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Sheep Management Practices in the United States

21 July 2014


The US sheep industry is facing new challenges as demand for lamb and wool is at an all-time high.

US sheep report cover 1In 2011, a major grocery-store chain began promoting American Lamb products, and a major retailer committed to selling US-grown lamb exclusively in its stores.

Non-traditional market channels such as on-farm and farmer’s market sales and sales to small processors have also seen recent growth, according to the USDA’s reference of Sheep Management Practices in the United States, 2011.

Population estimates and operator experience

Sheep breeds in the United States can be categorised by purpose, fibre type, and face colour.

Black- or non-white-faced breeds include Suffolk, Hampshire, Shropshire, Oxford, and Southdown.

These breeds are often considered meat producers, while white-faced breeds are more often used for wool production. Because each sheep breed offers superiority in some trait, producers often blend the breeds to gain the superior characteristics of each breed in offspring.

These offspring are used to attain the phenotypic requirements of their operation’s type and geographical conditions.

While the highest per centage of operations (44.7 per cent) had black-faced wool breeds, the highest per centage of sheep and lambs (41.7 per cent) were in the white-faced breed category.

Sheep are a multiuse species. For example, 81.6 per cent of operations raised sheep for meat, 26.5 per cent for seed or breeding stock, 15.8 per cent for wool, and nearly 32.6 per cent of operations raised sheep for more than one reason.

When rapid means of communication with producers is important, it can be helpful to work with national or State industry organisations to promulgate necessary information.

Over one-fifth of producers (22.9 per cent) belonged to a national sheep organisation, and almost one-third (29.0 per cent) belonged to a State or local sheep industry association or club. These per centages vary by size of operation and by operation type.


Flock and individual animal identification (ID) are important tools used to reduce disease and increase productivity on US sheep operations. Almost 9 of 10 operations (88.6 per cent) used some form of individual ID for their sheep. The most commonly used form of either individual or flock ID was the free Scrapie Program ear tag.

Lambing Management

With the increase of smaller operations, non-traditional marketing methods, and improved reproductive techniques, more operations have the ability to lamb during the season that best suits their customers’ needs.

The highest per centage of lambs were born from February through May, which allows producers to make the most use of available forage.

Spring lambing also coincides with natural breeding and lambing seasons, when ewes are likely to produce larger lamb crops.

For operations that managed their sheep primarily on the open range, docking may be the first time they view the sheep after lambing. At this time, lambs are tagged, castrated, docked, and vaccinated, and ewes are examined to ensure health and fecundity.

Overall, 80.5 per cent of lambs born alive were docked.

Nearly seven out of 10 operations castrated ram lambs at an average age of 23.4 days, and more than three of 10 operations castrated ram lambs in the first seven days of age.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

June 2014

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