Colo. sheep and lamb losses up in 2011; Weld feedlot managers say losses were minimal locally | TheFencePost.com

Colo. sheep and lamb losses up in 2011; Weld feedlot managers say losses were minimal locally

Eric Brown
Greeley, Colo.

Colorado sheep and lamb losses – stemming from predators, weather, disease and other causes – increased 50 percent in 2011 from the previous year, a problem that was compounded by high sheep and lamb prices, making the economic impact more severe to the state’s producers.

A survey released by the Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service in February said Colorado farmers and ranchers lost about 36,000 head of sheep and lambs in 2011, with those animals worth an estimated $6.53 million. Those 36,000 head accounted for about 6.3 percent of the available sheep and lamb supply in the state.

In 2010, 24,000 sheep and lambs were lost in the state.

Similar to 2011, 36,000 head of sheep and lambs were lost in 2009, but those losses were valued at just $3.84 million.

Among other factors, the record drought last year in Texas – the nation’s leading producer of the livestock – led to a tighter supply of sheep and lambs in the U.S. at a time when the demand for the animals remained strong. Sheep and lamb prices increased by about 70 percent the last two years as a result of the nation’s smaller herd size.

Weld County ranks No. 1 in the nation in number of sheep and lambs, and No. 1 in the value of sheep, goats and their products, according to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture, released in 2007. But, despite the increased sheep and lamb losses statewide in 2011 and the great number of the animals in Weld County, losses were minimal locally.

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Neil Thormosgard with Harpers Feedlot near Eaton, Jeff Hasbrouck with Double J Farms and Feeding near Ault and Seth Nelson with Cactus Hill Ranch Co. near Windsor, among others, all said sheep and lamb losses occurred in their feedlots last year, but were not a major issue. Each of the feedlots has tens of thousands of sheep on their property at any given time, and some producers said losses at their facility affected less than 1 percent of their herds.

Those local producers – along with state and regional experts on the industry – all noted that the majority of the losses in 2011, like most years, occurred on the Western Slope.

Colorado ranks second in the nation in the number of market lambs and sheep, third in the nation in the number of all sheep and lambs, and fourth in wool production. Most of the state’s producers operate on the Western Slope – using the abundance of public range land on that side of the mountains – and then send the livestock to feedlots on the East Slope, many of which are in Weld.

Ron Cole, a consultant with the American Sheep Industry who lives in Greeley, explained that a three-week storm in western Colorado that came in May – during lambing season – was responsible for a large portion of the sheep and lamb losses experienced in 2011.

Cole said some Western Slope producers lost as much as 30 percent of their herds.

Along with weather, predators, too, continue to play a large part in sheep and lamb losses. The recent survey said Colorado farmers and ranchers lost about 9,000 head of sheep and lambs to predators in 2011. Coyotes were responsible for 58 percent of last year’s predator losses.

A comparable survey in 2009 showed 16,000 sheep and lambs were lost to predators. A survey that broke down sheep and lamb losses was not conducted in 2010.