Farm flock
Maryland sheep farm

Sheep in Virginia
Virginia sheep farm

Sheep in Texas
Sheep in Texas

Woolgrower
South Dakota woolgrower

Sheep in Montana
Sheep in Montana

Fall sheep grazing in Vermont
Sheep in Vermont

 Sheep in Mexico
Sheep in Mexico

Egyptian ramEgyptian sheep

 

 

    Dollars and cents

    U.S. Sheep Industry
    According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are 84,134 sheep farms in the United States. Large sheep operations, which own 80 percent of the sheep, are located primarily in the Western United States. Texas and California have the most sheep. Small producers, those owning less than 100 sheep, comprise the majority of sheep operations, but own only 17 percent of the sheep.

    2012 U.S. Sheep and Lamb Inventory - Top 10 states
     State
    Number of head
     Texas
    650,000
     California
    570,000
     Colorado
    460,000
     Wyoming
    370,000
     Utah
    305,000
     South Dakota
    285,000
     Idaho
    240,000
     Montana
    225,000
     Oregon
    200,000
     Iowa
    195,000
     Total
    5,345,000
    Source: USDA NASS Sheep and Goat Report, January 27, 2012


    A small industry
    Compared to other animal and agricultural industries, the sheep industry is very small, accounting for less than 1% of total U.S. livestock receipts.

    2010 U.S. Livestock Slaughter
     Species
    1,000 head
    Avg. live weight
    Meat production, lbs.
     Cattle
    34,411
    1,279
    26.4 billion
     Calves
    920
    262
    145 million
     Hogs
    110,367
    272
    22.5 billion
     Sheep
    2554
    134
    168 million
     Total
    49.2 billion tons
    Source: USDA NASS Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary, April 2011

    Over the past 200 years, the U.S. sheep population has come full circle. From 7 million head in the early 1800's, sheep numbers peaked at 56 million in 1945, then declined to less than 7 million head on January 1, 2003. At the same time, industry emphasis has changed from wool to meat. Sheep numbers increased slightly in 2005 and 2006, the first time since 1990.

    The American Sheep Industry Association is currently encouraging sheep producers to increase the size and productivity of their flocks. Visit the Grow Our Flock web site to learn about ASI's twoPlus program.


    Home on the range
    Sheep in the Western United States are often raised under traditional range conditions, where flocks graze unfenced pastures under the watchful eye of shepherds or sheepherders. Some range flocks graze public lands (for a fee), while others graze privately owned land. A range "band" consists of 1,000 ewes and their lambs. Wool production is still important in the range sheep industry. Fine wool breeding predominates. Most range ewes have Rambouillet blood.


    Lamb feeding industry
    Colorado is the most concentrated lamb feeding area in the United States. Other states that feed a lot of lambs include Texas, California, Iowa, and Oregon. Lamb feeders purchase 60 to 90 pound lambs for finishing in feed lots. Sometimes, lambs are grazed on alfalfa fields.

    The lamb feed lot industry has struggled in recent times due to high feed costs and higher feeder lamb prices, brought about by the increased demand for light weight slaughter lambs by non-traditional markets.

    Small farms
    While the U.S. sheep industry is still dominated by small numbers of large operations, these operations continue to decline for various reasons. At the same time, small flocks are increasing, especially in the eastern half of the United States, where the majority of lamb is consumed. To be profitable, small flocks must be productive and have access to excellent markets. Sheep are especially popular on small farms where sustainable farming practices are favored, such as pasture-finishing of lambs.

    Making money with sheep
    As with other agricultural enterprises, sheep farming is not a "get-rich-quick" scheme. The profit margins are narrow. To make money raising sheep, you would need at least several hundred ewes, probably more than 500. While there are some farmers who make a majority of their income from sheep farming, sheep raising is more often a part-time or secondary enterprise of a farm. For some, it is a hobby, retirement activity, or 4-H project.

    Sheep farmers derive their income from the sales of lambs and wool and related products. Though it varies by state and farm, most income comes from the sale of lambs. Dairy sheep farmers have three sources of income: lambs, wool, and milk (or cheese). Some farmers receive income by leasing their sheep out for grazing. Some sheep are raised for bio-medical purposes (research, blood, etc.).

    World sheep numbers
    According to the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, there are more than one billion sheep world wide. Sheep production is increasing in some countries; declining in others. While China has the most sheep, Australia and New Zealand dominate world markets for lamb and wool.

    2010 World Sheep Inventory - Top 10 countries
     Country
    Number of head
     China
    134,021,213
     India
    73,991,000
     Australia
    68,085,500
     Iran
    54,000,000
     Sudan
    52,014,100
     Nigeria
    35,519,800
     New Zealand
    32,562,600
     United Kingdom
    31,000.000
     Pakistan
    27,800,000
     Ethiopia
    25,979,900
     Total
    1,078,948,201
    Source: FAOSTAT 2010

    The United States is not a major sheep-producing country. Lamb and mutton imports account for nearly half of U.S. lamb consumption.


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Last updated 27-May-2012
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