Ohio Small Ruminant Industry Report – Fall 2021

Dr. Brady Campbell, Assistant Professor, State Small Ruminant Extension Specialist

I wrote this article in September 2021 for the Mid-Ohio Shepherds Grazing Conference and now that the conference resource guide has been published, I wanted to share this updated version which also includes a recent report on lamb consumption from the American Lamb Board below. Enjoy!

For those that follow the sheep and goat industry closely, I am sure that you have noticed that prices are better more than ever. For those that haven’t followed the recent market trends, I encourage you to do so – it may spark your interest in raising sheep or goats! As I write this in mid-September, the American Sheep Industry (ASI) reports that lambs, regardless of weight, are valued at 40% – 80% more than when compared with prices from the fall of 2020. For lambs weighing 60-90 lbs. live, the nation is seeing an average price of $2.69/lb., with slaughter weight lambs (100-140 lbs.) being valued at $2.47/lb. As we move into the fall and winter months, I only foresee these price trends to increase, which has held true!

According to the latest USDA NASS report released in January of 2021, the American sheep inventory consisted of 5.17 million head with a 2020 lamb crop of 3.21 million head. These values remain unchanged from the previous report in 2020. An area in need of major improvement is the nation’s lambing rate, which according to this report was 108%. With approximately 80% of the sheep population located west of the Mississippi River, this value makes sense as rangeland flocks are presented with challenging conditions that greatly affect lamb vigor and viability. However, as we improve our management practices and production efficiency in the east, this percent is bound to improve – let’s work together to make this happen! Additionally, this report also breaks down sheep numbers based upon state and geographical region. According to the data, the largest increase in sheep production occurred east of the Mississippi River. On the goat side of things, the American goat industry consists of 2.58 million head which includes meat, milk, and fiber producing goats. Goat numbers in general saw a 3% decrease from those reported in 2020. Regardless of species, wool and fiber production saw a decrease in production ranging from 3% – 10% in 2020. This may be attributed to both a decrease in the number of available shearers and an increase in hair type breeding sheep.

Bringing this a little closer to home, I have taken this data and calculated some values for Ohio. The sheep and lamb inventory for Ohio is 126,000 head which remained unchanged from 2020. In the grand scheme, Ohio ranks 11th in the nation for sheep production numbers and is the largest sheep producing state east of the Mississippi River. Arguably, we are also one of the largest purebred producing states in the nation. For goat production, Ohio is home to roughly 44,000 head of meat goats and 10,000 head of milking goats. Interestingly, out of all the reported values, meat goats in Ohio showed a 2% increase from those reported in 2020.

In terms of lamb and goat consumption, Americans consume less than 1 lb. per person each year. However, with an increase in ethnic populations on the eastern coast, demand for small ruminant producers continue to rise. But why is this? Take a look at the ethnic holiday calendar compiled by Melanie Barkley, a livestock Extension educator with Penn State University. For those looking to capitalize on these marketing opportunities, adapt your management system to fulfill the needs of these special markets. In knowing when each holiday occurs, you will be better able to schedule breeding, lambing, and finishing/marketing of your lambs and kids. Be sure to make note that although some holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas occur on the same day each year, other holidays vary from weeks to months based upon calendar year. To improve your odds of receiving a premium for your lambs and kids during holiday sales, be sure to market your livestock 2 ½ to 3 weeks prior to the holiday. This allows order buyers and individuals to secure their selected animal prior to the holiday occurring.

Furthermore, according to a recently released lamb consumer survey sponsored by the American Lamb Board, lamb consumption is on the rise. The survey states that those considered as heavy purchasers (those consuming lamb multiple times a week) are male, millennials, have a household income of > $100,000/year, have children in their household, are college graduates, and live in an urban setting. Due to their location, lamb for these consumers is primarily purchased at chain supermarket stores. This finding demonstrates that there is a need for small markets nation wide to continue offering American lamb. For those interested in marketing lamb from home, at the local farmers market, or local grocery, take a look at this lamb pricing calculator to help better understand if this strategy may be feasible for you. Interestingly, amongst the surveyed group, the primary reasons for lamb purchase and consumption was that lamb is a part of their regular diet or that a food blogger or recent recipe find prompted their interest. The most commonly purchased lamb cut is loin chops at nearly 50%. Discovering new way to prepare and serve lesser valued lamb cuts will also improve and encourage the sale of lamb. Unfortunately, the two greatest barriers for lamb consumption is price and availability. Therefore, we as producers must improve the efficiency of our operations in order to provide an affordable product for the consumer.

Overall, lamb and goat markets continue to remain strong. Out of all of the lamb and goat consumed in the USA, approximately 60% of those products are imported, primarily from Australia and New Zealand. With the exception is specialty cuts and organs, Americans consume a majority of the lamb produced in the USA. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like we as American producers have some catching up to do. There is ample opportunity for growth in our industry, now is the time to capitalize!