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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition 2 The U.S. Live Sheep Industry An evaluation of the current economic status of the overall U.S. sheep industry must begin with an examination of the live sheep component that anchors the U.S. sheep industry value chain as outlined in the previous chapter. The live sheep component of the supply chain encompasses all functions and processes required to raise and feed sheep and lambs and deliver them to packers for slaughter. The process begins with breeding, which generally occurs only during specific times of the year. The typical biological cycle results in the majority of lambs being born in the spring. After weaning, some lambs intended for specific markets for young, lighter-weight lambs are sent directly to slaughter. Other lambs are put on forages to increase frame size and body weight, before being sent to feedlots and placed on grain-based rations. The remaining lambs are finished on high-quality forages. Finished lambs, also known as slaughter or fat lambs, are sent to packers where they are slaughtered, and the pelts and offal are separated from the edible products. Although affected by a wide variety of forces relating to demand, policy, trade, price, and much more, the economic condition of the downstream components of the sheep value chain is most critically dependent on the economic fortunes of the live sheep component of the chain. Changes in sheep production technology and pricing, or health issues, for example, ripple all the way downstream from live sheep markets through the various components of the value chain. Consequently, this chapter evaluates the current status of the live sheep industry with a focus on the primary factors driving the industry with the exception of factors relating to sheep health, which are examined in detail in Chapter 3. Following an examination of live
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition sheep production, feeding, trade, pricing, and policies in the United States, the chapter concludes with a summary discussion of the major accomplishments and future opportunities as well as the key challenges facing the live sheep component of the U.S. sheep industry. U.S. SHEEP PRODUCTION In the United States, sheep and lambs are raised primarily in small farm flocks in the Midwest and the East and on larger ranching operations in the West. Market lambs are the primary source of income for sheep producers, with some additional income being generated from the sale of wool and cull ewes and rams. Sheep Inventory and Operations The five largest states in terms of sheep inventories are Texas, California, Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota (inventories by region are shown in Table 2-1). Over one-third of all sheep (34.1 percent) are found in the mountain-range states of Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Together, these states, along with Texas and New Mexico and the western states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, account for nearly 70 percent of all U.S. sheep and lambs, but only 37.1 percent of U.S. sheep operations, indicating clearly that the U.S. sheep industry is still primarily dominated by range sheep production systems. An estimated 25 percent of the national sheep inventory spends a significant portion of the year grazing on western public land permits managed by the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the U.S. Department of the Interior (USDI) (ASI, 2002). In contrast, midwestern and eastern states account for roughly 30 percent of all sheep and lambs but nearly two-thirds (62.9 percent) of all sheep operations, indicating that more intensive smaller farm flock production systems are the norm in these two regions (Table 2-1). Productivity (lambs produced per 100 ewes) is much higher in the confined, intensive systems of the Midwest and East (Table 2-1). The lower level of productivity in the range states is primarily due to their extensive, low-input production systems and higher predator losses. The Mountain states have a higher level of productivity than the other range states primarily because they still utilize shed lambing systems. Approximately half of all U.S. sheep are found on farms with fewer than 500 head of sheep and the other half on farms with more than 500 head (Table 2-2). Even though sheep numbers are evenly divided between large and small operations, the latter account for most of the sheep operations in the United States (98.4 percent). Consequently, only about 1.6 percent of all
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition TABLE 2-1 U.S. Sheep Inventories, Productivity, and Operations by Region, January 1, 2006 Regiona All Sheep and Lambs Breeding Sheep Market Sheep Lambs per 100 Ewes Sheep Operations Number Share Number Share (1,000 head) (%) (1,000 head) (1,000 head) (head) (1,000) (%) 1 1,280 16.5 800 480 104 9,060 13.5 2 1,470 18.9 980 490 83 8,000 11.8 3 2,650 34.1 1,460 1,190 121 8,000 11.8 4 1,200 15.4 665 535 135 14,270 21.1 5 1,170 15.1 730 440 125 28,250 41.8 Total U.S. 7,770 100.0 4,635 3,135 112 68,280 100.0 aStates included in regions as follows: 1 = Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington; 2 = New Mexico and Texas; 3 = Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming; 4 = Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma; 5 = All other states. Source: USDA (2007g). sheep operations account for half of all U.S. sheep inventories. These larger operations are almost exclusively range sheep operations in the western part of the United States (Figure 2-1). Industry sources suggest that sheep and lamb numbers may be as much as 10 percent higher than reported by USDA.1 Although not well documented, this view is widely held in the industry and may be due to the following: National Agricultural Statistics Service surveys include operations with farm income of at least $1,000. An increasing number of small-scale sheep flocks exist on farms with little or no earnings from their sheep operations or do not report the small income earned from sheep for various reasons. Animal slaughter is reported for inspected slaughter plants where animals and carcasses are individually inspected. Sheep and lambs may be slaughtered at home or in local noninspected plants. Custom slaughter for specialty markets such as halal and kosher slaughter in inspected plants may not be reported if the carcasses are not individually inspected, which is not required for custom slaughter. 1 Committee members interviewed several sheep producers, livestock market representatives, lamb order buyers, specialty lamb market processors, wool handlers and processors, sheep product vendors at various levels, and others on an informal basis as part of this project to obtain industry views on the status of the U.S. sheep industry.
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition TABLE 2-2 U.S. Sheep Inventories and Operations by Flock Size, January 1, 2006 Item Flock Size (head) 1–99 100–499 500–4,999 5,000+ Inventories (%) 28.7 22.0 33.8 13.5 Operations (%) 90.8 7.6 1.5 0.1 Source: USDA (2007g). FIGURE 2-1 Geographic distribution of U.S. sheep and lamb inventories, 2002. Source: USDA (2002). The number of suburban small farms of 1–5 acres is increasing. Many of these farms may have 5–10 sheep as “lawn mowers” or “weed eaters.” Also, they may have sheep to maintain their agricultural property tax exemption. Lambs produced from these flocks may be primarily used for home consumption or bartered for other goods or services.
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition FIGURE 2-2 Breeding stock as a percent of total sheep and lamb inventories, 1867–2007. Source: Calculated from data in USDA (2007g). Youth 4-H or Future Farmers of America sheep projects may be viewed by farm owners as youth income, rather than farm income, and may or may not be reported. Sheep and lamb inventories include breeding sheep (ewes, rams, and replacement lambs) and nonbreeding sheep and lambs. Breeding stock as a percentage of total sheep and lambs has been declining over the years from about 97 percent in the late 1800s to a low of 72 percent in 2001, reflecting the increasing productivity of U.S. sheep breeds and a general trend toward disinvestment in sheep production (Figure 2-2). The phase-out of wool price supports under the Wool Act between 1992 and 1994 led to a major sell-off of breeding stock as the profitability of wool production declined sharply. As a consequence, the share of total inventories accounted for by breeding stock tumbled from around 85 percent in the early 1990s to 73 percent in 1995 (Figure 2-2). The breeding stock share of inventories has stayed at about that same level since that time. Transition in the Regional Distribution of Sheep Inventories A dominant characteristic of the sheep industry since at least World War II has been the steady decline in sheep and lamb inventories (see Chapter 1).
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition Focusing on the change in aggregate numbers over time, however, conceals an important recent phenomenon in the industry that is changing the traditional national pattern of sheep production. A simple trend analysis of the sheep inventory data indicates that the decline in sheep numbers has slowed significantly and even reversed in some regions of the country.2 Analyzing the two periods of 1989–2000 and 2001–2007, the compound annual rate of change in sheep and lamb inventories by state was calculated and compared in the two time periods and across all states for which there were continuous data series. The remaining states were aggregated as a single region. For the 1989–2000 period, the estimated coefficients of the time trend variable for all states and the total U.S. are negative, and strongly so in many cases, indicating a continued negative rate of change in inventories during that period. For the more recent years of 2001–2007, however, the results differ substantially, indicating that many states are no longer in decline in sheep and lamb inventories. Figure 2-3 shows a comparison of the rates of change in inventories by state over the two periods. In four states (California, Utah, North Dakota, and Nevada), the rates of decline are larger for the more recent period of 2001–2007 than for the 1989–2000 period. As well, New Mexico shows little change in the rate of decline between the two periods. These five states represented 19.6 percent of total U.S. sheep and lamb inventories on January 1, 2007. For most states with larger shares of the national flock, the rates of decline have abated substantially. The United States as a whole appears to be still in decline for the period, although the rate of decline in inventories has slowed from over 4 percent to less than 2 percent annually. In addition, over the last 4 years (2004–2007), total U.S. inventories have been relatively stable. Several states showed positive rates of inventory change for the 2001–2007 period, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oklahoma, Missouri, New York, Virginia, and the “Other States” category in Figure 2-3. This group of states represents over 16 percent of U.S. sheep and lamb inventories. For all other states, the annual rates of change in 2001–2007 were less than half the rates during the 1989–2000 period. In the case of Texas, for example, the rate of decline in inventories during 2001–2007 was −1.7 percent compared to −4.6 percent during the earlier period. Although the smallest in terms of sheep and lamb inventories, the Other States category, which includes those states for which continuous data were not 2 The analysis used a simple time trend, semi-log regression to calculate the rates of change in U.S. sheep inventories by state for the two periods of 1989 to 2000 and 2001 to 2007. The regression model was: log Yij = αi + βi Xij + εij where Yij = January 1 inventory of all sheep and lambs for state i in year j and Xij = time trend (1 for first year, 2 for second year, …) for state i in year j.
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition FIGURE 2-3 Rates of change in sheep and lamb inventories by state, 1989–2000 and 2001–2007. available for the full period of 1989 to 2007, exhibited the second fastest inventory growth during the more recent years. Clearly, considerable change is taking place in growth rate and location of U.S. sheep and lamb inventories. While inventories in some states continue to erode, those in many other states have now halted their long-term decline and show modest growth in aggregate terms. The last few years
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition may be the beginning of a transition period in which growth in farm flocks is coupled with a slower overall decline in range sheep flocks, contributing to a more stable level in the national flock than has occurred in the past 60 years. A major contributor to this transition is the increase in hair sheep production in Texas and the farm flock states. These states have also experienced increases in meat goat production. To some extent, these transitions have been due to substitutions of hair sheep and meat goats for wool-producing sheep breeds and mohair goats, but some farms have added hair sheep and/or goat enterprises. Benefits of hair sheep and goats include their adaptability to humid climates, elimination of the need for shearing (shearers are sometimes difficult to find), increased ethnic demand for lighter-weight slaughter lambs and goats, and their use in weed and brush control programs. Hair sheep and meat goat breed shows and exhibitions have also been significant contributors to this increase. However, there is concern that selecting these animals on the basis of subjective evaluation may be detrimental to selection for their desired “easy care” attributes. The Profitability of Sheep Production Decisions made by lamb producers determine the supply of feeder lambs each year and, ultimately, the supply of lamb meat. Each year, sheep producers assess the prices and net returns received from feeder lambs and decide whether and how many ewes to slaughter or retain as capital stock for breeding purposes. The decision to retain ewes for breeding indicates optimism on the part of producers about market conditions. By the same token, the decision to sell ewes for slaughter indicates that producers may not anticipate high enough prices to hold back a significant number of ewes for future production. Other factors, such as low rainfall and available forages, may also affect decisions on ewe retention. Examples of production costs and returns are presented in Table 2-3 for a 3,000-ewe public land range sheep production operation in Nevada and in Table 2-4 for a more intensively managed 50-ewe farm flock enterprise in Wisconsin. Although there are numerous variations of both range and farm flock sheep production systems in terms of size and management, and profitability may differ with each variation and from year to year, these two examples suggest that sheep production has been profitable in recent years, on the average for operations of this size using the depicted management systems. The major difference in these examples is that labor and management costs are the largest expense for public range operations at 39 percent of all expenses, while family labor provides the labor for farm flock enterprises and is not considered an “out of pocket” expense. However, family labor has an opportunity cost for alternative economic activities that is not
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition TABLE 2-3 Enterprise Budget for Public Land Range Sheep Operation: 2006 Expense and Income Analysis for a 3,000-ewe Range Production System Item Per Ewe ($) Total $ EXPENSES Labor (herder, plus support at lambing) 20.00 60,000 Management (owner oversight or employed manager) 10.00 30,000 Public land lease (10 months/year) 3.25 9,750 Public land maintenance and improvements 1.00 3,000 Facilities and equipment depreciation, operation, maintenance 9.00 27,000 Supplemental feed, minerals, private pasture management 8.00 24,000 Ram costs 3.00 9,000 Vaccination, medication, internal and external parasite control 5.00 15,000 Water hauling (varies from 1 to 4 months of year) 2.00 6,000 Shearing 3.00 9,000 Marketing lambs, wool, cull ewes 4.00 12,000 Guardian and herding dog expenses 1.00 3,000 Operating capital interest 2.00 6,000 Predator control (direct expenses, contributions to state programs) 2.00 6,000 Miscellaneous, including dues and subscriptions 2.00 6,000 Total Expenses $75.25 $225,750 INCOME 0.95 lamb sold/ewe × 40.72 kg/lamb × $2.21/kg 85.50 256,000 4.53 kg wool/ewe × $3.09/kg 14.00 42,000 0.15 cull ewe × 59.09 kg × $0.66/kg 5.85 17,550 Wool Loan Deficiency Payment @ $0.33/kg 1.50 4,500 Total Income $106.85 $320,550 Return on investment $30.60 $91,800 Investment costs (animals, equipment, facilities, etc.) $180.00 $540,000 Estimated return, investment, and risk (%) 17.0 Break-even cost per kilogram of lamb sold (wool and cull ewe income constant) = $1.5465 Explanation of Budget: Of the 5 producers interviewed for this analysis (17,000 ewes total), lamb sales varied from 0.9 to 1.1 lambs per ewe at average weights from 38.6 to 47.6 kg per lamb at prices from $2.09/kg to $2.38/kg. Includes an average of 0.2 ewe lambs per ewe (20%) retained as replacements. Lambs sold and sale weights may vary ± 5% due to climatic conditions, predation, and seasonal forage quantity and quality. Lamb sale prices have been relatively stable for these producers, and wool prices have almost doubled during the last 3 years. Source: Update of the Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA) project initiated by Oltjen and Glimp (1992).
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition TABLE 2-4 Enterprise Budget for a 50-ewe Farm Flock Sheep Enterprise: 2006/2007 Operating Costs and Income Item Per Ewe ($) Total $ EXPENSES Feed Hay and grain 39.31 1,966 Salt and minerals 2.25 112 Supplemental feed for finishing lambs 20.16 1,008 Pasture maintenance 8.00 400 Health program Internal and external parasite control 8.96 448 Vaccinations 4.24 212 Other veterinary medications, services 5.20 260 Shearing 3.64 182 Ram replacement 6.00 300 Bedding straw 6.24 312 Marketing and transportation 7.95 398 Supplies 5.20 260 Manure disposal 7.00 350 Building maintenance 6.00 300 Interest on operating expenses 3.90 195 Total operating expenses 134.05 6,703 INCOME 1.4 Lambs/Ewe @ 59.09 kg/lamb × $2.09/kg 172.90 8,645 Cull ewes and rams 16.53 826 Wool 2.50 125 Wool loan deficiency payment 1.25 62 Unshorn lamb pelt payment 1.44 72 Total operating income $194.60 $9,730 Return on land, labor, and investment $60.56 $3,027 Investment costs (animals, facilities, equipment, land improvements) $338.00 $16,900 Estimated return to labor, investment, and risk (%) 17.9 Break-even cost per kilogram of lamb sold (wool and other income constant) = $1.6237 Source: Thomas (2007). Copyright 2007 by David L. Thomas. Used with permission. included in these calculations. If family labor costs are included, many small farm flocks may be only marginally profitable; however, a sheep enterprise may be a more economically competitive use of farm family labor than other possible enterprises. Because most range operations up to 5,000 ewes are managed by the owner, the return on investment and management for those operations would be higher than that shown in Table 2-3 by $10 per ewe, or 18.9 per-
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition cent, with a lower break-even price per kilogram of lamb sold of $1.4606/kg ($0.6625/lb). The major advantage to farm flock enterprises is their ability to sell heavier harvest-ready lambs and more lambs per ewe because of their higher feed inputs (52 percent of expenses) and low family labor costs. The public land range operation has the advantage of lower feed (15.5 percent of expenses) and facilities costs, and economies of scale such as lower veterinary and marketing costs per ewe. Increasing ewe productivity can be a major factor in enterprise profitability, but increased income from production increases must exceed cost inputs. Variations in range sheep production systems include higher inputs of labor and facilities with shed lambing and supplemental feeding in most of the Intermountain states with higher-quality forage resources on summer rangelands that increase both number and weight of lambs weaned per ewe, to the extensive low-input private rangelands range sheep operations in western Texas and New Mexico that result in lower productivity. Although not documented in this analysis, profitability of these variations may be similar to the range enterprise presented in Table 2-3. Farm flock enterprises are the primary sheep enterprise in the eastern United States and are also quite common in the western states in irrigated valleys and in higher rainfall regions such as northern California, Oregon, and Washington. Farm flock sheep operations may vary from 5 to > 500 ewes with the norm being from 5 to 50 ewes. The major difference is that range flocks of > 1,000 ewes are considered an important business enterprise, while farm flocks of < 100 ewes may be considered a secondary enterprise on the farm. Commodity cash receipts for sheep, lamb, and wool products at the farm level in 2006 were estimated at about $497.7 million, with wool accounting for about 5.1 percent of this amount (USDA, 2007a). In relation to all commodity cash receipts, sheep, lambs, and wool account for only 0.21 percent of commodity receipts for farms, and only about 0.42 percent of all animal/livestock receipts. In a few states, the share of total cash receipts for sheep, lambs, and wool is 1 percent or more, including Colorado (2.1 percent), Utah (1.5 percent), and Montana (1.0 percent). Many factors impact the profitability of sheep production in the United States. Although U.S. wool prices are 20–30 percent below world market prices for comparable wool grades, prices have doubled since 2000 (see Chapter 5). Government programs, including the wool loan deficiency payment (LDP) program and payments for retained replacement ewes in 2004 and 2005, have supported profitability and encouraged industry expansion. A number of other external and internal factors contribute to industry profitability, among which the most salient are the following: Scale of operation. There are numerous advantages to sheep enterprises larger than 1,000 head. Input costs such as vaccines, drugs, trans-
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition sheep and goats for targeted or prescribed grazing has been well documented in the last 10 years by researchers and practitioners. Sheep are used, for example, to control invasive and nonnative weed, grass, and small shrub species. Goats are also effective for weed control and are the preferred animal species for heavily infested brush control. Sheep are also used to graze firebreaks to protect ecologically sensitive areas and residential areas near the urban/wild land interface and to control competing vegetation in new tree plantations. The American Sheep Industry Association has published a handbook on targeted grazing (Launchbaugh, 2006). Mapping of the sheep genome. Scientists in U.S. and international laboratories are seeking gene markers for the major economically important traits of sheep such as larger litter size, lean meat production, superfine wool production, internal parasite resistance or tolerance, reduced seasonal breeding for year-round lambing, and foraging behavior. Although these state-of-the-art genetic technologies are in their infancy, future potential could accelerate genetic progress. Sheep breed and genetic improvements. The number of available sheep breeds has increased substantially in the last 40 years. Several of the new breeds perform at higher levels than breeds that were available before their arrival. Some notable examples are the high litter sizes of the Finnsheep and Romanov, the high milk production of the East Friesian and Lacaune, and the increased muscle mass of the Texel. The relatively recent increase in breeders of hair sheep offers a genetic resource for expansion of the U.S. sheep industry in the southeastern United States, where wool sheep are poorly adapted and sheep numbers have been historically low. Also, the NSIP has developed one of the most advanced programs for genetic improvement in the world. It utilizes state-of-the-art genetic technology to help producers genetically improve their flocks for reproduction, growth, and wool production. The NSIP calculates across-flock EPD based on the animal’s own performance and that of its relatives, which producers use in their selection, mating, and culling decisions. The increased use of artificial insemination (AI) practices has also enhanced the availability of genetically superior sires and improved the market potential for superior germplasm. Sheep research and extension support. The generation of sheep research results and the transfer of these results into practice on U.S. sheep farms is accomplished through the cooperative funding of sheep research and extension by federal, state, and local governments and the integration of extension service and research scientists within land-grant universities. Over $40 million is spent annually on 1,300 to 1,500 sheep research projects conducted at ARS stations and at land-grant universities. State sheep extension specialists and county extension agents interact directly with research scientists and assist sheep producers in the transfer of research results into practice. Although sheep producers provide few funds for sheep research,
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition their national organizations such as ASI, support valuable educational functions and influence sheep research and extension activities conducted by public institutions. Improvements in sheep-environment interface. Research on forage feeding has developed new types of forages that use the land resources wisely. For example, research on the use of brassicas in a cropping system as a second crop is allowing producers to plant a cover crop that may reduce soil erosion and will provide nutritious feed for ewes and lambs when pastures normally are dormant. The discussion on targeted grazing earlier in this chapter emphasizes the current and future potential of sheep to contribute to environmental and rangeland health. Improvements in lamb feeding and nutrition. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently published a revised edition of the nutrient requirements for sheep included in the report, Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants (NRC, 2007). A cursory review of the historical editions clearly demonstrates that nutrient requirements have increased to meet the nutrient demands of the significant increases in reproductive efficiency and lamb growth rates in the last 50 years. Research reported in the current edition of the NAS publication documented the increased needs of both macro- and micronutrients to support current levels of productivity. Educators have developed and producers have implemented new feeding regimes for both forage-based and concentrate-based feeding regimens that recognize the current nutrient demands for reproduction, lamb growth, and wool production. Producers now have a better understanding of how the nutritive value of certain feedstuffs will contribute to reproduction, lamb growth and feed efficiency, and product quality to the consumer. Major Opportunities and Challenges of the U.S. Live Sheep Industry Key opportunities for enhanced efficiency and competitiveness of the U.S. sheep industry include the following: Continued productivity improvements. The potential clearly exists to continue the momentum to improve productivity and production efficiency through continued improvements in the genetic, nutrition, animal health, and management programs that have contributed to the dramatic increases in kilograms of lamb marketed per ewe in the last 60 years. Realizing the potential, however, will require continued public support of research and education programs, as well as industry leadership and producers who are prepared to meet the challenges of change. Targeted or prescribed grazing. Using sheep and goats for specific vegetation management practices is an important tool available to land managers. Chemical and mechanical means, controlled burns (fire), and manual
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition labor are other options, all of which are expensive and often not acceptable to the public. Producer practitioners have been paid to implement targeted grazing or have been provided grazing at no cost, suggesting that this could be a potential supplemental income source or a means of reducing production costs for sheep and goat producers, and at the same time providing a public good for communities and society. Forage finishing for competitive advantage. Lambs can be grown postweaning on high-quality forage pasture or crop residues to slaughter weight or to weights that minimize grain feeding in feedlots. With current high feed grain costs and the likelihood of continued increases, forage finishing could enhance lamb’s competitive position relative to other red meats. Forage-feeding systems have historically been lower cost than concentrate feeding, suggesting that they could be more price-competitive with imported lamb products in the retail meat case. Emerging ethnic markets for lighter-weight lambs. The emerging and rapidly expanding ethnic markets for lamb present a particularly important opportunity for greater direct marketing of lambs. Ethnic markets for high-quality, lighter-weight lambs at current market premiums could potentially revolutionize lamb production, marketing, feeding, and processing systems. Lambs from the hair sheep breeds are generally smaller framed and lighter weight at slaughter, and fit well with the demands of many ethnic markets. Highest priority should be to invest in research to better understand this market and its implication for the U.S. sheep industry. The sheep genome and gene biotechnology. Completion of the mapping of the sheep genome is a major breakthrough in the potential for genetic improvements. Australia and New Zealand are already merchandising gene markers for superfine wool production and internal parasite resistance, and continue to invest in the development of additional gene markers for genetic improvement in lamb and wool production. Although there are currently only limited funding resources for sheep genomics research in the United States, the potential use of these new technologies for genetic improvement clearly suggests that this should be a high-priority investment. Gene biotechnology, including molecular genetics and gene therapy, have the potential of providing more effective vaccines and medications to protect against animal diseases and to correct gene deficiencies and dysfunctions. Research using sheep as the biological model for human biomedical research has developed the technologies for direct use of gene therapies and molecular genetics to address sheep genetic deficiencies and dysfunctions. However, little support is available for this research opportunity. Despite the opportunities, the U.S. sheep industry faces a number of key challenges that must be overcome to achieve sustainable growth and economic competitiveness, including the following:
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition Critical mass. A major challenge facing the industry is the decline in sheep numbers, which has resulted in the decline of industry infrastructure, including lamb and wool market outlets, sheep slaughter and processing facilities, low volumes of product for available markets, lack of qualified sheep shearers and wool classers, reduced market providers of the supplies and equipment essential for sheep production, and reduced state and federal support for sheep research and education faculty. While these changes in infrastructure and markets have been forced by the reduction in the scale of the industry, the consequence is that the sheep industry today has a weak platform from which to maintain the transition underway, let alone to launch significant and rapid industry growth and development. Predation. The continued management (control) of predator populations by USDA Wildlife Services, as well as state and producer-supported programs, is critical to the survival of the U.S. sheep industry. Increased predation problems in wildlife populations in many states indicate the need for sheep industry alliances with wildlife agencies and interest groups. Livestock, wildlife, and threatened and endangered species management. Management programs will need to recognize the importance of ecosystem management based on the best available science rather than specific species management plans or practices that exclude appropriate multispecies management systems. Price determination/price discovery. The Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR) system has resulted in more price reporting for live lambs and has generated more information on imported lamb carcass prices. Even so, the lack of information on prices due to confidentiality issues continues to be a primary challenge in feeder and slaughter lamb markets. Also, relatively little public data are available for assessing relative prices between domestic lamb carcasses and imported lamb carcasses. At the same time, most slaughter lambs are now being priced using formulas or are packer fed so that the lamb price discovery process is now based largely on carcass or cutout values. Consequently, price is determined by negotiation or formula related to carcass quality. As a result, a significant amount of the risk is shifted from the buyer to the seller, especially for pricing based on quality. Adjustment to emerging markets for lamb. While continued growth of ethnic-based markets for lighter-weight lambs may have a potentially positive impact on lamb demand and prices, the existing industry infrastructure must respond sufficiently to accommodate the potentially major changes this market opportunity may require. Changes in sheep industry leadership policies and programs may be required. Adoption of genetic improvement technology. Compared to breeders of dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, and poultry, purebred breeders of sheep lag behind in the adoption of genetic improvement technology, with decisions
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Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition often based on show ring performance rather than commercial efficiency criteria. Only a small number of sheep breeders are using accurate estimates of genetic merit and performance-based criteria for economically important traits in their selection decisions. The result is less than optimum genetic improvement in the entire U.S. sheep population, which may ultimately result in sheep being less competitive with other livestock species. Increased enrollment of purebred flocks in the NSIP could be helpful in this regard. Sheep and wool research funding. Sheep and wool research receives the smallest amount of funding of any of the livestock sectors, resulting in less development of new technology and educational support for the sheep industry relative to other livestock sectors. The lack of new technology for the sheep industry relative to other livestock species will likely result in the sheep industry being less competitive, leading to further decreases in sheep numbers, further reductions in sheep research and extension efforts, even less new technology, and continued negative pressure on the competitiveness of the industry. Sheep research and extension at land-grant universities. A decreased emphasis on sheep research is already evident at land-grant universities. For example, in most departments of animal science there is at least one research scientist working in each of the core areas of nutrition, reproduction, genetics, and product (meat, milk, or eggs) with each of the livestock sectors of dairy cattle, beef cattle, pigs, and poultry. However, there are few departments that have three or more scientists working in the sheep area. Most departments have two or fewer. The main focus of the sheep research program at a particular university or ARS station most often is in the core area of the sheep scientist’s training, resulting in a deficiency of work in other areas. Some sheep scientists try to become generalists and cover all areas with highly applied research efforts. This approach is effective in the short term in generating useful information for producers but does not result in the generation of new basic knowledge for the development of new technologies for application in the future. A possible solution to this downward spiral is the formation of several sheep research and extension consortia among land-grant universities and ARS stations. Three or more neighboring states with similar types of sheep production systems could form a consortium. Land-grant universities and ARS stations within those states could each agree to cover certain specific sheep research areas so that all major areas important to sheep production in the region are covered by at least one effective research program. The results of all research programs would be readily available to sheep extension personnel in all states for application to sheep producers. By necessity, several informal arrangements of sharing expertise across states have evolved among sheep scientists. There is now a need, however, to formalize such arrangements in order to gain the most benefit out of limited sheep research and extension resources.
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