Sheep ranchers look for new revenue
The American sheep industry is working
to organize an association or cooperative
to help foster the use of livestock for
The goal is to promote a promising
business for the sheep ranching industry,
which is struggling due to imports from
New Zealand and a declining sheep population
“We must recognize that there are
other products than food and fiber that are
not affected by imports,” said John
Walker, resident director of research, San
Angelo Research & Extension Center at
Texas A & M University in San Angelo.
“We need to get into the environmental
“U.S. lambs and sheep should be marketed
as natural product that has helped
restore the ecological integrity of U.S.
rangelands,” said Walker. “Imports can’t
touch that market.”
Walker was speaking at the Livestock
Grazing for Vegetation Management
Conference last week in Sparks. More
than 200 sheep ranchers, academics and
representatives from government agencies
attended the two-day conference hosted
by the University of Nevada Reno.
The conference, which featured scientists
and grazing contractors as speakers,
was designed to prove the case for using
livestock, primarily sheep, to control weed
infestation, said Hudson Glimp, a professor
with UNR’s Department of Animal
Biotechnology, who organized the event.
“We have 30 million acres in Nevada
that are seriously at risk of losing all native
plants and species,” said Glimp.
The practice, though, has faced opposition
from environmentalists and government
agencies, neither of which understand
the benefits of using livestock to
clear large and often inaccessible tracts of
land overrun with weeds, according to
“We are the most environmentally
sound solution to weed control,” said
Georgia Edworthy, owner of Montegal
Creek Inc., a grazing contractor from
Bluffton, Alberta, Canada, and a speaker
at the meeting.
The conference concluded with a call
to organize the industry in an effort to
educate, share information, develop business
practices and lobby the government.
“We’re all in the same boat,” said Dick
Henry, owner of Bellwether Solutions, a
sheep-grazing contractor based in
Concord, N.H., who was a featured
speaker at the conference. Henry moves
his herd of sheep to Florida during the
winter, where he has contracts with the
state to remove kudzu, the fast growing
vine that plagues the southeast United
States. (Henry said in optimum weather
kudzu vines can grow a foot an hour.)
“It’s time to form an association,” said
Henry. He suggested that such an industry
association focus on education for both
clients and producers; acting as a clearinghouse
for contracts; government lobbying;
and industry research.
The American Sheep Industry
Association, an existing trade group, is
funded specifically to deal with issues of
wool production, which prevents it from
doing work on the use of sheep for environmental
The industry, though, faces an uphill
battle. Edworthy said sheep ranchers in
Canada have tried to organize, too. “We
tried but people fought,” said Edworthy.
The ranchers, though, have set up a
web site that has mentors on it to help
educate producers, and producer references
for clients to verify a contractor’s
credentials. She said they had considered
certification for producers, one idea proffered
for the nascent American association,
but that wasn’t feasible.
Another sheep rancher said five producers
in Oregon had formed a cooperative
that was working well, with some
bumps along the way. One problem,
though, was that once business slowed, the
producers became worried and returned to
their agricultural roots, she said.
Sheep ranchers, said Walker and others,
need to start thinking like land managers,
not sheep herders.
“We don’t go in with the attitude of a
sheep farmer trying to find feed for our
sheep,” said Edworthy. “We provide a
Proving that service is valuable to the
right people is another obstacle. Several
representatives from government agencies,
including one from Clark County who
said he uses prisoners to pull weeds, said
they were unaware of the potential of livestock
grazing to control weeds.
Proving livestock grazing efficiencies
and cost effectiveness is only half the battle.
The Oregon cooperative sheep rancher
said initial government contracts they
were involved in said the contractor
couldn’t work on weekends or after 5 p.m.
The audience laughed.
“I had to tell them that our sheep eat 7
days a week,” she said.
Walker said the industry must come up
with prescriptions for livestock grazing
and then provide that to the government.
Other potential clients include the
forestry industry, a major user of
Montegal Creeks’ services, which needs to
protect its trees from life-threatening
weeds. Often that land, while infested
with weeds, is inaccessible by anything but
a herd of goats or sheep.
The good news for ranchers was that
much of the weed is more than just a
potential source of new revenue. It is also
highly nutritious feed for the animals.
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