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Trade is Important to Our Industry

Benny Cox, ASI President

I recently attended the West Texas Legislative Summit here in San Angelo, Texas. I was invited by Congressman Mike Conaway’s office. Legislators, presidents and directors of many other organizations were on different panels throughout the day.

The main focus was on trade, agriculture, energy and transportation. As a witness for the sheep industry on our challenges and also some recent successes, my story went like this.

The American sheep industry represents 100,000 sheep producing farm and ranch families in the United States – the largest sheep producing state by the way is Texas. A key part of ASI’s mission is to improve markets for our producers, which includes overseas markets for American wool and sheepskins. As a cooperator with the Foreign Agriculture Service for these products, ASI finds success every year with a million dollars of programming. In 2001, ASI relaunched an export program for wool and significantly improved the competition for American wool. In prior years, have exported more than 50 percent of American wool on average, and have at least doubled the number of American firms that offer wool to overseas markets.

In September of 2018, China imposed a 10 percent tariff on wool and sheepskins. China has been our biggest importer of those products. Since those tariffs were implemented, American raw wool exports have dropped 85 percent and sheepskins by nearly 70 percent in value. Sheepskins now have either no value or even result in a loss at processing. I can also relay that ASI received approval in July for up to $1.5 million to seek new markets for wool and sheepskins. Those monies are from the American Trade Promotions Program created by the Trump Administration to counteract the tariff losses associated with the China situation.

Most recently around 65 percent of American wool exports have gone to China, and India has been a large destination also in recent years. Egypt is an emerging market and has taken some wool recently from wool handlers I know in our area. This is why ASI applied for ATP funding – to have resources available to promote the use of American wool in new markets. It takes time and money to identify and develop these markets. ASI has consultants stationed around the world working on market access, and our association relies on the good working relationship with wool warehouses and wool trading companies to implement export programs.

Since the 2003 BSE case in the United States, American lamb was precluded from several key export markets. I can tell you that the Trump Administration has opened up more export markets for American lamb in two years than did the Bush and Obama administrations combined. In 2018 and 2019, duty free trade reopened with Japan and Taiwan. Japan was our most valuable export destination prior to the cattle BSE case. In all of our efforts on trade, we have always requested a fair playing field in Washington, D.C., and have recently found some success. As the administration looks to negotiate future agreements with China, the European Union, the United Kingdom and others, we would urge a cautious approach. We do not currently have access to export lamb to any of these countries and their sheep products receives substantial direct or indirect government subsidies.

ASI strongly supports the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Mexico is a top destination for American lamb and Canada is often a top 10 market for lamb and wool. We want to continue the tariff-free export opportunities that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement would provide.
From wool to lamb to sheepskins, trade affects us all, and that’s why ASI is working daily to alleviate trade barriers and issues that hamper growth of the American sheep industry.

Industry Prepared for Eid-al-Adha

JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.

Juniper Economic Consulting

Typically a commercial feeder lamb market, Billings, Mont., saw an uptick in demand at its late July sale from ethnic buyers in preparation of the Muslim observance of Eid-al-Adha – one of the holiest Muslim celebrations.

The name translates to ‘festival of the sacrifice,’ and marks the end of the Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The festival is used to honor the Prophet Ibrahim who was willing to sacrifice his son for Allah, but his son was replaced with a lamb in his stead. This reminder of Muslims’ commitment to God takes place from Aug. 11 to Aug. 15.

Eid-al-Adha also involves the slaughter of an animal, similar to Eid al-Fitr – which follows Ramadan – but with no fasting taking place.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service reported that ethnic buyers in Billings had very specific demands, bidding on 70 to 95 lbs. lambs. Furthermore, “buck lambs, or lambs with long tails sold with no discount.” Commercial feeder buyers were also present, bidding up ethnic buyers. The sale average for 60 to 90 lbs. lambs was $166 to $176 per cwt.

Ethnic trades occur across the United States, and throughout the year, but are punctuated by livestock auction sales, and Muslim celebrations. More than 4,000 lambs sold at the San Angelo, Texas, auction in late July, and close to 3,000 head at the New Holland, Penn., auction.

Slaughter Lambs Up

Slaughter lamb prices on formula averaged $298.23 per cwt. in July, up 1 percent monthly, and up 6 percent year-on-year. The live-equivalent price was $150.18 per cwt.

The harvest weight of formula lambs averaged 165 lbs. in July, down 3 percent monthly and down 5 percent year-on-year. Lower harvest weights is a sign that lambs going to harvest in July were more current, and not overly fat.

Live, negotiated slaughter lamb prices averaged $161.76 per cwt., up 1 percent monthly and up 3 percent year-on-year. Packers likely filled orders with spot-market lamb purchases when there were insufficient lambs contracted under formula pricing.

Feeder Lambs Gained

Feeders saw some good gains this summer as commercial supplies tightened. Sixty- to 90-lb. feeders averaged $174.63 per cwt. in San Angelo in July, up 6 percent monthly and 17 percent higher year-on-year.

In Fort Collins, Colo., feeders averaged $157.09 per cwt., up 4 percent monthly and 13-percent higher year-on-year.

Forecasts

The Livestock Marketing Information Center forecasted tight domestic and imported supplies in the third quarter that can support higher live prices.

LMIC estimated that third-quarter 60 to 90 lb. feeders could be $170 to $176 per cwt., 20 percent higher year-on-year. Last summer, feeder lambs were relatively lower – in the $140s per cwt. – in part, because imports were 42 percent higher in July compared to its five-year average for the month.

Slaughter lambs on a carcass basis could see $297 to $301 per cwt., 6 percent higher from a year ago.

Meat Market Strengthened

The wholesale composite has maintained a steady strengthening since early 2018, yet individual cuts are mixed, some higher, some lower. The wholesale composite averaged $397.03 per cwt., up 1 percent monthly and 4 percent higher year-on-year.

The shoulder, square-cut, averaged $309.61 per cwt., up 2 percent monthly. The rack, 8-rib, medium, averaged $883.29 per cwt. in July, up one-half percent. The loin, trimmed 4×4, averaged $528.24 per cwt., unchanged monthly. The leg, trotter-off, gained 1 percent in July to $387.62 per cwt.

Most primals were higher year-on-year in July. The shoulder jumped 9 percent in July. The leg was also higher year-on-year – 5 percent higher – and the rack gained 1 percent. The loin weakened by 4 percent year-on-year.

Retail Prices Mixed

The shoulder blade chops and loin chops continued to dominate retail lamb feature activity into July, yet both cuts saw lower prices year-on-year. Loin chops averaged $8.13 per lb. in July, down 9 percent year-on-year. Shoulder blade chops saw $5.74 per lb., down 4 percent. By comparison, convenience products, such as ground lamb and lamb stew meat, saw 23 percent and 32 percent price gains, respectively.

Domestic Supplies Tighten

This summer, lamb supplies have been particularly tight in dropping to a three-year low. Federally-inspected harvest was an estimated 139,318 head in July, 7 percent lower monthly and down 2 percent year-on-year.

While lambs are coming out of Midwest feedlots, total volume is unknown. What we do know is estimates of lambs on feed in Colorado feedlots – the largest feeding state. At the beginning of August, 59,025 head were reported in Colorado feedlots – 64 percent of last August’s count and 83 percent of August’s five-year average.

Freezers catch excess inventory of both domestic and imported lamb. Lamb and mutton in cold storage averaged 40,007 head at the beginning of August, up 4 percent monthly and 24 percent higher year-on-year.

Total lamb imports January to June were 128.1 million lbs., up 19 percent year-on-year. Australia’s imports totaled 94.0 million lbs., up 19 percent and New Zealand’s imports totaled 33.0 million lbs., up 16 percent.

Only once – 2012 – in the past 10 years have annual lamb imports fallen year-on-year. Lamb demand in the United States continues to be strong, maintaining its attractiveness among competing global markets.

Estimated lamb harvest was 1.1 million head in January to July 2019, up 2 percent year-on-year. Estimated lamb harvest was 75 million lbs., down 2 percent year-on-year. Lighter harvest weights this summer can explain the shortfall in tonnage produced.

Average Yield Grades Higher

In the past five-plus years, the average percent of yield grades 4 and 5 in harvest tonnage has increased. In 2014, 20 percent of pounds harvested averaged 4 or 5, and in 2018 that average jumped to 29 percent. In the first six months of 2019, 30 percent of harvest was YG 4 or 5.

According to the USDA AMS, yield grade 4 is characterized as follows: “There usually is a very thick covering of fat over the back and a slightly thick covering over the shoulders and legs. There usually are large deposits of fat in the flanks and cod or udder.”

The additional fat deposits in a yield grade 4 or 5 lamb compared to a yield grade 2 means fewer retail cuts can be processed from the carcass. For example, 76 percent of a carcass will yield retail cuts from an YG 2 lamb. By comparison, a YG 4 or 5 lamb will yield 68 percent in retail cuts, 8 percent less. This 8 percent loss of lamb is a financial loss to the packer/processor. Not only is the slaughter lamb price offer lower, processing costs are higher – to remove excess fat – and the amount of salable product is reduced.

Trade War Affects Wool Exports

On Aug. 6, a Wall Street Journal headline read, “China Deals ‘Body Blow’ to Struggling U.S. Farm Belt.” China retaliated swiftly to President Donald J. Trump’s Aug. 1 proposal of adding 10 percent tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese imports beginning Sept. 1. The Chinese government reported that it will suspend purchases of United States agricultural goods.

In 2017, Chinese buyers imported $19.5 billion in American farm goods, and $9.1 billion in 2018. In the first-half of 2019, the value of exports was down by an additional 20 percent year-on-year (The Wall Street Journal, 8/6/19).

United States-China tariffs affected raw wool exports to China, as well. In January to June, greasy raw wool exports (on a clean basis) to China dropped 47 percent in volume and 55 percent by value year-on-year. In January through June, raw wool exports – to all countries – were down 34 percent in kgs and down 14 percent by value. Some of China’s American wool imports were picked up by Egypt.

American Wool Season Slowed

The American wool season began this spring very good – with prices even higher than last year – but then by May slowed considerably. A “train wreck” was what one wool market participant called it.

Due to the 25-percent tariff imposed by China on raw wool exports, fewer Chinese buyers were interested in American wool, and price offers were sharply lower. Other buyers followed suit.

Prospective buyers from India were present, but also made discount offers, and U.S. buyers followed. By early August, there was still a significant volume of American wool left unsold. In general, wool growers would rather sell their wool than store it. The global wool market is already sensitive to global growth factors including the Chinese slowdown and European growth stagnation. Adding a trade war exacerbates marketing.

However, not all news is bad news. This year, American wools looked better than ever, a testament to growers’ increasing attention to preparation. Contamination from vegetable matter or hair is minimal.

There remains a segment of growers, however, that could add value by preparing wool beyond the bellies out step. Bellies out untied refers to a wool quality preparation option whereby belly wool is shorn and separated, but it can still contain other undesirable pieces of wool including sweat and dung locks.

Sec. Bernhardt Unveils ESA Improvements

Department of the Interior

In its more than 45-year history, the Endangered Species Act has catalyzed countless conservation partnerships that have helped recover some of America’s most treasured animals and plants from the bald eagle to the American alligator. On Aug. 12, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt unveiled improvements to the implementing regulations of the ESA designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the act into the 21st century.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal – recovery of our rarest species. The act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” said Sec. Bernhardt. “An effectively administered act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

“The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”

The changes finalized by Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service apply to ESA sections 4 and 7. Section 4, among other things, deals with adding species to or removing species from the act’s protections and designating critical habitat. Section 7 covers consultations with other federal agencies.

The ESA directs that determinations to add or remove a species from the lists of threatened or endangered species be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information, and these will remain the only criteria on which listing determinations will be based. The regulations retain language stating, “The Secretary shall make a [listing] determination solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial information regarding a species’ status.”

The revisions to the regulations clarify that the standards for delisting and reclassification of a species consider the same five statutory factors as the listing of a species in the first place. This requirement ensures that all species proposed for delisting or reclassification receive the same careful analysis to determine whether or not they meet the statutory definitions of a threatened or endangered species as is done for determining whether to add a species to the list.

While this administration recognizes the value of critical habitat as a conservation tool, in some cases, designation of critical habitat is not prudent. Revisions to the regulations identify a non-exhaustive list of such circumstances, but this will continue to be rare exceptions.

When designating critical habitat, the regulations reinstate the requirement that areas where threatened or endangered species are present at the time of listing be evaluated first before unoccupied areas are considered. This reduces the potential for additional regulatory burden that results from a designation when species are not present in an area. In addition, the regulations impose a heightened standard for unoccupied areas to be designated as critical habitat. On top of the existing standard that the designated unoccupied habitat is essential to the conservation of the species, it must also, at the time of designation, contain one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the species’ conservation.

To ensure federal government actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat, federal agencies must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under section 7 of the act. The revisions to the implementing regulations clarify the interagency consultation process and make it more efficient and consistent.

The revisions codify alternative consultation mechanisms that may provide greater efficiency for how ESA consultations are conducted. They also establish a deadline for informal consultations to provide greater certainty for federal agencies and applicants of timely decisions, without compromising conservation of ESA-listed species.
Revisions to the definitions of “destruction or adverse modification,” “effects of the action” and “environmental baseline” further improve the consultation process by providing clarity and consistency.

In addition to the final joint regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a separate revision rescinding its “blanket rule” under section 4(d) of the ESA. The rule had automatically given threatened species the same protections as endangered species unless otherwise specified.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has never employed such a blanket rule, so the new regulations bring the two agencies into alignment. The change impacts only future threatened species’ listings or reclassifications from endangered to threatened status and does not apply to species already listed as threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will craft species-specific 4(d) rules for each future threatened species determination as deemed necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species, as has been common practice for many species listed as threatened in recent years.

From comments received during the public comment period in making these regulatory changes, concerns were raised regarding the lack of transparency in making listing decisions and the economic impact associated with determinations. Public transparency is critical in all government decision making, and the preamble to the regulation clarifies that the ESA does not prohibit agencies from collecting data that determine this cost and making that information available, as long as doing so does not influence the listing determination.

The final regulations submitted to the Federal Register can be found online at FWS.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/regulation-revisions.html.

Eastern Sale Offers Buyers Diverse Group of Sheep

In its third year, the Eastern National Sheep Improvement Program Sale in Wooster, Ohio, continued to develop its own identity in 2019 while still providing a diverse offering of sheep that could help improve a flock’s genetics in a number of ways.

“Even within the breeds, we had sheep that excelled at one trait while another sheep in that breed excelled at something different,” said NSIP Program Director Rusty Burgett. “There was a sheep for everybody here. No matter what they were looking to improve in their flocks, there was a sheep here to help them out.”

The sale included breeds ranging from Rambouillet to Polypay, Suffolk to Dorper, and Dorsets to Katahdin to cater to a diverse group of buyers that included commercial operations, small flocks and a fair number of Amish producers who live in the area.

All totaled, 65 sheep sold for $40,350 – an average of $621 per head. The high selling lot was a Texel ram from West Virginia University that sold for $2,000 to Ohio’s Campbell Brothers.

While those numbers might not compare to some of the larger sheep sales across the United States, the sale still plays an important role.

“It gives us another opportunity to do educational work, and I think buyers are starting to better understand the numbers,” Burgett said. “I’m seeing that they are buying more and more based on the production data and not just on how the sheep look. That’s an important step in our process. Every year here we learn something different. But consignors are starting to see what the buyers are looking for and what data they are focused on. Obviously in this part of the country, parasite resistance is really big. As we learn more and more about the buyers, we’re better able to give them what they want.”

Maralyn Fowler braved Chicago traffic to make the trip from her home in Wisconsin, and knew exactly what she wanted.

“I’m out of rams this year, so that’s what I came here for,” said the Katahdin breeder. “I’m specifically here looking for grass-based performance. We focus on modified intensive grazing and keeping the sheep out on pasture as much of the season as we can.”

Fowler picked up two Katahdin rams – one of which she bought from like-minded breeder Tom Hodgman of Waldoview Farm in Maine.

“I’ve seen him and talked to him at Katahdin events, and we’ve talked many times about NSIP,” Fowler said. “I’m a strong proponent of NSIP and record keeping, and I’m a little discouraged by the trend in the Katahdin breed to go toward champions at such and such show. I’m keen on keeping a production-style sheep, and the rams I bought today will help me do that.”

Amish producer Chriss Miller of nearby Fredericksburg, Ohio, loaded four sheep into the back of his buggy at the end of the sale. It was a tight fit, but that’s what happens when you buy more than you planned.

“I was here for the Polypay rams, which I want to cross on my Cheviot ewes,” he said. “And, I just ended up with the two Polypay ewes. I’m not really a big fan of the Cheviots, but I do like to have a little bit of it in my flock.”

Sales included a dozen each of Polypay and Katahdin rams. Three of those Polypays sold for $1,600 each and tied as the second high selling lots. Fowler picked up the highest selling Katahdin when she paid $1,500 for her Waldoview Farm ram.

“I was kind of interested in the Texel ram, if they were giving him away. But they weren’t. And with what I paid for my Katahdins, I didn’t need to buy him anyway.”
Burgett speculated that the Texel ram was in high demand because many area producers cater to an ethnic market that is looking for smaller lambs.

“He sold pretty well, and we had one Dorper here that sold pretty well. With those breeds, it’s a more grass-based buyer looking for a terminal sire that is a little smaller-framed sheep.”

New Direction in Sheep Breeding Draws Crowd to Center of Nation

Brenda Reau
United Suffolk Sheep Association

The Clay County Fairgrounds in Spencer, Iowa, was the setting for A New Direction in Sheep Breeding – an educational program for both seedstock and commercial producers. Almost 300 individuals participated in the program that was held in collaboration with the National Sheep Improvement Program’s Center of the Nation Sale in late July.

The educational seminar was sponsored in part by ASI’s Let’s Grow Program and organized by the United Suffolk Sheep Association.

The first day of the program was designed for seedstock producers with presentations from Dr. Dan Morrical, Dr. Ron Lewis and NSIP’s Rusty Burgett. There were 74 in-person participants and 106 online participants. Seventy-five percent of the respondents that completed the evaluation survey rated the sessions as excellent, and 21 percent rated the sessions as good.

The most highly rated session at 96 percent excellent was Highlights from the Leading Edge Project that summarized a large research trial with a commercial flock in Utah. Seventy-two percent of respondents reported they have a better understanding of how to use estimated breeding values.

Participants reported practices they planned to implement as a result of attending the program. Sixty-four percent reported they would use EBVs in decision-making. Sixty-eight percent said they would purchase breeding stock with EBVs. Seventy-two percent of seedstock producers reported they would make changes in their operation to better address the needs of the commercial industry. Seventy-two percent reported they would use the NSIP searchable database.

The second day of the program targeted commercial producers with 66 participants attending the session and 123 individuals participating online. The session had two components, Using Estimated Breeding Values in Sire Selection, and a Commercial Producer Panel Discussion. Morrical led the session along with three commercial producers representing commercial flocks in Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri.

Sixty-two percent of respondents rated the session topics as excellent and 30 percent rated them as good. Twenty-two percent reported they are already purchasing breeding stock with EBVs and using EBVs for decisionmaking in their operation. Of the respondents who had not previously been doing these things, 72 percent said they would use EBVs for decisionmaking and 44 percent would purchase breeding stock with EBVs.

Check out an archived version of the presentations online at Suffolks.org/wp/2019/educational-opportunity/.

Company Seeking Suppliers for Breed-Specific Yarn Lines

Brooklyn Tweed is passionate about wool. So much so, that the company is using its breed-specific yarn lines to educate consumers about the differences in sheep breeds and the yarn they produce.

From Columbia to Merino to Rambouillet to Targhee, Brooklyn has developed breed-specific, American-manufactured yarn lines. But the company doesn’t want to stop there.

Brooklyn Tweed is looking for producers who are interested in working together to develop new lines of breed-specific yarns for hand knitting. Have you got Bluefaced Leicester, Corriedale, Cormo or Wensleydale sheep that produce wool between 20 and 25 micron? If so, Brooklyn might want to talk to you.

However, keep in mind that the company needs a minimum of 2,000 to 3,000 pounds up to as much as 10,000 pounds of clean wool to consider adding a new product to its breed-specific yarn line.

“We know there are only a handful of breeds left in the United States that can provide the kind of volume we need for the development of a new yarn line,” said Brooklyn Tweed Co-Founder Luigi Boccia while visiting the ASI office in Denver this summer. “In addition to the volume and micron count, we need wool that has a staple length that works for hand knitting yarns. We really want to add more breeds to our offerings so we can continue to educate consumers about the differences in the wool these breeds produce. We want to explore those differences between a Rambouillet and a Targhee or between a Cormo and a Columbia with our customers.”

Originally from Italy, Boccia compared the process to wine.

“If you ask me if I want some red wine, the answer is yes, but don’t just tell me it’s an Italian wine. Tell me what type of grapes were used and where they came from. If you tell me it’s just really good wine, then that means you’re trying to sell me a blended wine. If I’m a wine connoisseur, that blend might not serve me well. I need to taste each grape individuallly to tell the difference between them and develop my own system of evaluation.

“We’re doing the same thing with American wool. We want to know why a rancher chose to raise this breed or that breed, and those reasons can translate to the quality and the characteristics of the fiber. If we’re just selling generic wool with a certain micron count, the knitter who spends hundreds of hours with that thread between their fingers will never really be able to tell the difference between these breeds. But, if we go all the way down to the breed, we’re able to give consumers an idea of what’s different from one sheep breed to the next. What we are really doing is educating the customer, and when you do that you create a smarter buyer who is more selective in what they buy.”

Boccia said the company is willing to manufacture ranch-specific lines, as well. Many customers want to know the story behind the wool, and ranch specific lines offer customers everything they could want to know from who raised the sheep to where it was raised. But ranch-specific branding isn’t required.

“We’re committed to telling our customers what breed the wool came from, what state it came from and what the micron count is. Anything else is up to the rancher and how much they want to share. If we can use the rancher’s name, even better. There is a lot of appreciation out there for full traceability.”

For more information, go to BrooklynTweed.com or email Boccia at luigi@brooklyntweed.com.

Ohio’s Amish Extension Agent

Leroy Kuhns Looks to Bring an Entire Community into the Sheep Industry

Leroy Kuhns isn’t the original Amish sheep producer, but he’s done more than his share to promote the American sheep industry in his community. From sharing genetics to answering questions to guiding other farmers into sheep production, he’s been there and done that.

“He’s our Amish Extension agent,” jokes Ohio Sheep Improvement Association Executive Director Roger High. “We’ve been working to bring more educational programs to his area and to the Amish population, and Leroy’s always been very supportive of those efforts.”

With more than 20 years in the industry, Kuhns certainly has the experience and the expertise to guide beginning producers. Some are young men looking to best use a small acreage, while others are former dairymen looking to replace income in a depressed market. Whatever the reason, Kuhns understands the value of raising sheep in Ohio – home to the largest Amish population in the United States.

“Everyone wants to make their farms work,” he says. “They want to work the land with their families and make a good living with it, and that isn’t easy on the 30 or 40 acres that so many of our farmers start out with in this area. There’s definitely a need for education. When we bought our first sheep, I could go into either of the feed stores in town and they might have a bag or two of lamb start collecting dust and flies in the back. There wasn’t a lot of experience with sheep around here, but we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years.”

Working 86 acres in Fredericksburg, Ohio, Kuhns is now that experienced, local resource that he always wished he had. Despite the fact that he has no website or Facebook page, and you can only reach him by phone via an old-school answering machine, word has spread that Kuhns is the man to talk to for Amish folks looking to get a start in sheep.

“I get calls all the time from people who have questions,” he admits, adding that it’s often difficult to provide the solid answers some are searching to find. “They’ll call me and tell me how many acres they have and want to know how many sheep they can put on it. That’s kind of like an 18-year-old boy asking if you think this girl is going to like him. There’s a lot of variables in that question.”

And the answer might be higher than you think.

For instance, High says many in the Amish community who are looking to get into sheep aren’t content to start small. They want to have 200 to 300 head to start.

“One thing we’ve seen from the Amish community is that they don’t get into things on a small basis. They are very entrepreneurial, and that’s part of why the sheep industry has grown so quickly in their community.”

Kuhns sees examples of this every day in his area.

“They aren’t interested in running 30 ewes on those 30 acres,” Kuhns adds. “They want know how they can run 100 to 300 ewes on those 30 acres. If they can do that, then they can make a living. Sheep have been showing a profit at a time when the dairy industry is really struggling, so that’s drawing people into the industry. Plus if they raise sheep, then it’s not as big of an investment as some other commodities.”

Kuhns’ lambs are certainly a hot commodity in their own right. He’s perfected what he calls “butterball, fat lambs,” which are young Dorsets that go to market at 50 to 60 pounds and have brought as much as $4.50 a pound in recent years.

Focusing on Easter and Christmas lambs in the early days, Kuhns found plenty of buyers at the nearby Mt. Hope (Ohio) Auction. Many of those lambs find their way to individual ethnic buyers who live along the East Coast. Some also end up in high-end restaurants.

“We started farming in 1986 and had some small flocks of Cheviots and Suffolks at first,” he said. “We bought an old-style Dorset flock out of West Virginia in 1986, but we were always very diversified. We’ve had milk cows, hogs, turkeys, chickens. We’ve had everything at some point. When we got that flock from West Virginia, there were probably only 15 guys in the area with sheep. Now I’d bet there’s more than 100.

“In the early 2000s, one of the employees at the auction started buying and selling sheep. He’d take them to New Holland (Penn.). He did that for months and years and eventually the price started coming up a bit more. Local farmers started raising more sheep and that attracted more buyers. It all just worked together, and we were fortunate enough to be on the front end of that.”

In the early 1990s, the Mt. Hope Auction sold approximately 1,200 sheep and goats a year. In 2018, the auction sold more than 68,000 sheep. Obviously, the market has grown.

“I feel like we helped train the consumer to like these 50-pound lambs, and now there’s really a demand for them. The buyers tell me there’s a demand for them year-round now. It’s not just Easter and Christmas and other religious holidays anymore. You know better than I do that there are millions of foreign-born people in this country, and they like lamb the way I prefer fresh-caught fish.”

To accommodate the market, Kuhns is practicing both accelerated lambing and accelerated weaning. He’s weaning lambs at seven weeks, a process that can be management intensive given the amount of labor involved in his daily feeding program.

“For economic reasons, we prefer to grow all of our own feed. We grow corn, barley, oats and hay here. I really like the barley for the sheep,” Kuhns says. “We can run 3.5 ewes to an acre on our 86 acres. We’re feeding half to a pound of grain per day for the ewes for up to a month before lambing, and then we double that when they’re lactating. We’re also feeding them the best quality hay (grass-alfalfa mix) that we have. When it’s time to dry them out, we switch to rain-damaged, first-cutting hay for 10 days or so. Once the bags start drying up, then we’ll start flushing them for a couple of weeks.”

“Out west, where they’ve got 10,000 to 15,000 head, they couldn’t work this system. We’ve got the people to do it here on small farms. The Amish are an agrarian-based people, so it all works together.”

As a leading supplier of breeding stock in the community, Kuhns has turned to artificial insemination as a way to introduce new bloodlines into his flock. He’s worked routinely with Martin Dally of Oregon to bring in old-style Dorset semen from Australia. That will certainly help rebuild his flock after culling some old ewes and getting down to 180 ewes this summer. He’s keeping many of his ewe lambs this year as replacements and hopes to get back up to 250 ewes in the process.

“We’re always working to improve the genetics. But it can be really hard to get that semen in from Australia,” Kuhns said. “We’re not looking for those show-type Dorsets, we want the old-style sheep. He’d ordered 300 straws, but they only sent him 176 I believe. We finally got it the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year and then we bred them the Friday after. The demand is probably strong over there, so to get it collected and go through the red tape to ship it over is tough.”

Regardless, Kuhns will continue to provide sheep, education and peace of mind to anyone who asks.

“We don’t look at those folks as competition,” he says. “We see them as friends, and we want to do whatever we can to help them succeed in the sheep industry and in life.”

Texas Producer Represents ASI at Livestock Hearing

Steve Salmon spoke on behalf of ASI at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture to review the state of the United States livestock and poultry economies over the summer.

Here is his prepared statement.

Introduction

Chairman Costa, Ranking Member Rouzer, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I am Stephen Salmon, from central west Texas, a member of the American Sheep Industry Association, and a director of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association. I have been involved with both organizations for over 20 years.

I am here today to represent the nation’s 100,000 sheep producers. America’s sheep producers continue a strong tradition of supporting wildlife habitat, natural resources and open space across the country – all enabled by careful resource management while grazing our flocks on private and federal lands.
Our members support rural communities, the tax base and local businesses providing safe domestic lamb and wool. In fact, the economic impact of sheep and wool production on our nation’s economy is immense. From on the farm and ranch to the retail level, the sheep industry has a total retail impact in excess of $2.7 billion and supports nearly 98,000 sheep-industry related jobs.

I am a third-generation rancher raising sheep, goats and cattle. Our operation is located north of San Angelo, in a semi-arid region of Texas, where we typically receive 16 to 20 of inches of rain per year. This year has been exceptional for our operation, with rain events that have filled lakes and streams that have been dry for many years. Like everyone here, we understand the cyclical nature of agriculture and the markets, and for that reason we strongly support agricultural research, price discovery and effective predator control. We also market sheep, goats, lambs, wool and mohair. For us, the trade dispute with China has made a big impact on our ability to market fiber with tariffs severely hindering trade with our largest export market.

Trade

Continued strength in the international marketing of lamb and wool requires a commitment to the promotion and export of U.S. wool to export markets through strong USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Program funding. ASI is the cooperator with FAS for American wool and sheepskins and finds success every year in securing customers with the Market Access Program, the Foreign Market Development Program and the Quality Samples Program.

In 2001, ASI relaunched an export program for wool and significantly improved the competition of American wool. We now export 50 percent of American wool, on average, and have at least doubled the number of U.S. firms that offer wool to overseas markets. ASI strongly supports the ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and urges Congress to act swiftly. We have seen the benefits of trade and have made major progress, first with the reopening of Taiwan and most recently with the reopening of Japan to American lamb. But we have also experienced first-hand the detriments of trade as over half of the lamb consumed in the U.S. is imported.

The vast amount of imported lamb distorts traditional market signals to producers for expansion and muddies price discovery. We support fair trade on a level playing field, and as the administration looks to negotiate future agreements with China, the European Union, the United Kingdom and others, we urge a cautious approach. We do not currently enjoy the ability to export U.S. lamb to many of these countries and most enjoy the benefit of direct or indirect subsidies to their sheep industry. Again, we welcome the opportunity to compete, but we can only compete on a level playing field.

The current trade disruption with China has been tremendously challenging for our U.S. wool exports. Prior to the implementation of tariffs, 72 percent of U.S. raw wool exports and 80 percent of U.S. sheepskins were sent to China. Since the implementation of tariffs, we have seen raw wool exports drop by 85 percent and sheepskin exports drop by nearly 70 percent in value. Once a valuable asset, sheepskins now have either no value or even result in a loss to producers at the processing level.

As the administration continues to review and implement ways to aid producers during what we hope is a short-term loss of this valuable market, we ask that wool and sheepskin producers be included in the conversation.

Bighorn Sheep in Domestic Sheep Grazing Allotments

Nationally, about half of all domestic sheep spend time grazing on federal lands, including rangelands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Over the years, USFS has been systematically removing domestic sheep ranchers from federal lands in the name of bighorn sheep management, despite the fact that there are reasonable, science-based solutions to accommodate domestic sheep grazing while protecting the health of bighorn sheep populations. In mid-2016, the USFS announced that it may close some allotments in the Ashley National Forest and the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Summit County, Utah, due to bighorn sheep concerns. This is being done without any offer of alternative allotments. In total, three allotments could be closed and a fourth allotment reduced.

The ranchers on these allotments have letters from the USFS detailing that when they introduced bighorn sheep to the area, there would not be an impact to the domestic sheep population. There are many examples of these egregious actions.

Mandatory Price Reporting

In September 2015, the president signed into law the Agriculture Reauthorization Act of 2015, which included an extension of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act of 1999. Unfortunately for sheep, this reauthorization has not adjusted to changes in the lamb meat industry. Of particular concern is the implementation of current confidentiality rules of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which restricts the information available. Additionally, federal lamb price insurance products available to the sheep industry rely on the USDA price reporting. ASI is in ongoing discussions with USDA and the agriculture committees in the House and Senate to resolve this issue as the date for reauthorization nears. Increased consolidation in the packing industry across livestock will continue to hinder producers’ access to accurate price reports and we believe issues of confidentiality will need to be resolved sooner rather than later to preserve this program and the risk management tools that rely on it.

FDA Minor Use Animal Drug Program

It is also critical that producers have continued access to key technologies. We strongly support the Food and Drug Administration Minor Use Animal Drug Program and its historic collaboration with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The targeted use of biologics and pharmaceuticals within a veterinary-client-patient relationship is key to our ability to maintain flock health and provide a safe wholesome product. We urge the creation of a mechanism for NIFA funding for minor use animal drug research through the National Research Support Project No. 7.

NRSP-7 has an established record with land-grant universities and has demonstrated excellent results for minor use drug research for nearly 40 years. We urge the USDA to make funds available under Section 12101 of the 2018 Farm Bill to ensure sheep producers have access to critical technologies, many of which are currently being used with great success by our international competition, but not labeled for use in the United States.

Wildlife Services

Coyotes, mountain lions, wolves and bears kill tens of thousands of lambs and calves each year. Livestock losses attributed to these predators cost ranchers and producers more than $232 million annually. For years, ASI has led the aggressive defense of livestock protection by bringing together a diverse coalition of supporters in the areas of aquaculture, aviation, forestry, livestock production, range/forage management and state departments of agriculture to ensure the programs’ survival. Earlier this year, ASI led a coalition of 219 organizations to sign a letter supporting Wildlife Services funding. Every dollar spent on predation management returns three dollars in livestock value saved.

This has a tremendous impact on sheep and cattle producers and the rural economies they support. Predator management also supports abundant wildlife, hunting and recreation activities on private and federal land. We applaud congressional efforts ensuring Wildlife Services is fully funded and has the resources needed to carry out their livestock protection efforts. We are also keenly aware that existing, highly effective predator control products like sodium cyanide and sodium fluoroacetate (Compound 1080) are under attack and their continued use is threatened. These are the best available products for predator control; highly targeted, species specific, environmentally sound and humane.

Despite enhanced guidance from Wildlife Services on the use and placement of these tools and a track record of EPA approval, these products continue to come under attack from Congress. The industry is committed to responding with science, but also a keen eye to find alternatives that respond to the concerns of the public. Developing alternatives that meet or exceed the attributes of current products is a great challenge, and we rely on the work of Wildlife Services Methods Development through the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo.

We urge Congress to devote resources to that program for the development of alternatives to ensure U.S. sheep producers remain competitive worldwide.

U.S. Sheep Experiment Station

The domestic sheep industry relies heavily on the work of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and the Animal Disease Research Unit. Both facilities work collaboratively and are critical components of the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service. As our nation’s only experiment station primarily dedicated to sheep production, the work carried out by these researchers and faculty are critical to our ability to remain productive and push back against flawed science on the range and in the area of animal health.

In the past, administrative action has worked to limit the scope of these facilities. Such action not only threatens the viability of this resource for producers, but also threatens the USSES’ unparalleled historic sage grouse data. We support the merger of the USSES and ADRU and encourage growth in their roles in food-animal science, rangeland systems and animal health programs. These stations have a dedicated history of careful use of taxpayer funds to solve issues and challenges for our producers and counter flawed science from those wishing to remove livestock and multiple uses from our nation’s public lands.

We appreciate USDA’s recognition in the role of the USSES as a critical part of our nation’s agricultural research system and will continue to work with Congress, stakeholders and collaborators to build that resource.

Scrapie Eradication

Working collaboratively with USDA/APHIS and state partners, the American sheep industry has nearly eliminated scrapie from the United States. Official identification, surveillance and traceability of both sheep and goats are critical to continuing and maintaining these efforts in order to preserve and enhance current and future export markets. Continued and increased funding of the National Scrapie Eradication Program must remain a priority to expand and build on export opportunities.

H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers

The American sheep industry has a decades long history of a reliable, consistent and legal workforce. Sheep ranchers depend on the H-2A sheepherder program to help care for more than one-third of the ewes and lambs in the United States. To meet those needs, the industry has largely participated in temporary visa programs (in various forms) since the 1950s. As a result, sheep producers employ a legal labor force with an estimated eight American jobs created/supported by each foreign worker employed. Increased regulation with ambiguous policies and enforcement have made the H-2A sheepherder program very costly for employers.

In the 2015 re-write of the sheepherder provisions, our program now constitutes over half of all pages of regulations governing the entire H-2A program, even though we are only a small percent of total H-2A employees in the United States. A workable temporary foreign labor program is essential for the sheep industry including the special procedures for herding in future legislation involving immigration workers.

2018 Farm Bill

ASI strongly supported the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) and appreciates the leadership of the House Agriculture Committee. The first and most important national security concern is the ability of a country to clothe and feed its citizens.

The small investment made in agriculture by the farm bill when compared to the federal budget and the safe, affordable and abundant food supply enjoyed by the U.S. illustrates the wise investment farm bill programs provide.

Thank you for your support of the livestock industry and for allowing me to visit with you about our priorities.

The Last Word

Prepare Now for Shearing Season

HEATHER PEARCE
Wool Production & Specialty Markets Consultant

Shearing this past year was tough. Wet weather delayed crews across the country, causing flocks to be shorn later than usual. This created added consequences where some were lambing during shearing, flocks moved to their summer ground late and, with the wool market taking a dip shortly after, wool prices were down.

Shearing being late was primarily due to the wet weather, and once you’re behind, you’re behind. So, what can we do as producers to help our shearers?

First and foremost, create some cover. You shouldn’t shear when sheep are wet, so providing cover for the sheep the day and/or night before shearing can be hugely beneficial. Barns and sheds are ideal, yet even something as simple as a tarp covered pen can help.

Additionally, if you are able to keep your sheep and shearing area under cover throughout shearing day, this will help the wool stay dry and keep your shearing on track. Keeping your sheep dry will not only help you get your shearing done, but will also help the shearers stay on schedule for all of the producers yet to shear.
Some other ideas to help your shearers stay on schedule and shear a better wool clip:

• Pen sheep before shearing.

• Pen the sheep in a clean, covered area free from straw, burs, etc. As discussed above, having a covered pen is very valuable as you should never shear wet wool. Additionally, it is difficult to remove contaminants, such as straw, after shearing, so keeping it away from the sheep and wool in the first place, is much easier.

• Withhold feed and water for 4 to 12 hours prior to shearing. Urine and feces in the wool is detrimental, so withholding feed and water before shearing will help keep your shearing floor and wool clean.

• Sort the sheep: colored, hair and blackface should be separated. Also consider separating new and sick sheep, different breeds/grades, lambs, yearling, ewes and rams.

• Work with your shearers. Communicating ahead of time about how many sheep you have, if you will be classing your wool, what equipment you need to provide, how to contact you (especially when phone service is limited), etc., can be beneficial for both the producer and shearer.

• Treat your shearers kindly. As shearers are becoming harder and harder to find, treating them well will help them do a better job and will hopefully keep them coming back year after year. Consider providing lunch for them.

• Good facilities with electrical access and a good shearing floor will help them do their job quickly and efficiently. And having easy access to the sheep is also kind. Shearing is hard work, so don’t make it more difficult by forcing them to chase your sheep around a large pen.

Consider building a cover for your pen and think about ways to work as a team with your shearer. It could help you, your sheep, your shearer, and the producers and flocks down the road.

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