Sale offers premier rams for 80 yearsWritten by Christy Hemken
That was Sept. 18, 1928, and on its 80th anniversary this year the Wyoming State Ram Sale is not only touted as the best in the state, but one of the best in the country.
“The quality of the rams at that sale is as good as there is in the nation and better than what most sales have,” says Ram Sale Committee member Gene Hardy of Douglas. “We are the premier sale for quality rams in the nation.”
“The sale has lasted so long because it’s sponsored by a sheep organization, not just a company that goes out and puts sales together,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. “It’s sponsored by a sheep organization that’s 105 years old and it’s overseen by a committee of producers and breeders. There’s a practical and good knowledge base on our committee and the Executive Board gives the Ram Sale Committee free reign over the sale.”
The first sale included Rambouillets, Hampshires, Corriedales, Cotswolds, Lincolns and crossbred Lincoln-Rambouillets. Rambouillet entries still outnumber other breeds at present day sales, which also include Columbia, Targhee, Suffolk and Hampshire rams.
“We sell all different breeds, but we’re noted for the Rambouillet sale because Wyoming is noted as a wool-producing state and ours are a little different than those from other parts of the country,” says Reece. “Ours tend to have more mass and they’re built for the climate and environment. These big horned Rambouillet rams go to work and spend their life in tough country and they’re built to take it.”
While the sale was originally held in Douglas, it moved to the Natrona County fairgrounds in Casper for a number of years, where it was a two-day sale selling 1,000 to 1,500 rams. Now the sale has returned to Douglas and the Wyoming State Fairgrounds and has been reduced to one day, selling between 300 and 400 rams.
“At one time the ram sale sold 500 or more black faces in Casper,” says Ram Sale Committee member and sheep producer O’Leary Flock of Torrington. “It’s dwindled to 125 and this year I think there’s 110 black-faced rams. In the old days we sold more black-faced rams than the total number of black- and white-faced combined that we’re selling today.”
Fellow Ram Sale Committee member Clyde Peterson of Lance Creek agrees, saying many more rams have been sold in the old days. “At that time they sold pens of up to 20 rams in a group, and now they’re down to five, three, two or even a few singles,” he says, but adds the quality of the rams has gotten a lot better.
“Now a pen of five is the biggest offered and in a few years that one may not exist because of the sheep numbers,” says Flock.
Flock says in the past there were three white-faced breeders and one black-faced breeder on the ram sale committee. “There used to be six or seven people on the committee and now we have 10 or 12. There are certain members for the different breeds - Rambouillet, Columbia, Targhee and the black-faced breeds. I’ve represented black-faced sheep. The committee makes general decisions collectively, but when it comes to your certain breed, then you call the shots,” he says.
The sale committee meets in May of each year to make decisions on which new consignors will be allowed to bring rams to the sale. “We are very selective, and if we don’t know a consignor we might give them the benefit of the doubt and if things don’t work out the next year they might be turned down,” says Flock. “We want the best rams we can possibly get in that sale.”
First-time consignors must bring one pen of five rams to the first sale. “When consignors come to this sale for the first time they have to sell no less than five head,” says Ram Sale Manager Bob Hageman of Douglas, who has served in the position since 1992. “That eliminates people with one or two rams that just want to come in and get rid of something.”
Because of early complaints that some of the rams weren’t good enough, the sale began its sifting committee, which inspects every ram after its arrival at the sale. “We were probably one of the first sales to do that and I think every sale that I know of now goes through a sifting committee and some are really tough,” says Flock. The committee examines each ram’s feet, legs, mouth and quality, along with certain required blood tests.
“This ram sale does the best job on the sifting of any sale I’ve been too,” says Peterson.
“The biggest change I’ve noticed from when I first went to the sale is a lot of the buyers didn’t used to look through the rams very well,” add Peterson. “Now they go through and look at the rams closely and the buyers themselves are a lot more selective and they look through the rams a lot more than they used to, which I think is good.”
“The sale is run well and no inferior animals ever leave there,” says Hageman. When you have buyers come and pay as much as they do at this sale they should get good quality animals.”
“I hope that this ram sale can go on for a long time, but Buffalo used to have a big sale that’s no longer in existence,” says Flock. This is the first year Wyoming is without the ram sale in Buffalo. “I don’t know how much longer this sale can go, but I hope it can go for a long time.”
Hardy says he doesn’t foresee the sale changing much unless there’s a dramatic change in sheep numbers. “You’re only going to sell the number of bucks the sheep producers need. The sheep numbers in Wyoming have stabilized quite a bit, and if anything they’ve increased a little bit, but there are far less than 40 or 50 years ago.”
“We’re committed to this ram sale. It’s part of what we do and who we are,” notes Reece. “It’s one of the most important things we do so we put focus and time into it.”