New program in South Dakota in hopes of Growing the sheep industry |

New program in South Dakota in hopes of Growing the sheep industry

Photo by Alaina Mousel, EditorThe South Dakota Extension Service is seeking participants in the newly created sheepSD program.

To meet the growing demand for American lamb and wool, the American Sheep Industry (ASI) has developed a new campaign titled, 2+2+2=Rebuild, which asks that each producer increase the size of their operation by two ewes per operation or by two ewes per 100 by 2014, increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year and increase the harvested lamb crop rate by 2 percent.

These small production adjustments could add up to maintain jobs and infrastructure within the sheep business. According to ASI, “for every 1,000 head of ewes, 18 jobs are created. The increase in production will provide approximately 315,000 more lambs and 2 million pounds of wool for the industry to market.”

Mirroring the goals of ASI, South Dakota Extension has developed a program called sheepSD to help achieve these goals within the state. The program is similar to the South Dakota Extension’s Beginning Farmer-Ranch Program, beefSD.

Dave Ollila, South Dakota Extension sheep field specialist explains the benefits of this intensive three-year program and encourages producers to get involved.

“The purpose of sheepSD is to help potential and beginning sheep ranchers enter and expand into the sheep industry, provide mentorship from current successful sheep ranchers for beginning sheep ranchers, develop production and management skills for producer efficiency, profitability and sustainability, establish ranch management advisory teams and set individual ranch production, management and profitability goals and action plans, establish perpetual learning communities of sheep producers that will continue to seek knowledge and skills toward becoming progressive and prosperous ranchers, and gain perspective of the global sheep industry and participate in marketing of industry products,” explained Ollila.

Ultimately, the goal of sheepSD will be the successful establishment of beginning sheep ranchers that participate as financially, ecologically, and socially sustainable ranchers, land stewards, and leaders of their communities. The program is seeking 45 young, beginning sheep producers, as well as 45 seasoned sheep producers to serve as mentors. Learning communities will be located in Northwestern South Dakota, utilizing sale barns in the region. The group will meet once/month to study Western range ewe operations, farm flock operations, feedlots and wool production.

“The three-year program will kick off at the South Dakota Sheep Grower’s Convention this Sept., where we will announce the participants of the sheepSD program,” said Ollila. “We are excited about the interest from young producers who are just getting in the business. Obviously, the markets are driving a lot of this because there is money in the business right now. Mentors are also excited to help participate to grow the industry, but they are also seeking to pass their ranches on. So, this program might help align the right people together. We can work out agreements with interested parties.”

Ollila stressed the importance of growing the sheep industry, not only to meet the growing demand but also to support the industry infrastructure.

“If we don’t move forward and grow this industry, then we will have a collapse of the infrastructure — such as wool manufacturers, packers, feedlots and salebarns,” said Ollila. “We are already experiencing this with financial institutions, as they don’t have the experience in lending to sheep farmers. Bankers are a lot more cautious just because they aren’t as familiar with the business, so our goal is to educate lenders about the opportunities in this industry. If we can accomplish this, it will free up some money for the beginners. ASI is pushing for 2% to their flocks. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, it can make a huge difference. The dollars in the business right now have allowed producers to keep back replacement ewes to replace their culls.”

With an exciting program to participate in, Ollila said the opportunities are abundant in the business for young producers wanting to add sheep to their cattle business or increase the size of their flock.

“The future of the sheep industry looks bright,” he added. “The opportunity for growth in a time where we foresee an extended period of good times in the markets is great.”

For more information on sheepSD or to apply to participate, contact Ollila at 605-394-1722 or

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