Sheep groups request to maintain H-2A procedures

State sheep associations located in the Western states that utilize sheepherders delivered a letter to Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Thomas Perez today requesting his support to maintain the special procedures for the H-2A sheepherder program in the upcoming rule-making process.

One third of all the lamb and wool produced in America is from sheep under the care of H-2A sheepherders. The sheep ranches are open range operations grazing tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of acres each year with the sheep moving constantly to fresh feed. The animals are herded to keep them together and to avoid overgrazing. Moving sheep regularly also protects them from poisonous plants and predators. American workers are generally unwilling to fill these herder jobs as demonstrated year after year with a handful of herders from the United States and a thousand plus herders from overseas.

The exemptions of the special procedures to allow for mobile-type housing, a monthly wage rate and a slightly longer stay are the reasons why the program has been successful since the 1950s. Without the special procedures, the sheep ranches that have H-2A herders will not be able to continue. Loss of sheep production of this magnitude will result in the closure of lamb processing firms, wool warehouses and will ultimately negatively impact all 79,500 family farms and ranches that raise sheep in America.

“We ask the department to maintain the special procedures in the proposed regulation to be published for comment by April 15,” concluded the signators of the letter.

According to Kelli Griffith, executive director of Mountain Plains Agriculture Service, the special procedures have always been informal guidelines and have never gone through the rule-making process.

These provisions are essential for livestock businesses operating on open range. The concern is that the DOL will remove one or all of the critical provisions, which would eliminate a labor supply for open-range operations putting those businesses in jeopardy, Griffith added.

–American Sheep Industry