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Lamb market crash

November 13, 2012

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."
 

Comments (3)

rei42728 wrote:
It takes a LOT of advertising to sell any product today. In our area there are ads everyday on the radio for DUCKS . Every aspect of the duck is mentioned, food and recipes, feathers etc. For the sheep it would be the meat, fat for lotions and wool for material. People mostly think of beef and pork. Groceries don't stock lamb but the by product is invaluable for bedding and better clothes. The acrylic market put a dent in wool also because of easy cleaning. However, wool last for years. Fashion designers put a dent in that market too because people think they have to keep up with the fashions. Talk them out of that and easy wool cleaning and your market will open up again with good recipes and uses for the laolin in lotions.
Will wrote:
With small number like yours, have you looked at direct marketing to consumers or becoming a supplier to a specialty grocery, like Wheatsfield in Ames or Trader Joe's in DSM, etc.? You could go the organic route and try for more premium. You know all this already. BTW, you do realize the reaction you'd get on agriculture.com with this... hobby vs. main source of income.
betsy+freese wrote:
We should look at the local direct markets. That is more work than taking the lambs to Colfax, but might be fun and profitable. Our main goal with raising sheep was giving our three kids chores to do after school, baling hay, and such. Now that they are all in college, the sheep herd is not as fun.

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