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New Orleans, La. – Nearly 500 sheep and wool producers across the country flocked to New Orleans, La. for the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) Convention, making the event one of the most widely attended conventions for the organization.

“This year’s event was a tremendous opportunity to learn, innovate and connect across the entire industry,” commented Chase Adams from ASI. 

With legislative and policy actions taken, the productive convention allowed discussions on a variety of important topics affecting the industry.

Resource issues

Each of ASI’s councils and committees met with industry leaders who met with agency leaders to further the future of the sheep industry.

“The Resource Council met with representatives of USDA’s Wildlife Services to discuss efforts and ensure active predator control across the country, as producers grapple with increased predation,” explained Adams. 

Further discussions targeted pathogen transmission between wildlife and domestic livestock. 

“America’s sheep producers support healthy wildlife and healthy habitat,” he added. “Unfortunately, all too often, sheep producers are blamed for wildlife losses.” 

USDA Animal Disease Research Unit research shows that those pathogens that cause wildlife mortality are present across a wide array of wildlife – not just domestic livestock. However, working with land management agencies and informing the public about the issue is vital to ensuring the sheep industry’s success. 

“Grazing livestock are an integral part of healthy rangelands,” Adams said. 

Lamb Council

ASI’s Lamb Council also crafted policies related to alternative sources of protein, including lab-cultured proteins.

“Having closely monitored the development of these products and the evolving regulatory framework, members of ASI weighed in on supporting the administration’s approach of joint oversight between USDA and the Food and Drug Administration,” Adams said.

He continued, “The policy clearly states the association opposes any efforts to mislead consumers or disparage traditionally produced natural lamb in product promotion, advertising or labeling.” 

With ASI at the forefront of the conversations, Adams noted America’s sheep industry strives to maintain a level playing field to ensure consumers can make informed decisions about the foods they eat.

Young leaders

Many First-time attendees led to busy meetings at the annual event, and Adams noted ASI’s Young Entrepreneur Committee flourished. 

“Young and beginning sheep producers again built on momentum to network and take home new ideas to improve their operations and add profitability,” Adams explained. “The Young Entrepreneurs discussed working across generations, learned about advancements in wool production and marketing and discussed market dynamics with industry leaders in the lamb feeding and packing sectors.” 

At the conclusion of convention, Young Entrepreneurs competed in an American Lamb Cook-off event, where teams crafted easy, every-night dishes featuring fresh ground American lamb. 

Awards and honors

Among the important events at convention, ASI recognized several important supporters of the industry. 

He continued, “In recognition of that achievement, ASI presented Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) with the industry’s highest award, the Joe Skein Award.” 

“ASI’s legislative council reviewed the strong farm bill and made plans to ensure the implementation of the program to maximize the benefit to producers,” Adams explained. “Under the tenure of Chairman Conaway, the House drafted the strongest farm bill for the industry in three decades.”

Further, ASI recognized retiring President Mike Corn, who led the association through a period of record wool prices coupled with both regulatory and policy wins. 

Saige Albert, Wyoming Livestock Roundup managing editor, wrote this article from ASI’s weekly SheepCast podcast. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

ASI’s Orwick, Wyo’s Reece highlight successes, efforts

Casper – Legislatively speaking it’s been a good year for the American sheep industry with several beneficial items included in the 2007 Farm Bill. At the Wyoming level, continued funding of the state’s predator boards coupled with the success of groups like the Animal Damage Management Board adds to that success.
    The late September implementation of Country of Origin Labeling brings to fruition ASI policy dating back to 1991 when they supported the labeling of foreign lamb in U.S. meat cases. “We initiated the discussion with Congress in the 1990s and here we are a dozen years down the road and seeing it implemented,” says American Sheep Industry Association Executive Director Peter Orwick, “It’s something encouraging for us.”
    “The Mountain States Lamb Cooperative,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece, “is proving that the stronger the connection between producer and consumer the more the consumer wants to buy that product.”
    Aspects of the farm bill that will allow the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat brought to life yet another long-held ASI goal. “We were the first on board to support this multi-year legislation,” says Orwick. “It’s a brand new program and it will take the department a bit longer to write the regulations than it did on COOL.”
    For Reece it’s one of the biggest measures put forth in the new farm bill. “Federal inspection has a role and its consumer protection,” he says, “but it’s moved beyond that point to a restraint of trade. I think this has the potential, depending on how USDA writes the rules and regulations, to break wide open and result in increased profits to producers.”
    Also approved in the 2007 Farm Bill was the Sheep Improvement Center, a group that Orwick says will be looking at business strengths and weaknesses in the sheep industry and where programs are needed. “We’ll be able to provide sheep industry nominees this fall,” he says of a program that will compliment the efforts of ASI’s legislative roles and the American Lamb Board’s promotional efforts.
    Beyond the Farm Bill, Orwick says ASI is working with Senators and Congressmen and women from across the Intermountain West to stop the regionalization of Argentina as it pertains to Foot and Mouth Disease. “That’s probably been the issue we’ve worked the hardest on so far this summer,” says Orwick of the proposal that would allow live sheep, lamb products and beef products from that area to enter the U.S. “We don’t want this particular proposal to go forward,” says Orwick, “and we’ll continue to keep the pressure on through the fall and as we go into next year.” They were able to help put in place legislation that prohibits USDA from spending any dollars to forward this effort. “We think that sent a pretty strong message,” says Orwick.
    The WWGA has joined ASI in its efforts. “We’re opposed to opening the border to any country where there’s active Foot and Mouth Disease,” says Reece. “An FMD outbreak in this country would have devastating consequences. This is one disease we need to be totally on guard about. I’m pretty sure if we had FMD that no matter how many zones we created Argentina wouldn’t take our livestock.”
    ASI was also successful in securing a Livestock Risk Protection insurance option for some of the nation’s sheep ranchers, including those in Wyoming. Of about three million lambs slaughtered last year, Orwick says around 700,000 of them carried the insurance in the first year of an ongoing pilot project. “A lot of producers and feeders put on all the lambs they possibly could,” says Orwick. “It gives producers a chance to manage their risk. If the wheels come off of the lamb market, it’s a way for you and your banker to manage that risk. You can cover the basics and come back another year.”
    Closer to home the sheep industry has also seen many recent victories. For Reece success began in 1999 with creation of the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board. “It has brought together entities that have traditionally been at each others’ throats,” he says of the group comprised of sportsmen, ranchers, wildlife managers and more. “We brought people together and gave them responsibility for a commonly shared problem.”
    That effort was forwarded again three years ago with approval of funds for Wyoming’s predatory animal boards. With many board on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, Reece says they’ve seen been able to carry out projects mutually beneficial to livestock and wildlife. Reece says it’s also significantly reduced his industry’s losses to predators.
     Jennifer Womack 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..

Reno, Nev. – From Jan. 28-31, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) gathered producers, buyers and agency officials together for a monumental milestone – the 150th year of the organization.

“It was a really good convention,” mentioned Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Director Amy Hendrickson. “There were a record number of people there, and we had about 15 members from Wyoming.”

Hot topics

During the convention, while ASI was celebrating its achievement of reaching 150 years as an organization, they also discussed the ongoing policy challenges seen in the sheep industry. 

“From a policy perspective, public lands grazing and Bighorn sheep are always important,” Hendrickson noted. “For the industry itself, the Roadmap was a big topic.”

ASI is currently implementing its Roadmap for the industry to continue to develop sheep production across the U.S.

“They also looked at improvements in both wool and lamb,” she continued. “It was a really good meeting, and we hit a lot of topics.”

Wool perspective

Larry Prager of Center of the Nation Wool also commented that the 150th convention was well-attended event. 

“Every year at ASI convention is a good time,” he said. “The convention is a good place for the wool trade to get together. We can visit casually and get a sense of what the issues are for each entity in the industry.”

He also said that the event set the stage for the spring trading and shearing season. 

“There are a lot of positives for the wool industry right now,” Prager continued, “but we are being killed with the strength of the U.S. dollar.”

For world supply, no large stocks of wool are available anywhere, which is a positive for the industry, but Australia’s product is cheaper than U.S. wools because of the value of the dollar. 

At the same time, an increasing interest in wool from the outdoor recreation industry bodes well for markets. 

Achievements

At the convention, Wyoming producers were recognized for their hard work and achievements, most notably Wyoming rancher Don Meike.

Meike earned ASI’s “Distinguished Producer Award,” an award created in 2014 and designed to honor a member of the sheep community with long-standing involvement in the industry’s history and development. 

“Meike, along with his brother Peto, have made an impact on the ranching industry and their community in Johnson County,” said ASI. “Meike made waves in the ranching industry when he and Peto developed an intensive shed lambing program that drastically increases lamb production over years by pairing ewes with lambs based on milk production. They developed the program after noticing some ewes could only raise a single lamb, while others could support twins and even triplets.”

“We tried a lot of different things over the years to improve our operation. Some work, and some don’t, but I couldn’t imagine making a living any other way,” said Meike, who is retired. “It’s not an easy business, but it’s a very rewarding business.”

“Each recipient of this year’s ASI awards represents some of the best and most dedicated the sheep industry has to offer, and they have each had a positive impact on our business,” said Clint Krebs, president of the ASI Board of Directors. “ASI celebrated its 150th anniversary during this year’s convention, and each of the award winners symbolizes the dedication of sheep producers and the entire sheep industry.”

Wool contest

In the National Make-It-With-Wool (MIWW) contest, Wyoming contestants also competed well. 

Michelle Elser of Casper was chosen as the second place winner in the Adult Division. 

Her outfit consisted of a hand-knitted teal sweater and beige herringbone-patterned skirt trimmed with knitted teal lace on the lower edge. She submitted her outfit, photos and modeling video to the national judging committee, and winners were announced in late December.

Kylee Gaukel of Keeline and Makiya Johnson of Encampment represented Wyoming in the Senior and Junior Divisions, respectively. While they didn’t place in the top, Wyoming MIWW State Director Lynda Jordan commented, “These young ladies represented Wyoming extremely well.”

Looking back 

With 150 years as an organization, Krebs commented, “In the last 150 years, a lot has happened and a lot has changed.”

From the beginning of the industry when sheep moved west with people traveling in wagon trains to today when they are transported across the U.S., Krebs noted that the industry has developed and expanded.

“Some of the major changes we have seen have been in the genetics and the breeds we have developed in the United States,” he said. “We have made a lot of changes to make breeds of sheep dual – or even triple – purpose.”

“We have a fantastic opportunity to celebrate what no other organization in the livestock business has done nationally, and that is to celebrate the 150th anniversary,” commented ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick. “That is something we take pride in.”

“There have been a lot of changes, and we’ve adapted to a lot of changes,” he continued. “It wasn’t easy, but we’ve made it work. We’ve become an effective voice for the American sheepman and woman.”

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..

Kaycee — It’s always amazing to see what a small community, when combined with the drive of a few dedicated volunteers, can accomplish. The annual Kaycee Sheep Festival and Challenge is a prime example.
    Stock dogs and the sheep they attempt to maneuver through an open course, take center stage at the event, but since the festival was launched in 2004 Kaycee residents have worked to expand the action. A cook-off, a ram sale, sheep industry exhibits, a lamb BBQ, a street dance and a rodeo will all take place in Kaycee this Labor Day weekend.
    On Saturday evening at 6 p.m. the community will host the “Not Your Mama’s Wool Fashion and Craft Show.” According to Mary Cunningham, the event will be held in conjunction with the annual lamb cook-off at Jarrard Park.
    Kaycee High School junior Sara Goni is two-time champion of the event, but says she won’t be in town to compete at the 2009 cook-off. Both championships have been earned with a slow-roasted leg of lamb basted in tomato sauce and seasonings. While she only cooks on occasion at home, the cook-off is something Goni looks forward to and enjoys.
    On its second year at the event is a ram sale including various breeds of sheep. The sale was held via silent auction in 2008, but at the 2009 event there will be a live auction including around 60 head of rams that have been consigned. The sale will be held prior to the final round of the dog trials on Monday morning, Labor Day.
    According to event organizer Lisa Cunningham, the sale was launched to fill the gap created when the long-time Buffalo ram sale ended. “Suffolk, Rambouillet, Dorset, Hampshire, Columbia and CVM,” she says, “will be displayed throughout the Labor Day Weekend in our ‘Sheep Breed Display’ section of the Sheep Industry Festival.  Monday, Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. at the Sheep Industry Festival site, on the south end of Kaycee, rams will be run through a live auction.” L. Cunningham says it provides producers an opportunity to promote their product and educate the public.
    M. Cunningham says that on Sunday evening there will be a free lamb BBQ at the rodeo grounds where John Forbes will hold a night rodeo. “There will be a minimal fee for entry to the rodeo,” she says, “but the BBQ is free.”
    “We now have 54 dogs entered,” says M. Cunningham. “Each dog runs once on Saturday and once on Sunday. The top 10 qualify for the finals. We will have spinners, weavers, authors, industry representatives and local artisans and other booths at the festival. The wool mill from Buffalo will also be there.”
    Bevis Jordan, a farm manger from Northumberland, England, will officiate over the 2009 Kaycee Challenge Sheep Dog Trial. Jordan is an experienced dog handler who raises Border collies and has exported several of the dogs to the United States. At home on the 3,500-acre farm he manages, Jordan keeps four to five dogs in various stages of training.
    For a complete agenda and information visit http://sheepfestival.net. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of 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..

San Antonio, Texas – Wyoming producers joined hundreds of fellow sheep industry re presentatives at the 2013 American Sheep Industry (ASI) Association Annual Convention to discuss the pressing issues affecting the industry today.

“Attendance was above what they had they had last year,” comments Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Peter John Camino. “The weather was beautiful, and lots of topics were discussed.”

“The convention had a really good turnout,” adds Mountain States Lamb Cooperative Board Vice Chairman Brad Boner, who also attended the event. “There were some lively discussions and most of it was pretty positive.”

Camino and Boner marked labor, drought and markets as top issues for the industry that were discussed with producers nationwide during the event.

Labor concerns

“One of the main concerns at the meeting was the H-2A program, which helps bring in shepherds,” explains Camino. “ASI has put together a committee and is in the process of investigating the wages of sheepherders through the Labor Department.”

He continues that sheepherders are brought in from around the world to address labor shortages seen in the sheep industry. The wages of the temporary workers have begun to change and increase across the western United States to levels that are difficult to pay. 

“Herders rates went from $750 to $1,400 in three states,” he adds. “There have been other places that have gone higher.”

While Wyoming and Idaho maintain current compensation rates, Camino notes that increases will likely be seen in the near future.

“As these rates continue to increase, it is just another tool that is being used to get rid of sheepmen,” comments Camino. “We can’t afford those wages.”

In addition, producers are responsible for providing healthcare and insurance to their herders under the Affordable Care Act. While the level of insurance is unclear, increased costs are certain.

“They keep throwing increases at us,” adds Camino of costs. “One producer said that, with all the new regulations, it would increase his costs by $80,000. There isn’t that much money in the markets.”

Drought and feed

Aside from labor concerns affecting sheep producers, Camino notes that the weather and feed situation is a huge concern.

“Everyone across the country is really dry,” he says, “and we are all out of hay.”

Not only are hay stocks affected by drought, corn harvests in 2012 were lower than many hoped for, leading to high costs in the feed yard.

“The hay situation is really critical,” Camino continues. “If we don’t grow some grass and get some moisture, I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Boner mentions that, from a production perspective, feed costs will continue to be a top concern.

“We will still focus on the ever-raising costs of production going through 2013,” he explains. “It costs more to be in business now than it did even a year ago.”

Market concerns

Though the market has stabilized now, the drought and feed concerns directly impact industry prices and what markets will look like as we continue through 2013, as well.

“The lamb market is starting to climb up,” says Camino, “but it will depend on corn and hay.”

Because of the high cost of gain, Camino explains that it isn’t economically or financially feasible to buy high-priced feeder lambs.

Boner adds that there was a lot of time spent at the convention discussing the market situation in 2012 and the disaster that happened in the industry last year.

“We hit the bottom and are starting to climb out of it now,” adds Boner, “but it will take some time to rebuild the demand that was damaged – it won’t happen overnight.”

At the end of the day, Boner notes that he hopes the volatility of the markets will stabilize, which will in turn stabilize markets further.

“Most of the topics that we talked about dealt with lamb markets and what it looks like going forward,” he continues. “We will continue to try to provide a good quality, affordable product for our customers.”

With the sheep industry’s recent turmoil on the mind of everyone, stability and growth in sheep markets is something many hope to see going forward.

“We are getting to a critical point in the sheep industry,” comments Camino. “Numbers are so low that we can’t stand to lose very many more producers.”

MSLC sees good year in 2013

“The Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC) had a decent year in 2013,” comments MSLC Board Vice Chairman Brad Boner. “We harvested more lambs that we have ever done in our history.”

Boner also notes that while the industry has seen difficult times recently, MSLC continues to push forward and improve the state of the industry and the available product.

“We continue to work forward in this business,” he adds. “We work everyday to try to produce a good quality product.”

Sheep industry in court

The sheep industry across the United States is also facing several cases in courts across the West, particularly those involving Bighorn sheep and wolves.

“We are part of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance lawsuit dealing with Bighorn Sheep,” comments Mountain States Lamb Cooperative Board Vice Chairman Brad Boner.

Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Peter John Camino additionally mentioned suits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species List as being important to the sheep industry. 

“These are big topics in western states,” adds Boner, noting that the outcome of each case will greatly impact the future of the sheep industry.

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..