ROSEBURG, Ore. — June and July were profitable months for sheep producers in Douglas County, Ore.
The county’s spring lamb crop was sold at an average of $1.75 to $1.80 a pound live weight. The lamb price “was the best we’ve ever received,” said Dan Dawson, a county sheep rancher. Dawson said the price was 20 to 25 cents higher than a year ago.
According to the most recent National Agricultural Statistics Service, there are approximately 23,000 ewes in Douglas County. It is estimated the county’s lamb crop that went to market numbered 34,000. The average weight of the market lambs was 100 to 120 pounds.
“Lambs and sheep are still a major part of the county’s economy,” Dawson said. “The lambs are marketed as grass-fed natural, making them more appealing, and they go to specialty markets and restaurants. The lighter lambs are finished on irrigated pasture before going to market.”
The 43 producers who were participating in the Douglas County Livestock Association’s wool pool received 80 cents a pound for their fleeces from both ewes and lambs. The Woolgatherer Carding Mill of Montague, Calif., had the highest of the three bids received for the product.
Woolgatherer had bid on the county wool in the past, and purchased the pool in 2013.
“This is a very good price compared to the open market,” Troy Michaels said of the 80 cents a pound. Michaels is a sheep rancher and chairman of the wool pool committee.
However, the bid was 26 cents less than the pool price of a year ago. Hank Kearns, the chief operating officer for Woolgatherer, said the reason for the lower price is because China is importing less of the product than last year, diminishing the demand for coarse wool and creating an oversupply.
Kearns described the wool as “excellent quality for coarse wool.”
The total of the pool was 89,555 pounds. That tonnage is about the same as the pool’s weight for each of the last two years, according to Michaels. Two semi-truck box trailers were loaded and headed south to the mill in northern California, where the county’s coarse wool product will be made into batting for mattresses and furniture.
Kearns said the reason Woolgatherer bid for this wool was because of its low vegetation matter and its consistency, explaining the wool didn’t have a lot of dirt and grass tangled in it, leaving “a good clean product.”
“This pool has a lot of value to our business, we value the growers and we wanted the lot,” Kearns said of the high bid. “Our company will make it into batting and then sell it to mattress and furniture companies that use it in their products. Those folks are primarily interested in natural, chemical-free products.”
Helping out with the wool shipping process were 11 members of the Roseburg Mat Club and coaches Steve Lander and Doug Singleton. The teenage members unloaded the wool bales that ranged in weight from 400 to 500 pounds from trailers and flatbed trucks, rolled and lifted the bales onto scales to be weighed, then rolled them off the scales. A forklift lifted the bales and stacked them in the semi-trailers.
“It’s nice to have the wrestling kids in here to help with the physical work,” Michaels said. “It’s a good, different type of weight training for those kids. We make a donation to the mat club for their efforts and to help out their program.”
For many years back in the 1900s, Douglas County was home to about 100,000 ewes. Low lamb and wool prices through the years and lamb losses to predators were two key reasons ranchers downsized their flocks.
In addition to being an economic factor in Douglas County, Dawson said the sheep population is important because the animals help limit vegetation that can fuel possible wildfires. The sheep will eat back blackberry canes and other forage, decreasing the amount of ground fuel on valley and hillside pastures.