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With more than 1.8 million lambs marketed since December 2001, Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC) can boast that each producer has been paid on time and in full.
In February 2003 the Co-op began its full marketing program, following the purchase of 50 percent of B Rosen and Sons, which formed Mountain States Rosen (MSR). In September 2008 the remaining half of MSR was purchased and, subsequently, veal supplier Formula One Feeds was brought on as a minority partner at just over seven percent.
According to Mountain States Director of Finance and Operations Becky Gitthens, membership is still available in the Co-op, even though all marketing shares have been sold.
“Membership is a one- time fee of $350. New members purchase marketing shares from existing members, and the Co-op can facilitate that process,” she explains. “Lambs can also be marketed through Co-op by leasing shares from current members.”
“Our meat company, MSR is doing very well under the capable management of MSR’s CEO Dennis Stiffler,” says Gitthens. “Despite record lamb prices, the company is performing well and is optimistic about the opportunities and future for domestic lamb.”
“Our meat company had a good year, as far as dollar volume,” says MSLC Chair Frank Moore of Douglas. “The markets are really good right now for all lamb producers – I would say record highs. It’s working for our members, as well as non-members, and while the high prices are good for producers selling lambs, the concern is it may lessen consumer demand. Right now it doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact, but that’s always a concern any time we get high prices. If we suddenly had an oversupply, we’d have to worry about a sharp decline in the market. We’re happy with the high markets, but cautious.”
“Because of the success of MSR, MSLC was able to declare a two-dollar-per-share patronage dividend on lambs marketed in 2009. The book value of shares in MSLC also appreciated significantly because of the performance of the Co-op and the meat company,” explains Gitthens. “The total return on shares has made the initial $22 per share a solid investment for producers, besides providing them with the security of knowing they can market their finished lambs timely, while in optimum condition. Most producers believe the market access, particularly when there is a period of oversupply in the market, has paid for the shares several times over.”
“MSLC is the place for quality lambs,” states Gitthens. “We offer significant premiums for yield grade 2 and 3 lambs, and we also have a natural program that provides price incentives to those members who raise natural lambs.
In addition, through the volume marketing arrangement with Nugget International, the Co-op can offer competitive pelt credits. Producers also benefit from competitive harvest costs and offal credits through volume slaughter agreement with JBS Lamb in Greeley, Colo.
MSLC members operate in 14 states, but about 60 percent of them are from Wyoming, and Gitthens says membership has grown every year since inception.
“We’re starting to see more of our producers interested in retaining ewe lambs and building some herds,” says Moore. “With the high prices, it’s hard to hold onto ewe lambs, but we do see some optimism and people starting to think about building their numbers, because we’ve had good markets for a while.”
“We’re pushing our members, encouraging them to build their numbers, because we’re optimistic about the future,” adds Moore.
“Member and non-member lamb producers believe MSLC has brought needed transparency to the lamb industry and less volatility through fair market competition,” notes Gitthens. “It’s a great time to be in the sheep business, and the outlook remains very strong. We’d like to visit with producers about the possibilities for increasing their profitability.”
For more information on the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, visit the office at 327 East Center, Douglas or call 307-358-0235. Christy Hemken 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..

MSLW now the nation’s largest integrated lamb and veal company
Douglas – Mountain States Lamb and Wool Cooperative (MSLW) has acquired the remaining 50 percent of New York City-based Mountain States Rosen. The acquisition makes MSLW the largest integrated distributor of domestic lamb and veal in the U.S. with nationwide distribution and annual sales in excess of $130 million.
    Mountain States Rosen was formed in 2003 when MSLW purchased 50 percent of B. Rosen and Sons. B. Rosen became involved in the lamb business 60 years ago.
    Since the initial partnership was formed, Mountain States Rosen has established itself in the marketplace as an innovative supplier of premium quality lamb and veal. With operations in New York and Greeley, Colo. the company has grown its case ready division into a high quality, large volume program utilizing the newest technologies to offer its customers across the country a wide array of quality lamb and veal products. Mountain States has added an all-natural, from birth, antibiotic and hormone-free lamb program sold under the Shepherd’s Pride label. Recently Mountain States purchased Premier Veal and Cedar Springs Natural Veal has become a favorite with retail and HRI (Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional) customers.
    MSLW Board Chairman and Douglas area rancher Frank Moore says when half of B. Rosen was purchased in 2003 it was with the agreement the remaining half could be acquired at a later date. “We negotiated, settled on a price and put the deal together a couple of weeks ago,” says Moore.
    “The new entity paired the largest and finest supply of American-grown lamb with the nation’s number one fabricator and supplier,” says MSLW Vice Chairman and Converse County rancher Brad Boner of the duo that dates back to 2003. “This partnership has enabled Mountain States Rosen to offer its customers a steady, year-round supply of fresh, premium quality, high yielding American lamb products.”
    “It will give us better control of our product and meat company all the way through the process,” says Moore of the latest growth. “We’ve had a vision of how we want to market our lambs through the process and an idea of what we believe the customer wants as far as the marketplace is concerned. To really reach that vision we need to own the company.”
    Moore says he believes the growth of MSLW holds opportunity for cooperative members. “We’re doing some value-added marketing now, but we will do more value added and build more recognition of what our members bring to the cooperative. Instead of commodity lamb it’s going to be Mountain States Lamb.”
    More lambs and more members are being sought, according to Moore. While new shares aren’t being issued, Moore explains, “There are shares available from within the cooperative. We have a number of shares not delivering lambs that have been placed on reserve. The members who had them didn’t have production for them. We can expand our supply significantly without doing a new offering.”
    Moore explains, “the Cooperative sold a minority ownership in Mountain States Rosen to our main veal supplier, Formula One. We believe Formula One will be an excellent fit because they understand the challenges producers face and share our vision and commitment to providing the country with a safe, premium quality product.”
    MSLW is a cooperative of 140 ranchers in 13 states. The cooperative, which has grown steadily since its inception, celebrated its five-year anniversary in 2007. According to Becky Gitthens, MSLW Director of Operations, “Our co-op producers have supplied Mountain States Rosen with almost one and a half million lambs over the past five years, and we want to expand our base of producers.  Mountain States Lamb and Wool Cooperative is a success story and we are actively seeking additional producers who are interested in sharing in the benefits of vertical integration.”
    MSLW can be found on-line at www.mslamb.com and reached via telephone at 307-358-0235. 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..

“Lamb is definitely on trend,” says Lesa Eidman of Superior Farms. “Consumers are driving lamb consumption, which gives us a lot of opportunity to provide consumers with the product they want.”

Eidman noted that mature perfectionists and millennial foodies are driving lamb consumption today, and the industry is working to attract new customers and improve the quality for existing consumers.

Target consumers

Mature perfectionists are those consumers who prefer white tablecloth restaurants and centerpiece cuts, like a rack of lamb.

“It is the millennial foodies who are starting to really look at lamb,” Eidman explains. “They are willing to try something new and different. They are willing to try different parts of the lamb, and they want a different eating experience.”

FreshLook data categorizes how consumers spend their dollars, and aggregate information at the retail level shows that prices have increased.

Leg cuts account for 27 percent of the lamb value sold, and loin, which is one of the premium cuts, accounts for 3.5 percent of lamb values.

“We are seeing growth and opportunity to build on these data figures,” she continues. “We want to figure out what we can do to make sure we are providing consumers with the product they want.”

Choosing lamb

Consumers are actively choosing lamb for a variety of reasons.

“Research done by the American Lamb Board (ALB) has a lot of interesting pieces that we can learn from,” says Eidman. “The flavor and taste of lamb is unique, and our consumers love it.”

Consumers enjoy both ethnic and traditional cuts.

When looking at lamb, consumers are concerned about the origin, raising practices, eating satisfaction, weight, size, product appearance, product convenience, nutrition and wholesomeness of the product.

“When the report came out, eating satisfaction was the biggest reason folks are choosing lamb,” Eidman comments. “We also have a tremendous opportunity to make sure consumers are raising locally-raised product.”

“We want to make sure it looks good in the meat case, and we want to make sure we are providing what consumers want,” she adds.

Opportunities

Among the opportunities for the lamb industry, Eidman notes that three factors from the ALB report indicate areas for improvement.

“The antibiotic-free and no added hormone claims are something we are only going to hear more of,” she says. “There is huge opportunity for our industry there.”

In addition, Eidman mentions that a focus on sharing more information about lamb producers will continue to be important.

“We need to make sure we are telling the story about how lambs are raised to benefit our sales,” Eidman adds. “The millennial foodies are looking for the authentic experience, bold flavors and a broad array of cuisines.”

New products

Eidman notes that Superior Farms has taken steps to create products that are appealing to consumers.

“We have developed a pulled lamb product that is precooked and is currently only going to our food service channels,” she says. “It is a boneless shoulder that has been cut and shredded.”

The product is perfect for fast-casual restaurants, says Eidman. It is cooked by putting the plastic bag into a  pot of boiling water. After 10 minutes, it can be seasoned to the preference of the chef and served.

“This product provides customers with a different type of food to provide more opportunities,” Eidman adds. “Another thing that is really exciting in California is that we were able to get a lamb burger into Giants stadium.”

An additional three minor league stadiums have picked up the product, exposing more consumers to lamb as a protein source.

“Another exciting product is lamb bacon,” she says. “That product has received accolades and awards at several food service events.”

Consumers appreciate the product, she notes, adding that it is made from thinly sliced, cured, boneless lamb breast.

“Lamb bacon also gives us a different eating experience,” Eidman comments.

Electronic grading

To provide a more consistent product to consumers, Eidman notes that electronic grading is continuing to develop.

“Right now, electronic grading is confusing,” she says. “There is a lot of information that could come from these machines, but we are still trying to make sure they are working property.”

In electronic grading, Eidman explains that one machine grades while a second component records the data.

“We have to figure out how to take the information and make it mean something to producers,” she says.

For example, Eidman notes that the side image of the lamb, as well as yield grade and quality grade, are available.

“We can hopefully get more consistent across the industry in yield and quality grade,” Eidman notes. “There are some technology issues, but we hope to have them resolved in 2016. These machines will help us see far more consistency amongst the packing plants.”

With a number of plans in place and continued efforts moving forward, Eidman sees potential for sheep producers, noting, “We think there are many awesome opportunities.”

Eidman spoke at the 2015 West Central States Wool Growers Convention, held in Park City, Utah in November 2015.

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..

Park City, Utah – Sheep producers from Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming gathered in Park City, Utah at the 2014 West Central States Wool Growers Convention to discuss the challenges facing wool growers today. 

Randy Hammerstrom of USDA Market News kicked off the final day of the convention with a summary of current lamb market statistics.

Lambs on feed

“We look at the feedlot inventory as of Nov. 1, and we had about 235,000 lambs on feed in Colorado,” Hammerstrom commented. “A year ago, we had 214,000 on feed. We had about a 10 percent increase.”

He further noted that a current count of the total head of lambs is still unavailable, as shearing is finishing currently. 

Hammerstrom also cited that the Imperial Valley in California has seen decreases in lambs in the feedlot this year. 

“I think there are roughly 15,000 fewer lambs than a year ago,” he said. “Last year we had around 100,000 lambs, and I think there are roughly 85,000 to 90,000 lambs in the Imperial today.”

Cost of gain

Costs of gain are also favorable in Colorado and the Midwest, facilitating feed to growth.

“Total cost of gain in Colorado is 85 to 90 cents, and there is potential that it could get cheaper – down to the mid-80s,” he added. “Hay delivered to Colorado today is $120 to $130 a ton into the feedyard. A year ago, that would have been more than $200.”

Feed prices delivered into the feedyard have dropped significantly in the past year, facilitating a cheaper cost of gain for lambs, Hammerstrom continued.

“Corn prices year-round are at $3.40 to four dollars,” he said. “A year ago, cost of gain would have been $1.40.”

In the Imperial Valley of California, he said some producers are opting to take extra cuttings in their hay or they are taking cropland out of production. The result is higher cost of gain, with numbers likely reaching 90 cents to one dollar. 

“Talking to some of the experts, in memorable history, this is the first time we have seen cheaper cost of gain in Colorado than in the Imperial Valley,” Hammerstrom said.

Feeder resurgence

However, costs of gain could reach as low as 50 cents in the Midwest, where feed is in closer proximity. 

“The guys in the Midwest have been super aggressive early in the fall,” Hammerstrom explained. 

When corn prices increased dramatically, he noted that the number of producers feeding livestock dropped because corn could be sold for much higher values – between six and eight dollars a bushel. 

“These folks have now opted to get back in because corn is less than three dollars a bushel, depending on the basis,” he said. “The Midwest has cheaper costs of gain than Colorado, and there are indications they can feed as cheap as 50 cents.”

Feeders in the Midwest can buy lambs, ship them and feed them, with intentions to ship the lambs back to Colorado for harvest cheaper than feeding lambs in Colorado. 

“The Midwest guys had very favorable contracts earlier this year, which put some dollars in their pocket, and they felt like coming back into the market,” Hammerstrom explained. 

Slaughter numbers

In looking at slaughter data, Hammerstrom pointed to a decrease of three percent in federally-inspected slaughter numbers over the last 10 years. 

“In the first three quarters, slaughter was up about 3,500 head,” he said. “We are about on par with normal.”

In 2004, 2.6 million lambs were slaughtered, and last year only 2.1 million were slaughtered. In 2004, an average of 51,000 lambs were killed each week, and in 2013, 40,559 were processed. 

“So far, we are on par this year with 40,532 lambs a week on average,” he said. 

Making adjustments

After analyzing data from over the past year, Hammerstrom mentioned that the sheep industry has been successful. 

“In the last year, the industry has done a good job of managing supply and demand,” he said. 

Looking into the past, on a live basis, lambs hit $94.82. That rose to $198 by July 1, 2011 – an all-time record high. 

“It is my opinion at that point, the market signaled that it wasn’t willing to participate beyond that level,” Hammerstrom explained. “However, it carried on for another 50 bucks before the subsequent crash.” 

The crash was followed by a 16-month correction, bringing the market to $110. 

“I think we had demand show interest in the $140 to $150 range, but in the interest of buying demand back, the market continued to fall,” he continued. “Now we are into the demand buy-back period.”

Addressing demand

Hammerstrom continued, “We started to see demand pick up from September of last year to the first part of this year.”

When demand showed indications of backing off, the sheep industry accommodated to avoid another market crash situation. 

“The industry immediately pulled back the reins when demand slowed,” he said. “The industry didn’t back off or correct the market, but it pulled in the reins.”

“Now, from July 2014 to present, we have seen an increase in the market,” Hammerstrom continued. “In the last five years, the industry has not followed typical historical trends, and we are at $165 and change right now.”

Hammerstrom also noted that the market environment seen over the last year is one that is sustainable. 

Imports

Hammerstrom mentioned that imports have been a hot-button topic for the sheep industry. 

“Imports were on a correction for a while, and from 2007-12, we had a 25 percent correction,” he explained.

For 2013, imports were up 12 percent from 2012 and, in the first three quarters of 2014, the majority of imports have been seen from Australia. 

 “Imports from Australia were up 14 percent, and imports from New Zealand are down about 12 percent,” Hammerstrom noted. “All together, we are up about seven percent on imports.”

A look forward

In looking at the future of the lamb market, Hammerstrom said the market is current, with the last of the old crop being processed in mid-July of 2014. 

This year’s carcass averages also reached above the five-year averages, hitting $295 this year to date. 

“Today, we have about 235,000 lambs in the feedlot in Colorado,” he said, “and in my opinion, the sheep industry is very current.”

Market indicators

While cold storage is sometimes used as a market indicator, USDA Market News’ Randy Hammerstrom remarked that the method of collecting cold storage data may not be reflective of the actual data. 

In determining cold storage data, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reaches out to their contacts for data. From month to month, the same number of contacts and the same contacts may not return the data that is factored into the equation. 

“There is also no way to break out what part of that is domestic and imports or lamb and mutton,” he said.

“There is roughly 40 million pounds of product in cold storage,” he said, “but I think there are other things that better show the market trends.”

For example, Hammerstrom noted that domestically, a 26 percent increase has been seen in product value on shoulders in 2014 as compared to 2014. Imports have also seen a 16 percent increase of value. 

Beef comments

Randy Hammerstrom of USDA Market News noted that high prices in other protein markets are helpful for lamb. 

“Beef just set their all-time record value three weeks ago at $170 live value on fat cattle,” he said. “Feeder cattle have been through the roof.”

In charting the prices seen in the feeder cattle industry over the last two years, the trend line nearly mirrors the prices seen in the first 18 months of 2010-11 for the sheep industry. 

“I think there is a correction coming in the cattle industry,” he commented. “They are starting to see some pushback.”

However, he also noted that some argue tight supplies in the cattle industry will keep prices high. 

“Will they see as big a correction as the sheep industry saw? Probably not,” Hammerstrom said, “but time will tell.”

Look for more in-depth information about lamb and wool markets in an upcoming edition of the Roundup. 

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.

“This is the perfect storm,” says Kaycee sheep producer Bob Harlan about the sheep industry. “It is absolutely amazing that wool, pelts, meat, offal and salvage value are at an all time high at the same time.”

Brad Anderson, lamb supply manager for Mountain State Lamb Cooperative, says that lamb markets are aggressive and prices are high.

“Prices are down from the all-time market high this summer. They have settled down ten to fifteen cents from a month ago and stayed steady,” says Anderson. “We have not seen the seasonal fluctuation like we have in the past.”

“The current live market has been fairly steady for the last few weeks and really isn’t looking to change as we look forward to the near future,” adds Anderson. “We have enough lambs as we go into the next few weeks, so its not like we’re rushing out to compete on the open market.”

For Wyoming, the lamb market is as strong or stronger than in the rest of the U.S.

“The closing of Iowa Lamb takes away a marketing point for Midwest producers, and now those producers have to figure in freight,” adds Anderson.

Harlan agrees and says, “The sheep packing industry has shrunk. There are only four major packers.”

A new insurance program, LRP insurance, allows producers to lock in a profit.

“Looking at feeders, it is a fairly aggressive market because of the insurance for profit,” says Anderson. “They are competing heavily for feeder lambs in Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah upward of 2.20 to 2.45 for feeders ranging from 80 to 100 pounds.”

The world market and the value of the dollar also impact lamb markets.   

“Australia is offering cuts that are cheaper,” says Anderson. “For instance, loins are seven dollars a pound cheaper than domestic loins, but we just are not sure what the supply will be for imports. If we have a weak dollar, it is not as feasible for them to ship to us.”

Harlan estimates the Australian supply is only 50 percent of what it was 10 years ago.

“Australia has been in an extended drought and in a shrinking supply. Replacements are being slaughtered,” says Harlan. “New Zealand is also trading sheep acres to dairy acres, limiting supply.”

The limited supply will continue to help prices rise, if demand remains steady.

According to Harlan, domestic slaughter numbers are down 14 percent.

“There is no volume of lambs in the United States,” he says. “When we keep replacements, that makes our slaughter numbers go down.”

“In the world, there is no great supply of lambs,” adds Harlan. “World supply of meat is down, and there is no meat in the freezer, which puts us back in true supply and demand scenario.”

Harlan describes that because of the weak dollar, importers don’t want to send their lamb to the U.S., so domestic producers aren’t competing as heavily with foreign supply.     

“Gross carcass value for January to June of 2011 is up 36 percent from January to June 2010,” says Harlan. “We thought times would never get better than 2010, but they did.”

Anderson looks to this winter and spring, saying, “I think it’ll be a great winter and spring for producers. If you are raising lambs and selling them yourself, it looks great.”

“I think we’ll start to see more expansion in Wyoming and Idaho because producers have large incomes this year and are looking at having some tax liability,” says Anderson. “They are going to want to buy more ewes and increase a little bit.”

“The lamb feeder’s problem is amazing,” agrees Harlan. “When lamb feeders make money, they go out and buy more lambs.”

The week of Sept. 2, feeder lambs sold in Billings, Mont. between 213 and 243.50. According to the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service, lamb carcasses sold higher across the board.

Harlan also sees that the salvage value of ewes is high, meaning the sheep industry is doing well.

“The salvage value of a ewe is 70 to 100 dollars. Salvage value of ewes has got to be one of the most important things,” says Harlan. “When you can sell your old ewe for good money, that means the sheep industry is fairly strong.”

Harlan also estimates that salvage value will only continue to increase.

“The salvage value is going to be incredibly for two or three years because there are no sheep,” explains Harlan.

“There are opportunities out there,” says Harlan. “Wyoming was made with sheep on the range with no supplemental feed. You take a sheep out, and if you have good management skills, there is good opportunity right there.”

Saige Albert is assistant editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..