Lamb Boom Has Sheep Farmers Flocking Together | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Lamb Boom Has Sheep Farmers Flocking Together

Play associated audio

When city folk think of lamb, they may think of very young sheep — perhaps 6 weeks old. But 6 months is the average age of spring lamb going to market these days.

Don Van Nostran has one in a holding pen in his barn at Will-O-Wood Farm in southeastern Ohio. It soon will be butchered and sold in a local Kroger store.

Van Nostran's spring lamb is very much in demand these days as an alternative to beef, chicken and pork, even though the cost is generally higher. Many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, especially Muslims, favor lamb or goat over beef.

But even though the popularity of lamb is up, American sheep farmers like Van Nostran are worried. They say they need more farmers to raise sheep. And they want existing sheep farmers to increase the size of their flocks to meet growing demand.

That's surprising, because lamb farmers are making good money, with prices at an all-time high. Van Nostran says chops can go for about $15 a pound. Compare that to some chicken cuts in the $2 range and beef at about $5 a pound.

Still, the future of the industry is uncertain.

Curt Cline is another southeast Ohio sheep farmer who worries about producing enough.

"There needs to be a certain level of numbers of head of sheep to support infrastructure," Cline says, referring to infrastructure like processing plants and veterinary support. "If the infrastructure falls apart, you're kind of left hanging."

But he doesn't actually view other lamb producers as competition; he says he sees them as partners.

The American Sheep Industry Association is calling on existing sheep producers to expand and on new farmers to start production. This national initiative, launched last year, aims to get farmers to produce 315,000 additional lambs by 2014.

Both Cline and Van Nostran have signed on to be part of that effort.

Van Nostran says there's a lot of room for growth in the East and the Midwest, but not so much out West, where ranchers don't have access to additional grazing land.

Many of the new farmers are young, and agriculture officials agree that sheep raising should be attractive to them because it's relatively low-cost compared with other herds.

Sheep need fewer acres for grazing than cattle, for example, and sheep are significantly cheaper to feed. But they do come with a host of disease issues and, unlike cattle, have a number of predators.

Sheep farming also can be labor intensive, especially when ewes are giving birth. But for today's sheep farmers, this intense labor seems to be paying off.

Fred Kight is a reporter for member station WOUB.

Copyright 2012 WOUB Radio Network. To see more, visit http://woub.org/radio/.

NPR

Rod McKuen, The Cheeseburger To Poetry's Haute Cuisine

Poet Rod McKuen was loved by millions but mocked by literary critics. He died this week at age 81.
NPR

Shake Shack Sizzles With IPO As McDonald's Fizzles

Shares of the burger chain shot up Friday, its first trading day. Shake Shack and other fast-casual joints are taking a bite out of McDonald's, which can't recast itself to fit the current trend.
NPR

What Romney's Retreat Means For GOP Hopefuls

NPR's Scott Simon speaks with senior Washington editor Ron Elving about the narrowing Republican presidential field for 2016 and what we've seen so far in the first month of the new Congress.
NPR

Media Outlets Partner With Snapchat To Appeal To Younger Users

As people disappear from the audiences of conventional news organizations, 11 media outlets have partnered with Snapchat in the U.S. to offer its younger users easily digested fare within the app.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.