- September 2022
Susan Shultz, ASI President
This year, we planned our ASI Executive Board summer meeting to be held in conjunction with the American Lamb Board meeting in Denver in late July.
It was a great opportunity to network with all the volunteer leaders that serve on these two boards and discuss future collaborative opportunities to move our industry forward. Despite the constant threat of fires and ongoing drought in several regions, the conversations were positive. ALB continues to move forward with an industry-wide sustainability task force that includes representatives from ASI.
The ASI Executive Board spent time working through the business of the association, which included: evaluating finances and recommending budgets for Fiscal Year 2023; discussing committee and council initiatives; and continuing to work on improving communications between the organization, our producers and our consumers.
Speaking of communicating with our consumers and the general public, the consensus from both boards is that the sheep industry has a very positive sustainability story that needs to be shared with consumers. Sustainability can be defined in many ways. One definition for sustainable agriculture is that it is economically viable, socially supportive and environmentally sound.
The sheep industry is situated in a good position in the full spectrum of animal agriculture to share its diverse set of positive stories, which detail our sustainability. We hope to continue to work with ALB to share this positive message.
DAVID ANDERSON, PH.D.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Sharply declining lamb prices have overshadowed most everything else during the last couple of months. We might say that we’ve been here before, but the root cause starting this decline is a little different than in the past.
Declining Real Incomes
There is plenty of evidence that lamb demand was boosted during the pandemic. Consumers were often at home and tried a lot of new food items, including recipes that included lamb. Lamb sales also benefitted from high prices for competing meats. This boost in lamb demand led to high prices.
A surge in inflation has led to declining real incomes in recent months. Combined with high lamb prices relative to other meats, falling real incomes have led to a pullback in consumer purchases of lamb.
The difficulty in moving lamb through consumer channels at the previous high prices has started a chain of events including less demand for live lambs, sharply falling prices, a backlog of lambs, increasing dressed weights and over-finished lambs, which reinforces falling prices.
Live Lamb and Meat Prices
Live lamb prices have declined dramatically since May. Heavyweight lambs at Sioux Falls, S.D., have fallen from $255 per cwt. in May to $102 in the first week of August. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported heavyweight lambs sold on video auction for $80.25 per cwt. in the second week of August. Lightweight, feeder lambs have fallen to below the five-year average.
Prices are declining due to lack of demand as events at retail back up into the live market. It appears that some markets have had instances of no bids at all for lambs at times.
The non-traditional market will likely not be immune to lower prices. Lambs will likely be sold for slaughter at lighter weights this Fall, rather than to feedlots. More lightweight lamb supplies will force lower prices in the lightweight slaughter lamb market.
Meat prices have also begun to decline. For example, boxed shoulders have declined to $376 per cwt., down from $450 two months ago. They were $609 per cwt. last year at this time. Legs have declined about $100 per cwt. from a year ago, to $469 per cwt. The cutout is also down about $100 per cwt. compared to a year ago.
Slaughter, Storage & Imports
Lamb and yearling slaughter is 5.2 percent below a year ago during the last eight weeks. For the year, it’s down 10.4 percent. Slaughter is smaller than what might be indicated from the USDA Sheep Inventory Report. This implies more lambs being “stored” alive, meaning that they have not come to slaughter yet. The supplies of live lambs will keep a lid on the market in the coming months.
As lambs have backed up in the system, dressed weights have increased compared to last year. In early August, lamb and yearling dressed weights averaged 68 pounds compared to 58 pounds last year.
The five-year average, however, is 68 pounds.
It does suggest that last year was the aberration as high prices pulled lambs into slaughter earlier. The heavier weights do likely suggest a growing risk of over-finished lambs with more fat.
The slowdown in lamb demand has not translated to higher cold storage levels yet. About 23 million pounds were reported in storage in June, compared to 21.5 million pounds in June 2021 and a five-year average storage of 38.2 million pounds. That suggests that more lamb is being stored live rather than in a box in storage. Cold storage data might also be lacking as there might be facilities that are not included in the monthly survey. But, cold storage stocks might increase as more lambs move to market.
Imports totaled 23.8 million pounds in June, below last year’s 29.4 million pounds. June was the first month this year with imports below a year ago. Lower imports from Australia accounted for all of the year-over-year’s decline. Imports from New Zealand totaled 6.9 million pounds and were equal to a year ago.
Imports typically decline through September, so seasonally declining imports might help the supply situation. Mutton imports increased dramatically at the end of last year, but were 57 percent below June of last year.
Most industry participants have seen this type of market in the past, one where lambs are backed up, getting heavier and prices are declining sharply. What makes this time different is the event that started it: declining demand due to macroeconomic conditions.
A couple of things should help boost purchases in coming months. Falling wholesale lamb prices should translate to lower retail prices, boosting the quantity demanded.
Falling fuel prices and moderating inflation in other areas should boost consumer’s purchasing power.
A little more featuring and specials might also help. USDA/AMS reported more features and specials on lamb in their latest weekly retail report.
Editor’s Note: we take a break from wool markets this month as the Australian market has been on its annual recess.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is changing the status of all medically important antibiotics used in animals, which are currently available over the counter. As of June 2023, these over-the-counter products – currently available at most feed or farm supply stores – will require veterinary oversight and a written prescription for their purchase and use in animals, even if the animals are not intended for food production.
The FDA’s goal is to slow the emergence of antibiotic resistance in humans and animals. Manufacturers are in the process of relabeling their products to meet this requirement and, as these labels change, the products will no longer be available unless prescribed by a veterinarian. The process must be completed by June 2023.
Producers are encouraged to begin preparing for this change now. The first thing producers can do is establish a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship and begin planning for their needs as the June 2023 date approaches. If a veterinarian relationship is already established, producers should discuss the changes and their needs with their veterinarian.
ASI reached out to Dr. Jill Swannack – a long time ASI member and small ruminant veterinarian in Washington state – for her insights on how to make the transition as smooth as possible for producers and veterinarians alike.
“The most common question I get from producers is ‘what happens if I have sick sheep, need an antibiotic and the vet can’t come for 36 hours, or one isn’t available?’” says Swannack. “This certainly is a concern, and establishing your relationship with the veterinarian long before that situation occurs will help reduce the impact of these new regulations.”
Without an established VCPR, there will be a delay in obtaining needed antimicrobial products, especially during those times of year where everyone is in need, such as during lambing.
“If I don’t know the producer or what his or her operation is like, in order for us to establish a VCPR, I am required to go out to the farm or ranch and see the animals,” says Swannack. “A video shot from a phone will not cut it. I legally need to be familiar with their operation and husbandry practices, and the condition of the animals. What type of nutrition are they getting? What mineral mix do they use? Things like that all have to be factored into any diagnosis.”
She encourages producers – and their veterinarians, if they have one – to begin planning long before an emergency happens. She recommends spending time with your veterinarian at your farm or ranch so you can provide them with a good understanding of your production practices. Then, when that urgent call comes in, your veterinarian has knowledge of how your sheep are raised and is able to ask more pertinent and specific questions, allowing for a more timely and accurate diagnosis and decision as to whether an in-person visit is necessary. If the veterinarian has never been to your operation or seen your animals, they will be required to make a farm visit to see the animal before prescribing any antimicrobial.
Asked if she is concerned about being “swamped” with calls after the regulation takes effect, Swannack says she is already there. Established clients are likely to get priority, she admits, which is why she encourages producers to plan ahead now.
She knows the changes are upsetting, but believes in the long run it will be better for sheep production in the United States.
“We hear those vets just want these drugs to be prescription only to generate more business,” Swannack says. “But frankly, I don’t need more business – I’m busy enough as it is – but I also don’t want to see our producers go out of business. I want to help in any way I can. The best way I can do that is to have a good understanding early on of my clients’ production practices and an idea of what their needs are likely to be throughout the year.”
Depending on the type of production, this could be an annual or semi-annual visit to the farm or ranch. Most veterinarians are willing to work out a convenient time, such as when they are out for a visit to a neighboring facility. Establishing a VCPR now will make the transition smoother and be helpful when that emergency happens, because it will.
It is important to note that the new FDA rule does not require producers to purchase antibiotics only through their veterinarian, and other pharmacies can fill a prescription. Swannack, however, worries about those producers who are considering stocking up on currently available over-the-counter antimicrobials for future use and those who share products with their neighbors. She advises against it for several reasons.
First, the current law says that if an illegal residue is found in an animal or animal product – for example milk or cheese – no matter who administered it or how it was sourced, your veterinarian of record is responsible, according to the USDA. This jeopardizes the veterinarian’s license and the veterinarian-client-patient relationship significantly.
“If an antimicrobial is used without a prescription and later residue is found (at slaughter), the regulatory action will come back on the veterinarian associated with the operation, even if that veterinarian didn’t know an antimicrobial had been used and didn’t prescribe it,” says Swannack. “That puts me at risk. It puts my license at risk, and my livelihood.”
Second, expired drugs break down over time and typically have decreased effectiveness – which can lead to microbial resistance – and that is what the FDA is trying to prevent. Also, tetracycline breaks down into toxic components over time and can cause kidney injury and dehydration. It should not be used past its expiration date.
While telemedicine options are available, they can be problematic, especially if the relationship is fairly new. Often producers will have in their mind what they believe the problem to be and will only share the symptoms that confirm their own diagnosis. Sometimes the producer might be right, but if the problem is misdiagnosed it can prolong the situation, or even turn out badly.
A good veterinarian-client-patient relationship is built on trust – trust that the veterinarian can do their job and trust that the information being provided from the producer is accurate and honest.
Swannack also advises producers to be careful relying on information from the internet, as often the information that circulates there and on social media is inaccurate.
As much as the FDA changes might be disliked, they are going to happen. Antibiotic resistance in animals and humans is a serious concern that is spurring the regulatory action. Being prepared is your best defense against any disruption to your operation.
Visit SheepUSA.org/fda-guidance-ending-over-the-counter-antibiotics for more information.
What if there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease on your country’s doorstep? This is the case for sheep producers in Australia, who are nervously watching the outbreak in Indonesia.
Despite separation by a large body of water, there is extensive airline travel between the countries, which increases the chance of introduction. South Africa’s wool industry is experiencing the dire consequences of not being able to export to China due to an FMD outbreak earlier this year. If FMD came knocking on the United States’ door, would it be able to walk right into your flock, or are you doing things to protect your sheep?
An outbreak of FMD in the United States would have a devastating impact on the sheep and wool industry. Fortunately, the country has not had a case of FMD since 1929, and it is not within 100 miles of our border. The risk of introduction still exists due to global travel and trade. While FMD does not affect public health or food safety, it is a highly contagious animal disease. Sheep producers would need to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place to protect their flock.
ASI values preparedness, which is why it developed the Secure Sheep and Wool Plan (SecureSheepWool.org) with enhanced biosecurity tools and more.
Preventing FMD Spread
One way to control the spread of FMD involves stopping animal and animal product movement. Animal products include raw wool, wool products, semen, embryos and manure.
At the beginning of an FMD outbreak, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a 72-hour national movement standstill for all cloven-hoofed livestock and their products. After this time, movement controls will continue in the areas around infected animals, throughout a state or even a region. Restarting movement will require a special permit. The permit will be issued by regulatory officials after a producer meets certain requirements.
How prepared are you to meet those requirements so your business can continue?
The SSWS Plan was developed to help producers protect their flocks from FMD and voluntarily prepare before an FMD outbreak, rather than during the chaos of an outbreak. The plan provides guidance for producers who have sheep with no evidence of FMD infection to meet movement permit requirements.
The guidance in the SSWS Plan will help producers with sheep that have no evidence of infection, to:
• Limit exposure of their sheep to FMD through enhanced biosecurity;
• Move sheep to processing or other premises under a movement permit issued by regulatory officials;
• Maintain business continuity for the sheep industry, including producers, haulers, packers and wool processors during an FMD outbreak.
Producers wanting to tip the scales in favor of surviving an FMD outbreak can prepare now by:
• Having a National Premises Identification Number issued by the office of the State Animal Health Official. It’s free;
• Working with your flock veterinarian to write an operation-specific, enhanced biosecurity plan;
• Keeping movement records of animals, people and equipment;
• Developing contingency plans for your operation in the case of limited animal movement.
Preparedness resources are available at SecureSheepWool.org, including:
• Biosecurity checklists to see how “ready” you are;
• Information manuals to learn how to enhance biosecurity against FMD;
• Enhanced biosecurity plan templates to customize to your operation;
• Movement logs;
• Disease monitoring tools – how to recognize FMD.
ASI supports several efforts to protect America’s sheep producers from foreign animal and plant diseases and pests, which is why it developed the SSWS Plan. As the association monitors the situation in the southern hemisphere, now is a good time to learn how to protect your flock and business in the event of an FMD outbreak.
Explore the SSWS Plan resources at SecureSheepWool.org.
UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING
At the annual Wyoming Wool Growers Association conference this summer, University of Wyoming Extension Sheep Specialist Whit Stewart announced the launch of the Wyoming Wool Initiative.
The initiative leads innovative research and programming that promotes and expands Wyoming’s sheep industry. Its mission is to support producers – both directly and indirectly – in adding value to their wool, says Lindsay Conley-Stewart, manager and project coordinator.
The Wyoming Wool Initiative is a non-profit effort supported by UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, donations, Mountain Meadow Wool and other partners.
Current programs include the Wyoming Blanket Project and inaugural Lamb-a-Year program. Both endeavors connect UW students with sheep industry professionals.
It all started with a question, says Stewart, head of UW’s Sheep Program: “If we’re producing this high-quality product in a landscape that’s really well suited for it, shouldn’t we be capturing some of that value at the state level?”
In January 2021, his team launched the Wyoming Blanket Project working with Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, Wyo., to produce blankets using wool from the university farm in Laramie, Wyo.
The project – now part of the Wyoming Wool Initiative – will feature new blanket designs each year. A limited number of the 2022 blankets were available for presale at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days in July.
Currently, funds from blanket sales and other donations are used to support student internships and graduate assistantships; travel for wool judging competitions; and research and development for wool processing and manufacturing. As the initiative grows, the team will develop programming for producers throughout the state.
The Lamb-a-Year program connects producers with UW students interested in the sheep industry. Participating producers will donate a minimum of five lambs, which will be transported and finished at Double J Lamb Feeders in Ault, Colo., in the fall. As part of the inaugural Lamb-a-Year course, UW students will be involved in the finishing and harvesting phase of lamb production.
Students enrolled in the class will visit Double J Lamb Feeders multiple times to measure animal performance and learn about the lamb feeding industry. They also will collect carcass data at a lamb processing plant in Denver. This data will be shared with the producers who donated lambs to the project.
While “steer-a-year” programs are common across the United States, UW’s Lamb-a-Year project is one of the first of its kind, Conley-Stewart says.
Going forward, she hopes the Wyoming Wool Initiative will “open doors for younger generations to get into the industry, support entrepreneurs making products with wool and help producers get more value from the wool that they grow.”
Ultimately, the goal is to build on the unique heritage of Wyoming’s wool industry to support its future, she says.
To learn more about the Wyoming Wool Initiative, visit UWYO.edu/wyowool or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For producers interested in contributing to the Lamb-a-Year program, visit bit.ly/uwyo-lamb-a-year-2022.
A small, but diverse group of aspiring producers and researchers took part in the ASI Young Entrepreneurs tour of the equally diverse Michigan agricultural trade in early August following their attendance at the Lamb Summit in Lansing, Mich.
Stops at two sheep farms and a century-old wool mill were absolute highlights of the trip. But the opportunity to venture outside the sheep industry offered the group the chance to not only learn about issues facing the state’s farmers in other commodities, but also the chance to expose those same farmers to the ways in which they might benefit from the use of sheep in their own operations.
ASI Young Entrepreneurs Co-Chair Cody Chambliss of South Dakota was quick to point out the benefits of cover crop grazing at Laracha Farms, where the tour visited a sugar beet field. The company grows a variety of crops, from corn to pickles. Equally interested in the benefits of sheep were the folks at Cellar 1914. The century-old farm has been home to a variety of crops through the years, most prominently cherries. It also ran a herd of beef cows at one time.
But the next generation has transitioned the farm into a winery and tasting room that caters to the Northern Michigan summer tourist crowd. The winery’s ag tourism concept might benefit from a small sheep flock that could graze the vineyard and cherry orchard, while providing yet another attraction for the tourists.
The YE group heard how imported products have greatly affected both the sugar beet and cherry markets in the United States. Tour participants shared that similar issues are a problem in the sheep industry.
The tour began with a stop at Zeilinger Wool Company in Frankenmuth, Mich. The mill has been family-owned for four generations and produces everything from roving and yarn to bedding and socks.
“I don’t know if you have wool bedding, but the bedding we produce here is our No. 1 seller,” said Jon Zeilinger, who runs the company with his wife, April. “Wool is a natural fiber that is very therapeutic. It opens up your pores, allows your skin to breathe and regulates your body temperature. I sleep with a wool comforter year-round.”
Among the company’s products are some created with wool from Great Lakes Lamb in West Branch, Mich.
“Our customers want to know where the wool comes from,” said April Zeilinger. “They want to know the name of the producer, where they are located. We even get questions about what the sheep are fed. Obviously, we’re not the best people to answer that question, since we aren’t sheep producers. But it shows that these types of things are important to our customers.”
Tour participants got the complete Great Lakes Lamb experience as they stopped for lamb burgers at Highway Brewing Company before visiting the farm that afternoon.
“I really liked the kind of farm to table experience we had on the first day where we had lamb burgers at lunch and then visited the farm that produced the lamb immediately afterward,” said Agnes Guillo, a graduate student at Cornell University in New York state. “And we had seen some of their wool that same day, as well. That was exciting.”
Jim and Sherrie Bristol and their daughter and son-in-law, Elaine and Rick Palm, completed the experience with lamb brats for the group upon arrival for a tour of the family farm. Lambs from the farm go to auction at both Mt. Hope, Ohio, and New Holland, Penn., but the family also runs a custom cut freezer trade and processes lambs at a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected facility in Buckley, Mich.
“We take the lambs over and pick them up and keep everything in freezers here,” said Sherrie Bristol. “Our customers just have to come by and pick it up here. That seems to work well for everyone.”
The next morning began with a stop at Matchett Sheep Farm in Charlevoix, Mich., where brothers Isaac and Noah Matchett have developed an intensive, rotational grazing system that is home to 1,500 Polypay ewes.
“I hadn’t been to Matchett’s before,” said Michigan Sheep Producers Association Executive Director Samantha Ludlam. Members of the state’s young entrepreneurs committee planned much of the tour. “I’ve known Isaac and Noah forever, but it was great to finally set foot on their farm and see everything they’ve been working so hard on for as long I’ve known them.”
Based in Northern Michigan, the farm includes 1,000 acres – nearly half of which is dedicated to growing sheep feed.
“We get a pretty hardy winter,” Isaac Matchett said with a bit of a smirk. “It’s not feasible to graze for about half the year up here, and sometimes a little longer. But we plan on six months.”
The Matchett’s pasture lamb and once the lambs are weaned they go straight into barn and stay there until they are sold or until they return to the pastures in the spring as replacements.
The family operation grew significantly in 2007 when Isaac graduated college and realized that both he and his younger brother wanted to return to the farm.
“We lambed 112 ewes and planted about 125 acres in 2007, so we knew the farm needed to grow for us to both be able to come back.”
The group got a final look at the state’s many agricultural offerings – Michigan is the second-most agriculturally diverse state in the country – with a stop at Harietta Hills Trout Farm.
The two days came to a close with a tour of the Michigan State University Sheep Teaching and Research Farm, conducted by MSU Senior Extension Specialist Richard Ehrhardt, Ph.D.
In addition to a tour of the relatively new facility, Ehrhardt talked about a solar array project that will take over some of the university’s sheep and cattle pastures in the years to come. It will provide a firsthand opportunity for him to study solar grazing and the role sheep can play in the growing industry.
While it’s important to promote the quality and value of American lamb to the consumer, it’s also important to take a critical look at that same product on a regular basis in an effort to provide customers with the best possible eating experience. After all, second chances are hard to come by.
The second Lamb Summit – presented by the American Lamb Board and Premier 1 Supplies in conjunction with Michigan State University and the Michigan Sheep Producers Association – was conducted on Aug. 8-9 in East Lansing, Mich., with the goal of doing just that.
“In private, we must consistently ask how can we make it better?” said Premier 1 Founder Stan Potratz in his opening remarks at the summit, adding that the company has changed nearly everything about its popular fencing products since they were first introduced.
“I’m critical about anything that I’m involved in,” Potratz said in evaluating the second Lamb Summit. “I look at the last one and think it was amazingly successful, but we made some missteps. We had a lot of large producers from the West attend. I valued that, and I valued their input and comments. This one in the East, was intended to be for a different group. But the needs remain the same in that we need to keep focusing on getting better in terms of the product we produce and how it competes with offshore lamb in terms of the final eating experience.”
More than half of the lamb consumed in the United States is imported from Australia or New Zealand. And imports from the United Kingdom will begin arriving in the near future, which makes the quality of American lamb all the more important if it is to compete against cheaper imports.
“One of the more chilling and telling memories of this summit was one where Karissa (Isaacs), David (Fisher) and Reid (Redden) discussed what our competitors are doing in Australia. Even though I’ve been there and seen it myself, to hear them tell it was very memorable,” Potratz said. “I highly encourage the U.S. sheep industry and its leaders to talk more about the need to improve and to be bold enough to handle criticism. Some of the U.S. lamb is the best possible eating experience I’ve ever had, but there have also been some train wrecks. We must figure out how to avoid those that are train wrecks.”
In a session entitled A Global Perspective on Lamb Quality and Productivity, the three industry veterans discussed past trips to Australia and the emphasis the country’s sheep producers place on eating quality.
“They are so focused on eating quality,” said Karissa Isaacs, who grew up on a sheep ranch in Colorado and worked on lamb flavor research in college and with ALB before joining Superior Farms. “They knew what we were working on and they wanted to buy our REIMS technology (which Texas Tech’s Dale Woerner, Ph.D., has been using for flavor research). They are going to push to be the leaders, so we have to be aggressive in our research.”
From a processor’s perspective, Isaacs said the diversity of sheep produced in the United States hinders the use of technology.
“We can’t be fully automated when we’re going from a 40 pound lamb to a 100 pound lamb,” she explained.
Of course, flavor quality can be just as much a result of poor cooking methods, as well. Which is why chef education (professionals and home cooks alike) continues to be a top priority for the American Lamb Board.
And that was one of many reasons why Ohio’s Nick Forrest was chosen as the winner of the 2022 Lamb Quality Advocate award, which included a $25,000 cash prize from Premier 1.
“There’s no one in the past 20 years in the United States who’s been a bigger advocate for the lamb industry. He does lot of things,” Potratz said. “You need to subscribe to his Facebook page and be his friend. If you do, every day you’re going to get something about the lamb industry coming through on that page. You’ll OD on lamb pictures. Years ago we served on the lamb board together. He was president and I was there as chief troublemaker. I think he was an excellent president. We are grateful that he has such a passion for lamb.”
Forrest didn’t know ahead of time that he would be receiving the award.
“This is a shocker. I don’t know what to say. I have to get a bigger billfold, I guess,” Forrest said when he was presented with a larger-than-life ceremonial check. “Thank you to Premier 1 and thanks to the American Lamb Board. I do it because of a passion. I truly enjoy meeting the people. Those who don’t like lamb, we try to convince them. Like I said this morning, I post on my Facebook because I want people to know that there’s a protein out there that they need to try. Thank you so much, this is just unbelievable.”
Just three hours before accepting his award, Forrest was on stage in front of the Lamb Summit crowd to discuss the competitiveness of the American lamb industry. He said inconsistent carcasses are a concern not only for processors, but also for chefs. It’s important for producers to know and understand the sheep they are producing. For instance, Forrest once showed photos of an overfat Katahdin carcass to the producer. But the that producer was following weight recommendations from an extension agent who raised much larger Suffolks.
“Producers have to take responsibility for their product,” said Premier 1’s Dan Morrical, Ph.D., who moderated much of the summit. “We used to just grow sheep, and getting rid of them was someone else’s problem. We can’t work like that any more.”
Forrest led a second session at the summit in which he offered cooking tips and prepared three easy lamb dishes for the audience to enjoy at the end of the session. He called upon his wife, Kathy and his friend, Alan McAnelly of Texas, to assist him in preparing and serving the dishes.
McAnelly attended the first Lamb Summit in Fort Collins, Colo., in 2019 and never wavered on plans to attend the second summit – even when it was delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They kind of talked about some things (at the first one), but now they’re really digging into some of the changes we need to make,” he said. “They’re beginning to get down to the nuts and bolts. It’s nice to see an organization thinking about how we can improve things and what direction we need to be going. Everybody is sincerely trying.
“You need to come. You have to be here in person to see things. My generation likes to sit eyeball to eyeball. We’re not too big on computers. It’s nice to be here talking to people and not looking at them over a computer like we had to do for awhile.
“My favorite session was watching the people enjoy Nick’s cooking show. It was great to see everyone in our industry laughing and enjoying themselves during that time. We talked about some pretty difficult things during these two days, so I’m glad we had a chance to loosen up and enjoy ourselves a little, as well. Having a little fun and enjoying this is all part of it. I think that’s important.”
Northern Indiana producer Sara Cartwright – a member of the Michigan Sheep Producers Association – called the summit the best conference she’s attended in her time in the industry.
“This program was exactly what I needed at this point in my production,” she said. “The focus on carcass quality and the emphasis on the consumer is what I was looking for this week. My flock is at a crossroads. Do I need to go big, go small or go home?”
Sessions such as Cody Hiemke’s session for direct marketers on calculating costs and pricing lamb, and sessions on evaluating lamb carcasses by Travis Hoffman, Ph.D., certainly made the trip worthwhile.
“This has been really what I needed at this point to look at raising a marketable product efficiently and cost effectively with profit,” said the producer who also works off the farm as a nurse. “No one wants to raise sheep for no money. I’d do it anyway. I love raising sheep and talking about sheep.”
A Craigslist ad helped Cartwright find a market for the lambs that her 50 ewe flock of Polypay crosses produces each year. She direct markets and allows on-farm, Halal slaughter.
“I’m really good at lambing. From there, it’s all kind of downhill for me,” she admitted. “My production from weaning to market has been poor, and that’s why I’m here. My moms are good because I’ve really focused on those maternal traits, so getting them to that weaning weight has been good. But feeding them out to meet market demand has been difficult.”
That being said, three buyers representing several communities of ethnic buyers generally take all of the lambs she can produce.
“I love knowing that my product is born, lives and dies on my farm,” she added. “Throughout the process, I know that it’s cared for. I get to meet the families that I’m feeding, which is very rewarding. They keep coming back, and bringing their friends and family with them.”
The summit’s second day began with two presentations centered on muscle. Andrea Garmyn, Ph.D., tackled Understanding Basic Meat/Muscle Biology and How It Impacts Eating Quality, while Tom Murphy, Ph.D., discussed Utilizing Genetics to Maximize Edible Muscle.
Garmyn relayed her work with a lamb flavor study in New Zealand several years ago. The study concluded that post mortem aging of carcasses negated most flavor differences between grass and grain fed lambs. She said it’s important to note that not all grass fed is created equally and often varies greatly from one country to the next or even within a country. There’s also a positive relationship between marbling and eating quality.
Murphy said it should be the goal of the American sheep industry to utilize genetics and technology to maximize edible muscle. He admitted that “what we see phenotypically isn’t always what we get genetically. While we might not know the genetic merit of the animals in a flock, we can predict it using Estimated Breeding Values.
“The commercial producer might not need to be a National Sheep Improvement Program member, but he should be buying sheep from NSIP-enrolled flocks,” Murphy said. “People say that NSIP sheep don’t look any different, but we can’t blame the tool. It’s the producer’s job to take his flock in whatever direction he wants to take it.”
For more information on the conference and to access presentations, visit LambResourceCenter.com/summit2022.
SOUTH DAKOTA SHEEP GROWERS ASSOCIATION
To meet the needs of emerging demand within the sheep industry for superior young ewe genetics available in smaller lot sizes, the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association has hosted a Premium Yearling Ewe Sale the last five years. This year’s sale was in late July at Magness Livestock Auction in Huron, S.D.
Consignors provided an excellent selection of high-quality, registerable and commercial ewes ranging from traditional white face wool breeds and their crosses to meat breed yearling ewes. Prices remained strong throughout the sale with considerable interest on all offerings. Lots were purchased by buyers from four states.
The high-selling registerable lot brought $600 per head for a pen of five sold by Gerdes Hampshires and purchased by Keith Jibben of Big Stone City, S.D. In the commercial ewes, the high-selling lot was five head of fall-born Polypay ewes offered by Shady Lane Farms and Nicole Jessen of Redfield, S.D., and purchased by John Callies of Howard, S.D. for $615 per head.
The volume buyer of the sale was Bo Thorson from Towner, N.D., purchasing 80 ewes. Fifty-one sheep producers registered to bid on 17 lots of yearling ewes totaling 575 head. Gross receipts totaled $239,275 and the average price per head was $416.
Prior to the sale, a South Dakota State University Extension educational program and lunch were held. A total of 52 sheep producers attended the programming and 107 people were on hand for the free, lamb lunch.
It was also very successful day for seven young sheep producers who were awarded the Youth Buyer Credit from SDSGA. All found sheep they liked and got them bought. The winners were John Callies, Amelia Crawford, Austin Crawford, Carly Crawford, Clay Crawford, Jayden Kott and Marlena Retzlaff.
Tommy Mills of Frannie, Wyo., donated a yearling ewe for this year’s roll over auction to generate funds to support the Youth Buyer Credit Program. Generous donors raised $3,450 toward future winners.
The 2022 SDSGA Annual Convention is Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Pierre, S.D. To learn more, visit SDSheepGrowers.org.
ANN SCHNEEMANN 1935-2022
Ann Way Schneemann passed away on July 6, 2022. She was the first child born to Lacy and Doris Way in Texon, Texas, on May 10, 1935. Ann married Bill Schneemann on the Pembrook Ranch north of Big Lake, Texas, on Aug. 28, 1955. Bill served as ASI president from 1989 to 1991.
Ann was a long-time active member of the First United Methodist Church of Big Lake. In addition to raising her family, she enjoyed cooking and hosting holiday dinners for her family and friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts were very special to her. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she was instrumental in maintaining the Hickman Museum and served on the Pecos Trails Historical Committee.
In 2003, she was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award by the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, Ann ran for and was elected to the board of the Reagan County Hospital District. During this time, the new Reagan Memorial Hospital/Hickman Clinic and Reagan County Care Center were built. In 2019, the Big Lake Chamber of Commerce honored Ann with the Pioneer of the Year Award.
Ann is survived by her husband, Bill; children, Dan (Terrie) Schneemann, Phillip Schneemann and Laura Schneemann. Also surviving Ann are her grandchildren, William Schneemann IV, Casey (Holly) Schneemann, Julie (Drew) Brantley, Anna Schneemann and Lacy Schneemann. Other survivors include her sister-in-law, Sue Way; nine nephews and 14 nieces. Ann was preceded in death by her parents, Lacy and Doris Way; her granddaughter, Laura Schneemann; her siblings, Ralph L Way, Linda Milford and Richard Way; and her daughter-in-law, Ella C. Schneemann.
Memorials may be made to First United Methodist Church of Big Lake, Friends of Reagan County Care Center, Hospice of San Angelo or the charity of your choice.
CLAY ELLIOTT, PH.D.
Purina Animal Nutrition
High-quality alfalfa hay is the “holy grail” of forages. With high protein levels and digestible energy, it’s great for boosting performance in your flock. But, quality comes with a price. With prices rising across the board, you might be asking, “is feeding alfalfa worth it?”
Determining the right forage strategy for your flock relies on many factors, including availability, input cost, farm goals and more. To make the decision easier, I’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions regarding forages for your flock.
Alfalfa vs. grass hay – what’s the difference?
The main difference between grasses – such as Bermuda grass, orchard grass or fescue, and legumes, like alfalfa – is protein levels. Quality alfalfa hay can have more than 50 percent higher protein levels than grass hay. Alfalfa also contains more calcium and total digestible nutrients compared to grass hays.
On the other hand, grass hays are equivalent to legumes in energy level and are a good filler feed, especially when the grass is cut early and is more tender to encourage intake. Grass hay also has the advantage during breeding season because phytoestrogen in alfalfa hay can negatively impact fertility in ewes.
When should I feed alfalfa?
One of the most common questions I hear is, “do I need to feed alfalfa year-round?” The answer is no. I love alfalfa, but there are times of the year that are more important to feed it than others.
The best time to feed high-quality alfalfa is during lactation. The high protein levels in the alfalfa support quality milk production to give lambs a quicker start and help ewes bounce back faster after lambing.
Gestation is another critical time to feed ewes more protein. In late summer, fall and throughout winter, pasture quality is degraded with less moisture, reduced protein levels and generally tough, low-quality grass. Feeding alfalfa during times of low pasture quality helps keep females in acceptable body condition, supporting fetal development and thriftier lambs born in the spring.
Feeding forages with lower protein levels (between 12 and 14 percent) is recommended after lactation and before breeding. Not only is pasture quality at its peak during this time, but research on flocks utilizing artificial insemination and embryo transfer has shown improved embryo counts when feeding animals a lower protein diet prior to breeding.
What is the cost difference?
Protein is the most expensive nutrient for your flock. In most cases, alfalfa will have a higher input cost compared to grass hay. But, determining the best feed strategy isn’t as simple as reducing your hay cost.
First, start with setting your flock goals. Are you focused on improving return on investment with more animals on the ground or more pounds at weaning? If your goal is to maximize production, feeding higher protein levels is the way to go.
If your goal is to reduce input costs, feeding grass hay might be the right strategy for you. Remember, forage isn’t the only way to provide protein to your animals. Supplementing lower-quality hay with a protein tub could give you the same results as feeding a more expensive alfalfa hay.
Sometimes, you have no choice in what to feed based on what forage is available. For example, in times of drought, you might not have an abundance of high-quality hay available. You might be feeding lower-quality alfalfa or possibly using year-old or older stored hay with the protein leached out. In those situations, you might need to provide additional supplementation to make up for what’s lacking.
Bonus recommendation: Forage testing
I’m a big believer in getting your hay tested so you know exactly what you’re feeding your flock.
A forage test can tell you several helpful things, including TDNs, but the most important information is protein levels. To be considered high-quality alfalfa, protein levels should fall between 16 and 23 percent. Lower-quality alfalfa is 10 to 14 percent. Grass hay usually is around 8 to 12 percent protein.
When protein levels in your forage fall below 16 percent, I recommend providing additional protein supplementation through a protein tub to meet your flock’s nutrition needs, especially during gestation and lactation.
Choosing the best forage strategy for your flock isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Balance cost, farm goals and availability to do what’s right for you and your animals.