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Looking to the Future with Strategic Planning

Benny Cox, ASI President

We conducted our summer executive board meeting on July 15 with a Zoom meeting, which worked quite well. Most everyone has been doing either conference calls or zoom meetings for months now and many are getting good at them. Due to all this virus mess, we might move to many more meetings like this in the future.

ASI worked on and completed a strategic plan through 2019 which was approved in January by the Board of Directors. Our mission statement reads like this: to support, promote and safeguard sheep production in the United States – representing and advancing the interests of member organizations, industry partners and individual sheep producers with advocacy, knowledge-based insights, communications, research and education. To identify, establish, advise, direct and/or support enterprises that benefit members. Our ASI vision: Premier Protein – Premier Fiber – Environmentally Regenerative – Economically Sustainable.

We have formed committees to aid in the promotion of our missions to get the ball rolling, so to speak.

Communications Taskforce: Susan Shultz, chair, along with Steve Clements, Sarah Smith, Jimmy Parker and Laurie Hubbard.

Funding Committee Taskforce: Brad Boner, chair, along with Randy Tunby, Anne Crider and Tammy Fisher.

Due to the new strategic plan, we felt it important that we revisit the bylaws. So, we also formed a review group for that. The Bylaws Review Committee includes Peter Orwick, chair, Burton Pfliger, Bob Benson and Clint Krebs.

The first round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program has helped many that sold livestock between Jan. 15 and April 15. A large percentage of the lambs that have not been marketed in the western and northern states did not benefit much in the first round. We’re still hopeful of a second round of support in the months to come.

In the mid-August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture added all sheep to CFAP eligibility list – where previously only lambs and yearlings were eligible. ASI pushed at both the congressional and administration levels for this inclusion, and at the request of a handful of ag groups, the deadline to apply for CFAP payments was extended to Sept. 11.

In yet another big blow to the traditional lamb business, the Mountain States Rosen lamb processing plant in Greeley, Colo., has been sold to JBS USA. The company plans to convert it to a value-added beef facility. There have been efforts to overturn that purchase which might possibly allow lamb processing to continue at that facility. It was reported in early August that the U.S. Department of Justice was looking into the issue and that there is a 30-day hold on any changes to the facility.

Mountain States Rosen processed 20 percent of the traditional lambs in both slaughter and fabrication. This closure is not a good thing for the traditional lamb business, which has already had its share of problems with the closure of restaurants and motels (50 percent of their sales) during the COVID-19 outbreak. There will no doubt be an effect on feeder lambs that will be sold in the near months due to the many different events since mid-March.

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

JBS Purchases Mountain States Rosen

JULIE STEPANEK SHIFLETT, PH.D.
Juniper Economic Consulting

In June 2020, Mountain States Rosen – one of the largest lamb packers – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and on July 31 closed its doors in a sale of its Greeley, Colo., plant to JBS USA and Pilgrim’s. MSR is a producer-owned and operated fully-integrated lamb and veal company. MSR not only purchases lambs, but slaughters and fabricates lambs for sale through its in-house retailer.

The American lamb industry will enter a period of adjustment as supply and demand work back into balance. For many, the short-term and potentially longer-term effects will be devastating. For many, market-ready lambs are without a slaughter date. In the short-term, sheep producers will search for alternative slaughter arrangements.

Colorado Lamb Processors – a new slaughter facility in Brush, Colo. – will hopefully be able to open its doors soon, but it is not as large as MSR and it only has slaughter, not fabrication, capabilities. In the interim, lamb quality could suffer.

The culmination of COVID-19 and the MSR closure means inventory backups and heavier than normal market-ready lambs available for slaughter. The demand side of the MSR loss might pose a greater challenge as MSR’s long-standing retail and foodservice accounts now need to look for new suppliers.

The Economic Fallout of MSR

MSR had an important economic and employment role of supporting local, rural economies across the West. An economic impact analysis can give an estimate of the potential benefit that can be attributed to MSR’s role in the American sheep industry, and the American economy as a whole.

Before filing for bankruptcy, Mountain States Rosen handled at least 350,000 head per year (Greeley Tribune, 8/5/20). This equates to a rough estimate of $75.60 million per year in lamb sales by sheep producers (assuming $144/cwt. and 150 lbs.). These sales support backward-linked industries – indirect industries – such as feed, fencing supplies and pharmaceuticals, as well as induced industries – industries supported by household spending by those in the sheep industry.

Economic multipliers can capture the total benefit of MSR operations in the West by calculating the direct effect of lamb sales by sheep producers, the indirect and induced effects. The Type I multiplier effect captures the indirect effect, representing the sum of local business-to-business purchases per dollar of output. The Type I multiplier for lamb production is 1.74.

This means that $1 of lamb produced by a producer yields an additional $0.74 in business-to-business purchases. That is, lamb sales to MSR yields an additional economic stimulus of demand for veterinary and feed supplies, and livestock equipment, for example. The estimate value of lamb sales to MSR of $75.60 million generated an additional estimated $55.94 million in indirect sales.

The Type SAM multiplier is the sum of the direct, indirect and induced effects. The induced effect represents the sum of local household purchases per dollar of output, or lamb produced. The Type SAM multiplier is 2.46, which means that for every $1 of lamb produced, $1.46 is spent by lamb producers and employees getting haircuts or buying jeans, in addition to the indirect effect. Thus, the indirect and induced effect is an estimated $110.4 million.

Employment Impact from MSR Closure

Reportedly, MSR laid off more than 200 employees by the end of July (Greeley Tribune, 7/24/20). Jobs lost include “executive-level such as the company president to those in sales, packers, baggers, livestock handler and customer service.”

These employees had an important role in supporting their respective local economies through spending that is now disrupted in a transition to new employment.

MSR lamb purchases supported a minimum of 145 active producer members. Jobs will also likely be lost on sheep ranches, farms and feedlots.

For every sheep rancher or farmer, an estimated 0.31 jobs is created in indirect, backward-linked industries such as in feed supplies. For every sheep rancher, and estimated 0.67 jobs are created in indirect and induced jobs, nearly one full-time position.

Lamb Industry Concentration Increases

The bankruptcy of MSR will leave behind a lamb industry that is even more concentrated. MSR was one of the three largest lamb packers in the United States, accounting for about 20 percent of American lamb slaughter.

American lamb industry packers act as oligopsonists. This is a market structure whereby only a small number of buyers exist for a product. The nature of this market means that it “allows the buyers to exert a great deal of control over the sellers and can effectively drive down prices,” (Investopedia.com). The lamb industry is not alone, many agricultural industries act as oligopsonies. Consumers face this concentrated market structure as well. An oligopoly, by comparison, is where a few large firms sell most products in a particular market, such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi.

MSR Closure Affects USDA Price Reporting

As the American lamb industry loses a significant packer, the United States Department of Agriculture price and volume reporting will become increasingly thin due to the inability of the industry to meet USDA thresholds for reporting.

According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center, “The closure of this facility has wide sweeping implications for price reporting. It is possible these prices will remain unreportable indefinitely,” (8/7/20).

According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Confidentiality Guideline, a sufficient number of entries need to be in the market for a minimum number of days, and no one entity can provide more than a specific percentage of the data for a report on the most recent 60-day period. What this guideline means for the lamb industry is that going forward, the industry will not likely see pelt prices reported, national, formula/grid slaughter lamb prices or live, negotiated slaughter lamb prices. The only remaining slaughter lamb price series available are those reported under the voluntary reporting program such as the Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association and regional sheep auctions, which do not necessarily represent the heavier commercial lamb market.

AMS livestock prices are only to be reported to the public “in a manner that protects the identity of reporting entities and preserves the confidentiality of proprietary transactions.” But, what this means in practice for the lamb industry – as it consolidates further – is that less and less market information is available for independent sheep producers to make informed market decisions and gain bargaining power, or leverage, in negotiating trades.

LMIC reported that when Colorado Lamb Processors comes online later this year, this doesn’t necessarily mean all price reporting will resume.

“It should be noted that the opening of the new plant in Brush will not automatically guarantee prices are reported again. Confidentiality guidelines will need to be met each week on each item,” (8/7/20). Fortunately, there are more players on the meat side such that wholesale lamb cuts prices are still reported at this time.

Slaughter Lamb Prices Lower, Feeders Up

In July, slaughter lamb prices on formula/grid averaged $207.79 per cwt., up 1 percent monthly and down 30 percent year year-on-year. The July live-weight equivalent was $104.50 per cwt. The American lamb industry has not seen prices this low since 2009 – amid the Great Recession when incomes fell 6 percent in one year. Comprehensive information slaughter lamb prices (formula and live, negotiated) averaged $219.81 per cwt. in July, up 3 percent monthly and down 28 percent year-on-year. The live-equivalent prices for comprehensive prices was $110.53 per cwt.

In the first week of August, Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales Association, wooled and shorn lambs brought $112.50 per cwt. for 145 lbs. Reportedly, sheep producers require about $140 to $145 per cwt. to break even.

Sixty- to 90-lb. feeder lamb prices averaged $183.17 per cwt. at auction in San Angelo, Texas, up 9 percent monthly and up 6 percent year-on-year. In Sioux Falls, S.D., feeders at auction averaged $180.95 per cwt., up 9 percent monthly and up 10 percent year-on-year.

Meat Prices Soften Marginally

In April of this year, the wholesale lamb composite hit a record high at $430.77 per cwt. Since then, prices have moderated somewhat. By July, the wholesale composite had come down 4 percent since April, yet remained 10 percent higher than July’s five-year average. The wholesale composite averaged $412.33 per cwt. in July, steady with June and 4 percent higher than a year ago. After processing and packaging costs are deducted, the net cutout value was $353.33 per cwt.

The shoulder and loin were the two primals that saw a July price increase while the rack and leg weakened. The loin, trimmed 4×4, averaged $565.24 per cwt., 3 percent higher monthly. The shoulder, square-cut, steadied in July at $330.76 per cwt. The rack, 8-rib medium, averaged $818.09 per cwt., down 2 percent monthly. The leg, trotter-off, averaged $372.79 per cwt., down 2 percent monthly.

The shoulder and loin both saw July prices 7 percent higher year-on-year. The rack was down 7 percent from a year ago. The leg lost 4 percent annually. As food purchases for home cooking increase and hotter temperature prompt outside grilling, ground lamb prices saw a summer boost. Ground lamb averaged $552.78 per cwt. in July, up 8 percent monthly and down 4 percent year-on-year.

Pelt reports are no longer being released by the Agricultural Marketing Service, for “there is not enough participants to protect confidentiality,” (8/7/20).

Production & Trade Down

Lamb slaughter January through the second week of August was an estimated 1,095,151 head, down 6 percent year-on-year. Estimated lamb production was an estimated 53.1 million lbs., down 8 percent. With MSR going out of business, lamb harvest is expected to drop off further.

July’s count of lambs in Colorado feedlots was the lowest on record at 45,821 head. This is down 34 percent in five years and down 48 percent in 10 years. This year, the largest lamb feeders in Colorado were far below capacity in July due to the COVID-19 demand shock, but also due to the closure of MSR. Reportedly, one Colorado feedlot would typically run 30,000 head in July, but this year was down to 8,000 head with empty pens (Greeley Tribune, 8/4/20).

In early July, 46.5 million lbs. of lamb and mutton were in cold storage, down 3 percent monthly yet 16 percent higher year-on-year. As slaughter has come down in recent months, the portion in freezers has increased.

Lamb imports January to June totaled 107.2 million lbs., which was down 16 percent year-on-year. Imports from Australia were down 14 percent year-on-year to 81.0 million lbs. and imports from New Zealand were down 24 percent to 25.0 million lbs.

Wool Prices Remained Depressed

American clean wool prices in July averaged 57 percent lower year-on-year. In general, the finer microns saw prices move lower in July compared to June, but mid-micron and coarser wools saw a modest monthly lift. It is believed that wool buyers are saturated with the higher-demanded finer wools and thus July demand tapered off.

Overall, wool prices are expected to remain low for some time, especially due the tremendous stock of 2019 wool and the growing 2020 inventory. However, if there is any glimmer of hope at the retail end, buyers will likely be back in the market at these lower price levels.

Nineteen micron averaged $3.36 per lb. clean, down 3 percent monthly in July. Twenty micron averaged $2.78 per lb., down 17 percent; 21 micron averaged $2.79 per lb., down 13 percent; 22 micron averaged $2.87 per lb., down 2 percent; 23 micron averaged $2.63 per lb., up 2 percent; 24 micron averaged $2.18 per lb., up 8 percent; 25 micron averaged $2.06 per lb. clean, up 28 percent; and 26 micron averaged $1.59 per lb., up 4 percent.

After a three-week recess in Australia, wool prices at auction were soberingly low. On Aug. 5, the Australian Eastern Market Indicator averaged Australian 1,006 cents per kg clean, down 40 percent year-on-year. In U.S. dollars, the EMI averaged $3.28 per lb. clean, down 36 percent from a year ago.

Elders Wool sales manager Alice Wilsdon said, “We know the retail sector has been hugely impacted by COVID, and the great unknown is how long this is going to go on for. Now we’re getting blockages down the line. We’ve got fabric orders and garments sitting in the system. We’ve also got a buildup of stocks when it comes to greasy fibers, whether on the farm or on store, and it’s a continual blockade. Until we can move something on the retail front, we won’t see anything at the other end,” (Australia ABC Rural, 8/6/2).

American wool growers are encouraged to take advantage of the USDA nonrecourse marketing assistance loans and loan deficiency payments for wool and lambskins. The ASI website link with LDP information is Sheepusa.org/issues-governmentprograms-woolldp.

USDA Needs Lamb Sales Reports

This past spring, ASI asked wool producers to report their sales in an effort to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture develop an accurate picture of the market situation. And now, ASI is asking lamb producers to follow suit.

The loss of the Mountain States Rosen plant in Greeley, Colo., is affecting the lamb industry on several levels – one of which is the loss of negotiated, formula and comprehensive slaughter lamb prices reported due to confidentiality guidelines imposed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. This has reduced the amount of market information and decreased market transparency available to sheep and lamb producers.

In an effort to provide producers with market information to facilitate open, transparent price discovery, ASI is asking producers, feeders and others involved in direct feeder lamb sales to report those sales to Chris Dias at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service at 970-353-9750.

Specifically, the association is looking for information on the following:

• Direct feeder lamb sales for the mountain area and western United States (Colo., Wyo., Mont., Neb., S.D., N.D., Utah, Nev., Idaho, Wash., Ore., Ariz. and Calif.).

“Just like it was with the wool, this price information is invaluable to the American sheep industry,” said ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. “I can’t stress enough how important it is that we come together as an industry to provide as much information as possible to the Agricultural Marketing Service. In the long term, we will all benefit from contributing to these price reports.”

Older Sheep Now Eligible for Coronavirus Food Assistance

American sheep producers are now eligible for additional support through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program after it was announced on Aug. 11 that all sheep greater than 2 years of age have been added to the program. Originally, CFAP covered only lambs and yearlings.

ASI filed formal comments with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June documenting the requisite 5 percent minimum loss to be eligible for the COVID-19 assistance. The department had only been able to find the supportive data on young ewe sales initially, however, used the association documentation to support the August announcement. ASI President Benny Cox suggests up to two million head of running age ewes will be eligible and encouraged sheep producer members to check with their FSA office to update their CFAP applications. The additional coverage is being offered at $24 per head on sales January – April 15 and $7 per head on inventory of ewes.

Cox added that the additional ewe payments plus the automatic payment of the 20 percent which was initially withheld from all CFAP payments should put the sheep industry close to $50 million total in the coming weeks. With a loss projection of $125 million at the farm ranch gate alone, ASI is building supportive data for USDA on a potential second round of assistance. Cox closed with a note that the association is likely the only national group to secure two commodities under CFAP and greatly appreciates the support of the Trump Administration and members of the United States Congress.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made the announcement that additional commodities are covered by CFAP in response to public comments and data. Additionally, the USDA extended the deadline to apply for the program to Sept. 11, and producers with approved applications will receive their final payment. After reviewing more than 1,700 responses, even more farmers and ranchers will have the opportunity for assistance to help keep operations afloat during these tough times.

“President Trump is standing with America’s farmers and ranchers to ensure they get through this pandemic and continue to produce enough food and fiber to feed America and the world. That is why he authorized this $16 billion of direct support in the CFAP program and today we are pleased to add additional commodities eligible to receive much needed assistance,” said Sec. Perdue. “CFAP is just one of the many ways USDA is helping producers weather the impacts of the pandemic. From deferring payments on loans to adding flexibility to crop insurance and reporting deadlines, USDA has been leveraging many tools to help producers.”

USDA collected comments and supporting data for consideration of additional commodities through June 22.

Additional details can be found at Farmers.gov/cfap.

Producers Who Have Applied:

To ensure availability of funding, producers with approved applications initially received 80 percent of their payments. The Farm Service Agency will automatically issue the remaining 20 percent of the calculated payment to eligible producers. Going forward, producers who apply for CFAP will receive 100 percent of their total payment, not to exceed the payment limit, when their applications are approved.

Applying for CFAP:

Producers, especially those who have not worked with FSA previously, are encouraged to call 877-508-8364 to begin the application process. An FSA staff member can help producers start their application during the phone call.

On farmers.gov/cfap, producers can:

• Download the AD-3114 application form and manually complete the form to submit to their local USDA Service Center by mail, electronically or by hand delivery to their local office or office drop box.

• Complete the application form using the CFAP Application Generator and Payment Calculator. This Excel workbook allows customers to input information specific to their operation to determine estimated payments and populate the application form, which can be printed, then signed and submitted to their local USDA Service Center.

• If producers have login credentials known as eAuthentication, they can use the online CFAP Application Portal to certify eligible commodities online, digitally sign applications and submit directly to the local USDA Service Center.

All other eligibility forms, such as those related to adjusted gross income and payment information, can be downloaded from Farmers.gov/cfap.
For existing FSA customers, these documents are likely already on file with the agency.

Loss of Greeley Plant a Major Concern

Lamb producers across the west are looking for options after Mountain States Rosen first filed for bankruptcy and then saw its Greeley, Colo., lamb plant auctioned off to JBS USA, which plans to convert the plant to a beef processing facility.

As of press time for this issue, JBS had agreed to hold off on any changes to the plant for 30 days as sheep producers, their elected representatives and industry insiders sounded the alarm over losing a facility that processed as much as 20 percent of all American lamb in recent years.

A new plant – Colorado Lamb Processors in Brush, Colo. – is set to come online this month, but will not have the fabrication capabilities of the MSR plant. Because of that the new plant will fill some of the MSR void, but it won’t be able to completely plug a gaping hole in the American sheep industry.

“I cannot express the urgency and the dire conditions my family and our fellow ranch families will find themselves in in a matter of weeks and months,” wrote Carson Jorgensen, a Mt. Pleasant, Utah, sixth-generation rancher in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence after the sale was announced.. “We will be forced out of business and our herds will not be replaced. The lamb market in the United States will rely almost exclusively on more and more foreign products, foreign imports and foreign supply chains.”

Jorgensen sent the letter to his state’s congressional delegation, as well, which led Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) to join five other senators and six representatives from western states in calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the situation.

“We understand that [the current buyer] is not the first potential buyer to express interest in the MSR facility,” read Lee’s letter. “An earlier interested buyer intended to continue operating MSR’s Greeley facility and even expand its capacity. However, it appears that after submitting a winning bid during bankruptcy proceedings, JBS is preparing to completely shut down all lamb processing at the site. It is our understanding that JBS intends to permanently destroy all of the lamb processing equipment as soon as this week.

“This facility competes head-to-head with JBS, which imports all of its lamb products. Through this acquisition, JBS will eliminate a major domestic competitor in the region and could replace significant quantities of the American-raised lamb with imported products.

“We urge you to immediately open an investigation into this acquisition and demand that JBS cease from any irreversible actions that might harm the ability of American sheep ranchers to get their products to market until the department can determine how best to protect competition in this significant part of America’s food supply.”

Nearly two dozen members of Congress also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in early August requesting assistance for America’s sheep producers in light of this development.

“This closure also comes at a time when the sheep industry was already forecast to lose more than $350 million due to COVID-19-related market declines, and feedlots are already at peak capacity in many places,” read the letter. “We ask that you use all available authorities and funding at your discretion, including as provided under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act as well as the work of the Marketing and Regulatory Programs and Rural Development mission areas, to help these farmers and ranchers find alternate processing and marketing options immediately.

“We must do everything we can to support the families, who make up the sheep industry in our states, as they weather these significant and pressing challenges. Please keep us updated on your efforts to address this situation. We look forward to working with you on this critical issue.”

Meet the Exec. Board: Jimmy Parker, Alabama, Region II

Jimmy Parker lives on and runs the 140-acre farm he was raised on in Vinemont, Ala., in addition to putting his education to use as the livestock nutritionist for the Alabama Farmers Cooperative. In February 2017, he was elected to serve as the ASI Executive Board member representing Region II – a far-flung region that includes 14 states spanning from Maryland to Louisiana. He’s also served as chair of ASI’s Production, Education and Research Council, which oversees the Animal Health and Genetic Stakeholders Committees. Not one for going to the bar or playing golf, Parker calls livestock his “bad habit.” In his spare time, Parker has six children – ages 27 to 4 – and three grandchildren. But his 4-year-old daughter is the one most excited about helping with daily barn chores.

My family has had livestock in this county since the 1830s. This was always a cattle farm. When I started thinking about a way to pay for college, I did a little research and found that I could run sheep alongside my dad’s cattle without costing him anything. He made a living with 150 cows on this farm for a lot of years, and I knew I couldn’t take away from that. What we did is cut down on the spraying and turned out the sheep. They eat stuff the cattle won’t eat, so it was really efficient way of using the land. And it gave me a little college money. I’ve had sheep since 1988 in a place where you’re not supposed to grow sheep.

The sheep have really directed my life in a lot of ways. I changed where I went to college because of them. My entire young life I would have told you I was headed to Auburn. But Auburn didn’t have sheep and Mississippi State did. They took an interest in me because I had sheep. I graduated from Mississippi State and got a masters degree in nutrition there, as well. My first wife went through vet school there, so I had a few extra years in town and worked on some education that I hadn’t intended to work on. But it worked out all right for me.

In 2010, my world got turned upside down and I pulled back from everything. I went back to about 25 ewes instead of 250. I had young children when my first wife died, and I had to raise them. Eventually, I got remarried and now we’ve got things going back in the right direction here on the farm. I think I’d like to get this flock back up to 500 and then quit. This 140-acre farm will handle that and then some. One thing these southeastern farms can do is grow grass. It’s not always the best grass, but we grow a lot of it. I can stock about four ewes to the acre in a decent year.

But it’s a double-edged sword. When we go crowding livestock on the farm, we get disease issues and parasites. It’s a blessing to have that much forage, but it’s a pain in the butt if you’ve got to catch sheep every week and deworm them. I’d had predominantly meat-type wool sheep like Dorsets, some Scottish blackface through the years. But I’ve bought a number of Katahdins now because I’ve gotten old enough that shearing just isn’t that much fun anymore. I never had anyone to shear my sheep for me, so I’ve always done it. I sheared all over Alabama and Mississippi when I was in college.

I was on PERC before I got on the executive board and I’ve just stayed there. It’s been a pretty good fit for me. I like the education and research side of the industry. My first wife was a veterinarian, so I’m not scared of working with all the vets on the committee. They’re a lot of fun.

Being involved with ASI wasn’t really a goal in my mind. I wasn’t opposed to it and I’m glad I did it because it’s been really good for me. I’ve learned a great deal and enjoyed it. I didn’t seek any of that, but it just sort of fell in my lap. I just keep saying, “Yes,” when people ask me to do stuff.

Absolutely it’s been helpful for me. Both with ASI and my real job I see a lot of different places. With my job I’m in the office two to three days a week and making farm visits two to three days a week. Anytime I’m on another farm, I pick up stuff. If I keep my eyes open, I see a lot of different things going on. I try to learn something new every day, and visiting other farms and ranches is a great way to do that.

As far as the sheep industry goes, I was one of those nerds in high school that read every old farming book I could put my hands on. I’ve got a 1918 sheep production handbook that I got from somewhere and it’s based on the Western-type range flock. A lot of it has changed, but I think I had a good 30,000-foot view of the industry as a whole before I even started with ASI just because I’m goofy that way. But being out there and seeing it in person is different and educational. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of working with ASI.

Wagons Take Center Stage at Little Snake River Museum

The bare bones of the James Candlish wagon are striking, especially if you’ve worked your way around the half dozen wagons in reverse order as I did while sneaking a peak at the William MacPherson Sheep Center an hour before the official ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 15 in Savery, Wyo.

Wyoming’s Carbon County used to be one of the largest lamb and wool producing counties in the United States, so it’s only fitting that the Little Snake River Museum is now home to this permanent display of fully-restored sheepwagons.

Donated by longtime Rawlins attorneys John A. and Catherine MacPherson, the wagons certainly exhibit a wide range of “fully-restored.” John did most of the restoration work, while Cathy often took up a paint brush and lent a creative eye to the interiors. Her work on the Candlish wagon was minimal, but that was by design.

Check out the wagon’s plaque, and you’ll understand why it wasn’t outfitted with all of the “comforts” of the other sheepwagons on display.

“I’ve got so much time in all of these wagons, except that one,” John said. “But there’s a reason why it isn’t as flashy as the others. It wasn’t designed to be flashy.”

John and Cathy took a few more liberties with the other wagons they purchased and restored through the years. A wagon from the Sandstone Sheep Company for instance features a more “homey” feel as it was designed as a typical honeymoon wagon which a ranch owner and his wife might call home at times during the year. For that reason, it features a full size bed, for instance, and Cathy calls it her favorite of the collection.

While John says humbly that the project gave “me something to do in the winter,” there’s really more to it than that. Restoring the wagons was a way to honor his family’s sheep ranching heritage.

John’s father, William “Billy” MacPherson immigrated from Scotland in 1911 with $25 in his pocket. After making his way to Wyoming, he was employed first by the Ellis Ranch north of Medicine Bow, Wyo. After serving at a veterinary hospital in France during World War I, he returned to work in an oil field before establishing his livestock business.

“I grew up in Rawlins and we always had a house there because that was where we went to school,” John recalled. “The sheep didn’t run very close to there, but that’s where we lived. After college at Regis University in Denver, I returned to Wyoming for law school. Through the years, Cathy and I have represented a number of ranching clients. It’s sad to see that the sheep industry has declined as much as it has not only in Wyoming but all across the country.

“As we’re getting older and realizing we’re not going to be around forever, it seemed appropriate to donate the wagons to the museum. That necessitated the need for a building, so we donated the funds for that. I feel like the museum does such a great job with the facilities they have here, and this new building will give them even more opportunities for the future.”

Little Snake River Museum Director Lela Emmons is already looking forward to the possibilities.

“This really is the centerpiece of the museum now,” she said. “I don’t know any other place in the United States that has a sheep center like this. It’s so appropriate that it’s in Wyoming. And this is just the start. I believe it will continue to grow. We’ve got a wagon and supply wagon coming from the Wyoming Wool Growers Association that isn’t here yet. They’ll probably go right in the center of the building, but then we’ll be able to pull them out and have events in here.

“We’re going to get a lot of use out of this building. I designed it with a function in mind. I can just see having those barn doors open and we could have a wedding or a formal dinner or just about anything in here.”

In front of the barn-like structure is a gathering place that proved perfect for hourly seminars – on everything from Basque culture to livestock guardian dogs to shearing to the use of wool fibers – that were scheduled throughout the opening day. While there was some shade in the area, Emmons immediately saw a need to expand the shaded area for large events. The opening attracted a large contingent of families with ties to the state’s sheep industry.

“I was happy to see a lot of sheep families here,” Emmons said. “It makes me a little sad that there weren’t many people from the younger generation here. For the most part is was the older generation that made up the crowd. It’s kind of a dying way of life, unfortunately, especially in this county where we really only have three major producers still in operation.”

And that’s all the more reason for the sheep industry to be represented in the museum.

“For a long period of time, the Little Snake River Museum Board of Directors knew the vibrant sheep industry of the past needed to be captured before its rich history was lost,” read the program for the opening-day festivities. “When John and Cathy MacPherson approached the museum two years ago with a proposal for donating several sheepwagons used within Carbon County and financial help in building an exhibit hall to house the wagons, the board of directors was delighted.

“The exhibit hall was constructed in 2019 and five wagons donated by the MacPhersons arrived at the site in late spring. Throughout the rest of the summer, other items connected to the sheep industry were incorporated into the exhibit making the William MacPherson Sheep Center one of the first exhibits of its kind, not only in the state, but in the country.”

Ivan Laird, a farm flock producer from Lander, Wyo., and member of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Board, made the 200-mile trip for the opening and said he’s always loved sheepwagons.

“We’ve even talked about getting one, and I’d love to have one,” he said. “But why? We’re a small farm flock operation. We don’t NEED a wagon. But this is a beautiful facility and the wagons are just incredible. I don’t have a lot of sheep, but I really enjoy the sheep that I have. I’m enthralled with the fact that this exhibit focuses on sheep and the sheep industry in our state.”

For many, the sheepwagons represent not only the livestock industry and its history, but also a more traditional way of life.

“When our son, Brad, was growing up, he had a small band of sheep at one time,” said Cathy. “During the summer, he would go out and stay in a wagon with the sheep. It’s a wonderful way to learn responsibility and a little independence, as well. He builds a mean fence, but he didn’t stay in the sheep industry. And now, he has kids of his own and he’s trying to find ways to replicate those same experiences he had for his kids.”

The good news is that John and Cathy didn’t donate the entire sheepwagon fleet. They still have access to three wagons in case Brad sees an opportunity to put them to use.

Building a Range Operation

Finding the camp he’s supposed to move is a quick, easy chore for Wyoming sheep producer Jock Sheehan as he travels through Colorado’s Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in mid-August. After all, he dropped the wagon in that same spot some 10 days earlier. Finding the sheep that go with the Roaring Fork Sheep Company camp, well that’s another story.

Eventually, he connects with Gean Garcia – one of a half dozen Peruvian sheepherders on the payroll – and drops the wagon in a new home that the sheep will find their way toward a few hours later. Just another day in the life of a range sheep operator.

Starting a range sheep operation in the American west isn’t an easy task. For one, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management permits aren’t easy to come by. A necessity of the industry, they’re often passed from one generation to the next. Some have been forcibly retired due to conflicts with bighorn sheep and other wildlife.

It’s kind of like the old saying, “Buy land because they aren’t making any more of it.” Same goes for those worth-their-weight-in-gold grazing permits. And yet, Sheehan was able to piece together a few permits in recent years after starting a small operation in 2008.

“I’ve had some good mentors along the way,” he said. “Some guys have gotten out of the business or cut back and I was fortunate to be able to lease some of their ground.”

Working each year since he started to expand from 50 old ewes to now running some 4,000 ewes, Sheehan’s flock travels by foot between the forests of north-central Colorado up to winter ground near I-80 in Wyoming.

“For a long time (before I had sheep), I had some trucks and hauled livestock,” Sheehan said. “Then the kids got older and I wanted to be home more, so the trucks went away and I did other jobs. I was working for John Arambel in Rock Springs (Wyo.) hauling to the coal mines in Gillette (Wyo.) and I had a little savings built up. So I took $5,000 and invested in some old ewes from Pete Arambel. I started retaining all the ewe lambs that were born and selling the wethers. That helped me grow a little bit and I just kept buying sheep whenever I could.”

But Sheehan’s flock basically doubled in size in 2019 when he formed a partnership with longtime sheep producer John Smith of Craig, Colo. He’s thankful for his new partnership and the expertise that it allows him access to.

“It looked like a pretty good deal on paper last year,” Sheehan said. “With everything that’s happened since then, I guess we’ll see. But John’s family has been in the sheep business for 170 years, and he’s such a great mentor. He’s really willing to help somebody like me try to learn the business. We’re running about 4,000 ewes through the partnership now.”

The flock is split into five to six bands in the summer and spread out on what has been pretty dry forest ground in recent years. In the winter, the sheep come together in just two bands that make their home in the Red Desert of southern Wyoming.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent closure of the Mountain States Rosen plant in Greeley, Colo., Sheehan is a little worried about what market conditions will be like when he goes to sell his lambs this fall.

“The best year I ever had, I got $2.11 for my lambs, and the next year they brought a dollar,” he recalled. “You kind of learn that nothing is guaranteed. I think it’s going to be kind of the same situation this year. Last fall, I got $1.60 out of our lambs, but right now I’m not sure we’ll get a dollar on them this year. That’s how it went with the wool. I got a pretty good price for the wool in 2019, but it was about half that this year. I guess I was just lucky to get it sold. But I couldn’t see much value in sitting and holding on to it. Wool prices didn’t look like they were going to get any better any time soon.”

One thing that did go Sheehan’s way in 2020 was getting his herders into the country before the pandemic dramatically slowed the traditional immigration of agricultural workers. He doesn’t even remember why he did it now, but he had his herders come back to work in February. That allowed him to avoid the workforce shortage that many sheep producers faced in the spring.

Despite the difficulties he might face this fall, Sheehan is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the industry. He’s also thankful that he had the chance to take over leases of other producers who were downsizing in the past decade, such as Charlie Jaure at Stratton Sheep Company.

“If it wasn’t for a love of what we do, a person would have to wonder about this life we’ve chosen,” he said. “I’m 63 and I’m not sure what’s going to happen to all of this. I’ve got four grand kids, but the oldest one is only 8 years old. So, I’ve got a few years before one of them would be an option to take it over. I’m not ready to retire yet, but I don’t know how many years I’ve got left in me.

“I really enjoy this life. It’s a struggle sometimes, but I think sheep are a necessary product. The meat is good for you, and the wool is just amazing. You won’t find a better material out there than wool. But people got away from lamb and wool for a lot of years and we’re having to work hard to get them back.”

NSEP: The 2019 Scrapie Rule at 1 Year

AMY HENDRICKSON
ASI Consultant

It has been just more than a year since implementation of the expanded scrapie rule began. Published in April 2019, the rule represents the final phase in the effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to eradicate scrapie. The regulations expanded application of the National Scrapie Eradication Program to populations of sheep and goats not previously included.

For sheep producers, the rule’s biggest change included the discontinuation of APHIS provided, no-cost flock ID tags. APHIS now only offers no-cost tags to sheep and goat producers who are new to the scrapie program. Producers who have not received free tags from APHIS in the past are able to obtain up to 80 plastic flock ID tags, free-of-charge. ASI believes the tag provisions are key to compliance and continues to press APHIS to provide tags to producers at a reduced or no-cost level.

The new rule also made the identification and recordkeeping requirements for goat owners consistent with the requirements that sheep owners have had to follow for many years. Like sheep producers, producers of goats for meat or fiber and slaughter goats more than 18 months of age are now required to officially identify their animals to their flocks/herds of birth or flocks/herds of origin and to maintain certain identification records for five years.

Any sheep or goat that is moved into interstate commerce, or sold, or that is more than 18 months of age and commingled with other animals from different flocks of origin, must be identified to its flock/herd of origin and to its flock/herd of birth by the owner of the animal or his or her agent. This includes animals unloading at a livestock facility that is approved to accept unidentified sheep or goats and that has agreed to act as an agent for the owner to apply official identification.

Many producers appreciate that some markets are willing to act as an agent for the owner and apply official identification before the animals are commingled with animals from other flocks, despite the extra cost that markets might charge for the service.

Some markets, however, have discontinued offering these services due to increased numbers of unidentified animals arriving at their facilities. In those cases, the animals must have a scrapie tag applied prior to arrival at the facility or the animals will be turned away.

All markets collect the scrapie tag numbers for their records as required. If animals are identified prior to arrival, the scrapie tag numbers are often supplied to market officials upon arrival. Not unexpectedly, the presentation of these numbers can vary widely, and producers are encouraged to present the information in an orderly manner, ensuring that the numbers are written clearly and concisely. This ensures record accuracy and helps avoid transcription errors.

One Wisconsin market recently gave notice to their customers that they “will no longer accept scrapie numbers scribbled on scraps of paper, napkins, newspapers, cardboard…”

The regulation also expanded scrapie testing and surveillance to goats. More information about scrapie testing and surveillance in 2020 can be found in the National Scrapie Report for June at APHIS.USDA.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/scrapie/downloads/monthly_scrapie_report.pdf.

Overall, implementation of the rule has been relatively smooth, especially in states where animal health officials have embraced the changes.

Superior Farms Committed to Industry

Courtesy Superior Farms

Superior Farms is committed to protecting the base of American lamb consumers for our industry and are doing our part to ensure our industry’s continued growth.

We know many producers within our industry are concerned over the recent bankruptcy of Mountain States Rosen and the closing of its Greeley, Colo., plant. During this period, it’s important to remember that the American lamb industry is still strong and growing. It is vital that the most critical players in this supply chain – the hardworking ranchers, families and multigenerational operators raising their flocks, have a market for their lambs and a path to prosperity as we look to the future.

“We recognize the impact of the Mountain States Rosen bankruptcy and COVID-19 upon our industry,” said Superior Farms President and CEO Rick Stott. “While difficult in the short term, we are very optimistic that we can work through these challenges together to become a stronger industry that can increase the market share of American lamb and deliver a premium product to our consumers.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted our industry with the loss of foodservice demand, consumer purchasing behaviors have shifted and are showing positive signs of increased consumption of American lamb through grocery retail. We are encouraged by the enthusiastic response from first-time consumers of American lamb who are returning to repeat those purchases. Through our consumer communication efforts, we continue to educate and inspire consumers to enjoy American lamb on a regular basis.

As the largest processor of American lamb, we are continuing to aggressively invest in our facilities in order to increase production capacity and throughput at our Dixon, Calif., and Denver, Colo., plants. The upgrades being made at these plants will significantly increase our retail processing capability. While the demand has stretched our production teams, we are working hard to provide a continuity of supply to existing retail and foodservice American lamb customers.

At Superior Farms, we want to do all we can to help American lamb producers achieve stability and certainty. Through livestock pricing programs and pioneering tools like Flock54 genetic testing, we strive to help producers maintain higher levels of efficiency and profitability. For our customers and consumers, we are dedicated to providing the best value through a superior eating experience and through innovative new products that make serving lamb delicious and easy. This is all done in the true spirit of partnership and to help cement a thriving future for all those who are part of the American lamb industry.

Let’s Grow Webinar Looks at SSWS Plan

Battling an infectious disease outbreak in livestock is a lot like going to war in that sometimes victory lies more in the preparation than the actual fighting. And that’s exactly why ASI worked with Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health to develop the Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan for Continuity of Business.

If the United States were to suffer its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1954, preparation during “peace time” would be crucial to not only controlling the disease, but also to sustaining commerce within the American sheep industry.

“Surveillance for foot and mouth disease in sheep is very different than it is in cattle, milk or pigs,” said Dr. Danelle Bickett-Weddle, associate director at the Center for Food Security and Public Health during a Let’s Grow Program-sponsored webinar in early August. “As I mentioned early on, we had this suite of secure food supply plans that came along and we were able to accomplish a lot in 12 months because we had all of those to build on. But we had to talk about this differently than we have in any of the other resources because sheep present foot and mouth disease very differently. So, therefore we have to manage them differently.”

During an hour-long presentation on Aug. 4, Dr. Bickett-Weddle offered insight on the disease, steps taken to develop the secure plan and how lamb and wool producers will benefit from developing a plan before it’s absolutely necessary.

Producers should keep in mind that a plan might be necessary even if their flocks aren’t infected. Simply being located near an infected flock can invoke safety protocols and regulations that might limit producers’ ability to move their flocks.

“We’re asking someone to take our animals or our animals’ products out of a control area,” Dr. Bickett-Weddle said. “Some people refer to a control area as kind of a fire because this is where disease is actively happening. And it’s not common that the people fighting the fire will say, ‘Can you go get some more wood and let’s throw it in the center of this fire.’ That’s usually not an approach. So, if we’re going to move things into or out of that fire, that control area, we want to make sure that we’re doing it in the right way. We also don’t want to take a burning ember and put it on a truck and send it to another forest.”

The Secure Sheep and Wool Supply Plan offers 15 major documents and 13 supporting documents (all available at SecureSheepWool.org) that can help anyone from a producer to a meat packer to a wool warehouse to a veterinarian navigate the preparation process for a foot and mouth disease outbreak. From developing standard operating procedures to implementing biosecurity protocols, the website offers information for all aspects of the industry.

For instance, what should producers do if it’s determined that infected sheep were shorn prior to their diagnosis? The website’s section on Packers/Processors offers the following information.

“For the inactivation of FMDV present in wool and hair for industrial use, one of the following procedures should be used:

1. Industrial washing, which consists of the immersion of the wool in a series of baths of water, soap and sodium hydroxide (soda) or potassium hydroxide (potash);

2. Chemical depilation by means of slaked lime or sodium sulphide;

3. Fumigation with formaldehyde in a hermetically sealed chamber for at least 24 hours;

4. Industrial scouring which consists of the immersion of wool in a water-soluble detergent held at 60-70°C [140-158°F];

5. Storage of wool at 4°C [39.2°F] for four months, 18°C [64.4°F] for four weeks, or 37°C[98.6°F] for eight days.”

To access an archived version of the webinar (or other Let’s Grow Program webinars), visit Sheepusa.org/growourflock-resources-
educationalwebinars.

Around the States

CALIFORNIA
SUPERIOR FARMS NAMES NEW EMPLOYEES

Superior Farms is pleased to announce the hiring of Karissa Isaacs and Cameron Lauwers.

Isaacs will lead the outreach and development of producer programs as the director of producer resources. Lauwers will procure livestock as the livestock buyer for the Dixon, Calif., facility. These individuals will be valuable assets to the livestock team and the continued betterment of the American lamb industry.

Isaacs grew up in the sheep industry and focused her education and career in lamb quality. Her vast knowledge of the industry as part of a multi-generation sheep ranching family, and her recent work for the American Lamb Board makes her an excellent fit for the position. In her role at Superior Farms, she serves as the direct point of contact for the company’s producer and feeder partners.

Lauwers comes to Superior Farms with many years of experience running a 600-head, intensive-accelerated sheep operation, managing a 3,200-acre alfalfa and wheat farm in east central Michigan and served as a board member of the Michigan Sheep Producers. His extensive background in the sheep industry makes him a great fit with the livestock team. Lauwers will be responsible for procuring livestock for the Dixon facility.

Source: Superior Farms

 

SOUTH DAKOTA
EXTENSION HIRES TWO SHEEP SPECIALISTS

The South Dakota Sheep Growers Association announced recently that Dr. Kelly Froehlich and Jaelyn Whaley will be joining South Dakota State University Extension this fall.

Froehlich will be joining the faculty at SDSU in Brookings, S.D., as the new extension sheep specialist beginning on Aug. 24, while Whaley will be joining the group at the SDSU West River Research and Extension Center in Rapid City as the new sheep extension field specialist. Her start date is Sept. 9.

Froehlich grew up in Grasston, Minn., on a hydroponic lettuce and tomato farm. She says she corrupted her parents to let her have a few sheep when she was 13. Now there is a flock of 90 registered Lincoln longwool ewes at her family’s home.

She holds bachelors degrees in animal science and agricultural education from the University of Minnesota, and a masters in dairy science from SDSU. Recently, she lived in New Zealand pursing her Ph.D. in animal science at Lincoln University.

Originally from Northwest Colorado, Whaley grew up on a 100 head Suffolk/Hampshire operation raising club lambs and direct to consumer marketing grass fed lambs. She was active in both 4-H and FFA and still tries to stay involved with these youth development organizations.

After high school, Whaley attended Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., where she obtained an associates degree in agriculture. Between her two years at LCCC, she served as a Colorado State FFA Officer.

After community college, Whaley attended the University of Wyoming where she worked as an undergraduate research assistant on projects such as a rumen microbiome study and U.S. Sheep Experiment Station sire evaluation. It was during this time that she met Dr. Whit Stewart, who encouraged her to continue her education.

Her project – funded by American Lamb Board and the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center – is evaluating the effects of excessively finished lambs on the processing sector of the sheep industry. She will complete her masters in August.

Froehlich and Whaley are filling openings created by the retirements of Dave Ollila and Jeff Held.

Source: SDSGA

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