Four years ago, a new class — Commercial Market Lamb — was added to the open-class show at the Nebraska State Fair that honors excellence for commercial sheep producers.
According to Kiley Hammond, president of the Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers Association from Verdigre, the idea for the pen-of-three commercial class began with discussions between Hammond and fellow producer Roy Gerkins of Randolph, about ways to incorporate more commercial considerations into sheep competitions.
"It's a two-part deal," Hammond says. "We started the class, in part, as a way to showcase good commercial traits to young and new producers, to educate them about what the industry and sheep buyers demand. But we also wanted to showcase good commercial producers to emphasize what they are doing in their operations."
The class has both live and carcass aspects, to show the connection between the live animals and production carcass data gained from that part of the show. To push the commercial side of the industry through this class, Hammonds says the judges of the live class are all lamb buyers, so they know what they are talking about when it comes to the industry. Last year's class had 66 lambs, and the class continues to grow, he adds.
Lambs entered in the class are all slaughtered at the Mountain States lamb processor in Greeley, Colo., so entrants will receive valuable carcass data on their commercial lambs to help them improve their feeding programs and genetics, Hammonds says.
The show is open to pens of three head of market lambs of all breeds, weighing 120 to 155 pounds, with a respectable dock left on the tail and no close clip on the fleece. "We typically have several lots of hair sheep involved in the show, too," Hammond says. "In fact, they usually do real well in the carcass portion of the contest."
Business and industry sponsors support the show and provide cash awards to the top winners in both the live and carcass aspects of the class. "A big thing about the carcass portion is that producers will have the opportunity to get carcass data like leg scores, ribeye diameters, fat thickness and yield grade back on their lambs," Hammonds says.
Raising Nebraska exhibit hall at the fairgrounds has also provided another venue to educate consumers about the sheep industry, he explains. "Last year we provided about 60 pounds of lamb for tasting by visitors through the exhibit hall during the state fair," Hammonds says. "We ran out of lamb and still had a line of folks wanting to try it."
Hammonds says that little by little, Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers Association hopes to raise the profile of the industry in the state, improve demand and relate to growers about how best to grow and improve commercial operations.
Producers interested in participating in the pen-of-three competition at the state fair can find the entry form at the Nebraska State Fair website at statefair.org.