Capitalizing on Opportunity
September is my favorite month of the year. As a child, it marked the end of long, hot summer days and a return to school. Yes, I am one of those weird kids that looked forward to school. The social aspect of school was a good break from the solitude of the ranch life. And of course, the return of Friday night lights! But, in truth, education is what I liked best. Now as a parent of school age kids, I appreciate fall even more!
September represents a shift in production systems. It is either the start of a new breeding season for winter and spring births or starts the fall lambing or kidding season. The days are starting to shorten and cool down, which brings about a shift from warm season to cool season grasses and forbs.
The fall also represents a shift in the overall market of sheep and goats. The larger volumes of lambs and goats during the summer are starting to dwindle. The reduction in supply starts to have positive impacts on market price. While, this year has tended to follow the seasonal patterns, the base value of lambs and kids are high. Historically, feeder and light weight slaughter lambs would have sold for less than $2 per pound and kid goats would have sold for less than $2.50 per pound. This year the market averaged about 50% higher than normal.
There is no guarantee that the markets will remain high into the future but the factors that have driven up demand and limited supply aren’t likely to change in the near future. So, how do sheep and goat producers take advantage of a good situation? From my perspective, there are several options to consider. First, grow lambs and kids to heavier weights. Second, shift breeding season to market lambs and kids in winter months. Third, improve flock/herd reproduction to market more lambs or kids. There are other options as well, but for the save of space I will limit to these three for this article.
To help sheep and goat raisers project when, and at what weight, to market their lambs and kids, we have developed several marketing tools. There are charts updated weekly on our webpage (sanangelo.tamu.edu) that are a summary of USDA AMS data from Producers in San Angelo. They show a weighted average price for the current year, prior year, and five-year average before that. These help to assess the market from a longer-term perspective, instead of weekly shifts. We have also developed a prediction matrix for change in value of lambs and kids by month and weight range that is based on over ten years of data from the local auction reports. This matrix was used to develop an iPhone app that conducts the calculations and displays them in charts.
A subject of common discussion among sheep and goat raisers is timing lambing or kidding to market offspring during the peak winter months or prior to an ethnic holiday. While, this may seem very logical, it isn’t as easy as it may seem. We often see a reduction in the prolificacy of some sheep and goats during the spring because they are natural fall breeders. Also, there are undoubtedly costs associated with extra supplement needed by pregnant females during the winter, but ranchers make money on margins and while inputs may be increased, the potential value of a fall lamb or kid crop could more than make up for this.
Improving a lamb or kid crop is one of the greatest challenges for a sheep or goat rancher to accomplish because of the need to maintain good nutrition, thwart predators, prevent disease, and adapt to what mother nature provides. Sheep and goat folks take great pride in their animals and will do most anything to keep them healthy and productive. But I’d like to challenge you to raise the bar for what you’d consider a good lamb or kid crop. Measure your success or failure and document this in a place that is easy to find and remind yourself. Do this not only for your betterment but for the opportunity that this provides the next generation on the family ranch.
It is my professional opinion that most of our Texas flocks and herds lack the genetic potential to seize the opportunity that lies ahead of us. In essence, ~ 120 percent lamb or kid crop might be the best we can do, whereas small ruminants with an improved reproductive genetic potential could have raised a 50 percent larger lamb or kid crop.
Selection for higher reproductive potential is possible, but, it won’t happen overnight. Lamb or kid crop is multifaceted set of traits and many of these traits are low to moderately heritable. Unlike, wool or growth traits that tend to be moderate to highly heritable and negatively correlated with reproduction. There is a high probability that we have selected against reproductive fitness due to over emphasis on wool, growth, and carcass traits.
To make real and measurable increases in lamb and kid crop, I feel strongly that we need to do a better job in selection of replacements for a higher reproductive potential. The best prediction tools on the market for genetic potential are EBVs (estimated breeding values) from flocks or herds in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP). Most commercial operations won’t have the time and resources to generate EBVs on their own sheep/goats, but rather they can source rams or billies with above average EBVs for the reproductive traits. Keep in mind that rams or billies won’t increase the lambing or kidding rate of the flock or herd until their daughters are raising offspring. It is a long-term investment.
This fall is looking like the start of another fantastic opportunity to market lambs and kids for high value. Capitalizing on these opportunities are the types of decisions that help keep businesses alive and ranches in families for generations. Let’s try and seize the opportunity for the next generation to have a brighter future than our own. If AgriLife Extension can be of assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us.
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.