San Angelo, Texas – In early February, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) presented its first Industry Innovation Award to the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC) and Mountain States Rosen (MSR), representing the work of the sister companies in advancing the sheep industry.
Frank Moore of MSLC said, “MSLC is one of the biggest things that has happened to the sheep industry in the last 10 to 12 years, so this was a nice honor.”
“This award is recognition by the industry that we’ve put something together that has been beneficial, and it recognizes the work that everyone put in to get MSLC and MSR up and going,” he continues. “We’re pleased with where we are and where we are heading.”
While its impact has been big for the sheep industry, MSR was formed in 2001, making it relatively new for sheep industry.
“For MSR, this award recognized the company’s venture from lamb cooperative to the only national, produced-owned and -operated, vertically integrated lamb company in the United States,” says ASI. “Leading the way in the lamb industry wasn’t exactly what founders had in mind less than two decades ago.”
“We planned something a lot smaller than this,” admits Frank Moore of MSLC, who took time to recognize all of the group’s affiliated producers on hand when the award was presented. “It’s been an awesome, awesome trip.”
In 2003, MSLC purchased a stake in B. Rosen and Sons in New York, and eventually, MSLC purchased the lamb production, distribution and sales company outright.
They have continued to develop their operations since.
Two years ago, in January 2016, MSLC completed the purchase of the former JBS lamb plant in Greeley, Colo.
“We felt like ownership of a lamb plant was where MSLC was headed, and we envisioned owning a lamb plant from the beginning,” Moore says. “We needed to have control all the way through the process.”
Prior to purchasing the plant, MSLC custom-killed lambs at the plant. Now, they are in a better position to coordinate supply and keep members current.
“It gives us a little bit more control, but we also have more responsibility,” Moore adds.
“The first two years were difficult, with quite the learning curve, but we feel like we’ve made a lot of progress,” he continues. “We’re moving forward.
Moore says MSLC ended 2017 on a positive note, and they’re excited about their future.
Of their goals for 2018, Moore says MSLC is developing more processes and integrating new management more fully to continue to develop the organization.
“Our new president of MSR is Brad Graham, and he brings 40-plus years of retail experience to us,” Moore says. “This will help us have a better understanding of what our customers want.”
“As we look forward, we’re trying to add new members, develop relationships with big feedlots and continually make sure we have supply and customers for that supply,” he adds.
A look back
“MSLC started because a group of us were like-minded in that we were tired of putting our lambs on a truck, waving goodbye and never being involved after that,” Moore says. “We were never quite happy with the way things were.”
Today, the producers involved in the cooperative span the western states, and Moore comments, “We have better control over our future, which is always positive.”
Continued industry challenges
Despite making advancements with MSLC, Moore says MSLC faces the same challenges as the rest of the industry.
“Seventy to 80 percent of lambs all go to market at the same time,” he explains. “They are born at the same time and tend to go to market at the same time.”
While some lambs are killed early and other are stretched out in the attempt to create a consistent supply of lamb, Moore says the industry still lacks uniform supply of lamb 52 weeks out of the year.
“We need to either develop ways to get people to move their lambing or we need to market those lambs in a different way to create a more uniform supply,” he explains.
Today, MSLC works to consistently communicate their needs to their members to get a better handle on supply.
“I think we have to do more than communicate, though,” Moore says, “but it just doesn’t work to change lambing dates for many people.”
Rangeland grazing limitations, including dates that sheep are allowed on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service grazing allotments, makes changing lambing dates challenging.
“We’re working on coming up with other solutions,” he comments.
Moore says millenials provide great opportunity for the industry moving forward.
“We’re starting to develop new customers,” he explains. “In the last few years, lamb has become more accepted. More people are interested in trying lamb.”
Today, the negativity that emerged surrounding lamb from World War II has started to dissipate, and millenials are interested in trying the protein.
“There are a lot of opportunities to start growing consumption of lamb, which also means growing the inventory and supply of lamb here in the U.S.,” Moore comments.
He continues, “At MSLC, we’ll continue working to get our members’ lambs taken care of in the best way we can. I believe we’re more current than the rest of the industry, which is positive for us moving forward.”
“There’s no way the 124 producers who banded together to start the lamb cooperative could have imagined how the company would grow in the years to come,” ASI says. “But there’s no doubting the success MSLC has achieved or the fact that the company is a worthy recipient of the very first ASI Industry Innovation Award.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.