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Fort Collins, Colo. – Gary Smith consulted with experts in the livestock industry to determine the biggest opportunities for livestock and poultry over the next decade. Sheep industry experts identified supply issues as their biggest challenge.

“To help per-capita consumption, we have to have a greater supply,” stated Smith, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, during the International Livestock Forum on Jan. 13.

Production

Most sheep have a seasonal anestrous period, so they do not produce lambs year-round.

“If we can modify the seasonality in production, we could increase the reproductive rate,” he said.

He also suggested raising more hair sheep, or easy-care breeds.

“They actually shed their own wool and it can just be gathered up from the pastures,” he explained.

Smith noted that predation from dogs, wolves, coyotes and other local threats needs to be decreased.

“We need to decrease predation if we’re going to increase supply,” he said.

Mitigating the consequences of drought and preserving access to public lands for grazing were also concerns that Smith addressed in the sheep supply chain.

Information

“The second greatest importance, in terms of the opportunities that the experts identified, has to do with increasing the transfer of information,” stated Smith.

Emphasizing diverse markets, developing traceability and building a value-based market system within the industry were some of his suggestions.

“The best way to make sure we identify and follow sheep, as well as increase the production from them, is by having traceability,” he said.

Marketing

Smith also noted, “Producers don’t get more money for a better lamb than for a medium or not-very-good lamb, so they need a value-based marketing system,” stated Smith.

To do that, exceptional animals need to be chosen and desirable traits need to be identified throughout the system.

Improving perception of quality, or what consumers believe to be important, was the next challenge that Smith addressed, saying that the experts highlighted emphasizing flavor desirability profiles and promoting the pastoral image and environmental stewardship associated with the feeding and production of lamb.

“We need to be able to sell taste, because lamb is truly unique,” he said.

Appeal

Smith explained that the younger generation does not know how to prepare lamb at home.

“I think we’ve priced ourselves into a situation where we can’t get young people to try it. If they would, they would find it has a very distinct, deep flavor,” he said.

He also noted that much of lamb’s appeal was lost in World War II, when mutton was sold to people labeled as lamb.

“Another thing that we can do, is try to make sure that people understand the pastoral image that is created by lamb, on a pasture, by the good shepherd,” Smith said.

Christianity and Judaism are based on lambs and sheep, including the image they create as part of a peaceful kind of life.

“We need to use that to merchandise this product,” he stated.

Niche markets

Smith also suggested looking into market-specific products.

“We can also take a great leap of faith and produce products for niche markets outside what we have traditionally called lamb,” he said.

These markets include grass-fed, antibiotic free, organic and non-hormonally treated animals.

“We also need to capitalize on domestic ethnic markets,” he explained.

Products should be directed to populations that have history and tradition in eating lamb.

Another opportunity addressed by the experts is improving the descriptors of quality.

“How do we describe and define quality in lamb?” Smith asked.

The sheep industry can change the quality grade and yield rates. They can moderate size and fatness of animals and make the product easier to describe in terms of quality, he said.

Lastly, Smith noted the opportunities of the export market. The U.S. is part of a global economy and there is a demand for sheep and lamb in other countries.

“We need to gain access to more international markets,” stated Smith.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Producers need to better educate themselves to recognize ways to improve the value of their wool clip, according to Ron Cole the wool quality and education consultant for the American Sheep Industry Association.

If producers spend time before the shearer comes getting things organized, it can make the shearing process go much more smoothly, said Cole.

Sorting wool

Because different types of wool are worth different values, Cole recommends sorting the sheep. The fine-wool, white-faced sheep should be in one area, the medium wool sheep in a second area, the coarse sheep in a third area, and finally the black-faced sheep in a fourth.

Producers should also work with shearers to keep the wool free from contamination.

“If there are multiple breeds, always shear the finest sheep first. Sweep and clean the area well, then shear the medium wool, then the coarse wool and crossbreds,” he said.

Contamination

Hair sheep shouldn’t be shorn until last because they are a huge contaminant to wool.

“Dorper crosses shed their wool and hair and have become a huge problem to the U.S. sheep industry,” Cole said.

Other contaminants are vegetable matter that comes from wools that are contaminated with straw from bedding and hay from eating, from an overhead feeder.

Poly twine can also be a contaminant. When it is processed with wool fiber, it will not take dye.

Producers also need to minimize other contaminants like feces and urine, dirt, hair and paint.

“If producers need to put paint on a sheep to brand or identify it, put the paint on an area that is not valuable, like the head,” Cole said. “A lot of paint and grease markers will not scour out of the wool.”

Eartag placement

Cole also recommends producers only put the metal scrapie tags in the left ear. In lambs, the tag should be placed about an inch from the cheek and, in ewes, as close to the cheek as possible.

He shared a story of a shearer who hit that metal tag and ended up having $480,000 in medical expenses and still couldn’t shear eight months later.

“The last thing we need is to blow up a metal hand piece and fragment that metal eartag in front of a shearer. It could cost them their career,” he said.

Start with lowest value

Cole says he teaches the shearers to remove the belly wool first and separate it from the rest of the fleece.

“That wool is shorter, kinkier and has less value,” he said. “Each part of the fleece has different value, the key is to separate the fleece to get the most value from it.”

Shearers also need to remove the britches on rams, which is the coarse wool on the hindquarters. It has less value than the rest of the fleece.

Fleece from hair sheep should also be kept separately.

“Producers who have hair sheep should mark the bag with a big ‘R,’” Cole said. “Everyone in the marketing arm will know that bag has wool with hair, and it won’t get mixed in with other fleece.”

During shearing, if wool can be sorted by microns, it can be handled once by being placed in the right bin to be put into the right bale.

“It will never have to be handled again in the U.S.,” Cole said.

In the premium, fine wool market or hand spinning market, producers may need to remove the short, less valuable wool from the table skirt to make the fleece more attractive.

“Just remember everything we take off will be worth less,” Cole cautions producers. “The goal is to create a uniform clip.”

Extra effort

Many producers fail to understand why they need to put so much effort into a product that is only worth $2.50 to three dollars a pound. Cole says if producers don’t do it, the U.S. won’t be able to sell wool overseas.

“We all need to do a better job preparing wool because China is not pre-grading wool anymore,” he said. “This is why producers need to educate themselves so they can see the variations in wool and learn what the right length and micron is.”

Lastly, Cole told producers to work with the shearer while the sheep are being sheared.

“We can do a good job raising wool 12 months out of the year but just hiring the wrong shearer can make the wool nearly without value,” he stated.

Cole shared a story of a producer who hired a shearer to shear her fine Merinos, and the shearer made many second cuts.

“It cost that grower at least one-half inch on her wool clip,” he said. “That’s a lot of money. The quality of the shearer is really important.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Spending 30 seconds cleaning up a fleece after shearing can add 10 cents a pound. If a fleece averages 12 to 13 pounds, a producer can add $1.30 to his pocket in just 30 seconds. However, 95 percent of producers in the U.S. will still just take what they can get.

Cody Chambliss, a sheep producer who runs 600 head Merino ewes near Gerdes, S.D., tells producers that cleaning each fleece is well worth it. 

“If I didn’t take that extra time on my Merino fleeces, I would lose 50 to 55 cents a pound, which would be at least $15 a fleece,” he says. 

Merinos are one of the finest wool breeds of sheep in the world, and their wool is considered quite valuable. 

Handling wool

Depending on the market, Chambliss sees producers gaining 15 to 20 cents a pound just by handling the wool properly. 

“Wool is paid by yield, cleanliness, length and micron,” he explains. “My goal is to change people’s perception that their wool is worth nothing. Many people don’t do a good job preparing their wool because there isn’t a buyer or market in some areas.” 

Chambliss says the Merinos will consistently return $30 a head for their wool, which he figures is equivalent to roughly one-third of his costs each year.  

“Coarser wools aren’t worth as much, but they can still return $8 to $10 a head after shearing costs are taken out,” he adds.  

Steps

The first step in making more from wool is putting down some type of floor for the shearers to use. 

“When a sheep hits the shearing floor, the first thing a producer should do is throw a tarp or some plywood down,” Chambliss explains. “Don’t use a blue poly tarp or a brown tarp, because poly will contaminate the wool.” 

“I use an old tarp off a grain semi. A concrete floor works well, too, but make sure to sweep it off before they start shearing,” he notes. “Also, don’t use a broom while they are shearing. It will contaminate the wool with poly.”

Poly and twine cannot be sorted from wool, Chambliss explains. As it goes through the mill, it will go right into the garments. Poly and twine from hay bales or straw can easily become entwined in the wool. 

“I once saw a Pendleton blanket on a shelf for $800, and it had a line of poly right through the middle of it. That makes a $800 blanket worth $10,” he says. 

Separate

Hair from the legs or butt is the biggest contaminant in wool, and it can be hard to separate. It comes from the shearer cleaning up the feet and legs and around the butt, Chambliss says. 

“The dirtiest part of the fleece is the belly. That needs to be separated from the rest of the fleece. The easiest way is to ask the shearer to take the belly wool off and throw it into a side sack,” he explains. “It is always short and dirty, so it’s worth less, but it does still have value.”

Another area that should be separated is wool around the butt, because of the balls of feces and urine stains on the wool. The neck area, called the crow’s nest, right above the shoulder blade up to the top of the neck also gets contaminated from hay and dirt.

“By removing the neck wool, we can increase the yield on the rest of the wool because we removed the vegetable matter,” he tells producers. “We are probably only removing a one-quarter of a pound of wool, but we can basically add 10 cents a pound to each fleece by removing vegetable matter, belly wool, tags, urine pieces, hair, wool on the lower legs, face and cheek wool and the armpit wool, which is full of lanolin.”

“Also remove any straw, cockle burrs or sand burrs from the fleece. Basically, remove any pieces that don’t fit,” he adds. 

Sheep should not be bedded in straw prior to shearing. 

“Save that bale of straw until after they are sheared,” he recommends.

Chambliss recommends setting up something the size of a card table to put the fleece on after the shearer finishes each sheep. 

“We basically have about four minutes to clean up that fleece before the shearer will have the next one ready,” he says. 

Managing sheep

How the sheep are fed and managed can also impact the quality of the fleece. 

Density, which is how thick or tight the wool is, can be impacted by the amount of dirt in the fleece. 

“I would recommend keeping dust and blowing dirt down in the pens,” he explains. “If producers grind hay, don’t do it near the sheep, and try to find a way to feed besides using a bale feeder.”

Producers should also set up a consistent schedule to shear their sheep. While most producers like to shear before lambing, not everyone does, Chambliss says. 

“What I would recommend is shearing them every 11 months and keeping it on schedule,” he explains. 

For his own herd, Chambliss takes away water the night before shearing. He doesn’t recommend feeding sheep the morning of shearing. 

“Some people won’t agree with me, but I’ve found that holding back water prevents urine on the shearing floor. If producers don’t feed them that morning, it reduces the amount of feces on the floor,” he explains. 

Chambliss uses a leaf rake, rather than a broom, to clean up after the sheep. 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Spending 30 seconds cleaning up a fleece after shearing can add 10 cents a pound. If a fleece averages 12 to 13 pounds, a producer can add $1.30 to his pocket in just 30 seconds. However, 95 percent of producers in the U.S. will still just take what they can get.

Cody Chambliss, a sheep producer who runs 600 head Merino ewes near Gerdes, S.D., tells producers that cleaning each fleece is well worth it.

“If I didn’t take that extra time on my Merino fleeces, I would lose 50 to 55 cents a pound, which would be at least $15 a fleece,” he says.

Merinos are one of the finest wool breeds of sheep in the world, and their wool is considered quite valuable.

Handling wool

Depending on the market, Chambliss sees producers gaining 15 to 20 cents a pound just by handling the wool properly.

“Wool is paid by yield, cleanliness, length and micron,” he explains. “My goal is to change people’s perception that their wool is worth nothing. Many people don’t do a good job preparing their wool because there isn’t a buyer or market in some areas.”

Chambliss says the Merinos will consistently return $30 a head for their wool, which he figures is equivalent to roughly one-third of his costs each year. 

“Coarser wools aren’t worth as much, but they can still return $8 to $10 a head after shearing costs are taken out,” he adds. 

Steps

The first step in making more from wool is putting down some type of floor for the shearers to use.

“When a sheep hits the shearing floor, the first thing a producer should do is throw a tarp or some plywood down,” Chambliss explains. “Don’t use a blue poly tarp or a brown tarp, because poly will contaminate the wool.”

“I use an old tarp off a grain semi. A concrete floor works well, too, but make sure to sweep it off before they start shearing,” he notes. “Also, don’t use a broom while they are shearing. It will contaminate the wool with poly.”

Poly and twine cannot be sorted from wool, Chambliss explains. As it goes through the mill, it will go right into the garments. Poly and twine from hay bales or straw can easily become entwined in the wool.

“I once saw a Pendleton blanket on a shelf for $800, and it had a line of poly right through the middle of it. That makes a $800 blanket worth $10,” he says.

Separate

Hair from the legs or butt is the biggest contaminant in wool, and it can be hard to separate. It comes from the shearer cleaning up the feet and legs and around the butt, Chambliss says.

“The dirtiest part of the fleece is the belly. That needs to be separated from the rest of the fleece. The easiest way is to ask the shearer to take the belly wool off and throw it into a side sack,” he explains. “It is always short and dirty, so it’s worth less, but it does still have value.”

Another area that should be separated is wool around the butt, because of the balls of feces and urine stains on the wool. The neck area, called the crow’s nest, right above the shoulder blade up to the top of the neck also gets contaminated from hay and dirt.

“By removing the neck wool, we can increase the yield on the rest of the wool because we removed the vegetable matter,” he tells producers. “We are probably only removing a one-quarter of a pound of wool, but we can basically add 10 cents a pound to each fleece by removing vegetable matter, belly wool, tags, urine pieces, hair, wool on the lower legs, face and cheek wool and the armpit wool, which is full of lanolin.”

“Also remove any straw, cockle burrs or sand burrs from the fleece. Basically, remove any pieces that don’t fit,” he adds.

Sheep should not be bedded in straw prior to shearing.

“Save that bale of straw until after they are sheared,” he recommends.

Chambliss recommends setting up something the size of a card table to put the fleece on after the shearer finishes each sheep.

“We basically have about four minutes to clean up that fleece before the shearer will have the next one ready,” he says.

Managing sheep

How the sheep are fed and managed can also impact the quality of the fleece.

Density, which is how thick or tight the wool is, can be impacted by the amount of dirt in the fleece.

“I would recommend keeping dust and blowing dirt down in the pens,” he explains. “If producers grind hay, don’t do it near the sheep, and try to find a way to feed besides using a bale feeder.”

Producers should also set up a consistent schedule to shear their sheep. While most producers like to shear before lambing, not everyone does, Chambliss says.

“What I would recommend is shearing them every 11 months and keeping it on schedule,” he explains.

For his own herd, Chambliss takes away water the night before shearing. He doesn’t recommend feeding sheep the morning of shearing.

“Some people won’t agree with me, but I’ve found that holding back water prevents urine on the shearing floor. If producers don’t feed them that morning, it reduces the amount of feces on the floor,” he explains.

Chambliss uses a leaf rake, rather than a broom, to clean up after the sheep.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Faith, S.D. – As the sheep industry continues to see changes, Patty Kelly of VC Kelly Ranch developed a new breed of ram to improve her operation’s producing capabilities.
    “I started raising the South African Meat Merino’s (SAMM) about eight years ago,” says Kelly. “We could see they were just a thriftier sheep.”
    After neighbors in South Dakota imported semen and bred their ewes, Kelly says the benefits of the unique breed were apparent.
South African Meat Merino
    Rather than running a straight-bred sheep, the Kelly Ranch has developed a crossbreed, introducing SAMM genetics to their Rambouillet herd. The resulting sheep expresses hybrid vigor, allowing both the meat and wool of the animal to improve.
    “I thought I would cross them on a Rambouillet,” she explains. “Then we have the crossbred vigor, just like you have in cattle.”
    Kelly adds that the sheep gain better and have improved feed efficiency when compared to Rambouillet or Targhee, in her experience.
    “They are also a little meatier and more muscly,” she notes. “They are a very, very hardy sheep, and they utilize feed better than any other sheep.”
    She continues, mentioning that the sheep are more boxy and have more depth of body than other breeds.
    Benefits are also seen in the reproductive traits, says Kelly, noting that she is able to keep rams and ewes several years longer than her purebred sheep, increasing herd longevity.
    “With this cross, I also increased lambing percentages and herd health,” Kelly comments.
    Though their unique crossbreed of sheep has limited some sale opportunities, Kelly is very happy with the results seen in the breed.
Wool characteristics
    Aside from benefits seen in meat production aspects of the operation, Kelly says the wool is also high quality.
    “Wool is more and more important every day,” she says. “These sheep produce good wool.”
    The wool quality of the SAMM breed was a big reason that Kelly became interested in the sheep, and she says for the last three years, her wool has been from 19 to 21 microns, allowing the operation to capture more value from the livestock.
Running sheep
    Kelly also notes that they run their sheep “just like in the old days.”
    “We have herders from Peru,” she explains. “They live in the pasture with the sheep.”
    They also utilize Akbash guard dogs, which are raised as another aspect of the ranching operation.
    “I raise Akbash guard dogs. They look similar to Pyrenees, but they aren’t,” she says, mentioning they run between four and five adult dogs to every 800 to 1,000 sheep.
    “There aren’t a lot of SAMM in this part of the world,” she says, “but I think what we are doing is working.”
    For more information on the VC Kelly Ranch’s South African Meat Merino cross sheep, visit vckellyranch.com. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..