By Kyle Sharp
The U.S. sheep industry is experiencing a historic time. Lamb prices are at an all-time high, the wool market and wool pelt prices are setting historical records, and the cull ewe market is strong. That reality made for a happy gathering of roughly 130 sheep enthusiasts from across the state and beyond at the 2011 Ohio Sheep Day, held July 16 on a hot, clear day on the rolling hills of Blue Heron Farm in Columbiana County.
Yet despite the current prosperity within the U.S. sheep industry, there is concern that the U.S. sheep flock is not large enough to keep up with the demand for lamb and wool production.
Nationally, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) has started a campaign to encourage shepherds to expand their flocks, with information available at www.growourflock.org. And Ohio Sheep Day carried out that trend, with a number of the day’s sessions focusing on ways to increase sheep production, either through new farms or expanded flocks.
“We had a really successful day with a lot of different sessions concentrating on a lot of sheep production systems,” said Roger High, Ohio Sheep Improvement Association (OSIA) executive director and Ohio State University Extension sheep specialist. “But we’re really looking at how we can expand this industry and how we can get more people involved and raise more lambs, because with the high lamb prices there’s such a supply and demand gap. Supply is a little bit low, and demand is on the increase. There are a lot of positive things going on.”
Sessions throughout the day focused on a variety of topics, such as pasture watering systems, manure management, conservation funding for sheep farms, lamb carcass cutting and cooking, supplementing feed rations with dried distiller’s grains, and basic sheep pasture and grazing management. But a handful of sessions were geared specifically toward ways to produce more lamb.
“One of the things we’re seeing in Ohio is not the expansion of existing flocks, but a lot of new flocks, especially Amish,” High said. “They’ve got land, labor, generally know how to raise livestock, and their coming in next to where lamb markets exist, such as Barnesville and Mt. Vernon.”
That’s why one of the Sheep Day sessions focused on basic sheep management practices for the beginning or novice shepherd. For someone interested in getting into sheep production, High recommended finding a good set of young females without health problems.
This will help lead to early success and hopefully prevent new shepherds from getting discouraged. High also encouraged new producers to take advantage of the educational resources available to them through OSU Extension, OSIA and others.
“A lot of people are interested in helping, they just need people to ask,” he said.
For more on Ohio Sheep Day, see the August issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.