COVID-19 Impact on Ohio Sheep Producers

Lambs are just one of the many agricultural commodities that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is never a good time for a pandemic to strike, but COVID-19 hit the sheep industry at the traditional best market price. Spring lambs are a family favorite for traditional Easter meals (April 12), Orthodox Easter (April 23), the Muslin feasts of Ramadan (April 23 to May 23), some Jewish sects for Passover (April 8-16), and the secular May 10 Mother’s Day celebration.

America’s biggest market for fresh lamb is in the area from Baltimore to Boston. Major East Coast packers relay on the close location of Ohio producers (Ohio has the 5th most producers in the US) to provide a steady source of fresh lamb. The “white tablecloth restaurants” and the other segments of the food service industry account for greater than 50% of the United State’s lamb consumption. As demand builds back to pre-pandemic levels, Ohio lambs will continue to be a large part of the East coast supply chain.

Ohio Sheep Facts:

  • Lamb price from United Producers in Mt. Vernon, Ohio collection point (weekly – low and high prices are recorded, and the average number is used for these calculations). The dollar price represented is lost value in market decline from March 13 to April 10 sales. The gross revenue for each lamb has dropped 25% from the lamb market value in early March.
    • Finished lambs (131 lbs.) – (0.47 cwt X 131) = $61.50
    • Roaster lambs (60 lbs.) – (0.45 cwt X 60) = $27
    • Hair lambs (80 lbs.) – (0.30 cwt X 80) = $24
    • Aged sheep (average of 150 lbs.) – (0.30 cwt X 150) = $45
  • Producer questions have generally been directed to the decision to sell Easter lambs at this time or add additional weight and sell them later in the fall. Each case will need to be evaluated on an individual basis and will depend on resources and financial stability.
  • Club lamb and breeding stock producers are selling their sheep privately or through online sales. Quality animals are being sold at expected values.
  • Ohio lamb feeders have been able to move their contracted lambs, but non-contracted market lambs are not able to be sold.

Sheep industry facts:

  1. The second largest lamb packer in United States declared bankruptcy in March, 2020.
  2. Currently, packers in West Virginia and New York City have suspended operations.
  3. New Holland, Pennsylvania Lamb Market (largest lamb market in the Eastern United States) sold 5,500 head of lambs on April 3, 2020 and 2,000 head of lambs on April 10, 2020.
  4. National weekly slaughter is down 15%, national production is down 22%, with live harvest weight remaining steady at 138 pounds.
  5. A strong US Dollar continues to support imports from Australia and New Zealand (260 million pounds of lamb which represents approximately 66% of the lamb consumed in the US on an annual basis).
  6. National cold storage is steady with past 5-year averages.
  7. Wool has lost 88% of value and pelts have lost 75% of their value due to closed exports to China.

In closing, this pandemic is another call from Mother Nature that no matter how hard we try to redirect her work, she produces chemical resistant weeds, mutant viruses, and extreme weather. Change is upon us, so embrace the new normal!

Tim Barnes, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Marion County

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