Consensus Report

Changes in the Sheep Industry in the United States: Making the Transition from Tradition (2008)


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The United States sheep industry is rooted in history and tradition and is one of the most complex industries in animal agriculture. Sheep provide lamb and mutton meat for consumption, wool and pelts for textiles, and milk from the emerging dairy sheep industry. Despite the sheep industry\u0092s long history and versatility, it has faced a steady decline in the number of sheep and lambs over the last 60 years, which has been attributed to a confluence of forces. In response to a Congressional request in the Agricultural Appropriation bill and with support from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Research Council assembled a committee of experts to review the development and current status of the sheep industry. The report finds that although a continued decline can be expected in some segments, various components of the sheep industry have made adjustments, expanded into new markets, invested in new technology, and improved efficiency.

Key Messages

  • Although continuing declines can be expected in some areas of the U.S. sheep industry, the changes currently taking place offer ground for optimism.
  • Expanding alternative and emerging markets will create considerable challenges to the industry and to policy makers.
  • The emergence of new and alternative markets for sheep products signifies that the industry may be on the brink of a transition from traditional practices and marketing channels to new markets, new technologies, new products, and a new consumer base.