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Sheep Update

Livestock Update, October 2001

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, VA Tech

2001 Virginia Performance Tested Ram Lamb Sale Results
The 26th Annual Virginia Performance Tested Ram Lamb Sale was held at the Virginia Sheep Evaluation Station near Steeles Tavern on Saturday, August 25. A total of 51 rams sold for an average price of $380. Top-selling ram was a Winter Dorset consigned by Mutton Bust'n Farm from Berryville, VA and sold to Kelly Kincannon of Berryville for $725. Three Suffolk rams commanded $625: a consignment from Meadows Suffolks of Buchanan, VA sold to James Morris of Elkton, VA; a Virginia Tech ram sold to Delta Farm in Middleburg, VA; and John Scott of Princeton, WV purchased a Suffangus Farm consignment. Top selling Hampshire ram was consigned by Wilson Stock Farm of Rural Retreat, VA and sold to King Farm of Davidson, MD for $370. Rams sold to buyers in Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Sale results by breed were as follows:

  Sale Average
1 Columbia $210
6 Fall Dorsets $508
10 Winter Dorsets $358
3 Fall Hampshires $310
7 Winter Hampshires $234
24 Suffolks $416
51 Total Rams $380

The Virginia Ram Lamb Performance Test is sponsored by the Virginia Sheep Producer's Association.

2001-02 Virginia Commercial Ewe Lamb Development Program Begins The second annual commercial ewe lamb development and marketing program recently began. The purpose of the program is to provide a source of quality replacement ewes with documented health, management, and genetics for Virginia commercial flocks. The program is being conducted at the Virginia Sheep Evaluation Station, located at the Virginia Tech Shenandoah Valley Agriculture Research and Extension Center located near Steeles Tavern. A total of 115 commercial crossbred ewe lambs (born October, 2000 through April, 2001) were delivered to the station on September 10. Ewe lambs are being developed on grass with supplemental grain mix provided to optimize growth and reproductive performance during the development program. Ewes have been allocated to breeding groups based on age, weight, and breed. Ewes will be mated to purebred rams, which have all been evaluated on the 2001 Virginia Performance Ram Lamb Test. Two Suffolk and two fall Dorset rams will be utilized, with approximately the same number of ewes mated to each ram breed. Rams will be placed with the ewes October through mid-December. Breeding dates will be recorded on all ewes, and pregnancy status will be determined in late December via ultrasound. Ewes will be sold in conjunction with the annual VA-NC Shepherd's Symposium on Saturday, January 5, 2002 at the Virginia Tech Livestock Pavilion in Blacksburg, VA. Bred ewes will be sold in groups of 2-5 head, based on genetics and expected lambing date. For more information, contact Scott Greiner at 540-231-9163.

Targeted Lamb Marketing
Lamb prices through the summer and early fall of this year have dragged behind prices seen in 2000. There are several factors that have contributed to this 15-33% decline in prices relative to year-ago levels. In general, lamb supplies available to the market have increased while actual lamb usage has declined. Lamb supplies have grown as a result of increased imports and above average seasonal carcass weights and delayed marketings. Market analysts have suggested that lamb prices may improve over the summer lows, but may struggle to reach levels seen in 2000.

With significantly smaller lamb numbers and a decaying infrastructure, Virginia producers cannot rely on some of the more traditional marketing methods to receive lamb prices near the top of the available range. Increasingly, producers will have to take a more proactive and aggressive approach to lamb marketing. During periods of low prices, increased pressure needs to be place on marketing strategy so that top prices can be realized.

With Virginia's close proximity to major population centers found in the Northeast, many of Virginia's lamb markets are sensitive to increased demand for lambs around ethnic holidays. This increase in demand in many instances results in higher prices received for lambs. The holidays of interest include Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holidays (see table below). Of most interest are the Muslim holidays of Eid al Adha and Ramadan (one month long). During these two celebrations, lamb meat is preferred and eaten regularly, and therefore lambs are in high demand around the time of these celebrations.

As with any market, lamb type and kind (size, age, condition, breed type, etc.) is an important factor in determining suitability and therefore price potential in the ethnic market. Generally, the Muslim market prefers a lamb lighter in weight (50 to 90 pounds) than traditional markets, although heavier lambs may also be acceptable. Excessively fat lambs are commonly discriminated against, although lambs should exhibit adequate finish (not thin). Lambs with blemishes (broken horns, wounds, lameness) or are unthrifty or dirty are also undesirable. Depending on specific market preferences, such characteristics as tails, horns, intact scrotums, and certain breed type may have an impact on price received.

As fall approaches, producers with spring lambing programs are faced with marketing decisions as lambs come off grass. Depending on current weight and condition, many of these lambs will fit the November ethnic market (targeted at Ramadan). These lambs need to be managed appropriately, so that they fit the weight and condition specifications of the intended market. Generally, providing supplemental grain to lambs coming off grass is an economically sound decision prior to marketing. This remains true for the ethnic market, provided the lambs do not get too heavy or too fat.

Several producer groups around the state have targeted lamb sales to coincide with the demand for lambs for these ethnic holidays. These sales are normally scheduled a week to ten days prior to the holiday of interest. The intent of these coordinated efforts is to assemble a significant quantity of lambs of the appropriate type and kind that are of interest to specific buyers. In most cases, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services personnel are involved to grade and describe the lambs for the sale. In many cases, lamb sales are coordinated to coincide with various ethnic holidays and seasonal demands for lamb. Interested producers should contact the sale coordinator well in advance to discuss details regarding the sales, including price potential and lamb type/kind most desirable. The following is a list of area lamb marketing efforts:

Northern Virginia Old Dominion Livestock Producers Assoc. - Winchester
Seasonal lamb and other sheep sales
Contact: Gary Hornbaker, Extension Agent, Loudoun Co. 703/777-0373
Shenandoah Valley Rockingham Livestock Market - Harrisonburg
Targeted weekly lamb sales
Contact: Pete Martens, Extension Agent, Rockingham Co. 540/564-3080
Jim Chamber, market manager 540/434-6520
Southwest Virginia Eastern Lamb Producers Coop. - Dublin
Seasonal electronic lamb sales
Contact: Joe Meek, Pulaski Livestock Market 540/674-5311
Central Virginia Madison Livestock Livestock Market - Madison Mills
Graded monthly sales
Contact: Jim Riddell, Extension Agent, Louisa Co. 540/967-3422
Western Highlands Monterey Livestock Market - Monterey
Seasonal graded electronic feeder and market lamb sales
Contact: Sherry Sullenberger, market manager 540/468-2135

Holiday Lamb Marketing Calendar
Holiday 2001 2002 2003
Eid al Adha March 6 February 23 February12
Islamic New Year March 26 March 15 February 22
Start of Passover April 8 March 28 April 17
Christian Easter April 15 March 31 April 20
Orthodox Easter April 15 May 5 April 27
Start of Rosh Hashanah September 18 September 7 September 27
Ramadan begins November 17 November 6 October 27
Start of Hanukkah December 10 November 20 December 20
Christmas December 25 December 25 December 25

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