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Sheep

“We are in a true supply and demand scenario,” said Kaycee sheep producer Bob Harlan at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and Double S Feeders 2011 Cattlemen’s Conference.
Harlan looked at the current situation, saying that Australia’s stockpile of wool has been depleted, so the available wool is on the market, and few outside forces are putting pressure on prices.

“Australian auctions are at record levels, and so is the exchange rate,” comments Harlan. “That puts our wool market extremely high.”

Larry Prager of Center of the Nation Wool, Inc. agrees that wool markets are doing well, adding, “Last spring’s production was a record setter in terms of quality and value received.  It was a quick and very aggressive marketing season.  All of the pieces that we’d like to see in place were there.”

Prager explains that there won’t be a surplus anywhere in the world anytime soon.  From supply side economics, the market advantage will go to those with wool to sell next spring.

“We’re in between wool clips right now. We won’t see wool ready for the market until next spring,” says Prager. “The 2011 wool clip is largely already in the marketplace.  We’re just waiting for the sheep to catch up so we can shear again.”

Demand for wool will be the unknown factor that producers have to face, says Prager. The relative strength of the American dollar also contributes uncertainty.

“Our prices are established in Australia at the auctions, and when converted to a weak U.S. dollar, more value accumulates on our side of the fence,” says Prager. “It seems unlikely that we will see a strong U.S. dollar anytime soon.”

Harlan agrees, “Wool will remain good with the right exchange rate.”

According to the USDA National Wool Review from Sept. 2, wool was estimated at between $3.57 and $9.03 clean basis, for 30 micron and 18-micron wool, respectively. 

Additionally, last week, the Eastern Market Indicator closed up six at 1270 Australian cents per kilogram of clean wool.

Of the opportunity available in the sheep industry, Harlan adds, “I’m supposed to be showing you the opportunities. One bale of wool netted $2,034, and weighing right at five hundred pounds.  For ewe lamb wool, we saw $3.43 per pound greasy.”

Harlan also mentioned that pelts were selling at between $25 and $30 per pelt.

“Pelts are higher than ever. Take $25 divided by an 80 pound Wyoming feeder lamb which equals 31.25 cents per pound,” says Harlan. “Wool is great, and pelts are great.”

“We’ve had a great season, and I don’t see any major problems looking forward,” says Prager.

He also notes that the quality of wool will become more important as wool becomes more expensive, raising the bar on producers as far as genetics and management.

“In the tri-state area, we already have sound genetics,” adds Prager. “We have the fineness, and we have flocks that are uniform from year to year and sheep to sheep.”

The tradition of sheep flocks in the tri-state area of raising their own replacements maintains genetics and helps to insure quality, according to Prager.

Prager also sees great color and good fiber strength, as well as low contamination in the Wyoming sheep herds.

“Contamination from black fiber and poly twine is a big part of a potential problem that could exist, but Wyoming has to be on top of the pile on both counts.” says Prager.

In Wyoming, Prager adds that the range environment the sheep are raised on is a key factor is maintaining low contamination.

“We are shearing those sheep pretty much right off the grasslands,” says Prager.

Low risk for contamination combined with our traditional quality always yields high prices in the market when compared to other areas.

“We had a lot of three dollar wool.   Never before have wool prices been that high.” says Prager. “We even had a few growers that were over four.  This year has truly been a record setter.”

Overall, Prager sees the sheep industry as thriving and a good place to be.

“It’s just a good time to own sheep,” he says. “Lambs are good. Wool is good, and in my time in the industry never before have I seen the economic model for the sheep industry appear any stronger. The sheep industry from any angle is as sound economically as it has ever been.”

Saige Albert is assistant 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..



Heber City, Utah — The widely recognized traditional sheep camp design was standardized in the late 1800s, and even in their earliest days the camps were unique. All were designed as a mobile form of shelter and storage, but beyond that they were as varied as their occupants.
With the rapidly increasing sheep numbers in the 1900s also came an increasing demand for sheep camps. Producers could build their own or have one made through the local blacksmith.  These blacksmiths are given a lot of credit for designing and modifying early camps as well as performing upgrades and repairs.
By the turn of the 20th century commercial manufacturers were producing and marketing sheep camps. Studabaker, which originated as a blacksmith shop, was among the best and produced camps from 1899 through 1913. They called their version the, “sheep camp bed.” Today very few commercial manufacturers produce sheep camps. The oldest and most widely recognized is Wilson Sheep Camps, located in Heber City, Utah.
This multi-generational family-owned business started in 1976 when Mark Wilson’s father asked him to come home and run the family farm instead of going into the Air Force. He agreed and was later asked to rebuild some of the family’s sheep camps. Soon neighbors were calling wanting to purchase the camps. Mark went into business with his brother Doyle and Wilson Sheep Camp Trailers was born.
“I built three or four camps for my father and uncle. At that time they were made out of the old cars and were worn out before you even started. I invented a new type of running gear and a new trailing mechanism,” explains Wilson.
The Wilson brothers built sheep camps together for 30 years. Three years ago Doyle retired and Mark’s sons, Brady and Wesley, joined the business. “Both of my sons are college graduates, one is a metallurgical engineer and one is a computer engineer,” says Wilson.
Today Wilson Sheep Camps builds approximately two custom camps each month. Prices range from $14,000 to $23,000 for a standard size camp. The Wilson family has always been quality and design oriented and do all the work themselves to ensure quality control.
Brady and Wesley’s skills are utilized to further improve the strength, design and available options in a camp. “We have recently built some new shops and purchased some CNC equipment. They’ve really improved the camps with aluminum use and modern technology. We make everything using CNC, even wood carvings that can be inlayed in the camp,” says Wilson of computer numerical control technology.
The design is constantly being modified to improve the camps and ensure they are the best money can buy. They are comprised of solid frame construction and the custom chasse designed by Mark. This combination results in a durable camp that can withstand being drug up mountain trails and also pulled down the interstate.
“People found out about them and that they last so much longer than travel trailers. They’re built better and can be repaired if they’re rolled,” explains Mike. “We sell them to government trappers and a lot of hunters and fishermen in addition to sheep producers. They are designed to be used every day out of the year regardless of temperature.”
Camps are well insulated with a combination of fiberglass and foam. They have improved ceilings with aluminum trim and lifetime guaranteed screws. Lifetime hinges and Formica are used inside for increased durability. The same coating used to line pickup beds is applied to the bottom and has been a popular feature with customers.     
Other features customers can choose from include solar panels, an entertainment package including TV and DVD player, forced air heat and precision built cabinets. Toilet systems, roll out beds and air conditioning can also be implemented in the design.
“We also came up with an alumna-frame door. That has been a really big improvement that people are trying to copy. It will take them a while to figure it out though,” adds Wilson.
The Wilson’s recently built a big press that allows them to make perfect bows in the roof. This enables them to build longer than the previous maximum 18 feet. They also just came up with a new way of including a bathtub in the design.
“We’re always coming up with new ways to improve the camps and can provide a lot of options,” says Wilson. “We use the best marketing tool there is, word of mouth. Our quality says it all.”
For more information on Wilson Sheep Camps contact Mark Wilson at 801-358-2640 or visit www.campwagons.com. Heather Hamilton is 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.  

Boise, Idaho – Kathy Vader’s long construction history, coupled with a family history lent itself to developing a business building sheep wagons in 2007. 

“In 2007, we started building sheep wagons because our grandfathers were in the sheep business,” Kathy says. “We also had a cousin who wanted a sheep wagon to represent our granddad.”

Kathy continues, “We were in construction, so we decided to build a sheep wagon for her.”

After many hours of research and going to old sheep ranches studying original sheep wagons, she was able to develop a plan to build their first wagon. She was so interested that she just kep building. 

“After that first wagon, someone else saw it and wanted one,” Kathy comments. “After a couple of years, it turned into a full-time business from just building two or three wagons a year.”

Today, Kathy, her husband Kim and daughter-in-law Rebecca work together at their business, Idaho Sheep Camps, to build custom sheep wagons from their home in Boise, Idaho.

Creating memories

“Everyone remembers something different about the sheep wagons they have been around,” Kathy says. “Our motto is, ‘Creating family memories.’ Our wagons are all about family and bringing back the memories and history.”

Kathy notes that her aunt is Basque, and the Basque heritage runs strong within many of the wagons they build and restore. 

She has also been involved in restoring sheep wagons for museums around the West to help educate others on the history of sheep ranching. 

Creating a wagon

The process to build a sheep wagon is quite long, Kathy notes, emphasizing that they work with clients to make sure the design is perfect. 

“From the time a person gets ahold of me, we talk back and forth quite a bit,” she says. “By the time we have a wagon finished, it is anywhere from six months to a year.”

All of the wagons created by Idaho Sheep Camps are custom creations. 

The process begins as Kathy draws the wagon designs and works with old photos provided by the client to sketch the wagon. 

“After we have the design, we start the construction,” she says. “I’ve been in construction all of my life.”

The interior of every wagon is also entirely custom made. Idaho Sheep Camps builds all the cabinetry, and Kim forges much of the hardware that is installed.

Kathy takes care of all the painting and staining, as well.

“We don’t – and often can’t – buy a lot of the things we use,” Kathy says.

“We can only build six wagons a year,” Kathy notes. “It takes us about 2.5 months to build a wagon, and we can’t speed it up because we want to get them right.”

From useful to pieces of art

Those who seek Vader’s custom craftsmanship in building a sheep wagon are often looking for more than just a piece of art to sit in their front yard, she says. 

“These wagons are acutally being used on the range,” Kathy explains. “One pair of horse-drawn wagons that we are building will be used for many years, and they will travel about 100 miles each summer. These aren’t just something pretty. They are useful, working sheep wagons, as well.”

Clients have also used their sheep wagons as guest houses on their property and to remember their family history. 

Strong passion

Despite the fact that Idaho Sheep Camps provides a source of income for the family, Kathy also notes that building sheep wagons is also about pursuing her passion. 

“We enjoy building these wagons,” she says. “The people we build them or often become friends, and some are even like a part of their family.”

“Building sheep wagons is my passion,” Kathy adds. “It is more than the monetary value of building and selling a wagon. This is my art.”

Working woman

As a woman building her own business in agriculture, Kathy says she has faced some challenges, largely because construction is a male-oriented field. 

“When I’m talking to people about construction, sometimes they assume that I don’t understand or know what I’m talking about,” she says. “I also buy all the materials, and sometimes new suppliers will write me off.”

“I had to prove myself, but I know my stuff, so it wasn’t a hang-up for me,” Kathy continues, also noting that she has learned a lot by listening and asking questions of other people in the field.

She further encourages young women to pursue their passions in agriculture and to not be scared about setback. 

“I tell young women that if they find something they really enjoy – something they have a passion for – don’t let anying stop them from achieving it,” Kathy explains. “We can’t be afraid to approach people and ask questions.”

Kathy also comments that she has met a number of strong and inspiring women along her path, which has helped to keep her motivated. 

“Meeting and seeing new people gets me hyped up and excited,” she says. “It really keeps me going.”

Looking forward

After all she has learned and with her experience, Kathy says the future of Idaho Sheep Camps looks bright. 

Business is strong, she says, adding, “We have orders a year and a half out.”

At the same time, her daughter-in-law Rebecca began working with Kathy and her husband only six months ago and has developed a similar passion for the business. 

“Rebecca would like to continue the business down the road,” she says. “She really loves the wagons, the people and everything we do here.”

Kathy adds, “Our future looks really great right now.”

Women in Ag

During the month of November, the Wyoming Livestock Roundup spotlights women in various aspects of agriculture who make an influence in their community, state and the industry. 

The 2012 Census of Agriculture showed that women control seven percent of U.S. farmland and account for three percent of sales. Additionally, 14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms had a female principal operator in 2012. 

“Nationally, women were 30 percent of farmers, but in states in the Northeast, Southwest and West, women comprise larger shares,” reads the National Agriculture Statistics Service Report. 

From traditional cattlewomen to women utilizing ag products to develop a value-added business, the names of these women have come to us from our readers. If you know a strong woman in agriculture that would make a great feature story, let us know by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or calling 307-234-2700.

 

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..

Greeley, Colo. – Producers and other participants in Sheep Day at the recent Colorado Farm Show were treated to a taste sampling of lamb prepared different ways. 

Dale Woerner, associate professor with the Colorado State University (CSU) Department of Animal Sciences Center for meat safety and quality, asked the public to compare the flavor of American lamb with New Zealand lamb. 

During taste tests, Woerner questioned the group about flavor. Some people in the room preferred the milder flavor of American lamb, while others liked the taste of grass-fed New Zealand lamb. 

“Tenderness is not an issue in lamb meat. Consumers know what they want,” he says. 

Flavor impacts

What a lamb is fed can impact its flavor, Woerner explains. Alfalfa and other legumes, like clover, put a more bold flavor into lamb and other red meats. 

“What they eat changes the way they taste. Diet is one of the primary influencers of meat. Highly digestible lush pastures that are high in protein but comparatively low in energy create compounds that create a stronger flavor,” he says.

While he doesn’t feel weight is a good indicator of flavor, background and maturity have the greatest impact, he continues. 

“We don’t know what impact breed has, but we do know that age alone is not a good indicator of flavor in lamb meat,” he explains. 

As an example, Woerner compared a Rambouillet and Suffolk. The Rambouillet will mature at a lighter weight sooner than a Suffolk, which will continue to grow and mature at a heavier weight, he explains. 

“If they are killed at the same age, they are still different maturities, and it will impact the flavor. If both the Rambouillet and the Suffolk are killed at 14 months, the Rambouillet will have a stronger flavor because it is more mature,” he says.

As fat becomes more unsaturated, it makes the taste stronger. 

“There is a lot of range in lamb flavor in different ages of lamb. It causes a lot of variation in taste,” he says. 

Eating satisfaction

An American lamb quality in retail and foodservice markets study by the American Sheep Industry Association shows eating satisfaction is the most important quality trait for lamb. 

“The majority of consumers – 71 percent – are willing to pay a premium for improved eating satisfaction,” the study shows. “If eating satisfaction can be guaranteed, consumers were willing to pay an average premium of 18.6 percent.” 

Technology

An instrument is available that can detect the chemistry of lamb to distinguish whether the lamb was grain or grass fed. 

Lamb flavor can be distinguished by a specific eight- to 10-carbon branched chain of fatty acids (BCFA) that are the primary contributors of distinctive lamb flavor, Woerner says. 

“A 4-methylactonoic acid (MOA) has the most influence on mutton flavor. MOA increases 13-fold in rams and 1.3 fold in wethers after sexual maturity. BCFAs are lowest in lambs less than one year old, intermediate in sheep one to two years old and greatest in sheep over two,” he explains. 

Woerner would like to see the industry develop a process that can detect if a lamb has mild, medium or bold flavors. The technology exists but hasn’t been utilized in the processing industry. 

One of the first machines developed to detect flavor took 15 minutes to analyze one sample, Woerner says. 

However, new technology has produced a machine that can do it in seconds. A study at CSU showed this machine was able to calculate flavor accurately 82 percent of the time. 

“The hardest flavors for it to differentiate between are mild and medium flavor. It showed the most accuracy on strong flavored lamb,” he says. 

If a machine could be used that was highly accurate, Woerner says it could increase lamb consumption. 

“All it takes right now is one bad eating experience or one bad smell while eating lamb for the consumer to never buy it again. We have to find ways to differentiate lamb flavor so consumers will like it and buy it over and over again,” he says.

“Everyone has a different taste, but there are plenty of consumers out there who will buy mild-flavored lamb, if nothing else,” he continues. “Most consumers prefer the mild flavored lamb because most of the consumers in this country don’t eat lamb.”

Focus on the niche

Woerner tells sheep producers it would be a mistake to expand the sheep industry to the point it is a commodity market. 

“The reason we are broke in agriculture is because we are raising commodity products. We are paid based on quantity,” he says. “In a niche market, we are producing and supplying a product. I don’t think the sheep industry should ever strive to be a commodity business. We should just focus on what we are doing and do it better.” 

“We need to do a better job of marketing our product, so we can command a premium for it,” he explains. 

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..

Greeley, Colo. – U.S. wool contaminated with straw, poly fiber, manure and other contaminants isn’t worth as much on the world market as Australian wool. 

“Wool that’s clean gets more green,” Lisa Surber told producers at the First Annual Sheep Day held during the Colorado Farm Show on Jan. 25. “Contamination is a tremendous cost to our industry. Anything that is not wool is considered a contaminant. It impacts how wool is processed all the way through the chain.” 

Surber, who is the raw wool services consultant with the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), said contamination can come from several sources but is labeled as natural, acquired or applied. 

Natural contamination

Natural is defined as contamination produced by the sheep like impure fibers, urine, dung and wool wax. These natural contaminants should be sorted from the white wool after the shearing process, she said.  

“Shedding breeds or crosses can still have hair fibers in their wool, even if the cross was three or four generations ago,” she said. 

Top knots, leg hair and hairy britches that creep up from the legs and down from the head in some breeds are also considered contaminants. 

Addressing the problem

Surber urges growers to separate sheep with freckles on their face or black eyelashes from sheep with true white wools. 

“They tend to have black fibers in their wool, even if it isn’t obvious,” she said. 

She encourages producers to shear the finest wool white fiber sheep first and work down from there, doing the black fiber sheep, then the hair sheep last. 

Wool should be sorted and bagged as it is sheared.

Acquired

Acquired contaminants are harder to separate from wool and can really decrease value, she explained. Vegetable, mineral or animal matters, polypropylene, jute, strings and cigarette fibers are all considered acquired contaminants. Examples are burrs, burdock, straw and wood chips. 

Polypropylene, which is found in twine, blue tarps and agricultural tote bags, is considered one of the most troublesome contaminants because it is virtually impossible to pick out of wool. 

“There is no sense of pride in the wool clip if we present a buyer with wool that has this contaminant,” she said, showing a picture of a fleece with twine thrown into it. 

It can also be dangerous if the sheep ingests it. It can create a ball in the rumen, causing compaction and other health issues, she said.

Prevention

Wood chips or straw shouldn’t be used to bed sheep right before shearing. Surber recommends waiting until after the sheep are sheared, or doing it a week or more in advance so the animals can trample it down, if it’s really cold.

Examples of applied contaminants are paint brands, pesticides and medications. Paint brands and grease markers should be used carefully. 

“Paint can turn a scourable product into an unscourable one,” she explained. 

“White wool can become pink, and blue paint produces the biggest problems,” she said. “If producers have to mark a sheep, do it on the face or someplace where the least expensive wool is. Definitely not down the back.”

Sorting

Surber told producers they should place wool with contaminants like vegetable matter, polypropylene, stained wool and belly wool into a separate bag. Wool stained with urine, feces, yolk or canary stains should also be placed in a separate bag. 

“Belly wool tends to be shorter, uneven, stained and lower yielding,” the wool specialist said. 

China purchases belly wool from the U.S., but they have started rejecting fleeces with too much manure. 

“Why would a producer even put manure in the wool bag? During shearing, remember that what happens in a couple minutes can impact what they have spent all year building,” Surber told producers. 

Opportunities in wool

With the addition of the Super Wash system in the U.S., new markets for wool products have opened up domestically. The Super Wash system changes the wool fibers so they can be machine washed and even tumble dried on low. 

“It has created the ability to market and sell wool to people we never could before,” she said. 

It has also expanded markets for items like wool socks, shoes, clothing and blankets. 

“If we could get everyone in the U.S. to buy wool socks, it could be a game-changer for the U.S. wool industry,” she stated.

The largest market for wool is the U.S. military, which utilizes clothing made from U.S. wool, thanks to the Berry Amendment. 

“One of the most important characteristics of wool is its ability to wick moisture away from the skin. Wool can absorb 30 percent of its weight in moisture, without feeling damp. Wool is a warm and cool season fabric and is resistant to flame, which makes it popular for the military,” she said.

Wool is also considered a “green” fabric because it has natural protein fibers. The chemical bonds will break down when the wool is exposed to elements of nature. “Wool clothing and other products will last a long time, but if they ever end up in the landfill, they will break down and become part of the soil,” she explained. “Discarded wool has very little impact on the natural environment and because of this, wool is environmentally friendly.”

Recycled wool is very popular,” she continued. 

Old garments or cuttings can be used to make new garments or respun back into yarn. 

Finer micron wool

Surber told producers countries like China are looking for finer micron wool. 

“There is an increasing demand for next to skin circular knit wool clothing for active and leisure wear,” she explained. “U.S. domestic users also want finer micron sportswear and some military clothing.”

Breeds like Merino, Rambouillet and Targhee are all capable of producing these finer wools. 

“It will be a big challenge for us to produce enough wool that is more than 20 microns to meet the needs of the specialty fabric market in the U.S.,” she stated.  

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..