RICE LAKE — The market for sheep and goats is strong, but prices and the needs of buyers for ethnic markets can vary widely, according to Al Stager, market manager at Equity Cooperative Livestock Sales in Barron.

“It all depends on what buyers come in,” says Stager, who launched a monthly sheep and goat sale last May after elimination of the Equity lamb pool. “There’s no consistency, and it can change quickly. I cannot tell you what the markets are.”

Speaking Feb. 2 at the Indianhead Sheep and Goat Breeders Association’s Small Ruminant Clinic and Trade Show in Rice Lake, Stager said it pays for producers to watch the ethnic markets and holidays, and call ahead before bringing animals in to sell.

“If you’re marketing your lambs and want real top prices, pay attention to a lot of the different events going on,” he said.

Going into Easter, the market wants 70- to 80-pound animals for the ethnic market, he said. In July, buck lambs are sought for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Ethnic markets tend to want intact males, and they’re worth more at certain times; at other times, they’re discounted. Stager said Barron has various regular buyers coming from the Twin Cities area.

“They’re looking to buy and not scared to spend money,” he said.

Stager said markets change often. For example, they currently have “nowhere to go” as far as selling 30- to 40-pound baby goats. With the old lamb pool, bucks were discounted, but on the live auction for July, they have gone higher than wethers.

“It all depends on what buyers come in,” Stager said. “It is all over the board.”

The same 180-pound Boer goat might go for $2.80 per pound or $4, depending on the season and buyers present. The same buyer might want 100-pound ram lambs one week but need 200-pound ewes the next.

“Variability in that comes back to the holidays and which requirements every of those holidays have within that religious sect,” said Logan Edenfield, market manager at Equity in Stratford. “Work with whoever is going to market your livestock essentially all year long, because it does change so much.”

Ethnic markets vary widely, he said, but the bigger packers tend to be more standard. Most buyers don’t want anything with more than a quarter-inch of backfat, as customers don’t want that extra fat; it’s also inefficient to produce those kind of animals.

Barron’s monthly sales have been going very well, Stager said, with recent prices on the live sale about double what they were in the lamb pool. Four different sheep buyers attend the sale regularly, and they’re working on a fifth, he said, but the volume has to be there, as they want a potload. The Barron market typically sees about 600 head at sales but has had as many as 625 head available.

“We’ll try to keep doing that,” he said of the monthly sale, and starting this fall, they might increase frequency to twice a month. They also take sheep and goats on Mondays and Wednesdays, but markets generally aren’t as “hot” on those days.

“It has benefited everybody by starting the live auction,” Stager said. “We hope to keep that going with strong pricing.”

Stager said it’s to sellers’ advantage to bring in a uniform load, as some buyers like to purchase a large group. Also, animals won’t shrink as much if the producer already has sorted them, as they’re less stressed and will weigh more.

Considering their proximity to the Twin Cities, Stager said there’s plenty of room for growth in the monthly sales at Barron.

“We moved 2,700 head of sheep through Barron last year,” he said. “There’s more around here than I expected.”

Along with their regular livestock sales, they host a small animal sale in the spring and are considering a spring machinery sale this year.

Equity in Stratford also offers sheep and goat sales, starting at 11 a.m. every Wednesday, Edenfield said. Their volumes usually aren’t as large as at Barron, but sales have been good.

Edenfield and Stager said it helps them to know ahead of time if a producer plans to bring a certain number of animals to market so they can notify potential buyers and get them in place. It doesn’t matter if a producer has five animals or 50 to sell; it’s to their advantage to call ahead. Optimum lead time is one week.

“Advance notice benefits everyone,” Stager said. “It’s good for us, the buyers and producers.”

Edenfield said Stratford can get two to four different buyers in, if they know ahead of time what producers plan to bring in. If they know in advance, they also can negotiate with buyers and move animals outside the sale barn atmosphere, perhaps getting a higher price and avoiding the possibility for disease transfer.

He encourages producers to “get out of your barn every once in a while,” see what’s available on other farms and at sale barns and ask questions.

“Watch your animals sell,” he said. “If you’ve got a question, that’s the time or day to ask ... what happened. It’s best to get any issues fixed before the animal is gone, even.”

Stager said there isn’t much of a market for organic sheep and goats at this time. Equity facilities are not certified to take them in, so they would need to be marketed outside the sale barn environment.

“We’re not seeing any premium because there’s not enough volume to justify any packers to get into it too far,” he said.

Clinic marks 25th year

Other topics at the Small Ruminant Clinic included a sheep and goat industry forecast, labor-saving ideas, fencing, record-keeping, artificial rearing of lambs and kids, wool and brush and pasture management. Several youth participated in a skill-a-thon.

The ISGBA celebrated the 25th anniversary of its annual clinic this year. Often featuring some of the mostly highly regarded sheep and goat experts in the U.S., the annual clinic draws more than 150 people from four states.

The event began as the Indianhead Sheep Breeders Association’s Shepherd’s Clinic and was first held in the auditorium of the Barron County Courthouse. In 2017, ISBA members voted to include goat breeders and the name was changed to ISGBA. Subsequently, the Shepherd’s Clinic became the Small Ruminant Clinic.

At this year’s clinic, the ISGBA awarded its Extra Mile Award to newsletter coordinator Desiree Nelson of Ogilvie, Minn. Tim Jergenson, retired Barron County UW-Extension agriculture agent, received the Friend of the Association Award. Jergenson and his wife also raise a large flock of sheep near Barron.

Scholarships were awarded to David Thompson and Blake Johnson. More than $7,000 in scholarships has been presented since the program began in 2009. Essay contest winners were Lauren Thompson and David Thompson.

The ISGBA consists of more than 135 members, mostly sheep and goat producers in 22 northwestern Wisconsin counties. A Spring Sheep Shearing School is set for Saturday, March 16, at Lambalot Acres near Augusta. The ISGBA Spring Sale will be Sunday, April 7, at UW-River Falls.

For more information, visit www.indianhead sheepandgoat.org.