down the West Coast as the Region VIII director to the ASI Executive Board the past two years. A Washington State University extension specialist, she works with livestock producers on a daily basis and helped to reinvigorate the Washington State Sheep Shearing School. She represents Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state as the Region VIII director.

I left for college and had a huge interest in medicine because I’m kind of a science geek. I was probably going to go into human medicine, but then I realized that not only my love but my expertise really fell in animal science. As a teenager going to college, you always think that the only option with animals is to be a veterinarian. But when I learned of all the other opportunities within the animal industry, I ended up getting both my bachelors and masters from Washington State in ruminant nutrition.

Today, I work primarily with animal care and handling, along with meat quality and quality assurance issues. Prior to coming to WSU and working as an extension specialist, I worked in south San Francisco with USDA on imported products. And I spent a brief time at the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association before making my way back to Washington. It’s unique that I serve Region VIII and have lived in three of the five states. I haven’t made it to Hawaii or Alaska, yet.

I was asked to be on the ASI Wool Council because of my involvement with developing shearing schools. I got to be on that for several years, which was eye-opening. I always had an appreciation of the wool industry from the producer’s side, but getting to see things from the perspective of the buyer, the middleman, the weaver and consumers, that really opened my eyes. Two years ago, I was asked by others from the region if I would be interested in serving on the executive board. I felt like those were big shoes to fill, not only because Reed Anderson and Joe Pozzi – the two previous Region VIII representatives – were well known producers, but also because they were instrumental in our industry in getting things done. They are great sheep men, but also entrepreneurial on their own while giving a lot back to the sheep industry.

The labor issue always seems to be a problem for our industry, but the producers in California seem to be facing tougher regulations than anywhere else in the country. It is a big sheep state, so we watch it not only because it has a large impact on our industry, but also because some of the political issues we see seem to come first through California. I always tell people from California how impressed I am with them because I lived there and I wasn’t tough enough to make it. But these people have tenacity and creativity that is amazing. Even in tough times, they figure out how to survive and even thrive.

I came to WSU 20 years ago and had sheep experience, but had never run a shearing school. We had a long legacy because the school had been going since 1979. It was focused around producer’s family members or FFA kids. The second or third year I was here, we were fighting to get enrollment. It wasn’t working and we weren’t going to be able to meet our budget. So we had to do some revamping. We decided to stay with our base. It was a five-day school and I thought we might get more people with a three-day school because they would need less time away from work or the ranch. I was young and naïve at the time and didn’t understand why that wouldn’t work, but now I do understand why it won’t work. It really is critical to have five days to allow the students to learn the proper technique. We teach shearing, but we want to develop a knowledgeable shearer. These are critical people who are on our operations at least once a year, so it helps if they are knowledgeable about the care and handling of wool, what well-cared for, healthy sheep look like and more, so they can help producers be successful.

I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I get to work as a scientist and help people find new opportunities and then I get to come home and practice what I preach. I get to see the fruits of my labor in two ways. And I also get humbled. I get to see in my own operation how the rubber meets the road and the things I’m recommending don’t always work. I realize with my own flock how tough this is for the producers I work with. Some days everything goes right and some days everything goes wrong. But I couldn’t give up the sheep. It would be easier some days to not have the responsibility of my own flock. But these guys, especially during this COVID time, have brought me such joy. I can walk out my back door and see opportunity and a future and contentment.

2020 ASI Photo Contest Winners


  1. Ashley Carreiro-Loyd, California, I See Ewe
  2. Paul Freidel, Oregon, Comet Neowise
  3. Linda Dufurrena, Nevada, Waiting on the Stragglers


  1. Catherine Cavill, Montana, Crossing the Powder River
  2. Linda Dufurrena, Nevada, Moving Camp
  3. Gideon Linton, North Carolina, Mealtime with Friends

Scenic East

  1. Carrie Flores, Wisconsin, Hidden Valley Gang
  2. Katrina Steele, Ohio, Waiting on Spring
  3. Tessa Savage, Michigan, Evening Snack

Scenic West

  1. Caleigh Payne, Colorado, Homeward Bound
  2. Amy Kruckenberg, Colorado, Sheep River
  3. Jenny Osguthorpe, Utah, Mountain Summer Grazing

Working Animals

  1. Paul Freidel, Oregon, Bam Bam & Zoey
  2. Kay Benson, Utah, Protection Pete
  3. Linda Dufurrena, Nevada, King of the Hill


Click Here to view all of the winning entries.



John Wayne Balderson Sr. died on Aug. 28, 2020. He was born in Council, Idaho, to Jerry and Lucille Balderson.

He was the oldest of five children. He graduated from Council High School in 1966. Shortly after graduation, he headed off to Wyoming to mechanic school. This was the longest time he lived away from Council.

John was a man of many talents. He was in the logging industry for many years. He started shearing sheep when he was 16 years old. He continued to shear sheep for many years after he decided to stop logging. He still knew his way around a chain saw, though. He traveled the country going from farm to farm to shear sheep for 56 years. Everyone recognized the shearing plant that he pulled behind him.

His favorite thing to do was to shear the local 4-H lambs. He loved helping the kids and giving back to the community. His No. 1 love was ranching. He worked so hard to sustain the family ranch on Mill Creek. It meant so much to him to be able to live there in the home he was raised in.

Some of his best times were flying his ultralight, going to rodeos and being a shearing judge at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. He also enjoyed doing shearing exhibitions for the Trailing of the Sheep festival for 21 years. Being with family was his most loved time. As busy as he was, he always made time for family.

He was a fun-loving man with sparkling eyes and an infectious laugh. He enjoyed being with people, was quite the jokester and he gave the best hugs. Integrity was so important to him and he had the strongest work ethic. John was a firm believer in God and was incredibly faithful.

He is survived by his children John (Jefri) Balderson Jr. and Dana (William) Abram, including his stepchildren Rob (Wanda) Laine, Lori (Glenn) Draper, Rich (Ty) Laine, Diana (Kelly) Anderson and Stacy (Pat) Lang. He had numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren who he adored. He is also survived by his wife, Paula Balderson.


MICHAEL YEARY, 1956-2020

Michael Yeary was born on Oct. 29, 1956, in the small town of Lampasas, Texas, and died on Aug. 31, 2020.

His childhood in the country developed a passion for the great outdoors that would follow him for the rest of his life. He graduated from Lampasas High and went on to get a bachelor of science degree from Texas A&M University, majoring in wildlife ecology. During this time he always found his way back out to the land he was raised on in Naruna, Texas. His great love for nature and wildlife propelled him into his lifelong pursuit of Wildlife Services.

Michael began his career with Wildlife Services as the Dallas urban wildlife control specialist in May 1979. In the summer of 1980, he transferred to a rural wildlife specialist position in Amarillo, Texas. After spending approximately five years in that position, he became the bird biologist in Oklahoma City. Kansas was the next stop for Michael in 1986, serving the program in a wildlife biologist position until June 1991.

He then moved to Colorado and served as assistant district supervisor until 1995. He began his tenure as the Lakewood district supervisor in 1995. Before Michael passed, he was working as the assistant western region director for USDA/APHIS/WS. In this pivotal position, he oversaw Wildlife Services programs for Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. During this career he was stationed at the Western Regional Office in Fort Collins, Colo.

His passion for wildlife not only built his career but formed long-lasting bonds as a volunteer in many organizations. He served as the chairman of the Colorado Bowhunters Association for more than nine years. Michael also gave back to his community in various ways, volunteering countless hours with The Hunt of a Lifetime, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fulfilling hunting and fishing wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. Michael found a way to use his great knowledge and experience in hunting to fulfill the dreams of countless struggling children.

He was preceded in death by his mother, Lorena Yeary. Michael is survived by his father, Willerson Yeary, his children, Seth and Autumn, along with his grandchild, Violet. He is also survived by his sister, Mary Anne, and her husband Stephen Cast, their children and spouses Brooke, Brett, Samantha, Todd, and Caroline, along with their children, Logan, Emersyn, and Weston.

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