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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
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Sheep Update

Livestock Update, April 1999

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

Wool Market Outlook
Wool prices in 1998 saw a decline from prices received in 1997. Indications are that prices will be down again in 1999. Wool is very much a global product. Some of the largest users of wool on the international market are in the Far East. With the decline of the economy in the Far East and the devaluation of their currency, less wool has been moved to this region. Consequently, Australia has looked for other places to move their wool. With a strong U.S. dollar, U.S. processors have been able to purchase high quality foreign wools at relatively low prices. This has attributed to some decline in demand and price for U.S. wool. Currently, medium wools have been selling from $.10 to .20/lb. on a greasy basis. There is a significant portion of the 1998 U.S. wool clip that has not been sold and is still on the farm. All indications are that these lower prices will not turn around in the near future.

Maximizing Value of the Wool Clip
Through the marketing changes made for this year's Virginia-North Carolina wool pool, producers will be paid for the quality of their wool. Therefore, producers with a high quality wool clip will be rewarded. Since wool sales represent a very small portion of the gross returns in the sheep enterprise, wholesale changes to the genetics of the flock to improve wool grade are likely not justified in Virginia. However, there are several important steps that should be considered to maximize the value of the wool clip:

  1. Minimize Contamination:
    1. Keep shearing area clean and free of straw/hay and other potential sources of contamination.
    2. Avoid use of plastic baler twine in sheep operation that may contaminate fleeces (this contamination occurs throughout the year, not just at shearing time).
  2. Use Proper Packaging Material:
    1. Jute/burlap bags will be accepted in 1999.
    2. Plastic film bags are available and preferred. Points to consider with the new plastic film bags:
      1. Sheep need to be dry when sheared. Plastic bags will not breathe as well as jute bags (more possibility for wool to mold and rot).
      2. Plastic film bags will tear easier when handled.
      3. Tie plastic film bags shut in similar manner to jute bags.
    3. Store wool in dry place, avoid cement or dirt floors to prevent moisture uptake.
  3. Sort Wool at Shearing Time
    1. Shear white-face sheep first, blackface sheep last to avoid contamination of white-faced wool with black fibers.
    2. Package lamb and ewe wool separate.
    3. Remove tags at shearing and discard.
    4. Sort belly wool and bag separately. Also sort wool caps and leg wool out if justified.
    5. Off-type fleeces (black, high vegetable matter, etc.) as well as belly wool should be packaged first in a plastic garbage bag or paper feed sack. The garbage bag may then be added to the large jute or polyethylene film bag. The garbage bag serves to keep these wools separate and prevents them from contaminating other fleeces already packaged, and results in a more uniform lot of wool.
    6. Do not tie wool with paper twine.

Beginners Sheep Shearing School
The 1999 Beginner's Sheep Shearing School will be held April 27-28 at Glade Spring. The two day school is limited to the first 20 participants to register. In addition to instruction on shearing, the school will also cover related topics including shearing equipment, wool handling, and basic sheep management. For more information, contact Scott Greiner at 540-231-9159. Go to Sheep Shearing School Registration.

1999 Virginia Ram Lamb Performance Test
Nominations are currently being accepted for the 1999 Virginia Ram Lamb Performance Test to be held at the ram test barn at the Shenandoah Valley Agriculture Research Station near Steeles Tavern. The test is open to sheep breeders in Virginia, and both purebred and crossbred rams may be tested. Rams will be delivered to the test station on May 4, and after a two week adjustment period, will be placed on feed test for 63 days. Eligible rams will sell on August 28. In 1998, 28 rams sold for an average of $278. Rams born September 1, 1998 to February 28, 1999 are eligible. For rules and regulations, as well as entry forms contact Scott Greiner at 540-231-9159.

Important Rule Changes for 1999 Virginia State Fair Youth Sheep Show
Several important rule changes have been made regarding the 1999 Virginia State Fair Youth Sheep Show. These changes have been made enhance the learning experience, as well as create more educational opportunities for exhibitors of youth sheep at the Virginia State Fair. The major rule changes include:

Market Lambs

  1. To be eligible for exhibition, market lambs must have been nominated, weighed, and identified at an official Virginia State Fair site. Nominations will be taken at several sites around the state in late July/early August. Exhibitors, leaders, and county offices will be notified as to the dates, times and locations nominations will be taken. It is the responsibility of the exhibitor to properly nominate his or her market lambs at one of the locations. At the time of nomination lambs will be weighed, and individually identified with an official ear tag and tattoo. Only lambs which have been nominated and properly weighed and identified will be eligible for competition at the VA State Fair. Each exhibitor may nominate a total of ten (10) market lambs (wethers or ewes). Each exhibitor may only nominate lambs at one location.
  2. Minimum show weight will be 90 lbs. (up from 80 lbs.). There will be no maximum weight limit.
  3. A carcass show will be implemented. Lambs eligible for the live show will be eligible for the carcass show. Carcasses will be evaluated and placed into categories based on live gain, carcass weight, cutability, and quality grade. Premiums will be awarded accordingly. Lambs will be priced on an individual carcass basis (discounts and/or premiums may apply for weight, yield grade, and quality grade).

Purebred Breeding Sheep

  1. Sheep must be owned, separated, and cared for by the exhibitor before August 1 of the current year.
  2. Ewe lambs born after January 1, 1999 will be split into Intermediate (born 1/1/99 to 2/15/99) and Junior (born 2/16/99 and later) classes.
  3. Group classes revised:
    1. Best 4 Head- 4 lambs bred and owned by exhibitor, both sexes represented
    2. Flock- 1 ram, 2 yearling ewes, 2 ewe lambs (need not be bred and owned)
  4. Ownership of purebred sheep may be joint with an immediate family member, provided exhibitor's name is found on certificate. Sheep may not be entered in more than one exhibitor's name. For sheep with joint ownership, entries may be made in the name of only one exhibitor (this also applies to pair/group classes).

Additionally, some minor changes have been made in the entry process. Exhibitors, parents, and leaders are encouraged to read the 1999 State Fair Youth Competition Guide for detailed rules and regulations. Questions may be directed to Scott Greiner, 540-231-9159.

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