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Lambs need to shed a bit of weight, expert says

'Heavy' animals cost more to prepare for consumer sales


For the Capital Press

HALSEY, Ore. -- If lambs were not so heavy, the market might improve, a sheep specialist says.

Jim Thompson's concern is with the number of heavy lambs in U.S. marketing channels.

"Hopefully we can get them moved out," the Oregon State University professor told members of the Linn-Benton Livestock and Forages Association during a recent meeting in Halsey.

Otherwise, he is "cautiously optimistic" about the industry.

Thompson, who has taught more than two decades in the animal sciences department, said animals that weigh 140 or more pounds would be considered "heavy," which would translate into a 70-pound carcass. This, he said, represents an added expense in preparing the animal for consumer sales.

He said some marketing relief might result from the USDA's purchase of $2 million worth of lambs for commodity distribution. Cold storage in March was 65 percent greater than it was a year ago, he said, while production in Oregon and in the United States has declined.

"We won't see prices we had a year ago in the traditional market," he said, noting the non-traditional market that buys 40- to 55-pound carcasses is holding up well.

Annual sheep and lamb production in the United States has declined from 56 million in 1948-49 to about 5.4 million now. The number of market animals in Oregon has declined about 15 percent in two decades, he said in citing Livestock Marketing Information Center figures.

The pelt market has been strong, Thompson said, noting that many of the pelts that are exported return as leather sheepskin boots, which are popular attire for college students. A pair of these boots retail for as much as $375.


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