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U.S. Sheep and Lamb Inventory

Livestock Update, September 2002

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, VA Tech

A mid-year report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the number of U.S. sheep and lambs has continued to decline. As of July 1, 2002, the department estimates there were 8.1 million sheep and lambs in the U.S. -- 2 percent less than a year ago.

Over the last 12 months, the rate of decline in U.S. sheep and lamb numbers was similar to that during the 12-month period ending July 1, 2001. In addition, USDA estimates the 2002 U.S. lamb crop will be down about 4 percent compared to that of 2001.

Nationally, as of July 1, 2002, the number of breeding sheep and market lambs both posted year-to-year declines of 2 percent. Regionally, only the far western states -- Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- did not have a year-to-year decline in breeding sheep numbers. Given the live lamb price-wreck from June 2001 to June 2002, many analysts expected a much larger change in numbers.

The department noted that the lamb industry is not suffering from a backlog of over-finished animals as it did a year ago. Furthermore, forced sales of lightweight lambs in drought-impacted states have further moderated slaughter-lamb weights. Year-to-year declines in lamb slaughter and lamb weights are expected for the balance of 2002. Last year, lamb prices collapsed in the early summer and continued to erode in the fall. This year, higher prices began to materialize in the spring and will likely peak this summer, more than 30 percent above a year ago.

A smaller U.S. lamb crop is likely again in 2003. Year-to-year declines in U.S. lamb production will likely support even more strength in slaughter-lamb prices next year. How much slaughter-lamb prices increase will depend on several factors, including 1) the drought, which is affecting 40 percent of the country; 2) whether delays in marketing rates create burdensome supplies of over-finished lambs; and 3) how much imports of lamb meat increase. (source: ASI)

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