Counting sheep: Demand for U.S. lamb and wool is anything but sleepy

ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—U.S. sheep producers are being encouraged to increase their herds, their lamb birthrates and the number of lambs they harvest.

The U.S. sheep industry is experiencing all-time highs for lamb and wool, and the American Sheep Industry Association is encouraging producers to boost production in order to meet demand. An ASI initiative titled "Let’s Grow with Two Plus" has set three producer goals: increase flock size by two ewes or by two ewes per 100 by 2014; increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year; and increase harvested lambs by 2 percent.

Farmers can find details at

Lamb processors are calling for more U.S. product, ASI notes on the site, and two major announcements this year have boosted demand. Grocery chain Kroger launched an American lamb branded campaign, and Super Wal-Mart committed to sell U.S.-grown lamb exclusively in its stores. Nontraditional market channels such as on-farm and farmers’ market sales and sales to small processors that serve ethnic communities have seen growth as well.

Demand for U.S.-grown wool also is robust; the industry’s largest domestic consumer is the U.S. military, which issues troops high-performance, washable wool clothing.

Spencer Neale, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, called the growing demand for wool and lamb exciting news.

"For years we have imported significant amounts of lamb—the majority of it from New Zealand and Australia—to meet American demand," Neale said. "Given the growing consumer interest in purchasing food raised and processed here at home, U.S. sheep producers are in an excellent position to benefit. But to do so, we are going to have to grow our flock numbers, so ASI’s message is right on."

The most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture, conducted in 2007, found nearly 78,000 sheep and lambs on about 2,100 farms in Virginia. Almost 950 of those farms were engaged in wool production.

Contact Neale at 804-290-1153 or Amy Trinidad, ASI, at 303-771-3500, ext 55.

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