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Changes in Health and Production Practices in the US Sheep Industry

18 August 2014

USDA

New sheep operations are continually entering the market in the US as is the case with other livestock commodities, newer operations tend to be relatively small.

According to the NAHMS Sheep 2011 study, published this year, conducted in 22 of the US’s major sheep producing States, in 2007, the average number of ewes per farm was 51.5 compared with the 1978 average of 94.9.

The trend of fewer ewes per operation is also reflected in the “all sheep and lambs average flock size.”

us sheep reportThe average flock size peaked in 1974 at 141.6 sheep per operation, decreasing to 70.0 sheep per operation by 2007. Total sheep inventories peaked in 1930 at 56,975,000 sheep and have steadily decreased since.

Although sheep inventory declined from 2002 to 2007, the number of sheep operations increased by nearly 10,000 during the same period.

This finding follows the decline in the number of sheep operations from 1982 to 2002, which could indicate an influx of new, smaller operations to the sheep sector.

The study provides participants, stakeholders, and the industry with valuable information representing 70.1 per cent of US farms with ewes and 85.5 per cent of the US ewe inventory (NASS 2007 Census of Agriculture).

The report, “Part IV: Changes in Health and Production Practices in the US Sheep
Industry, 1996–2011” is the fourth report from the Sheep 2011 study and focuses primarily on changes in health and management practices on US sheep operations over time, specifically comparing results from each of the three NAHMS national sheep studies.

The report says that interpreting changes in estimates among the three studies, however, is sometimes problematic. For example, comparing results from Sheep 1996 with results from Sheep 2001 and Sheep 2011 is difficult due to structure and coverage of the 1996 study.

In general, major influences behind differences in estimates may be due, in part, to differences in the composition of the target population.

sheep map of US

Breed

Hair sheep accounted for the greatest change in the type of sheep breeds on US sheep operations. For example, in 1996 only 1.0 per cent of US sheep operations owned hair sheep, compared with 4.6 per cent in 2001 and 21.7 per cent 2011.

Hair sheep breeds are known for parasite resistance and heat tolerance, and a rise in ownership of these breeds in hot, parasite-prone regions of the country would be expected.

However, the percentage of operations with hair sheep has increased in all regions of the country.

Hair sheep also represented a higher percentage of the US sheep and lamb inventory in 2011 (11.0 per cent) than in 2001 and 1996 (1.2, and 0.4 per cent, respectively).

Primary Use

Ownership of sheep primarily for meat production increased from 60.7 per cent of operations in 2001 to 81.6 per cent in 2011, while the percentage of operations in which the primary use of sheep was wool production or showing remained steady.

Producer Experience

A higher percentage of sheep producers had been in business for 21 years or longer in 2011 than in 2001 (59.5 and 39.4 per cent, respectively).

Animal Identification

Flock and individual-animal identification (ID) are important parts of industry efforts to control disease in sheep. In 2011, 81.5 per cent of operations used at least one flock ID method compared with just 27.4 per cent in 2001. In November 2001, after the Sheep 2001 study, new ID requirements were implemented that required ID for sheep that changed ownership and/or entered interstate commerce. These new requirements led to a substantial increase in flock ID.

A higher percentage of culled ewes had flock ID when they left the operation in 2011 than in 2001. The difference is especially true for ewes culled from farm or pasture flocks. For example, in 2001 just 34.2 per cent of cull ewes had flock ID when they left the operation compared with 81.6 per cent of cull ewes in 2011.

Ewe Breeding

Breeding ewes out of season was more common in 2011 than in 2001 (24.5 and 12.1 per cent of breeding operations, respectively) [p 52]. Newly approved drugs are rare in the sheep industry, but in fall 2009 the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a progesterone controlled internal drug release (CIDR) used to induce oestrus in ewes during seasonal anoestrus.

Twice the percentage of operations in 2011 used hormone treatments compared with operations in 2001.

The percentage of operations that rated the ability of ewes to breed out of season as very or somewhat important more than tripled from 2001 to 2011 (10.3 and 33.6 per cent, respectively).

Consistent with previous data showing increases in out-of-season breeding, the use of oestrus-inducing hormones, and the popularity of ewes that breed out of season, a higher percentage of operations in 2011 than in 2001 had lambs born in June through December.

Lamb Management

Consistent with the increased percentage of hair sheep—whose tails are typically not docked — a lower percentage of operations docked lambs’ tails in 2011 than in 2001.

Lambs were weaned at a younger average age in 2011 than in 2001(15.6 and 17.5 weeks, respectively).

Cull Rams Ewes

Operations cull animals for many reasons, including disease, to reduce flock size, improve genetics for desirable phenotypic traits, or to economize during episodes of high feed costs. Operations attempting to enlarge their flocks are less likely to cull animals for any of these reasons. A lower percentage of rams and ewes were culled in 2011 than in 2001. Nearly one-fourth of rams (23.8 per cent) were culled and sold in 2001 compared with 16.2 per cent in 2011. Approximately one-fifth of ewes (18.3 per cent) were culled and sold in 2001 compared with 14.0 per cent 2011 (p 79). The average age of culled ewes was slightly higher in 2011 than in 2001 (6.3 and 5.9 years, respectively).
M
The decision about which methods to use to dispose of carcases depends on local, county, and State laws; a producer’s skill/knowledge of disposal methods (e.g., incineration and composting); method costs; and equipment availability (e.g., for burying, rendering, and incinerating). The cost of different carcase disposal methods also influences a producer’s decision on what methods to use. Composting accounted for the biggest change in carcase disposal methods from 2001 to 2011: 6.9 per cent of operations composted carcases in 2001 compared with 26.5 per cent in 2011.

Biosecurity

Overall, a higher percentage of operations in 2011 than in 2001 conducted health management practices on new additions. Specifically, in 2011 nearly twice the percentage of operations vaccinated new additions prior to arrival at the operation compared with operations in 2001 (70.1 and 35.6 per cent, respectively). Similarly, more than twice the percentage of operations in 2011 conducted external parasite treatments on new additions prior to arrival compared with operations in 2001 (29.5 vs 13.6 per cent, respectively). In general, a higher percentage of operations in 2011 than in
2001 conducted health management activities after the arrival of new additions.

Approximately twice the percentage of operations consulted a veterinarian for disease diagnosis, disease prevention, and lambing problems in 2011 than in 2001.

Cleaning the lambing area is crucial in preventing disease transmission from ewes to lambs and from ewes to ewes. A higher percentage of operations in 2011 than in 2001 did not clean lambing areas (25.4 and 7.6 per cent, respectively).

Conversely, a lower percentage of operations in 2011 usually removed placentas from the lambing area compared with operations in 2001.

For operations in 2011 that had some pregnant ewes abort due to suspected infectious causes, 21.6 per cent had the cause of abortions diagnosed by a laboratory or veterinarian compared with 51.3 per cent of operations in 2001.

This trend of fewer suspected cases being diagnosed by a veterinarian or laboratory was also true for several other infectious causes of disease.

A higher percentage of producers were familiar with diseases such as Johne’s disease,
scrapie, OPP, toxoplasmosis, and Q fever in 2011 than in 2001.

Shearing

Changes in the sheep industry in the last several decades include a reduction in wool marketing entities and related infrastructure, resulting in difficult marketing schemes with fewer domestic wool buyers, increased distances to markets, and fewer selling systems.

In addition, low wool prices and difficulties in finding shearers have sometimes made producing wool a liability. As a result, more producers are raising hair sheep, which do not need to be sheared. In 2011, 80.2 per cent of operations had sheared sheep and lambs in the previous year compared with 90.4 per cent of operations in 2001.

 

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

June 2014

 

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