Farm Progress

With relatively stable market prices, sheep and goat inventories in the state are on the rise.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

February 20, 2017

3 Min Read
SHEEP LOOKING UP: Kiley Hammond, Verdigre, says that sheep and goats offer a good complementary enterprise for cattle producers and can be added to an operation with a relatively small initial investment.

Sheep numbers in Nebraska saw a fairly substantial increase in 2016. In the annual sheep and goat inventory report released by the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service for Nebraska in January, the all sheep and lamb inventory was 83,000 head, which is up 3000 head over 2015. The breeding sheep inventory alone was up 4,000 head over the previous year, with the total replacement lamb numbers up by 1,000, totaling 10,000 head. The milk goat inventory was also up by 500 head, totaling 3,700.

Verdigre farmer Kiley Hammond is the new president of the Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers Association. Hammond has been raising sheep for more than 30 years, finishing and selling primarily market lambs. He also worked as a sheep and goat order buyer for more than 10 years. "Nebraska actually has a long history of sheep production," Hammond says. "At one time there were five sheep packers in Omaha. Farmers in the state used to feed a lot of lambs, purchasing them from growers in the Dakotas and bringing them here to finish out." Historic agriculture statistics back Hammond's claim, with USDA reporting 689,376 head of total sheep and lamb inventory in 1935, for instance.

Because sheep and goat production requires less of an investment in capital to get started, there is a high profit potential with good management, Hammond says. "Feeding lambs works in Nebraska today, too, because the largest of the packers is close by in eastern Colorado," he says. "Sheep and goats also fit smaller operations well, because less equipment is required."

Growers can make use of waste acres, empty feedlots or cover crops for sheep grazing. "A lot of farmers are looking at diversifying their existing livestock operations by adding sheep and goats," Hammond explains. "There is good support and lots of information out there on how to graze in addition to cattle grazing. Sheep and goats can help in management of pastures, by cleaning up leafy spurge, buckbrush and broadleaf weeds."

The market prices have been pretty reliable, Hammond says. In many cases, market lambs have been selling in the $1.50 to $1.75 per cwt range. "It's been at a pretty sustainable price," he says. "The only obstacle is that markets are a little sparser. We have a market in Verdigre now, and there are markets around the state, but sometimes you have to travel a little bit to market lambs."

Growing and mentoring new producers is part of the outreach program of the Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers Association. "We have a mentoring program for new producers to match them with a veteran producer who follows up with them and helps with initial management," he says. "We also are sponsoring a spring tour near Ravenna where growers can learn from hands-on instruction." The group will tour Brooks Duester's large lambing and feedlot operation. They will also participate in shearing, lamb and kidding care and management, foot care, vaccination protocols, and feeding of market lambs and goats discussions and demonstrations.

If you'd like to attend the spring tour or learn more about Nebraska's sheep and goat industry, visit the NSGPA website at nebraskasheepandgoat.org.

 

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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