Ranchers getting fleeced?

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R. Hamilton
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby R. Hamilton » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:39 am

Sorry if I did not clarify myself on a couple of issues. I was very busy and wrote my comments very quick.

On Janet's comment on blame: When I went to the Sheep Summit meeting in Denver about 2 months ago, I heard both the feeder segment and processing segment talk about the current market situation and how all segments need to take a hit to build back the lamb market. As I sat there, I did not understand how the sheep producer who is not vertically integrated, only sells feeder lambs or sell in an added value market can be blamed for the problems. We did not tell the processor or feeder to pay over $2.00 per lb and feed lambs to over 200 lbs. Today, I still have not heard a good explanation. But, the problem is that the sheep producers are taking the big hit several ways from this abuse. 1) The sheep producer saw over a 50% drop in value in his lambs going to market 2) Some producers could not get a buyer to buy his lambs and had to incur added feed costs of holding lambs and 3) the Sheep producers were encouraged by the processing industry and others to expand ewe numbers and the price for replacements were at levels that have never been historically sustainable. The sheep only operations face problems with the banks on not making budget projections and face the potential of not being financed.

This year, we did not sell the number of replacement ewes we normally sell. I could say I sell most of my lambs in added value and ethnic markets which help me from being dependent on Superior to buy all my lambs, so it is not my problem. I don't care what market you are in, this tremendous drop in value can directly or indirectly effect your markets and your operation. I see it in my Niman Ranch base price. So, where does it leave sheep producers? We can't afford losing anymore infrastructure. I am getting down to only two sources of shearers who can shear our sheep. I lost my preg tester. We am losing the availability of vaccines. Can we afford to loses another processing plant whether its state or federally inspected. Collectively, sheep producers need to push for a new model that is sustainable and help bring quality standards to the marketplace. What that model is depends on the input from producers. If the feeders and processors don't want to move in that direction, we need to find new partners who believe in the added value we want to create for our product. It might take a partnership with another livestock group to get it started. As producers, we need to keep leadership in our producer organizations accountable in dealing with issues in a timely manner and accountable for strategically planning on where the industry needs to be in the future to keep producers viable and create opportunity to increase the number of producers and ewe numbers. It is the communication to the leadership or organizations that is needed to show you have a concern and care about improving the industry.

On government programs: I don't like government in my business. I do not really care for government programs like the direct payments on crops. As I stated earlier, I really do not like non ag entities that can get program payments from just owning ground and not even farming. I think it is very wrong where farmers will plant a crops that has no chance of making it, just to collect the insurance. I do look at LRP lamb insurance differently. To get insurance, I have to buy the insurance based on the level of coverage and weight and number of lambs I am insuring. The government does subsidize a percentage of the insurance premium, but the insurance is costing me between $4 to $6 per head insured depending on the policy. Sometimes I receive payments for a policy and sometimes I do not. It depends on the market and when I buy my policy. LRP Lamb Insurance is not a direct payment with no investment. Crop insurance is the same. I sit on a Farm Service board in my county and we never deal with crop insurance or LRP lamb. They even have rain insurance, but you have to buy it. I have heard it has helped growers in drought affected areas buy feed for their livestock and keep them from selling. What is wrong with that?

LRP lamb is saving some sheep producers with their loss of value in their lamb crop. It is not making them rich, but it is helping to give the producer a softer landing with their financial obligations. In some cases, it is keeping them in business. What is wrong with that? We can agree that changes need to be made, but the program has value to sheep producers in unstable markets.

On the comment seeing this coming and not doing something: In 1994, we had over 5,000 head of commercial ewes and 140 Suffolk ewes. Sheep was our only livestock. Based on our soil (heavy clay), sheep work better than cattle in ranches where we dry land farm. In 1995, we got back into the cattle business. Before 1995, we did lease some of our native pasture ranches to cattlemen to better utilize our native grasses. Today, we have ~ 2, 700 commercial ewes and 75 Suffolk and Composite BF ewes , but over 450 cows. To reduce our ewe numbers has been very hard based on the years of hard work in getting our genetics and production system to where we wanted it. Actually, Lana has benefited from us reducing our numbers since we have sold ewe lambs that normally we would have kept ourselves. We have talked about reducing our number down to 2000 ewes and keep increasing our cow herd based on what is happening in the sheep industry. We are also looking at going into other directions in farming to even reduce the need for a large number of sheep. Reducing our flock size is not my passion and that is why I have got involved in working on the sheep summit. I would rather grow my ewe numbers back up to 3,000 ewes which is a better balance with our cattle and farming operations.

On illegal labor: It is a crime to foreign workers who come into the US the right way and they see all the benefits that illegals get in this country. The amnesty for illegal labor was very wrong. Industries that use illegal labor should be prosecuted and fined very heavily. When I was little, we could get domestic labor and we could get high school kids to work on the ranch in the summer. Today, when I bring in a H2A employee from Peru, I have to advertise a job opening in the 3 major employment centers in California. By law, a domestic candidate has priority over a foreign candidate. Since 1977, we have never had a domestic apply. The only domestic workers in our operation is my family. Our workers are either from Peru or Mexico. In today's agriculture, we are very dependent on foreign labor and that is not going to change. For the most part, Americans are lazy and will not work on farms or ranches, it is too hard of work. I don't understand why the dairy industry in your area is not audited on their employees either from the labor department, EDD, or border patrol. California cannot have exclusive rights to labor monitoring.

Bill, I commend you on attending the Lamb Feeder school, being on local ag boards and what you have done with this forum. This forum provides a great service to producers in sharing information. If I don't make comments, I do follow the various posts since it does give me value in hearing and understanding ideas and opinions. It takes time to be involved. I did most of my leadership positions in the sheep industry before my wife and I had kids or when our kids were very young. My main priority is my family so I am very selective of what I do leadership wise in the sheep industry, today. I still serve on boards like the CWGA and vice chair of the California Sheep Commission, but I limit my role. It is very sad on how many producers, who can have opinions, will not get involve or just join industry organizations that provide direct or indirect service to their operations. It is not good when the same people do all the work all the time.

Richard

Janet McNally
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Janet McNally » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:49 am

Richard, I totally understand how everyone is impacted by the loss of the western sheep industry, but this is not the same thing as saying we are all to blame for that loss. You said we are all to blame for the problem, you even stated this with emphasis (I re posted the quote below in case you forgot). I still am at a loss what I have done in my 30 years, to have contributed to the problem.

Janet


R. Hamilton wrote: It has been going on for better than 30 years and in fact the weight abuse get higher based on the size of the genetics to handle higher and higher weights. That is an embarrassment that WE are all responsible for by letting it happen. Blame the feeders! blame the processor! Blame ASI! Blame ALB! BUT WE NEED TO BLAME OURSELVES!!!!

Janet McNally
Tamarack Prolific and Ile de France crosses
Minnesota

OogieM
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby OogieM » Tue Dec 11, 2012 7:43 am

Oogie McGuire
Black Sheep Shepherdess

Darroll Grant
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Darroll Grant » Tue Dec 11, 2012 8:32 am

During a Q and A session with the buyer for a major packer at the recent Oregon sheep convention maturity indicators were discussed. There were no good alternatives suggested for the break joint. Dentition?? It was pointed out that 150 head in one load had yearling teeth and yet only 15 had spool joints. In another case 8-10 month old lambs harvested after finishing on red clover all had spool joints (due to the estrogenic content of the clover).

If all lambs were purchased 'on the hook' the purchaser could actually pay for the quality and quantity received.

For those of you selling in your niche markets, how much competition from other lamb sellers do you have? If more lamb vendors moved in and with a limited supply of lambs, in order to maintain market share the price of lambs would be bid up or some vendors would fold their booth until the next season. With a processing capacity of 10,000/week, closing for a time is the last option as when closed the competition picks up the market share.
Darroll Grant
western Oregon

Joe Emenheiser
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Joe Emenheiser » Tue Dec 11, 2012 9:31 am

Many more lambs will "break" well beyond one year of age now than when the maturity indicators/grading standards were written. Why? Later maturing genetics. In selecting for later onset of fat, we see later onset of muscle and later onset of ossification (bone) come along for the ride. In a nutshell, the break joint classification system, at least for determining lambs from yearlings, is no longer suited for modern genetics.

If there are no good alternatives to break joints for discerning this maturity difference, and the later maturing genetics "should" remain widely used due to economic advantages (debatable), it raises the question, why are we flirting with the yearling line in the first place? Why is the US the only country in the world where "lamb" has this misclassification problem?

Our lamb "quality grading system" (where over 90% hit the top two grades) is pretty laughable to most other industries around the world. If the goal is to define a physiological point on the maturity/growth curve, why not do as the entire scientific community does as second nature when defining growth/mature size and consider WEIGHT? Combine weight with a measure of conformation (width relative to length, with consideration to fat cover) and there is no doubt in my mind that use of that combination/system can separate yearling mutton from the carcasses with quality factors (tenderness, juiciness, and flavor) we ascribe to LAMB.
Joe Emenheiser
Emenheiser Suffolks
Granville, VT
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Stan Potratz
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Stan Potratz » Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:18 pm

Joe's comments re. the effects of 30 plus years of selecting for late maturing genetics by the large flocks seem correct to me. We're finally seeing the negatives of this trend in our collective wallets.

Change away from late maturing trend is already occurring we're told by major packers—under the pressure of high grain & hay prices.

Because of this change (the word paradigm comes to mind) the USA sheep industry is suddenly confronted with the same economic rules as the rest of the world's sheep industry -- that sheep must produce economically saleable meat & fiber from forage from acres that can't be used for superior alternatives (grain, hay, timber, vineyards, etc).

Late-maturing genetics made sense when the cost to add lbs in feedlots was less than the price of lamb. That's no longer true and impossible to deny. The change will be traumatic - as the NY times article noted by Oogie captures well.

It's my sense the ALB's effort to hire an unaffiliated outside entity to review the US sheep industry (past and present) and suggest the best path to a better future(s) has the potential to help us all make this transition. (The catalyst for this effort was CWGA's request for an industry summit. It's evolved a bit even though it's still named as the "summit" effort). It' my hope that this effort will seek input from as many sheep folks as possible.

McMurry
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby McMurry » Tue Dec 11, 2012 5:55 pm

Just stirring the pot here - I'm not taking any particular stand on any issues listed;

How is quality lamb defined? Everyone seems to have their own ideas, but what are the customers saying they want?

How many lamb eaters can taste a difference in lambs that break or ones that do not?

Why do seasoned sheep meat eaters in countries where lamb and mutton are consumed heavily, actually often prefer hogget?

For those who criticize "factory farmed" meat (poultry, pork), one of the primary concerns regarding their perception of quality is the fact that the animal was forced to grow so rapidly (killed so young). Do we want this to be the new image of US lamb? or do we want the image of happy sheep eating their normal diet of "grass" while living the good life under a shade tree, watching the sunset? I am willing to bet that much of the lamb that is imported here was derived from late maturity genetics at least to some extent.

What kind of image is our competition creating for their lamb?

The most seasoned sheep meat eaters I know all say they prefer hogget from a late maturing breed.

Personally I raise both a slow maturity type sheep (ewe base) and a fast maturity (used as source for terminal sires). Both have unique advantages and are similarly productive / profitable. There is a huge discount for my fine lamb fleeces that are less than 2.75 inches in length and it takes about 8 - 10 months to get it. The slower maturity sheep are easier care allowing for greater flock expansion. In my system cost of gain is much lower with grazing, although slower.

Does anyone know if the CLA content of sheep meat raised on a fresh forage diet, increases with age? If true, later maturing genetics would have an advantage where that niche market is the focus - a growing number of consumers seem to be perceiving quality as such, without regard to age.

I suppose if the bulk of the US lamb industry builds their model on fast maturing genetics... I could then sell those of mine that mature slowly as "special" / better just because it was different than the norm and had the endorsement of some PhD "foodies".

Someone needs to define quality - either for themselves or for the collective group (ASI I suppose?). This is normally done by studying / surveying ones customer base and or copying what the competition does in order to take some of their market share. In reality the definition of lamb quality in the US seems to shift around to whatever is scarce at any given moment such as the likes of Niman, milk fat 40 - 50 lb 30 day old lambs at Christmas, grass fed etc. Right now we all know what type of lamb is in abundance - and few are buying it.

Uniformity, I agree is important, but if no one is actively / successfully marketing it, who does it really benefit? In this "void" customers are easily swayed to the latest fad and are often drawn to whatever is rare - making it a moving target that few if any, that are not making their own market, can hit.

Marketing is tricky business.
Andy McMurry

Endeavoring to develop luxury wool producing dual purpose sheep suited to Midwest grazing based commercial production.

http://www.genopalette.com

kelpiegirl
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby kelpiegirl » Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:45 am

It would seem to me that everyone who raises sheep ought to get to know their own flocks, what the carcasses dress out as, when and the taste, and if you don't like it, then many others won't. If you love it, many will. In my area, lamb is something not frequently bought, a) because it's too expensive and b) because many times the taste is less than, well, it sucks.
I think we need a hook of some sort- get people trying it. A grass roots effort (no pun intended). Those who sell beef/chicken/pork, offer some lamb at a drastically reduced price, just to see what they think... get people beyond the initial wariness of bad tasting/too expensive ideology... I am not speaking to the huge flocks out there, I am speaking more to the cottage industries of farm markets, and direct from (smaller) farm sellers. Some how we need to change perceptions about this meat.
Julie
Cheviot Hills Farm

Bill Fosher
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Bill Fosher » Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:23 am

McMurry wrote:How is quality lamb defined? Everyone seems to have their own ideas, but what are the customers saying they want?


Mine are telling me that they want lamb with very little external fat (some is good, none is bad, too much is worse). They want a selection of cuts that they can buy for $10 to $40, with perhaps a few bargains for a little less and a few extravagances for a little more. (Think small packages of shanks on the low end, and a cap-off eight-rib rack on the upper end.) They want good flavor, they want tender meat, and they want consistency. I hear pretty frequently from folks who are surprised that my lamb tastes good all the time; their experience with supermarket lamb is that its quality is highly variable, and they don't trust it.

I am willing to bet that much of the lamb that is imported here was derived from late maturity genetics at least to some extent.


You'd lose that bet.

The most seasoned sheep meat eaters I know all say they prefer hogget from a late maturing breed.


Maybe the problem lies in the definition of late maturing. We're talking here about Rambouillet, Suffolk, Hampshire, Columbia, etc. -- the breeds typically used in Western operations. These sheep are late maturing because of frame size, and tend to produce a pretty undesirable carcass (too boney, not enough muscle) until they hit live weights of 150 plus. If by late maturing, you mean breeds like Romney or Cheviot, I'd probably use a descriptor such as slow-growing. Age=flavor. But if you put those big lambs with an adult size of 300 plus for rams onto a high-octane diet they will lay down a lot of fat in a hurry. Then all the flavor ends up getting shipped to the render, or going out the back door of the grocery store.

In my opinion, the industry needs to get over its fear of the freezer or chiller, and start killing lambs when they need to be killed to produce good-tasting meat. Maintaining a chilled or frozen inventory has costs, but they are less than the cost of having your entire customer base grossed out by the product.
Bill Fosher
Westmoreland, NH

Janet McNally
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Janet McNally » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:00 am

stopped at a groc store in the twin cities that carries Superior lamb last night. Here are their prices. This is once again, a very, very large lamb judging by the cuts. What I do have to say, is despite the size of the lamb, it was quite lean, and had very good color, so this lamb imo was slaughtered at its ideal weight (my bet is close to 180 lb) and looked quite appealing. I almost bought some to try, but the two chops for >$20 were competing with the Osaka Sushi restaurant next door (spicy crab roll prepared and ready to eat at a sit down restaurant for $15.99) and the Sushi won.

prices are per pound

chops 21.99
rack 24.99
shoulder steak 11.99
ground lamb 12.99
stew 14.99
leg slice 15.99

There was no leg of lamb on the shelf. But a center cut leg slice that measured at least 6 x 8 inches and sold for a total price of $19.67. Will that leg slice have to compete in the consumer's mind with a beef round steak? Ironically some beef is not *that* much older when it is slaughtered!

Where these cuts derived from a 77 cents per pound lamb?

Janet
Janet McNally

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McMurry
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby McMurry » Wed Dec 12, 2012 11:30 am

The confusion over maturity rate by types of sheep is interesting to me.
I am getting ewes that lambed at 11 - 13 months old and some still don't have yearling teeth which noticed when I was sorting for putting rams in the other day ... at 18 months old. Normally I don't see any yearling teeth until at least 14 months on e lambs. This is with my ewe type that I call late maturity. As I consider why I call them as such, it is simply because of this late emergence of yearling teeth and I don't know if this the best basis for that determination ?
I suppose maturity is another area of confusion that needs to be defined somehow.
Many of these quality parameters seem very hard to pin down when we deal with so many types of sheep.
I know a national retailer of grass fed lamb (as well as other meats) who offers lamb suet and tallow and these items are some of his best sellers. Some consumer group out there is looking for this fat to eat which is ironic in the context of this current market situation. Overall he is experiencing "run away" demand and can't keep up.

Janet McNally
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Janet McNally » Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:14 pm

McMurry wrote:I know a national retailer of grass fed lamb (as well as other meats) who offers lamb suet and tallow and these items are some of his best sellers. Some consumer group out there is looking for this fat to eat which is ironic in the context of this current market situation. Overall he is experiencing "run away" demand and can't keep up.


would that retailer be US Wellness Meats? the demand for fat is coming from the Paleo/Primal diet crowd. Some of the more recent research suggests fat is actually healthful, and that the old premise that cholesterol in our diet causes heart disease is being debunked.

the type of fat desired however, is the pelvic/kidney fat, not the inter muscular fat on an over fed animal. I cannot at the moment remember the reason for this. i.e. over fat animals are still not viewed as healthful in the human diet, but absolute fear of cholesterol in the diet seems to be fading.

Janet
Janet McNally

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lambchop
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby lambchop » Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:41 pm

Here is an idea!! Each producer will be supplied with a tattoo kit and at birth, it is required that a tattoo saying "Best if used by (date) in the ear" with a max of 11 months time frame permitted. Problem solved!! :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: You could also implant a chip that explodes after 11 months so you are certain the sheep is harvested at the proper time.
Paul Lewis
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Greg Ahart
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby Greg Ahart » Thu Dec 13, 2012 10:12 am

Janet-

Could you let me know where Superior could buy some 77 cent lamb? I haven't seen any of that on ANY of the documentation I just finished accumulating for the Packers and Stockyards investigators who were just here.

Greg

OogieM
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Re: Ranchers getting fleeced?

Postby OogieM » Thu Dec 13, 2012 10:28 am

Bill Fosher wrote:
McMurry wrote:How is quality lamb defined? Everyone seems to have their own ideas, but what are the customers saying they want?


In my opinion, the industry needs to get over its fear of the freezer or chiller, and start killing lambs when they need to be killed to produce good-tasting meat. Maintaining a chilled or frozen inventory has costs, but they are less than the cost of having your entire customer base grossed out by the product.


Mine are saying they want grass and hay finished, no grains ever, no fed through antibiotics, sheep that taste the same from time to time. They want lots of marbling in the muscle, like a good steak but little fat around the edges. They want to know who the animals are (by name or number in some cases) and they want recipes to go with each cut that use local ingredients.

And FWIW all of our meat is sold frozen. I also provide customers with recipes that start out with "Take frozen hunk of meat from freezer" and I end up with them having a meal on the table in 1 hour for chops, burgers and sausages and 1 hour prep time but several hours cooking time for legs, shanks or shoulders. For cuts that cannot be done from frozen to table (racks) I tell them that and also tell them how to thaw it and how long it will take. I also make sure any new buyers have my cell phone number, especially if they've bought a more expensive cut like racks or chops and tell them if they are cooking and have any questions or concerns to please call me. I have answered a few "kitchen emergency" calls and the buyers have been grateful.

I have and customers question the frozen meat. I point out that I can get the animals processed when they are ready. Also the lack of processing facilities for several months of the year due to county fairs means that I have to have a frozen inventory or not have anything to sell during my busiest times from July through September.
Oogie McGuire
Black Sheep Shepherdess


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