The number of ewes, lambs and goats produced in Nebraska is climbing and demand for meat from sheep and goats is high. That's why Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers President, Allen Weeder of Columbus, is optimistic about the future.
"The last couple of years, prices have been really good," Weeder says. "Input costs are higher, so margins are still tight, but with prices where they are now, there is optimism from producers."
Weeder, who raises sheep, has served as President of NS&GP for the past two years, and has been involved in the organization for about a dozen years. He says that a major goal of the organization is to attract beginning and new producers into the industry. Weeder believes building the sheep and goat industry is good for the state.
"If we lose too many producers, we lose our infrastructure," Weeder says. He cites the loss of several local market lamb auctions and some regional processing capacity in recent years because of a decline in sheep numbers.
While the high inventory mark in Nebraska for sheep and goats was eleven years ago, the decline in numbers has reversed and given way to a slow, but steady increase since 2009. That's good news for Weeder and all Nebraska producers.
"In many areas, raising sheep and goats is allowing more families to stay on the land," Weeder says. "I can see in Nebraska so much potential for the small producer and the large operator." Weeder says that sheep and goats could clean up weeds on farmsteads, and glean cornstalks and soybean stubble fields that currently do not support animals in the winter.
"These animals do not need state of the art facilities," Weeder says. "Hog barns that are not being used could easily be converted without spending a lot of input dollars." He says that sheep and goats are generally docile animals, so spouses and children can work more easily around them. In many cases, grazing sheep and goats with cattle improves the quality of pasture forages, because each animal prefers a different type of growing forage plant.
"Part of the beauty of raising sheep and goats is that they don't take as much time" as other species of livestock, says Weeder. Lambing, for instance, can be an intense work load, but generally it takes place during a short period in the late winter or early spring months when crop farmers aren't as busy, he says.
"There is tremendous potential for more people to raise sheep and goats," Weeder says. "We just need to educate them" about the opportunities.
Learn more about NS&GP and the state's sheep and goat industry in a future print article in Nebraska Farmer magazine or visit the organization website at www.nebraskasheepgoat.org.