Future of American sheep industry lies in hands of producers
November 17, 2011
LOUISVILLE, KY – The American Sheep Industry is the second largest livestock industry within the U.S. agriculture sector. The foreseeable future for sheep producers is bright and blooming.
Lamb and wool prices are at a record level in U.S. dollars. Cull ewe pelt markets are also very lucrative. This trend began in the late fourth quarter of 2009, with a strong trend upward which has continued into 2011. The major driving force for better prices is a shortage of sheep numbers worldwide.
The decrease in sheep population is driven by several factors including, but not limited to, factors such as producer preferences, weather conditions, and more.
Australia, the world’s leading sheep producing country, has seen production fall 44 percent due to drought. New Zealand (third largest) has experienced a production drop of 29 percent, due to emphasis in other production areas such as dairy; with falls also evident in Argentina (-14 percent); Uruguay (-32 percent); and the United Kingdom (-44 percent).
When total numbers decrease, it is only logical that the price will increase, as seen in today’s market.
American sheep producers are seeing a shift in the industry as a whole. Domestic producers currently provide enough lamb to fill 50 percent of the demand within the U.S. The remaining half must be filled by imports from foreign markets. Total American consumer demand equals approximately 320 million pounds of lamb each year. This challenge is one that all sheep producers would like to tackle with full force, but how?
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One main goal is to increase national flock numbers. The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is promoting an initiative to help increase demand. It is referred to as, “Let’s Grow with twoPLUS.” There are three essential goals of the initiative – the first is to encourage all producers to increase the size of their flock by two ewes per operation, or by two ewes per every 100 ewes owned.
The second goal encourages producers to increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year. “There are great management resources available to producers in today’s day and age. One is EAZI-Breed CIDR Sheep Inserts (progesterone solid matrix) for induction of estrus in ewes (sheep) during seasonal anestrus, [which opens the door for out of season breeding.] Improved genomics such as DNA tests are also available to improve specie performances,” said Jeff Held, South Dakota State University, Extension Sheep Specialist.
The third goal is to encourage producers to increase the harvested lamb crop by two percent – from 108 percent to 110 percent. By implementing pre-breeding and pre-lambing management tools, the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs a year can become a reality. A great resource for producers to learn about these practices is the SID handbook produced by ASI.
The U.S. national drought last year caused a large drop in sheep production numbers in the south. Texas was hit hard, being the largest sheep producing state in the country. The Lone Star State averages 880,000 head of sheep and lamb per year. Dave Thomas, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of Animal Science said, “Do all that you can to market and produce as many pounds of lamb as you can. There is tremendous breed and genetic diversity; we need to make sure that we are taking full advantage of this, [by using genetic selection that fits each individual producers flock.]”