Easter is a popular holiday for lamb consumption around the United States. In addition to Easter, holidays like Passover and Ramadan are in progress or approaching fast. These holidays make mid spring through late spring an important time for sheep and goat markets. Don’t forget to check out AgriLife’s Small Ruminant Market Price Analysis Project.
Dates and Deadlines
4/5/2021 – Swisher/Hale Crops Conference
4/5/2021 – Reopening of CFAP 2
4/7/2021 – Lower Rolling Plains Ag Conference
4/9/2021 – WASDE
4/9/2021 – *New* QLA Application Deadline
4/13,15,20,22/2021 – Developing a Drought Management Plan for the Ranch Webinar Series ***Last Week to Register***
4/27-4/28 – Hemphill County Beef Conference
What I’m Reading
Four-part ranch drought management planning series set in April – AgriLife Today
Back to the Basics series on beef cattle production offered online – AgriLife Today
USDA will distribute $12 billion in COVID relief – Feedstuffs
Though Texas’ top livestock by cash receipts and inventory is beef cattle, by far, the Texas sheep industry is an important part of our agricultural economy too. In fact, Texas is home to approximately 730 thousand head of sheep and lambs. Sheep and lambs in Texas make up 14% of the national sheep herd, and Texas has more sheep and lambs than any other state. Producer’s Livestock Auction in San Angelo is one of two USDA reported sheep and goat auctions in the U.S. Lucky for us, this means that a lot of data is available on the Texas sheep market; and right now, the sheep market is “killer”.
A fundamental driver of any livestock price is the size of the breeding herd. The number of breeding ewes is directly correlated to the number of lambs born in a year that are available for slaughter about a year later. The size of the U.S. ewe herd is at an all time low, and I believe that this is the fundamental driver of skyrocketing lamb prices. As of January 1, 2021 there were approximately 2.9 million breeding ewes a year old or older in the U.S. This corresponded to a total sheep and lamb population of 5.1 million head. Both values represent a substantial decline in inventory over time; since 2010 total sheep and lamb inventory decreased 5.5%.
Total Sheep & Lamb Population
Consider ewes as the “stock” in the overall system and lambs as the “flow” through the system. With that in mind, consider lamb and mutton in cold storage as a measure of slack in the system. Relatively higher levels of lamb and mutton in cold storage mean that less lamb is needed “on demand”. Relatively lower levels of lamb and mutton in cold storage means that more lamb is needed “on demand”. The other influence could be that the rate of flow remained stable, but the stock is decreasing. In the sheep protein system, both are true. Demand for lamb is growing and the size of the sheep herd shrunk.
At the end of January lamb and mutton in cold storage was approximately 25 million pounds, 30.5% lower than the 36 million pounds in cold storage in January 2020. Cold storage dynamics seemed to break out of the typical pattern during 2020; continued slaughter with almost no restaurant consumption in April, May, and June led to a buildup in cold storage which liquidated rapidly through summer and fall. One theory; while staying at home more people are trying out new foods, including lamb.
Lamb & Mutton in Cold Storage
The combined trends in consumption and a low herd size are combining to create record-high prices for lambs in traditional and non-traditional markets. The San Angelo sale typically serves non-traditional markets in the southern and western U.S. Breaking down categories further, you’ll find that much of this growth is a result of increasing values for hair sheep. In fact, slaughter lamb prices in San Angelo averaged $50/cwt more on average in Q1 of 2021 when compared to Q1 of 2020. Prices shot up from lows in May 2020 and are now beginning their seasonal decline into the summer months, though remain historically high. Keep in mind, a pound of fed calf sold for approximately $1.20/lb. this week while a pound of slaughter lamb sold for $2.55/lb.
The near-term price outlook for sheep suggests sustained strength through 2021 compared to 2020. The seasonal dip is about to take effect, however, with another decline in the ewe herd in 2021 we can expect fewer lambs. Additionally, there may be some restructuring as slaughter capacity shifts from Colorado to San Angelo via the closure of one plant and the opening of another.
Monthly Weighted Average Slaughter Lambs Price at San Angelo, TX Auction
Similar trends are playing out in goat markets. You can break “goats” down into angora, dairy, and meat goats, and we’re going to focus on meat goats. This is a return to my roots growing up with show goats and at times 30 to 40 dairy goats. However, like our herd in Tulia, the total U.S. meat goat herd is at relatively low levels, though not the historic lows you’ll see in the sheep herd. As of January 1, 2021 there were approximately 2 million meat and “other” goats. That represents the lowest inventory since around 2004. Just like the sheep market, right now the dynamics in the goat market are leading to “awesome” prices. I should note, goat data is porous and, at times, unreliable. Almost anyone can raise a few goats in their backyard, and some of those folks may not even know what a USDA Census report is, much less receive one.
Total Meat & Other Goats
On the note of porous data, there is not cold storage information available for goats. However, we do have data on federally inspected goat slaughter. Monthly slaughter in January 2021 was approximately 38 thousand head. In January 2020, total federally inspected slaughter was 43 thousand head. Decreased slaughter, coupled with stable demand is providing support for kid prices. In fact, the price of kid goats is “skyrocketing”, a technical economic term for shooting up crazy fast.
Monthly Weighted Average Price for All Kids at San Angelo, TX
The average price of kid goats was $92/cwt higher in Q1 2021 when compared to Q1 to 2020, and there are very few signs of a slow-down. Increasing interest in goat meat and cabrito across the U.S. and a growing Hispanic/Latinx population across the southwestern U.S. are both pushing demand higher. The outlook for the remainder of 2021 is for supported prices, seasonally supported through mid-summer with a slight dip in the late summer/early fall. That being said, current price trends are moving counter-seasonally, in a positive direction.
For weekly updates on both the sheep and goat markets, plus trend analysis, and other figures, visit AgriLife’s Small Ruminant Market Price Analysis Project.