This week’s Roundup focuses on Wyoming’s sheep industry. In many ways, the sheep industry and its importance to the state are too often overlooked. As we all realize, sheep were integral in the development of Wyoming and have strong ties to our customs and cultures. The truth is, much of Wyoming is best suited for sheep. For one reason or another, like predators, we don’t have the numbers of sheep we should have.
Some say sheep, along with the railroads, built this state. I can’t argue that and, if we ever get the predator issue solved, we need more sheep. Years ago producers raised sheep first for wool and second for meat. The military and the fabric industry kept the wool industry economically healthy. As synthetic fibers arrived on the scene, wool lost market share. One doesn’t, however, have to look far to see where wool has been gaining in popularity in recent years. Lamb and mutton sales suffered as consumers lost the ability to prepare it, but given recent export numbers consumer interest in lamb also seems to be on the uptick.
New Zealand and Australia in recent years did a great job marketing their lamb in America. They had too many people believing that only those two countries, especially New Zealand, produced good, grass-fed lamb. We all have seen the photographs of a lamb or flock of sheep with a New Zealand mountain behind them. They had the public believing there was no better product.
Nowadays, the mountains in the background on the lamb advertising are in the western states of America, where they belong. The public is starting to realize that the best lamb in the world is grown quite a bit closer to home than they once thought. The best chefs in the country agree.
Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean are the top markets that import U.S. lamb and the data proves it. For the first six months of 2009, U.S. lamb export volumes are up 58 percent, a 22 percent jump over 2008. Just for the month of June, exports volumes of lamb were up 119 percent. Those figures represent both good marketing and a great product.
These great results just didn’t happen. They are the result of a vision among the Wyoming sheep producers who initiated the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative. With the assistance of sheep producers from nine other western states they have formed a highly successful cooperative and bought a meat fabrication and distribution company, B Rosen & Sons, Inc. They are now a vertically-integrated American lamb supplier and recognized as a major success in the meat business. Their efforts saved many sheep ranches. With smart marketing these ranchers are providing a safe, nutritious and tasteful protein source for both restaurant and home consumption. They are erasing any negative perceptions the public had about lamb.
We congratulate the folks at MSLC for their vision and the hard work that is paying off. Sheep belong in Wyoming and other western states. We hope that the wool markets also continue to improve with added interest from the military and the fabric industry.
A good wool suit, a warm wool blanket or a comfortable wool shirt — it doesn’t get any better than that unless you just had a lamb for dinner.