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Sheep industry representatives tour includes Weld County, Colorado

In Weld County, Colorado, with so much focus on the beef and more recently the dairy industry, other livestock businesses are sometimes forgotten.

In some respects, the sheep industry faces that problem across the U.S., too, according to Mike Corn, president of the American Sheep Industry Association and sheep producer from Roswell, N.M., where he lambs about 3,000 ewes annually. He also raises cattle and goats on his 125,000 acre ranch.

Corn is a producer first, he said June 14, when he talked with members of Tri-Lamb Group's young leaders program at the Eaton Country Club in Weld County. Also present were Tri-Lamb Group representatives from Australia and New Zealand.

The Tri-Lamb Group, which consists of producers from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, aims to indentify future sheep industry leaders to promote cooperation, understanding and ulimately grow the sale of lamb for all three nations, according to its website. Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the American Sheep Industry Association and the Sheep Council of Australia collectively form the Tri-Lamb Group.

Last year, a group of American lamb leaders traveled to Australia and New Zealand to learn similarities and differences in sheep farming from the two countries. This year it was time to host them.

The group made a few stops in Weld County to tour a packaging plant and a feedlot to show aspects of the sheep industry in the plains region of Colorado.

The tour started in Michigan and will end in Sacramento, Calif.

Weld County was included because there was the chance to show the feed and packaging side of the U.S. industry, according to Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board. In between the two stops visitors had a chance to learn more about the industry from those who work in it.

INDUSTRY OBSTACLES

According to the North American Meat Institute, sheep and lamb was the No. 4 processed meat in 2013 in the U.S. with 2.3 million pounds, far behind the 239.4 million pounds of turkeys processed that year.

Corn said a big obstacle the industry faces is the fact that it's a producer-driven field in a consumer-driven society, but with the new administration under President Donald Trump that could change.

"We feel there is some positive movement towards producing again," he said.

Corn said the "do more with less" model doesn't work for the sheep industry because it's not practical. Producers can't drastically cut back the amount of feed per lamb because it's a weight-driven product.

That's especially the case for Mike Harper at Harper Livestock Feedlot in Eaton, Colo. He said he typically buys lambs when they're 100 pounds and his goal is to feed them for 75 to 80 days until they are 150-155 pounds.

His job to get the weight up. Plus if Harper were to cut back on feed you woul see the "biggest waste" of lambs. If there isn't enough feed in the lots the lambs die, plain and simple.

"You make sure when you feed them that every lamb that goes for food gets some," he said.

Right now, feedlots are getting a break because of the low corn prices, but that's not always going to be the case.

That's why Corn said the sheep industry isn't one you stay in because you have to.

"We're survivors, those who are here. We've seen so many ups and downs," he said. "That's the strength of our industry is the love for it." ❖

­— Samantha Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at (970) 392-4410, sfox@thefencepost.com or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.