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Fast-track lambing

Commodity prices are on the rise, but they’re not the only segment of agriculture getting a boost from the bull market.

Lamb prices have increased considerably in the last year. “We’ve seen prices jump from a strong market at $1.20 a pound to an incredible one at $2 a pound,” says Richard Ehrhardt, Michigan State University Extension small ruminant specialist. “There’s good indication those prices will remain strong throughout 2011,” he adds. “That creates great opportunity for sheep producers and those considering getting into production.”

Key Points

Lamb prices rose sharply in the last year and still hold steady.

Domestic supply of lamb does not meet current demand.

Accelerated lambing ramps up production without more ewes.


While U.S. domestic consumption has increased moderately, supply has been extremely tight because of an overall domestic production drop of 3% and dwindling imports.

“Australian imports are especially limited; sheep numbers are down partly because of a drought, and their domestic market is improving,” Ehrhardt explains. “The weak U.S. dollar has made lamb imports more expensive, and China is an emerging market that looks more attractive. In addition, New Zealand is moving more into dairy and its export market.”

Effect of corn prices

Higher corn prices may push other livestock prices higher and limit choices for consumers. “There’s also an improved restaurant trade activity and increased interest in dishes featuring lamb,” Ehrhardt says.

Michigan is poised to ramp up production, and Ehrhardt is focused on promoting sheep to the rest of the farming world. “Our land resources in the U.P. and Northern Michigan are well-suited to grassland farming practices, and the integration of sheep with crop farming has untapped potential.”

He also noted the state’s abundant water to support small-scale, pasture irrigation, and the many sources of inexpensive byproduct feeds. “But our challenge is to show farmers how to make sheep production more efficient,” Ehrhardt says.

One opportunity is in accelerated lambing. Unlike traditional lambing, where ewes lamb every 12 months, accelerated lambing reduces the interval to seven to eight months, allowing a ewe to produce three times in two years.

“There are pros and cons of this method,” he says, “but it’s an excellent way to ramp up production and increase efficiency without adding more ewes.”

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RAMP UP PRODUCTION: In his first year of using accelerated lambing, Pat Henne, of Eaton Rapids, says the system shows great potential on his farm without a lot of additional labor or investment. Henne did, however, have to remodel a barn to accommodate winter lambing, which may be an obstacle for some producers.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.