It is discouraging to work hard raising a farm product and then sell that product for less than it costs to produce it. That is the situation we are in with our sheep herd. Bob and I sorted off the heaviest 28 lambs, averaging 140 pounds, took them to the Colfax livestock auction, and received half what we got a year ago.
Bob has cut way back on the corn we feed the lambs, giving them more hay. They are growing just as fast on the good alfalfa, so we probably won't ever buy as much corn.
I was so frustrated I called our U.S. Senator, Chuck Grassley. He was sympathetic, but said it is difficult to get anyone to vigorously enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, and that's what it would take to stop the consolidation in the lamb packing industry. There are too few buyers for these animals. Grassley told me he used to raise sheep, but sold the last one in 1967. He kept one ewe as a pet, Susie, who died at 12 years old.
Here is more information from the American Sheep Industry Association about the current situation.
The lamb market for farmers and ranchers has collapsed to below half of last year's prices. That, combined with the severe drought and the corresponding high cost of feedstuffs, has put sheep producers in a very difficult situation. Eight U.S. Senators, in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, stated this is why prompt support is needed for sheep producing operations, and requested the secretary to implement agriculture department actions in four key areas.
1. The Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration should immediately investigate the drastic change in the price spread between live lambs and meat markets to ensure that the benefits of the recent USDA commodity purchases actually reached the farm and ranch gate.
2. Support lamb-market price discovery and transparency, including market reporting and statistical reports provided by the department, to provide accurate and unbiased market information to producers and businesses.
3. The Risk Management Agency should conduct a full review of the Livestock Risk Program for lamb and to make the necessary adjustments to allow the program to function as an effective risk-management tool for sheep producers.
4. Make the opening of export markets for American lamb a priority. "Key markets, such as Europe,Taiwan and Russia, are closed to American lamb," said Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "In fact, Japan shut down lamb trade nearly 10 years ago due to BSE and a key push from USDA is needed to right this trade disparity."
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) also forwarded a letter to Vilsack, writing, "While the drought has impacted the entire agriculture industry, the sheep industry has been hit particularly hard. In order to ensure a thriving, robust sheep industry here at home, I am asking that USDA take immediate and thorough action."