By Jake Zajkowski, OCJ field reporter
The Howard Wyman Sheep Industry Leadership School has been bringing together sheep producers from around the country for over 50 years. This year the five-day experience included meat processing workshops, feedlot tours, and conversations among sheep producers from the nation’s diverse operations.
The school is organized by the National Lamb Feeders Association and moves to different locations around the country. This year was the third time the program has been held in Ohio.
“This is a big deal for the lamb feeder industry,” said Karen Mineotis, executive director of the National Lamb Feeders Association. “This is their primary way to get young people involved in the industry so we can teach them how to focus on getting better in their production. Producers should know what our feeders want so they can be profitable, and so can the meat packer. We need to keep a consistent quality product here in the United States and that’s what we’re striving for here.”
Coast to coast, profitability is the goal no matter the size of the flock.
“We need our American lamb to be consumed here in the United States and we need to tell everybody that our flavor is wonderful,” Mineotis said. “It is important to promote it, so people enjoy it and the next generation does too. I have seen a big change in who loves lamb meat, the kids, or the younger generation are our future consumers.”
Much of the leadership school revolved around Ohio State University faculty and facilities, but it also included a tour of diverse sheep operations around the state.
“It’s an opportunity for us not only to show producers around the country what we’re doing in the Ohio sheep industry, but also to see what impact we can have on bringing some live lambs in, harvesting them and showing them what they can do clear down to wholesale cuts. You’ve got producers here with just a few sheep to some with several thousand sheep all coming to learn about our commonality, and that’s the sheep industry,” said Roger High, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association. “We do have a very diverse industry. You know we can market small lambs and can market big lambs. We’ve got small producers we’ve got big producers across the country and I think that if we all would work together for a common goal, we can continue to make the industry as strong as possible.”
High thinks participating in programs like Howard Wyman Leadership School can help set up opportunities for producers to capitalize on strong current prices for lamb, especially in the eastern U.S., while navigating the challenges, including extremely low wool prices.
Barbie Casey from Butler County was one of 22 lamb producers in attendance.
“We have a small operation. It started out as a 4-H project and turned into a freezer meat business as well as a family showing operation so we have about 30 Southdown ewes and have a few other crossbreds. I would say one of the biggest challenges we have right now is what to do with our wool. It’s really been an issue because the price of wool has dropped drastically and since that price has dropped, it really costs us more to dispose of the wool than we can make off of it,” Casey said. “Although we have that challenge, lamb meat has grown in terms of sales in the past few years and the American Lamb Board has really been supportive of that. I think we will see that continue to grow over the next few years.”
The program included live evaluation of lambs, an auction with teams purchasing the lambs to maximize profit and value, then an ultrasound to further evaluate them. After the ultrasound, the lambs were harvested with an emphasis on proper practices, inspection and food safety regulations. The program also included sessions on feed nutrition, wool classification and a cooking demonstration. Participants got an in depth look at the different meat cuts, the impact of stress on meat quality and hands-on work with carcasses and processing. Participants got the hear from a number of Ohio industry leaders including High, Brady Campbell and Lyda Garcia and tour Don Hawk’s feedlot operation in Knox County, Leroy Kuhn’s Wayne County grass-based farm, Mike Stitzlein’s club lambs in Ashland County, the Mt. Hope Auction, and the Wooster Campus Small Ruminant Research Center.