Better Days for SheepWritten by Dennis Sun
Published: 09 October 2015
There is optimism in the sheep industry, whether you’re at a ram sale, wool growers meeting or just visiting with those in the business. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still some negatives out there. A strong dollar, which allows imported lamb in cheaper than ours, also makes wool harder to export, and China is still the main market for our wool. If you run sheep on the forest, especially in western Wyoming, there are some issues with the Forest Service out of the Ogden, Utah office. Also, don’t forget the H-2A labor issue hanging over all of our heads.
But while the negatives are there, the sheep business does have a future in the state. The large sheep ranchers are hanging in there, while the small farms with flocks are growing and want to be involved in the Association.
The Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) continues to be one of the bright spots. The Board has some new members and a new president in Liz Philp. On top of that, the energy of WWGA Executive Director Amy Hendrickson, along with her political experience, fits the Association and will bring it forward.
Last year at the Wyoming State Ram Sale, the top seller, a Rambouillet yearling ram from Hageman Sisters Rambouillets, sold for $4,300 – making it the top selling Rambouillet in the country, and the average for the whole sale was $1,051, the best ever. We hope this year’s sale is just as good or better.
The 87th Annual Wyoming State Ram Sale promises to top last year. If you are in the sheep business or interested in getting in the business, you need to be in Douglas on Sept. 15 at the State Fairgrounds – and don’t forget the reception and lamb dinner the night before at the Douglas Moose Club.
On other positive sheep issues, the U.S. House of Representatives has repealed Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef, pork and poultry while leaving the requirements in place for lamb. Peter Orwick, the American Sheep Industry (ASI) executive director, said, “In contrast to the beef, pork and poultry industries, sheep from other countries are not generally slaughtered in the Unites States, alleviating much of the controversy around labeling. Additionally, sheep producers provide a unified message supporting labeling, and we appreciate the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R-Texas) recognition of this fact by securing legislation that maintains COOL for lamb.” Of course there are different circumstances, but COOL has really split the beef industry like no other issue.
Again this year, genetics are getting bigger in the sheep industry. The National Sheep Improvement Program is holding workshops on how the sheep industry can benefit from quantitative genetic selection using Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), how they are calculated and how they can be used to improve the productivity of a flock, whether it is commercial or purebred based. This concept is getting big in the sheep industry, and it should be. The cattle and horse industries have used genetic data for years.
We hope that China will continue to buy our wool, which is a superior product, and I see the Department of Defense has just awarded a U.S. company a $29.3 million contract to produce berets for the American military. Clothing our military and having USDA continue to purchase lamb will hopefully help our prices despite the strong dollar. We just have to manage the negatives and utilize the positives to grow our sheep industry.