There is a growing sentiment that the nontraditional lamb market is siphoning off an increasing portion of the commercial slaughter-lamb market away from traditional retail and foodservice sectors. The nontraditional market may thus slow the ability of the commercial lamb market to increase supplies and production in a time of sheep inventory contractions. Yet the volume of sheep marketed to the nontraditional market is largely unknown.

This research was motivated, in part, by the discovery that there is a large statistical difference between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-published lamb crop (plus losses) and USDA federally-inspected slaughter numbers. Between 2004 and 2008, this difference was estimated at nearly 1.2 million head per year, 48 percent of FI slaughter or 2.5 million head per year. While FI slaughter has declined, the nontraditional market held steady.