Written by Britney Kaufman (former SDSU Extension 4-H Animal Projects Coordinator).
With the historically high prices in the sheep industry, existing producers have received premium prices which ultimately act as an incentive for these producers to expand sheep operations. The enthusiasm to join into sheep production is unprecedented and directly linked to recent price trends for lamb and wool. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Sheep and Goat report released in January 2012, currently, there are approximately 2.2 million fewer breeding sheep as compared to 1997. Currently domestic production account for only 60% of US lamb consumption, rebuilding the US sheep inventory by existing flock expansion and adding new flocks would enable the industry to supply current demand and meet the needs of a rapidly expanding ethnic trade. The American Sheep Industry (ASI) Association has launched a campaign, “Let’s Grow with 2 Plus”, to encourage the rebuilding of the US sheep inventory.
So, the question is: “How does the sheep industry attract new producers to the industry?” One concept that comes up is promotion. When one considers the beef industry, very quickly campaigns such as “Certified Angus Beef” come to mind; in contrast, when considering the lamb industry few selling points stick out. However, American lamb is now being marketed by Kroger and Wal-Mart, and these sorts of advertising tactics need to continue and expand in order to increase demand and increase the attractiveness of working in the sheep industry.
Another concept that can be considered is mentorship – those producers who have spent several years working in the sheep industry need to reach out to individuals who are just beginning. For example, in Utah, five bred yearling ewes are given to an individual, and in five years, that individual is expected to give back by giving five ewes to a new producer. Having a mentor answer questions or advise on production practices would not only ease a novice sheep producer’s stress, but it would also allow a more experienced producer the chance to share his or her wisdom on sheep production.
Utilizing programs, such as mentorship or increased promotion, the sheep industry can appeal to individuals who otherwise may not have had an interest in or the ability to get into this business; thus, increase the sheep industry production base, more producers contributing to higher overall lamb production volume.
For more information on the ASI “Let’s Grow with 2 Plus” go to www.usasheep.com. SDSU Extension is developing a mentorship program for state sheep producers called sheepSD, contact Dave Ollila, SDSU Extension Sheep Field Specialist or Jeff Held, SDSU Extension Sheep Specialist for more information on this educational opportunity.