Lamb feeding family buys processing plant in TX

They wear caps but not capes. They drive feed tractors instead of flying to the tops of buildings.

Still, the Hasbrouck family may be the superheroes the sheep industry needs.

Jeff Hasbrouck, his parents Jay and Jo, his sister Kelli Crider and their families recently purchased the former Ranchers Lamb slaughter and processing facility in San Angelo, Texas. The family owns and operates Double J Meat Packing as well as Double J Lamb Feeders near Ault, Colorado, where they traditionally feed 150,000 to 175,000 lambs every year.

The plant, which is now called Double J Lamb is expected to slaughter and process around 200,000 head of lambs annually, once fully functional. The Hasbrouck family hopes to begin slaughtering lambs in the next couple of months.

“We’ve got contractors there working on it, we’re going as fast as we can to get it up and running,” said Jeff Hasbrouck, of the plant which has not seen a lamb since 2005. Hasbrouck said the plant had been operating as a beef facility in more recent years.

With the bankruptcy of Mountain States Rosen, which forced their Greeley, Colorado, processing plant to close, the lamb industry has been nervous about who will slaughter and fabricate the approximately 350,000 that MSR had been handling annually. JBS, who owns the beef plant across the road from the former MSR plant, and had operated the lamb plant until about 5 years ago, ended up purchasing the MSR plant in the bankruptcy proceedings. Although JBS waited a few weeks to make changes to the plant, it is now rumored that the foreign-owned meatpacking giant is starting the process of transforming the lamb plant into a beef grind or steak cutting facility.

Frank Moore of Douglas, Wyoming, was the president of Mountain States Rosen – the Greeley processing plant – when it was functional. Moore said the Hasbrouck family’s purchase of the San Angelo plant has given sheep producers and feeders hope.

“For the industry, I think it’s a very big positive. It takes some of the unknown out of the concern over what they will do with this year’s lamb crop,” he said.

Many sheep producers, particularly west of the Missouri River, wean or ship lambs in September and October.

Lamb prices have been moving upward in recent days, with a significant jump this past week, thanks at least in part, to the Hasbroucks’ purchase of the processing plant, said Moore.

“What we don’t want in the industry is a backlog of fats,” said Hasbrouck. Colorado Lamb Processors, a new slaughter plant located in Colorado is expected to open its doors any day, but Spence Rule, one of the owners of that plant, said the facility will strictly slaughter lambs, but will not further break them down into meat cuts.

“We bought this plant so we can also fabricate lambs, and get the meat out to different companies. Our worry is that, without fabrication capabilities, our industry could get backlogged,” he said.

Industry experts have reported that pre-COVID, about half of the lamb meat consumed in the United States was marketed via catering, restaurants, cruise ships and other white tablecloth type outlets. With nearly all of those outlets shut down, the industry has been forced to refocus it’s marketing.

• Erica Sanko with the American Sheep Industry said direct sales, along with retail and grocery outlets are soaking up some of the lamb that would normally go to food service. But some lamb remains in cold storage, she added.

The number of lambs on feed remains seasonally low, added Hasbrouck, pointing out that the industry may be riding on the hope that the pandemic ends soon.

“Remember, the numbers in Colorado (of lambs on feed) are the lowest we’ve seen in recent years,” he said. But some MSR customers are calling him in search of lamb, and he’s thrilled to be able to tell them he may have some available, albeit via Texas, soon.

Hasbrouck said it will probably be feasible to ship at least some of the lambs he feeds in Colorado to the Lone Star state.

“We will be shipping some lambs from our feedlot,” he said.

Those lambs would have traditionally gone through the MSR plant.

Hasbrouck said, along with Colorado lambs, he also expects the new plant to process market ready lambs from the Western Range, and parts of Texas, along with goats and hair sheep from Texas.

Moore said the Mountain States Lamb Co-op, which consisted of 149 sheep ranching families that provided lambs to the MSR plant, is no longer a functioning entity because of the bankruptcy and closure of the MSR plant. However, he thinks there is a possibility of a new co-op, in light of the expected processing capacity.

Double J Lamb will probably employ 80 to 100 people, when in full production mode.

Jeff manages Double J Lamb Feeders in Ault, Colorado and his sister Kelli Crider operates Double J Meat Packing in Pierce, Colorado, which processes 150 cattle and buffalo a day.

Moore said the industry has much to be thankful for, and may be in a good position to discuss policy changes that restrict lamb imports, which amount to about 75 percent of the lamb eaten in the United States.

“I hope we can get something done, to balance things out. They don’t need to import when we have an oversupply of lamb. When we don’t have an oversupply, it’s helpful to have their lambs come in,” he said.

U.S. lamb producers may “live to die another day,” as the saying goes, thankful for the heroes who took risks to salvage a troubled industry.

“I think Double J stepped up. It’s a big move for the industry. We needed it. I was pleased they stepped out on a limb,” Moore said.