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Inspiration From the Past

Brad Boner, ASI President

My wife, Laurie, and I attended the annual Sheep Wagon gathering recently in Douglas, Wyo. It is tradition to start off the week of activities surrounding the Wyoming State Fair with this incredible event. More than 175 people attended the cookout that provides the fixins, while each person brings and cooks their own center of plate protein on one of the several provided grills.
There were 30-plus wagons on display representing many different builders that obviously left their mark on history through their imagination, common sense and impressive skill set that allowed them to produce these amazing mobile homes. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of innovation and efficiencies that were built into these icons of the prairie. Many of them had a born-on date that exceeded 100 years ago. What incredible vision and thought was put into their making that still to this day rivals their more modern cousins.
All this historical stimulation got me to thinking about the last 100-plus years of the sheep industry in this country. The resilience and innovation of our ancestors who had the intestinal fortitude to, not only survive but thrive, given the uphill battles they faced is awe inspiring to me.
They experienced many of the same challenges from Mother Nature and with fewer of the tools we have at our disposal today. Yet they were able to figure out how to successfully cohabitate with her in the long run. They embraced any challenge that stood in their way and therefore were successful in developing systems to transport and market their products to the developing markets east, west, north and south across the vastness of this young and rapidly growing nation.
Try for a moment to imagine figuring out a way to get wool and lambs produced by your sheep hundreds to thousands of miles away to the end consumer who would be willing to purchase them. There were no roads, no trucks and only a few railroad depots in the developing West, and yet these obstacles did not deter them from becoming successful entrepreneurs.
They were indeed, resilient, innovative and resourceful with an amazing work ethic. They were driven to succeed by a vision of the future that was much, much bigger to them than any obstacle in their path. Their unwillingness to let anyone or anything outside of themselves determine their success in whatever issue presented itself to them is, to say the least, awe inspiring.
In today’s world – with all the outside influences we experience daily – it has become harder to stay focused on what we need to do to solve the issues confronting us. It is helpful for me to draw on the experiences and wisdom of our forefathers who were unapologetic and undeterred in going about the business at hand.
They were masters at ignoring the unproductive noise around them in order to complete the task at hand. I believe we will move further down the road to achieving our goals and vision for the success of the generations to come behind us by emulating our ancestors.
Until next time, keep it on the sunny side.

Prices and Production

As the summer season draws to a close, weekly sheep and lamb slaughter levels continue to track similar to levels seen at this time last year – about 31,000 to 32,000 head of sheep and lamb slaughtered per week. Although slaughter levels are on par with last year, recent weekly lamb production has tracked about 5 to 10 percent lower than last year, which is due mainly to a comparable decline in weekly lamb and yearling dressed weights.
The Livestock Marketing Information Center is forecasting lamb production to decline about 2 to 4 percent during the second half of 2023, due mainly to the continued trend of lower dressed weights. Although production levels are tracking lower, prices are expected to follow seasonal patterns.
The three-market feeder lamb price (Colo., Texas and S.D., 60 to 90 pounds) has oscillated in recent weeks, but in general prices have moved seasonally lower. At the start of August, prices were around $160 per cwt., which is similar to last year but slightly below the five-year average of $180 per cwt. for this time of year. August is also when lambs on feed reach their seasonal low, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported was 42,800 head at the first of August. Typically, lambs on feed inventory levels move higher after August and peak around the month of November. With the expectation of more lambs moving into feedlots in the coming months, feeder lamb prices typically improve. LMIC is forecasting the third quarter three-market feeder lamb price at $175 to $180 per cwt. and the fourth quarter at $182 to $188 per cwt.
For producers looking to market feeder lambs in the coming months, feed costs will be an item to watch. Nationally, prices in June – the most recent monthly data available at the time of this writing – for corn was $6.49 per bushel – 12 percent below last year. Alfalfa hay was $263 per ton – 7 percent above a year earlier. High feed costs translate to higher cost of gain in the feedlot. LMIC is expecting corn and alfalfa hay prices to move lower for the 2023-24 marketing year to $4.55 per bushel and $235 per ton, respectively.
With a large portion of the western United States seeing a much-improved drought situation from previous years, improved range and pasture conditions provide more flexibility for producers to graze lambs longer and put on more weight before placement into feedlots. Placing lambs at a heavier weight translates to fewer days on feed and lower feed costs to get the lambs to market weight.
Slaughter lamb prices (national, negotiated, live) have continued to climb higher through July and into August, which is welcomed news and a positive sign for producers. Especially compared to last year where prices steadily declined through the first three quarters of the year, finally reaching a bottom around $120 per cwt. in September 2022. This year, in late-July and early-August, slaughter lamb prices have been around $190 per cwt. and approached the $200 per cwt. mark. Prices have more closely aligned with typical patterns seen from the five-year average (2017-21), which indicates that prices normally move lower during the second half of the year. Prices reaching a top around $190 to almost $200 per cwt. might be the seasonal peak for the year based on the five-year average trend. LMIC is forecasting slaughter lamb prices to move seasonally lower for the third and fourth quarters to $172 to $177 and $165 to $171 per cwt., respectively – about a 30-percent improvement over prices last year.
The lamb cutout value has trended higher through July and into August with values in the low to mid-$400 per cwt. area, which is where the value has ranged since the start of the year. The typical seasonal pattern for the lamb cutout value is to remain level for the second half of the year. In general, prices for the shoulder, leg, loin and rack have gained marginally through part of July and into August, which has provided strength for the lamb cutout value.
Trade statistics for the first half of the year are available and year-to-date, lamb imports totaled 110.9 million pounds – 27.1 million pounds (20 percent) lower than the same period in 2022. Australia and New Zealand are the primary suppliers of lamb to the United States, accounting for 71 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of total imports through the first half of the year. The remaining 2 percent of total lamb and mutton imports came from Chile, Canada, Uruguay, Ireland, Iceland, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Through the first half of the year, lamb imports from Australia and New Zealand are down 18 percent and 25 percent, respectively. LMIC is forecasting total lamb imports for 2023 to decline 22 percent from last year.
Projections released from Meat and Livestock Australia in July place the 2023 flock size at 78.751 million head, up 3.6 percent. MLA is forecasting the flock size to rise another 0.6 percent in 2024 to 79.222 million head followed by a 1.9-percent decline to 77.741 million head in 2025. The higher flock size is expected to raise lamb and mutton production by 4 percent, 3.7 percent and 2 percent in 2023, 2024 and 2025, respectively.
MLA is forecasting continued growth in exports based on higher exportable supplies due to rising production, growing global demand for sheep meat, and a continued decline in New Zealand’s sheep flock. MLA did note that the Australian dollar has strengthened relative to the U.S. dollar, which could be a headwind to competitiveness of their exports as it makes their product more expensive for importing countries.

The Australian wool market went on its mid-year recess the third week of July and auctions started back up the second week of August. At the end of the previous season, sales data showed 43,697 bales offered the final week, which was the highest in nearly two months. Through most of June, prices across most microns had been under pressure.
During the first two weeks of July, prices generally recovered those losses leading up to the mid-year recess. Prices for 17 to 22 micron wool gained 4 to 13 percent, while 25 to 28 micron wool prices rose 6 to 9 percent. The Eastern Market Indicator was 1,179 ($AUS/kg) at the end of the prior season, which finished on a stronger note rising almost 5 percent in just two weeks.
As sales resume in early August, a larger number of bales are expected to be offered as supplies accumulated during the break. Prices for the fine wools (17 to 19 micron) and medium wools (20 to 24 micron) opened on a muted tone while the crossbred wools (25 to 32 micron) held steady with prices that were reported at the close of the season in July. The EMI fell slightly to 1,176 ($AUS/kg) at the start of the season.
Looking ahead, there are a few driving forces that could pressure wool prices during the remainder of 2023. Most of the factors are centered around global economic conditions as looming concerns surround global consumer spending, which has shown indications of weakness.
In the United States, interest rates have proven to be a headwind and will likely remain so until rates are lowered. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that consumer credit card balances jumped during the second quarter of this year to a record high level of $1 trillion.
China’s economy will be of interest as it is a large purchaser of wool, which could influence prices. Indications are showing that China’s economy might be slowing, which could limit its demand for wool for domestic use as well as for manufacturing purposes for export markets, potentially impacting wool prices.
Exchange rates will likely continue to be a factor influencing wool prices in the near term.

ASI Executive Board Meets in Idaho

The ASI Executive Board conducted its summer meeting in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in early August with a primary goal of approving the association’s Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget that was then to be voted on by the full ASI Board of Directors during the month of August.
While in Idaho, the Executive Board met with leaders at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, which ASI successfully fought to remove from a federal closure list. A group of ASI’s Young Entrepreneurs taking part in a summer tour of Eastern Idaho joined the Executive Board during its time at the station.
In addition to lobbying congressional leaders to save the station from closure, ASI supported the hiring of additional research personnel at the station, as well as more than $4 million in infrastructure improvements to the actual facility. As part of the meeting, station personnel demonstrated lambing and handling procedures that are common throughout the Intermountain West.
The station’s Bret Taylor and Hailey Wilmer said that the unit is undertaking research to evaluate the effects of management actions, environmental and climate events on the ecosystem. This includes an evaluation of the grazing allotments that are no longer being used. Through science-based rangeland management and decision-making, they hope to help producers enhance sustainability and rangeland health, understand the benefits and tradeoffs of different management practices on multiple rangeland outcomes – including biodiversity conservation and production – and also enhance profitability and international competitiveness through production efficiency.
There was some discussion on collaborative work with the Animal Disease Research Unit in Pullman, Wash., which has resulted in identification of genomic regions associated with sheep nasal shedding of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. From that collaborative work, they have gathered a lot of genomic information, which they are using to discover markers associated with positive economic and ecological outcomes of sheep production.
By the end of the project, they will have collected genotype and phenotype information from more than 2,400 sheep of various breeds, including Rambouillet, Polypay, Targhee, Columbia, Suffolk and Suffolk crossbreds.
Already, about 75 percent of the data has been collected and the remaining data is expected to be collected by 2024. Genome-wide association analyses studies will follow. They expect these studies will identify markers highly associated with traits linked to production efficiency, longevity, product quality and grazing behavior, including herbivory preference traits. Their research is integrated with efforts that universities across the country and other ARS units are doing in order to advance the discovery of unique traits and genetic markers associated with herbivory preferences of rangeland grazing sheep.
By integrating these sheep genetic resources, management practices and rangeland environment, ARS is striving to enhance production efficiency, including increased lamb survivability and ewe longevity in a rangeland environment. The genetic markers that show a high degree of association will then be applied to breeding strategies in order to test functional outcomes in resulting offspring.
The station is one of three U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service stations building genetic reference flocks that will make it possible to develop new genetic selection tools for all users of National Sheep Improvement Program breeding stock. The station is working collaboratively with the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., and the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Ark., on this project.
During its time in Idaho, the Executive Board also took part in a joint dinner with board members from the National Livestock Producers Association, which administers the Sheep and Goat Innovation Fund.

RTM’s Bring Foreign Wool Buyers to United States

Wool buyers from India were in the United States in late July as part of a reverse trade mission organized by ASI. In the last 20 years, India has played an important role in the American wool export market. However, exports had waned during COVID, and ASI is working to rejuvenate the country’s interest in American wool.
ASI helps identify customers around the world and informs them about American wool and its selling process. Understanding the needs of international customers helps match potential suppliers. The first stop on the tour was Groenewold Fur and Wool Company in Illinois. Keese International led the tour the next day in New Mexico before the group finished up in Texas with Wool Partners Inc. and Anodyne Wool looking at wool from all across the United States.
The wool buyers were escorted on the trip by ASI Wool Production Programs Manager Heather Pearce and ASI Wool Consultant Barry Savage. ASI uses funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service to support reverse trade missions and other projects that promote the use of American wool in processing hubs all around the world.
With limited processing capacity in the United States, 55 to 65 percent of American wool is exported. Additionally, like other commodities (think beef), more markets (including export markets) mean stronger demand leading to higher prices for wool.
About a decade ago, India was the No. 1 export destination for American wool. China has been the top destination for the last several years and, while important to the industry, it is important to diversify markets and expand marketing opportunities. India is in a unique position as the most populous country in the world with readily available labor and government incentives to export products.
Competition for wool markets is steep. There is a huge inventory of wool across the globe. Additionally, land and ocean freight from the United States is very high, the value of the U.S. dollar is high (making it cheaper for wool processors to buy from other countries), and processing in the United States is costly and limited. While there are some very good American wools to offer, some domestic wools are shorter length, more variable in staple length, have more colored fibers, kemp, paint and polypropylene contamination. All of these situations create issues for processors, lowering the value of the wool and making it difficult to sell.
India’s Gauttam Woolen Mills – which participated in July’s RTM – has been in the family for generations, purchasing raw wool and selling combed top. The company has the unique capacity to hand sort wools to separate kemp, colored fibers, high vegetable matter areas and other contamination, ultimately making high-quality top.
While the company is looking for longer stapled wool suitable for combing into top, it is looking for wools in all microns and can add value to wool with additional sorting.
Reverse trade missions are so valuable because they allow buyers like Gauttam Woolen Mills to form trust and a relationship with American sellers. Buyers can understand the variety of wools available and sellers can understand exactly what the buyer is looking for. This leads to long-term relationships and sales.

Young Entrepreneurs Tour Idaho

As a Polypay producer, Mackenzie Strawser of Pennsylvania felt like she was visiting the homeland while touring the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, with ASI’s Young Entrepreneurs in August.
The Idaho trip marked the second consecutive summer tour for the group, which also got a chance to help move sheep at the Siddoway ranch, toured a sheep dairy and visited a beef plant. A year ago, the group toured stops in Michigan following the American Lamb Board’s Lamb Summit.
“From the prospective of a Polypay producer, it was so cool to visit the Sheep Experiment Station,” Strawser said. “That’s where the breed was created. And they’ve done so much out-of-season breeding research there on top of that. But the whole tour was awesome. Most of the other people on the tour were from Western states, so they are polar opposites of what we do in Pennsylvania.”
As with the previous year, the tour was intentionally kept small – eight participants this summer – to allow for optimal interaction among the group.
“I liked the fact that it was kept small,” Strawser said. “We could have a lot of really personal conversations about our operations because it was a small group.”
Preparing to start pursuit of an advanced degree at North Carolina State University this year, Strawser filled 2023 with educational experiences that she believes will benefit her family’s sheep operation. She also traveled to the National Lamb Feeder Association’s Howard Wyman Sheep Industry Leadership School in Ohio and the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program’s Sheep for Profit School in Minnesota.
“I figured I might as well just do it all this year,” she said.
The YE tour met up with the ASI Executive Board and the board of the National Livestock Producers Association during its time in Idaho.
“I thought it was a really good tour,” said YE Co-Chair Cody Chambliss of South Dakota. “There’s a lot to see in the sheep industry in that part of the state. Comparing it to last year, the biggest difference was the size of the operations. Visiting Dubois, it was cool to see a landscape that really hasn’t been altered much in the last 100 years. And the old barns at the station were impressive.”
The YE group wanted to thank those who hosted stops on the tour: the Siddoways, Lark’s Meadow Farms, River Bend Ranch and the USSES. The variety of the operations and the information they provided made for a great tour.
Chambliss encouraged other Young Entrepreneurs – anyone under the age of 40 – to attend the ASI Annual Convention in Denver in January.
“It should be exciting this year,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a cooking competition again, like we did back in New Orleans a few years ago.”

Former ASI President Jim Magagna Remains A Political Force


During his two decades challenging Wyoming’s livestock industry, Jonathan Ratner saw time and again just how much political clout Jim Magagna wields.
Magagna is the longtime executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, and he’s the most public-facing representative of a livestock industry that was once Wyoming’s largest. Ratner, until recently a staffer with Western Watersheds Project, has spent most of his career attempting to curtail public land livestock grazing — and submitting legions of records requests to advance that agenda.
“I submit FOIAs all the time, and it is amazing the level of capitulation and fear within the federal agencies for Jim Magagna,” Ratner said. “When Jim says jump, the agencies say, ‘Oh, how high would you like us to jump?’”
Ratner had something else to say about Magagna. Disagreements about public land management aside, he likes the guy.
“Jim is old school, from back when people used to be a little more reasonable,” Ratner said. “We can have a decent conversation and discuss things.”
Magagna, 80, is a lifelong sheep rancher, attorney by training and former Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments director who has been involved in Wyoming livestock trade groups – starting with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association – since 1976. He’s helmed both the Wool Growers and, for the past 25 years, the cattle-focused Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He has presided over the boards of ASI and the Public Lands Council, and in 1994 made a run for Wyoming’s U.S. House of Representatives seat. Through it all, he’s built up the name Jim Magagna to the point where it’s basically synonymous with Wyoming’s livestock industry.
“He is the face of the industry, and he’s very effective,” said David Kane, a Sheridan cattle rancher and past president of the stock growers association.
Judging by his year-in, year-out lobbying and close coordination with legislative committees, Magagna’s fingerprints are all over Wyoming statute books. Kane didn’t have to look back further than the Wyoming Legislature’s most recent session to illustrate the point.
“We were having a lot of issues with the state land board and the way they were handing grazing leases,” Kane said. “Jim took the bull by the horns. I believe there were five separate bills in the Legislature last year that Jim was instrumental in [drafting] to help correct a lot of the issues.”
Four of those bills were routed through the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, and every one of them is now state law.
From his family’s ranchland along the west slope of the Wind River Range, Magagna told WyoFile that he doesn’t like to think of himself as the powerful face of the livestock industry, but he conceded that he gets a lot of attention.
“I’ve been at it for so long, everybody knows me,” Magagna said. “They don’t always agree with me, but they’re usually willing to listen.”
Although Magagna has helped buoy the clout of an industry that has declined significantly as a portion of Wyoming’s gross domestic product as the decades have lapsed, he points out that its might is not what it once was.
“It’s never going to be what it was back in the 1880s, when we ran the state,” Magagna said. “But I think we’re in a good place today.”
Magagna – who is of Italian and Slovenian descent – has a somewhat unconventional life arc for a Wyoming sheep rancher. On little more than a whim – a friend was applying, so he did, too – he took off to Indiana to earn an undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame.
“My parents took me on the train to South Bend,” Magagna said, “and that was the first time I’d ever been east of Cheyenne.”
His heart wanted to take over the family business back in Wyoming, but he didn’t pass up a chance at law school after logging a stellar LSAT score and being admitted to Stanford.
“I didn’t want to be a lawyer,” Magagna said, “but I figured if I failed and went broke as a rancher I’d have a career fallback.”
Magagna never did practice law. Instead, he built up his family’s business. Longtime friend and fellow wool grower Mary Thoman recalled Magagna’s ambition as a young rancher.
“He said he wanted to be the biggest sheep rancher in Wyoming,” Thoman said, “but then he decided to go to Cheyenne to do politics.”
Around the turn of the century, Magagna ran in the realm of 8,000 sheep, which was “one of the largest if not the largest” operation remaining in Wyoming, he said.
Magagna doesn’t run his own commercial flock anymore, but leases his land out to other sheep ranchers who’ve stayed in the game. On July 3, he was at his property overlooking Lander Creek helping Thoman’s sister, Kristy Wardell, unload about 750 lambs and ewes that had been trucked in from Fremont County.
Sheep-moving operations, like the industry, have changed dramatically. In the old days, he said, they’d trail much larger flocks on foot to the same pasture before moving up to more mountainous grazing allotments in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
“There’s just not the sheep there used to be here,” Magagna said. “In the 1940s, there were more sheep in Wyoming than there are today in the United States.”
Wyoming’s domestic sheep numbers, he said, have shrunk from 6-plus million to a few hundred thousand during that span. Numbers of smaller supplementary farm flocks, however, are increasing.
And Magagna’s contributing to that dynamic. He’s kept a small flock, which last numbered 17. Essentially, Thoman said, he’s held onto those animals as a hobby for a good friend and business partner of his, Jose Rodriguez.
When Magagna bowed out of commercially running sheep a couple decades ago, some of his allotments were bought out by conservation buyers interested in seeing the range recover. Later, he led an effort to get Bridger-Teton officials to consider restocking bought-out allotments, which critics worried could collapse future interest in the conservation tactic.
“If that’s not hypocrisy,” Ratner said, “I don’t know what is.”
Ratner’s former employer – Western Watersheds Project – has come to blows with Magagna and the Wyoming Stock Growers repeatedly. Eight years ago, Magagna and others asked the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to remove three streams listed as “impaired” from potentially hazardous levels of E. coli bacteria. Their rationale was that the problematic water samples came from Ratner — and the state agency obliged.
By Western Watersheds Project director Erik Molvar’s count, Magagna and the Wyoming Stock Growers have intervened in at least eight lawsuits the Hailey, Idaho-based nonprofit has initiated since 2006. The vast majority of the time, he said, like with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling over grizzly conflict in the Upper Green River drainage, the intervenors came out on the losing end.
In the statehouse, however, the stock growers bat at a high clip. No doubt it’s due in good part to Magagna. Senate President Ogden Driskill (Devil’s Tower, Wyo.) and Speaker of the House, Albert Sommers (Pinedale, Wyo.) – both cattlemen – praised the longtime lobbyist.
“He’s non-traditional in some ways,” Driskill said, “in that he’s a sheep guy in a cow organization.”
In his time at the wool growers and stock growers, Magagna “reached across boundaries” and helped modernize trade groups that were “really stodgy and staunch” in their ways, Driskill said. The approach has been effective, he said. “Without a doubt he’s had a big influence on Wyoming statute, and that goes beyond ag. He’s had a pretty large presence.”
Sommers was equally complimentary. Magagna’s background on the ranch and in the legal world gives him a leg up in understanding statute, he said.
“He’s been a valuable ally for the industry,” Sommers said, “but he’s also been a practical ally for many things related to conservation.”
Sommers cited Magagna’s board position on the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust. He’s also been an advisory board member of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.
Yet, not all legislators were as glowing in their description of the lobbyist. Sen. Larry Hicks (Baggs, Wyo.) said that he hasn’t always appreciated Magagna’s conduct.
“As a legislator, I don’t appreciate when lobbyists try to pick the most favorable committee – not the committee that should be addressing the issue,” Hicks said. “When I was chairman of the ag committee, he would bypass me and go around to other members of the Legislature to try to get things through.”
The ag committee taking up the issue of elk overpopulation, he said, is one example.
“[Magagna] just knew that he had a favorable audience and they’d rubber stamp whatever he wanted to do,” Hicks said.
Other bridges are intact. Relationship building is key to Magagna’s statute-shaping success, said Carolyn Paseneaux, a former Wyoming Wool Growers executive director and close friend of his for nearly 40 years.
“Even when he is on the opposite side of an issue,” she said, “he’s willing to listen to what the other side thinks and see if there’s a way to come together.”
Replacing Magagna won’t come easy, said Kane, the former Wyoming Stock Growers board president.
“I’m not sure that one person can do everything that Jim does,” he said, “not to the same degree of success.”
Magagna, however, has no intention of stepping away. Retirement age, he said, “is when you feel like it. It’s going to come someday, but I’m not ready. I still like what I do.”
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

Opportunities Abound For Georgia Producers

Georgia producers Nathan and Tina Nix always keep an eye out for opportunities to expand and diversify their family farming operation, which produces lamb, eggs, broiler chickens, pork and beef.
So, when Nathan heard a livestock buyer in Illinois mention that he was shipping lamb carcasses into the Atlanta market every week, he perked up immediately.
“I’m listening to him talk about shipping these animals in from Illinois and here I am 65 miles northeast of Atlanta,” Nathan recalls. “So, that really opened my eyes.”
The family’s Double N Farms direct markets its products under the 5N Pastures brand. Meat and eggs from the farm now end up in select restaurants, butcher shops and farmers markets all around Atlanta and the surrounding area. Customers can also order online through the 5N Pastures website.
“Like most people who live in the rural areas of Georgia, we really dislike the drive to Atlanta,” Nathan admits. “The traffic is terrible, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that Atlanta is very diverse. We saw that there are six million people 65 miles from us who are looking for what we have to offer. We’d be foolish not to go down there and sell our products. So, every Tuesday I drive to Atlanta.”
 And in some cases, Atlanta residents make the drive northeast to Cleveland.
“We’ve had people drive here on Saturday mornings to pick up what seems like a relatively small amount of meat,” said Tina, who serves as secretary of the Georgia Sheep and Wool Growers Association. “These customers want to know where that meat is coming from, how it’s raised and who’s growing it.”
A longtime egg producer – the family runs up to 3,000 hens each year and operates a state-inspected egg facility – the Nix family was a bit burned out on commercial chicken production when Nathan and Tina took a liking to sheep after buying six head less than a decade ago. That flock has grown to roughly 175 Dorper and Dorper-cross ewes. The farm operates an accelerated lambing program with non-seasonal breeding that produces a new lamb crop every two months.
“We started doing a monthly breeding program about 18 months ago, but it was just too much work,” Nathan says. “So, we’ve moved to two months. That gives us a steady supply of lambs to process every month. We found out pretty quickly that we enjoyed the sheep, and we saw the opportunity that was there with our markets in the Southeast. We’re trying to take advantage of that opportunity.”
With processors several hours away in Western Georgia and Alabama, the family put freezers in its combo-stock trailers to make the most of monthly trips. Every time a load of sheep heads west, a load of carcasses and retail cuts comes East back to the farm.
Breeding stock is also available for sale, and the operation routinely purchases lambs that are sired by its rams sold to other producers as replacements and for processing.
Getting into sheep was a numbers game for Double N Farms. The state’s fertile pastures can support more sheep than cattle, and those sheep are bred three times in two years and produce an average lamb crop of 170 percent.
“There’s no way cattle can compare to that,” says Nathan, who also serves as pastor at Zion Hill Baptist Church. “Again, we saw that opportunity. My dad worked in poultry all his life, so that was all I knew. But we stepped out in faith when we got into the sheep. We’ve made some bad choices and some bad decisions along the way, but I wouldn’t go back to what we did in the past. Everything we were doing was preparing us for what we’re doing now.”
The farm produces on average 5,000 eggs and processes 12 to 15 lambs, two hogs and one beef a month. And even then, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with demand.
“Eggs are still the big bill payer, but lamb is the next biggest thing, and I see the opportunity for it to be the biggest.”
Direct marketing has certainly allowed the farm to be a price-setter instead of a price-taker, and Nathan doesn’t see any other way for his operation to be commercially viable.
One of the biggest obstacles Nathan and Tina faced in the early days of their sheep endeavor was finding resources to learn from. They had trouble locating veterinarians who were familiar with sheep, difficulty getting their products into new markets and more.
“There are a lot of people now getting their start in sheep in this state who are like we were, and don’t know what to do and how to do it,” Tina says. “That’s where our state association can step in and help them to grow and help the sheep industry in the state grow at the same time.”
Nathan is now serving as president of the state association and said education will always be a goal for the group.
“The Southeast has never been looked at as a place for the sheep industry,” he says. “But young people really like lamb and we have a growing ethnic market in this area. We want to help others find that opportunity and take advantage of it.
“I’d been involved with Farm Bureau for 25 years, and with that experience I thought I could help the state association. There wasn’t a lot available, but we did have some people who took the time and invested in us when we started. Now, it’s time for us to give back.
“I won’t tell any of them what to do, but I can tell them what not to do. We’ve made all of those mistakes and had to live with the consequences. We’ve had to adapt and overcome. Sometimes I feel more like a firefighter. We’re so diverse – which a lot of farmers are in this area – and we have so many things going on.”
With three kids ranging in age from 17 to 22, Nathan and Tina see more opportunities ahead. Their son has recently returned to the farm full-time. Whether his two sisters join him there remains to be seen. If they return, they’ll be welcomed and given the chance to run with whatever side of the operation interests them most. Of course, Nathan has some suggestions.
“We’ve talked about fabricating our own carcasses,” he said.
“Because we aren’t busy enough already,” Tina adds.
“I was hoping one of the kids might want to take that on,” Nathan offers.

Managing Mineral Intake Is An Easy Fix

If there’s one thing sheep should never go without, it’s mineral. Mineral is the foundation of a healthy, productive and profitable flock. I feed mineral year-round to my own flock and recommend it to all my customers.
However, one of the common challenges I hear from flock owners is that their sheep consume more than the recommended amount of a mineral product. The good news is balancing mineral intake is an easy fix. Let’s take a look at why sheep might be eating too much and how to manage mineral consumption to maintain balanced intake year-round:

A common occurrence I see when producers offer mineral to ewes that haven’t had regular access to mineral is higher than average intake levels. A bag of mineral that should last three weeks only lasts six days, and producers pull the product to avoid over-consumption or to cut costs. But beware of jumping the gun.
Sheep without regular access to mineral are likely mineral deficient and need time to catch up. It can take 10 days to two weeks for sheep to reverse their mineral deficiency and level out their intake.
During those first two weeks, lean into it and keep mineral available at all times, even if they’re eating above intake recommendations. Let ewes eat as much as they need to catch up, and, as long as ewes aren’t undernourished, intake should level out to recommended and expected intake rates after (or even before) two weeks.

Once sheep mineral intake has leveled out, consistency is key. Many producers only offer mineral during key times of the year, like the lead-up to breeding season. However, this approach can cause an unproductive and costly cycle with ewes trying to catch up on their mineral needs by over-consuming every time mineral is offered.
Providing mineral access year-round helps prevent animals from becoming mineral deficient and can be more cost-efficient than seasonal feeding.
It’s important to remember that the recommended intake amount on the feed tag is an average during a year’s time. If ewes have access to mineral year-round, there will be times when they consume more and times when they consume less.
For example, ewes’ nutrition needs increase during gestation and lactation, and they should consume more per head per day during these times. Mineral is essential to the development of the fetuses as well as maintaining the ewe’s performance.
Weather and forage availability can also affect how much mineral ewes consume. If ewes don’t have access to ample forages from grass or hay, they will increase mineral intake because they’re hungry and looking to eat whatever they can get. Consider supplying supplemental forages in the fall to keep mineral intake under control when forage quality and quantity decline or during drought conditions.
Mineral intake can increase during times of significant rainfall when grass has high water content. Weatherized mineral can be helpful in these situations to avoid clumping, which can discourage mineral consumption and cause deficiency.
In spring and early summer months – when grass is good and ewes are in maintenance mode – intake levels may drop. Lower intake during these times is normal and can help offset the higher intake at other times of the year.

Mineral feeder placement can also help you balance mineral intake. If ewes are under-consuming mineral, place feeders in high-traffic areas where sheep spend most of their time. If they’re over-consuming, shift mineral location away from loafing areas or other heavily trafficked areas such as shade or water.
Mineral is a crucial component of productive, profitable animals. Making small changes can help you ensure sheep have balanced intake year-round.

Visit to learn more. Clay Elliott, Ph.D., is a small ruminant technical specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. Contact him at

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