What a Year!
I am confident that 2020 has been the most remarkable year of my life. Generally, we might think that the milestone years are those which we were born or married or had kids. Yes, those were great years, but they don’t hold a candle to what took place in 2020.
My heart goes out to all those that suffered significant hardship this year. Many people lost their jobs, lost family members, or had their world turned upside down due to COVID-19. And there is serious anxiety and depression lingering from the lack of uncertainty in this world: not to mention the political upheaval that we have had to endure.
I feel somewhat guilty but 2020 brought good changes in my life: new job responsibilities, new colleagues, less time on the road, and a new outlook on what is important. Yes, there were some nasty parts to 2020, but I seem to have the ability to block them out, a trait that I have to thank my mother for.
If you are a long-time reader, you have figured out that I am an optimist. Two decades ago, I knew that sheep and goats would be my life’s work. But at the time I had no rational for choosing this life- rather, it chose me. Up until recently, I have had to be creative to paint a rosy picture for what the future of the industry “could” look like. Honestly, the reality has been bleak: A half century of a declining industry, due to attrition of producers that could not make enough profits to be sustainable, brought on by lack-luster markets, constant predator pressure, and a diminishing infrastructure to support sheep and goat producers.
But I have learned to never bet against sheep and goat raisers. They are some of the most resilient people. Now, I can feel confident that a bright future does exist for those that want to put in the hard work and raise small ruminants.
MARKETS: The traditional lamb market, which is the primary marketing channel for 130-160 lb lambs, has made a quick rebound from the COVID-19 market crash. In my opinion, the abrupt shut down of the food service demand for lamb should have been the nail in the coffin for the domestic lamb industry. Yes, we lost a lamb packing plant and lamb cooperative in the process. But there are two new high-capacity lamb processing plants that opened their doors in 2020. And based on the current market, it appears the traditional U.S. lamb consumers have continued to support U.S. lamb producers.
Here in Texas, the majority of our lambs go toward the non-traditional market, which favors lighter weight lambs. Other than the months of April and May, the lightweight slaughter lamb market in 2020 was well above the 5-year average. More impressively, the supply of lambs that have been marketed at our sale barns in the state has been growing. Typically, prices go down with increasing supply. This again speaks to the strength of the demand for lamb products.
And, WOW, the meat goat market has been on FIRE. The month of September is the only time that the average kid goat was below $275 cwt. Not only are kid goats selling well, but adult goats are also fetching a premium. This strong market occurred in the face of pandemic and major holidays that fell in typical high-supply seasons.
It seemed as if fate is stacking the cards against the sheep and goat market. And yet, it has been prevailing with nothing but strength, but maybe I am too optimistic.
PREDATOR PRESSURE: No doubt that predators are still wreaking havoc on sheep and goat producers. And there is no sign of them going away anytime soon. The bright side has been the growth in use and acceptance of livestock guardian dogs (LGD) in Texas. We have partnered with the Texas Sheep and Goat Predator Management Board to conduct research and provide educational support for people that are wanting to use LGDs.
Skeptics will say that LGDs can be more hassle than help, and I’ll be the first to admit they are not for everyone. But as the sheep and goats are starting to expand into the panhandle, and further east in the state, areas historically dubbed “cow-country”, LGDs are making believers out of many of these newer producers. Here in the Edwards Plateau region, LGDs are also becoming more of the norm as opposed to an occasionality. They are not the sole answer to the predator issue but ask any of those who have come to rely on their services, and I think they’ll tell you there is no going back to the pre-dog days.
LACK OF INFRASTUCTURE: In the early 2000s, there was a poor outlook on resource allocation for small ruminants. It seemed like new research, pharmaceuticals, next generation equipment, and other technology would never be developed for sheep and goats, as the industries are not big enough.
None of this happened! On the contrary, universities reinvested in small ruminant educators and researchers. New research funding opportunities have materialized. New networks of educators, researchers, and industry leaders have formed. Sheep genetic technologies have grown at a faster rate than ever before. Foreign companies have invested in distribution of equipment specially designed for sheep and goat production.
2020 has been a crude trip around the sun for many, but I can’t help but find the blessings that have come from the turmoil. Like I said before, never bet against sheep and goat raisers. A resource group of people that find ways to survive the hard times and prosper in the good times.
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.