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Published May 23, 2011, 02:43 PM

‘Exciting times’ in sheep industry

Burton Pfliger is a lifer in the sheep business. Now, the third-generation Bismarck, N.D., sheep rancher is playing a key leadership role at the national level.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Burton Pfliger is a lifer in the sheep business. Now, the third-generation Bismarck, N.D., sheep rancher is playing a key leadership role at the national level.

Pfliger is secretary-treasurer of the American Sheep Industry, which represents 82,000 sheep producers across the country. He was elected to his two-year term in January.

“It’s an industry I’m deeply committed to,” he says.

These are heady times in the sheep business. Lamb prices are at record highs, wool prices are the highest they’ve been in more than two decades and demand for lamb is growing.

Demand is particularly strong in what Pfliger and other sheep industry officials call the nontraditional market.

The nontraditional market includes people of Hispanic descent and those from Middle Eastern and African countries.

The fast-growing nontraditional market now accounts for about one-third of U.S. sales, Pfliger says.

“We need to serve that (nontraditional) market,” he says.

To meet the growing demand, the American Sheep Industry has launched its “Let’s Grow with twoPlus” campaign.

The effort encourages sheep producers to expand their sheep numbers by 2014, resulting in 315,000 more lambs and 2 million more pounds of wool for the industry to market.

The three-part strategy consists of:

- Getting producers to increase the size of their operation by two ewes by operation or by two ewes by 100 by 2014.

- Getting sheep producers to increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year. (Sheep often, but not always, have multiple births.)

- Get producers to increase the harvested lamb crop by 2 percentage points, from 108 percent to 100 percent.

Sheep numbers nationwide have fallen to about 5.5 million, a record low. Pfliger says that number doesn’t tell the full story.

The nontraditional market accounts for a growing number of sheep that don’t show up in those official statistics, and sheep carcasses are getting bigger, producing more meat from each animal, he says.

Military is big customer

Another reason for optimism in the U.S. sheep industry is growing opportunities with the U.S. military, already the largest domestic consumer of U.S. wool.

Two developments cited by the Sheep Industry News publication:

- A 100 percent wool sweater will replace the sweater currently used in the U.S. Army, requiring the use of about 100,000 pounds of clean wool annually to start.

- A new base- and mid-layer product has been manufactured using fabric that’s half wool and half rayon, another step in finding wood-blend fabrics that will best benefit the military in areas such as cost, wash ability and fire and odor resistance.

Pfliger, 47 has been active in state and national sheep organizations for years. His service include includes four terms as president of the North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association.

“It’s a great industry. These are exciting times,” he says.

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