USDA Outlook: U.S. lamb, mutton production forecast to fall 3% year-over-year to 145 million lbs. in 2012; lamb, mutton imports to rise 9% to 178 million lbs.

WASHINGTON , February 15, 2012 (press release) – The following article is excerpted from the February Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook published by the Economic Research Service of the USDA.

Sheep and Lambs

The U.S. sheep and lamb inventory declined in 2011. The January 1, 2012, inventory of sheep and lambs was 5.35 million head, down 2 percent from January 2011. The total breeding inventory was down 3 percent and the lamb crop in 2011 was 2 percent lower than the previous year. The number of replacement lambs was also down 2 percent from the previous year. Sheep death loss during 2011 totaled 240,000 head, an increase of 4 percent from 2010, while lamb death loss increased 3 percent from 370,000 head in 2010 to 380,000 head in 2011.

Eighteen of the published States registered inventory declines on January 1, 2012. Texas, the largest sheep producing State, saw a 24-percent drop in all sheep and lamb inventory, its largest single-year decline in sheep inventory ever. The Texas sheep and lamb inventory declined from 850,000 head on January, 2011 to 650,000 head on January 1, 2012. The significant decline was largely due to extreme drought conditions in the Southwest. California, the second largest sheep- producing State, saw a 5-percent drop in all sheep and lamb inventory.

Fourteen of the published States reported inventory increases. Signs of these increases were seen primarily in the medium-level producing States; Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Idaho, and Minnesota, all States with more than 100,000 head, registered increases. Colorado saw the biggest inventory increase, 24 percent, in its sheep and lamb inventory. While some of Colorado’s increase may have been due to the relocation of herds from Texas, some increase may have been associated with the efforts to grow the flock.

Commercial lamb and mutton production is forecast at 145 million pounds in 2012, nearly 3 percent below 2011. Production in 2011 declined 9 percent. The 2-percent reduction in the number of market sheep and lambs on January 1, 2012, and the 2 percent smaller lamb crop in 2011 should result in lower slaughter numbers this year. The smaller lamb crop may also make it more difficult for producers to grow their flocks. Production for the first quarter of 2012 is forecast at 38 million pounds. The number of slaughter animals is expected to be lower, but average weights are expected to be higher than normal.

Lamb prices are expected to remain fairly strong in 2012 as production will remain tight throughout the year. The San Angelo Choice slaughter lamb price is forecast to average in the $138 to $150 per cwt range for 2012. This would be below the 2011 average price. The average price in 2011 was $160.60 per cwt. Choice slaughter lamb prices at San Angelo have more than doubled in the past 5 years.

Lamb and mutton imports for 2012 are forecast at 178 million pounds, more than 9 percent above 2011. Expected economic improvements this year and tight domestic production should fuel this increase. Imports in 2011 declined 2 percent to 163 million pounds. The strong Australian and New Zealand currencies relative to the U.S. dollar appeared to have had a dampening effect on imports. U.S. lamb and mutton exports increased 6 percent to 19 million pounds in 2011, largely due to increased shipments to the Caribbean. U.S. exports for 2012 are forecast at 14 million pounds.

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