Sheep update Current events in Wyoming’s sheep industry discussed
Published on Feb. 22, 2020
Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Executive Director Amy Hendrickson discussed current events in the Wyoming sheep industry during the Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton on Feb. 5.
“First and foremost, I want people to know WWGA is not just about wool,” Hendrickson stated. “We have learned there are a lot of people who think all we do is deal with wool because of the WWGA name. Our association was formed in 1903 and that is the name we were given then, so we kept it.”
“However, WWGA’s primary focus is to enhance the Wyoming sheep and lamb industries, so we try to provide a lot of educational information to producers to help improve their operations and their products as well as to protect and preserve our industry’s rich contribution to the state and preserve Wyoming’s western lifestyle,” she added.
“USDA’s National Agricultural Statistic Service just released their inventory numbers and it is looking a little bleak I must say,” Hendrickson stated. “Nationwide, we are down one percent from last year at 5.2 million head.”
Hendrickson further explained shorn wool production is down two percent from last year and the number of shorn sheep and lambs is down as well.
“However, the average price for wool sold is up six percent, which is interesting,” she said. “I did some digging on this and what happened is we were on track for getting record wool prices, but the China trade dispute happened and prices dropped off so a lot of producers held on to their wool. Therefore, the prices reflect the high value because people weren’t selling at the low prices.”
Hendrickson continued, “Our market sheep and lambs were down 12 percent and our wool production was down eight percent.”
In Wyoming, Hendrickson pointed out the sheep inventory is down three percent, a decline she believes is fairly significant.
“Last year we had 350,000 head and now we are at 340,000. This is a huge drop,” she stated.
Hendrickson noted two of the most important ways WWGA tries to help Wyoming’s sheep producers is through education and promotion.
She pointed out WWGA hosts an annual ram sale to promote the industry.
“We have very good genetics in this state so we consistently host one of the top ram sales in the country,” said Hendrickson. “We also do two ram sire tests. The longer one starts in the fall and ends in March. It includes wool traits and we refer to it as our White-Faced Ram Test. The other one is the Black-Faced Ram Test, which is shorter, held in the summer months and looks at meat traits.”
Another promotional effort Hendrickson informed attendees of is the American Ranch Collection Wool Blanket Series.
“This year we created the second blanket in the series,” she explained. “It is a throw made from wool produced on the historic Meike Ranch in Johnson County. The image is called Range Royalty and was done by artist Mary Cunningham.”
Hendrickson noted the blanket was processed entirely at Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, making it a 100 percent Wyoming product.
While WWGA and the Wyoming Wool Growers Auxiliary are two separate entities, Hendrickson explained they also collaborate to promote the Auxiliary’s Make it Yourself with Wool Program.
“There has also been an effort through the Wyoming Business Council (WBC) to promote Wyoming meat – beef and lamb,” said Hendrickson. “They started with a Wyoming beef program going to Taiwan. Last fall, there was a Taiwanese delegation that visited Wyoming and WBC worked with us to include lamb.”
Although the dealings with Taiwan have been fairly successful overall, Hendrickson noted they ran into a few issues.
“As usual, our competition is New Zealand. In the 1980s, New Zealand’s government stopped all subsidies overnight so they went out and got markets all over the world. China and Taiwan were two of the first places they went and they made an agreement to have zero tariffs,” explained Hendrickson.
She continued, “There is a 35 percent tariff for us to ship bone-in meat over and a 15 percent tariff to ship bone-out meat. They love our product and would rather have our product, but we are competing with a country who already has a 30 percent difference in price alone, then we add the 35 percent tariff and we are looking at a 65 percent cost increase, which is disappointing.”
When it comes to education, Hendrickson explained they have formalized an Emerging Entrepreneurs Program intended for young producers, producers just starting out in the industry or producers who want to change their business plan.
“The idea behind the Emerging Entrepreneurs Program is to provide these producers with contacts, educational opportunities, networking and support so they can succeed,” she stated. “This program also includes ranch tours which we think is a really good way to provide support to our producers throughout Wyoming.”
Hendrickson also noted WWGA hosts membership meetings as well as their West Central States Wool Growers Convention as a way to provide educational and professional opportunities for sheep producers in the region.
The other way WWGA supports the Wyoming sheep industry is through legislation and regulation.
“In the past year, we have worked very closely with our congressional delegations on a number of issues,” stated Hendrickson.
“The first of these are the eagle harassment permits,” she explained. “As many producers know, the predators are just killing us. In fact, one producer lost 55 percent of his ewe lambs to eagles the year before last.”
Hendrickson said she got the producer in touch with Wildlife Services and they were able to get him an eagle harassment and an eagle take permit – the first one issued in 10 years.
“There are six of these permits given in a year and three other producers received one, so Wyoming had four of the six permits,” Hendrickson pointed out.
The second legislative issue Hendrickson brought up was that of migration corridors.
“Today, these migration corridors are only for wildlife’s winter ranges, but there is a very strong effort to include summer ranges as well,” said Hendrickson. “If they include summer ranges, it would be bad news for the sheep industry and our grazing opportunities because of the Bighorn sheep.”
Hendrickson explained the Secretary of the Interior was recently going to sign the directive for migration corridors to include summer ranges until Congressman Liz Cheney got involved.
“Although Cheney convinced him it is not a good idea, this is a challenge we are always going to face because people are always trying to find ways to eliminate our grazing,” Hendrickson said.
She also noted WWGA has been working with the Environment and Public Works Committee on potential legislation to update the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well as working closely on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reform.
“NEPA was a well intended legislation, but it has become a way to block the ability of ranchers to do almost anything,” stated Hendrickson. “The big one for our industry is we are seeing more companies move away from development and production of animal health products which are important to our industry.”
Hendrickson said dewormers are a perfect example of this.
“The de-wormer products we have in this country do not work so our animals are suffering, our producers are taking heavy losses and we are competing against countries that have a wide variety of products we aren’t allowed to use here,” she explained.
“Through our relationship with the American Sheep Industry (ASI), we helped draft a letter pointing out the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has all of these requirements because they are concerned about human health impacts, yet 55 percent of the lamb we import to the U.S. comes from countries that use these products,” Hendrickson added. “Therefore, they either have to stop importing from these countries or find a way to allow us to use these products too.”
Hendrickson noted another big focus WWGA had this summer was to work closely with the Joint Interim Ag Committee to educate legislators on what the Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB) is, how the county predator management districts work and how they use the money they receive.
“This has been very successful and we have a lot of support for increased funding,” she stated. “In fact, Sen. Kinskey of Sheridan County was able to work with the Joint Appropriations Committee and has added another million dollars to the ADMB.”
Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.