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Responding to the Challenges of the U.S. Sheep and Lamb Industry

Posted by Edward Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs in Health and Safety Animals Plants
Feb 21, 2017
USDA is taking a multi-faceted approach to supporting the American sheep and lamb industry, working with researchers and market analysts to identify strategies and goals.
USDA is taking a multi-faceted approach to supporting the American sheep and lamb industry, working with researchers and market analysts to identify strategies and goals.

The U.S. sheep and lamb industry has been shrinking for decades as the numbers of sheep and producers have declined since World War II.  Consolidation of the sheep packing industry, higher feed and energy costs, continuous loses to predation, and lower consumption, coupled with competition from imports of lamb cuts, have taken their toll on U.S. producers.  In response to industry needs, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has been working with the American Lamb Board (ALB) and the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) on initiatives aimed at ensuring the long-term viability of the industry.

The ALB recently initiated a study to identify the challenges, propose solutions, and develop strategies to strengthen the industry’s competitive advantage.  By working with a marketing firm and using data and services offered by USDA, ALB hopes this study’s findings will help return the industry to profitability.  AMS is ready to assist ALB as they lay the groundwork and identify goals and benchmarks.

Another way AMS is assisting the industry is in identifying opportunities to improve Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) for lamb.  LMR was established to collect and publish price and volume information to encourage competition in the marketplace.  However, given the consolidation of the industry, it has become difficult to publish lamb market information on a consistent basis due to the LMR confidentiality requirements.  Last fall, ASI commissioned the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) to conduct a study of the LMR program, and over the course of 5 months, met with AMS to learn more about how USDA administers the lamb reporting program.

The final report proposed improvement recommendations to lamb reporting.  Some of the recommendations included lowering the reporting thresholds for packers and importers, evaluating the confidentiality policy for LMR, and eliminating categories and reports that do not have utility. AMS has reviewed the report and is engaged with ASI to determine the best solutions for the recommendations.  While some of the recommendations will require regulatory changes, many of the proposals can be addressed easily.  In fact, AMS has already eliminated the western regional lamb reports, changed the National daily lamb report to a weekly report, modified the reported weight categories, and removed unused purchase type categories.

AMS is working with ASI on other projects, such as determining ways in which slaughter lambs are bought to ensure that the LMR purchase types are still relevant.  AMS is also working to develop strategies to more accurately define the lamb maturity window for the grade standards and will work with FSIS on a more agreeable term for “yearling mutton” such as “yearling lamb.” AMS and ASI are cooperating on the potential development of a lamb tenderness standard, and the potential development of a non-hormone treated lamb export certification protocol with the European Union.

The ALB and ASI recently received USDA approval to explore lamb instrument grading, through funding received from the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.  The project will be a two phased approach to finalizing USDA’s standardization of the concept and evaluating the benefits and return on the investment to garner industry acceptance.

The USDA is committed to working with our partners in the industry to not only meet these challenges but to succeed in creating an industry that provides quality products to consumers and increased producer returns here at home.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety Animals Plants

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Frank Archuleta
May 09, 2013

The Govt. started the demise of the sheep industry by limiting how predator controls were used, mainly traps and poison..... BUT, it's perfectly fine with the govt. if Monsanto feeds us poison in our food. At least give consumers a choice to by GMO foods by labeling them.

Janet O'Dell
May 10, 2013

I heard that donkeys in the same pasture will keep away many predators.

Russell Cross
May 10, 2013

The American sheep industry is as much a national treasure as any in our history. Our Department of Agriculture should be applauded for their part in keeping the tradition of raising sheep a part of our national fabric.

Bernie C
May 14, 2013

Raise more crops, not animals. Livestock agriculture is killing the planet and creates more starving children. Go Vegan.

May 14, 2013

Just a little lesson on how agriculture works. Raising more crops means tearing up more soil to have room to grow crops. When you need more room for crops that means things like fence rows and trees get taken out. That means the homes of those cute little bunnies get destroyed because farmers are only trying to keep up with the demands of the world. Just my opinion but killing the grass and trees to have more crop ground seems more likely to kill the planet than raising animals.
In regards to the actual article, it's reassuring to know that we are trying to keep all industries going strong.

Walter Nelson
May 24, 2013

The government should end all subsidies and let us return to a free market. This should include ethanol and dairy. Feed prices are inflated directly because of these "welfare for the rich" programs. The LMR program gave a false sense of security to the feeders as it was sold as a "can't lose" proposition. Feeders found that it didn't even come close to covering their losses. I think people would make better decisions if they didn't think the USDA was going to save them.

Kathy K
May 24, 2013

Interesting...this conversation is happening when no sheep farmers might be online. End of May is prime hay production time for us that make a living from this industry. Just happened to see it on the email from American Sheep Industry when I came in for the evening.

Rick S
May 29, 2013

What breed of lambs are shown in the picture? They have an unusual looking face, & seem to have more muscle than I am used to seeing for lambs of that age. I was wondering if this is a new breed, with a higher dressing percent? If anyone could fill me in, I'd appreciate the help. Thanks.

May 31, 2013

I am guessing those are Texel lambs.

Cedar Fen Farm
Nov 02, 2013

The cause of the demise in the US sheep industry in this country is the inability of a sheep flock to make any profit when infected with one of the 3 epidemic diseases that will arrive in your flock with the purchase of new sheep. These are caseous lymphadenitis, ovine progressive pneumonia, and wormer resistant Haemonchus species. The USDA and the sheep boards are blissfully ignoring this situation and it's only getting worse. Extension agencies recommend commercial flocks deal with these diseases by assuming ewes will not be commercially productive after about 4 years of age. They propagate the myth that these diseases will not decrease the productivity of your flock and in the case of the worms, recommend putting lambs on expensive feed lot regimes. Drugs, vaccines, etc. developed in countries that care about their national flock are rarely if ever researched and approved for use in the US. Pretty soon the cattle epidemic of Johnes will also become a sheep epidemic at the rate it is growing. Not a pretty picture for the future of sheep. Some attention to having adequate tools and education for shepherds would go a long way towards bringing the profitability back into this industry, as well as allowing us to use our green grass resource to feed. Healthy sheep go well on pasture with supplement, unhealthy sheep need lots of extra feed to produce. If you question this, talk to some of the small percentage of shepherds who have closed their flocks and eradicated, at great expense by culling, these problems from their flocks.

Cedar Fen Farm
Nov 02, 2013

Just a note on the wolf/coyote predator issue - try electric fencing and dogs/donkeys. If the ranchers had to pay out of pocket for national predator eradication and a reasonable rent on the public property they graze, they would quickly realize it's a no win solution. And it seems these same ranchers are all for no taxes. HMMMM. Invest in effective containment and protection. The rest of us in the east have to do that and it is cost effective.

Nov 17, 2013

Where and how is lamb being promoted in THIS country? When was the last time you saw a commercial - a billboard - an ad - ANYTHING promoting American lamb? What is the lamb check-off program doing for ANYONE? Come on, 7 cents a # really adds up & for who?. Now I read the U.S. is importing lamb from Uganda? Your next trip to the market look to see how much 2 little lamb-chops will cost you. Uganda be kidding me!

Jan 14, 2019

I think this article was very informational