Wyo, sheep industry intertwined
Casper – Historically and culturally the sheep industry and Wyoming are inseparable. For many Wyoming ranches, regardless of whether or not they raise sheep today, their early day presence in the industry helped pay the bills and, in many cases, allowed them to expand their ranches.
Wyoming continues to be the number two sheep producing state in the nation. It’s a position in which industry leaders take pride. Efforts like formation of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative strike right at the heart of the industry’s desire to stay in business for many generations to come.
“Sheep have been in Wyoming for 150 years,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. “There are a lot of communities in Wyoming that were founded by, and essentially built upon, the sheep industry. At one time the sheep industry was really important to Casper.” Reece says that importance can be seen in the recognition of the area’s old-time sheep families on many street names throughout the city. “Lamb and wool buyers worked here and it was a central location for the railroad.”
“If you look at the past presidents of the Wool Growers,” says Reece, “there are pictures in there of very important leaders in Wyoming. The sheep industry has been a strong part in the fabric that makes up Wyoming.”
While the industry doesn’t have the impact it once did, Reece says he’d like to see an increase in the state’s sheep numbers. “Its decline hasn’t been a good thing for Wyoming,” he notes. “If you overlay the general population trend of sage grouse over that of the sheep industry, they’re almost the same graph. That has to be more than coincidence.” Reece believes the predator control that accompanies his industry has historically proven beneficial for the bird. Furthermore he says, “There are scientific trials that say sheep grazing can enhance sage grouse habitat.”
“I don’t want to see sheep numbers at six million again,” says Reece, noting at one time Carbon County alone was home to 2 million head. “But we could comfortably support a ewe production base of a million head in this state.” He says right now there are about a half million ewes in Wyoming.
That number could increase, notes Reece, saying, “A lot of that has to do with the past eight years of drought. I know there are producers who would like to expand if they felt semi-confident we were through this dry hump and into normal moisture patterns.”
“We still have a viable industry and prices have been strong since the lamb cooperative got up and running,” says Reece.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.