DENVER — As he works through the transition process to step away from a daily role on his family’s fifth-generation ranch outside Casper, Wyo., Brad Boner stepped into a new role during the American Sheep Industry Association’s Annual Convention last week in Fort Worth, Texas.
He will serve as ASI president for the next two years after unanimous election on Saturday, Jan. 21, by the ASI Board of Directors. Boner joined ASI’s officer team in 2019 when he was first elected secretary/treasurer after representing Region VII on the ASI Executive Board. He was elevated to vice president in 2021 and now takes over as president from Susan Shultz of Ohio.
“I thought about this day occasionally the last few years,” said Boner. “But it’s not something I thought about much before today. We’re blessed with such great people in this organization, and it’s so much fun to work with them to lead the industry. There’s no backing out now, so here we go.”
The family ranch includes both ewe-lamb and cow-calf operations along with selling Black Angus seedstock. Brad and his wife, Laurie, have three children who all live close to the home place, but only Ryan works on the ranch on a daily basis. Ryan’s involvement allows his parents to spend additional time with their grandchildren.
“This generational transition is an interesting process,” Boner said. “As was alluded to by a few other speakers this week, there comes a point where it’s time for the next generation to step up and start doing what they can do. That’s where we’re headed. Plus, that grandparent thing is pretty cool stuff.”
Boner is joined on the ASI officer team by Montana’s Ben Lehfeldt as vice president and California’s Joe Pozzi as secretary/treasurer. Pozzi – a former member of ASI’s Executive Board from Region VIII – ran unopposed for the secretary position.
“I’m looking forward to working with Joe,” Boner said. “What an innovator and entrepreneur he is in this industry. I believe he’ll be a great addition to our team for the next several years.”
In addition, Virginia’s Lisa Weeks in Region II and New Mexico’s Bronson Corn in Region VI were reelected to second terms on the ASI Executive Board. Lynn Fahrmeier of Missouri was selected to represent Region IV, while Ryan Indart of California was elected from Region VIII. Steve Clements and Sarah Smith of those respective regions were term-limited and not eligible for reelection. The National Lamb Feeders Association elected Kate Harlan of Wyoming to fill the NFLA representative spot on the ASI Executive Board. She replaces her father, Bob Harlan, who also wasn’t eligible for reelection.
That team will have to hit the ground running in 2023 as Congress debates funding for the next Farm Bill. The ASI Executive Board established a list of goals for 2023 late last year and the top priority is to continue to be a “proactive force on legislative issues effecting sheep producers.”
Priorities for the industry in the new farm bill include issues such as re-authorizing an updated marketing loan program for wool, extending the wool manufacturing Sheep Production and Marketing Grant program, and Wool Apparel Manufacturers Trust Fund/U.S. Wool Research in addition to funding U.S. Department of Agriculture export programs.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time this year on the Farm Bill,” said Boner. “I just have to keep plugging away at everything I can to keep this industry moving forward. We’ve been blessed with a lot of great leadership in the past, so there’s some pressure not to disappoint.”
In addition to electing leadership, the ASI Annual Convention provides the American sheep industry with the perfect gathering for honoring those who have contributed to the success of the industry.
Idaho’s Jeff Siddoway was presented with the McClure Silver Ram Award for his contributions as both a sheep producer and a member of the Idaho State Senate. He’s also petitioned the federal government regularly for support of the once-endangered U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, which was taken off the federal closure list in 2019.
“I honestly can’t remember doing any of that,” Siddoway said after a list of his contributions to the industry was read during the Award Luncheon on Friday, Jan. 20. “All I remember is getting up early in the morning, putting my boots on and doing whatever had to be done that day.”
Oregon’s Jeanne Carver picked up the Industry Innovation Award for her efforts on the wool side, where she became the first Responsible Wool Standard-certified producer in the United States. She’s since secured wool from nearly a dozen Western producers to create a stockpile of certified American wool as the demand for such increases daily from manufacturers around the world. She’s also developing a carbon initiative that might allow producers to benefit financially from the Biden Administration’s focus on climate change programs.
Indiana producer Stan Poe picked up the Distinguished Producer Award. His family-run operation has led the way in artificial insemination in the American sheep industry, and he’s also served as a volunteer leader in the industry for more than two decades.
ASI Animal Health Committee Co-Chairs Jim Logan, DVM, and Cindy Wolf, DVM, shared the Peter Orwick Camptender Award for their nearly 30 years of leadership in this important area of the industry. Wyoming’s Logan and Minnesota’s Wolf have long been the dynamic duo of sheep health. The two have graciously volunteered their time on countless animal health initiatives, testifying before Congress and steering the animal health committee.
KLST-TV of San Angelo, Texas, won the Shepherd’s Voice Award for media contributions to the industry. In addition, Brandon Manning and Ed Kline were recognized for their contributions to ASI’s pilot project on electronic identification in a commercial market with Delta (Colo.) Sales Yard during the past two years.
The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center took the opportunity of the Awards Luncheon to recognize retiring board members Marsha Spykerman of Iowa and Frankie Iturriria of California for their years of service.
Animal agriculture is a sustainable component of our global food system, according to Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, director of Colorado State University’s AgNext program, and trends indicate that documenting the ecosystem services it provides will rise in economic importance in the future.
While there are different views on sustainability, Stackhouse-Lawson defines it as continuously improving the social, economic and environmental stewardship of the animal agricultural system. The result ensures a safe and nutritious food supply.
When it comes to the general public’s view of climate change and its contributing factors, science and emotion are on equal footing. But when it comes down to competition between the two, emotion wins every time, she said. In the public debate about greenhouse gas emissions, contributions from grazing ruminants are increasingly targeted, despite the fact that animal agriculture emissions are responsible for only about 4 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. What gets overlooked is that livestock allow humans to produce food on land that is unsuitable for cultivation while enhancing ecosystems, Stackhouse-Lawson said, and the rangelands they graze store 20 percent of the globe’s soil organic carbon.
That’s part of the story we in animal agriculture need to tell, but it’s important that we have good data to back our claims, she said. As more companies make commitments to net zero or carbon neutrality, financial institutions are using green bonds, green loans and other systems under a “sustainable finance” umbrella, so animal agriculture has much to offer for companies focused on natural capital.
Members of the ASI Wool Council met in San Angelo, Texas, prior to the convention to get an in-depth look at the area. San Angelo serves as a hub in the wool industry as home to Bollman’s wool scouring operation and the Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory. Several wool buyers are also headquartered in the area, and Wool Council members were able to visit with each of them.
The tour on Tuesday, Jan. 17, began with a visit to Bollman. Council members were able see how wool is stored, blended, scoured and shipped. For wool processed in the United States, this is one of just two places that wool begins commercial processing. Next, members toured the newly updated wool testing lab that will serve as the primary commercial lab for the American wool industry. While the lab has tested wool for many years, new instruments and machines have expanded its capacity and capabilities.
The afternoon was filled with discussions with wool warehouseman, processors and buyers. Conversation focused on industry challenges, including infrastructure, markets and regulations. There was also discussion of opportunities for the industry, including assurance programs and exporting into more countries. A closed meeting followed, allowing the council to discuss these challenges and opportunities and decide where ASI wool programs should head. Council members concluded the tour on Wednesday morning by watching the blending process at Anodyne Wool before joining the rest of the sheep industry in Fort Worth.
By the time Cache Valley Fever is detected in your flock, it’s generally too late to do anything about it, Dr. Reid Redden of Texas A&M AgriLife told members of the Animal Health Committee, noting that the virus can be devastating to a lamb crop. CVF often appears in a January lambing scenario with the birth of malformed lambs, but the infection occurred weeks before.
With no treatment or vaccine, prevention during the mosquito season is important, Redden said, such as avoiding wet pastures or delaying breeding until after a hard frost eliminates most of the mosquito threat.
Redden’s presentation was one of several important animal health updates to the group, and many sheep producers participated in a discussion about a shortage of small ruminant veterinarians and the challenges that poses as antibiotics are switched to prescription-only availability. Washington veterinarian and sheep producer Jill Swannack gave her view as a practitioner, recommending that sheep producers find a veterinarian or two now, and throw some business their way.
“Reach out before you need them,” she recommended, to establish a veterinarian-client relationship, even scheduling a flock visit before any problems arise. “Get these relationships established now, before there’s an emergency.”
The antibiotics by prescription only issue was also addressed in the Production, Education and Research Council’s meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19. California veterinarian Rosie Busch joined producer Ryan Mahoney for a discussion on the issue. Mahoney said the changes – coming this summer – have resulted in increased lines of communication with his vet. He urged other producers to establish a working relationship with a vet and make them part of the team as much as possible.
“Vets understand the rules and love the animals. They want to see them recover,” said Mahoney, adding that it’s important to provide vets with information instead of just asking for a prescription. “Tell them what the problem is. You might be right about what you need. But you might not.”
Busch urged producers to use antibiotics “as much as needed, but as little as possible.”
A panel discussion on targeted grazing also drew considerable interest from those attending the meeting. With grazers from California, Montana and Texas participating, sheep producers learned about a variety of grazing opportunities on everything from solar arrays to private lands to properties owned by local, state and federal government.
Panel discussions were also popular with ASI’s Lamb Council, which met on Friday, Jan. 20. Representatives from Colorado Lamb Processors, Double J Lamb, Niman Ranch and Superior Farms took a look at how packers utilize the current lamb grading and labeling system. Much of the discussion centered on the age and size of lambs, and how that might affect meat flavor.
Uniting sheep management with genetic improvements was the focus of the Genetics Forum on Thursday, Jan. 19. Rusty Burgett of the National Sheep Improvement Program moderated several panel discussions with both genetic researchers and sheep producers.
The panel of federal scientists discussed some of the most significant findings of their genetic research projects, including those on correlated traits such as how udder structure affects mastitis, opportunities to maintain genetic diversity within sheep breeds, the identification of parasite-resistant genes, and identification of a gene that influences Ovine Progressive Pneumonia virus infection.
The producer panel focused on their record-keeping systems and how they have evolved and are used on their farms and ranches. The data collection – shared with programs such as NSIP – has helped to increase the financial returns from their flocks. From helping to identify the least productive sheep for culling, to identifying high-performing animals to perpetuate, producers from Iowa to Texas spoke of how they have incorporated data into their management regimes.
Data collection is what leads to increases in productivity and profitability. Ron Lewis of the University of Nevada-Lincoln directs the Sheep GEMS research project, which focuses on both genetics and performance data from 3,000 sheep from four breeds, tying the two types of data together. A key element is collecting performance records from NSIP-member flocks that reflect the animal’s productive efficiency, robustness and climatic resilience. The breeds involved are Katahdin, Polypay, Rambouillet and Suffolk.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Deputy Administrator Janet Bucknall addressed the Resource Management Council on Friday, Jan. 20, giving an update on the agency’s integrated predator management program. But much of the discussion focused on wolf management, with this predator species under federal protection in most of the states. Bucknall said that when wolf recovery programs were initiated, the federal government committed to helping livestock producers weather the effects of that action.
“We’re sticking with that commitment,” she said, “standing beside you, to protect livestock and protect wolves.”
Wildlife Services is currently revising its process for wolf depredation investigations, a concern for producers whose compensation claims depend on that process. Bucknall said that Wildlife Services believes it needs to use a consistent process in its investigations, and found that the program within the range of the Mexican Wolf (Arizona and New Mexico), needed some improvement. She pledged to keep talking and working with producers as the process is revised.
Litigation over the legal status of wolves in ongoing, according to an update from Lawson Fite of Marten Law. Another resource management concern for producers looming on the horizon will be the Bureau of Land Management’s revision of its grazing regulations, said Kaitlynn Glover of the Public Lands Council.
Texas A&M AgriLife’s Dr. John Walker said that ASI’s updated targeted grazing handbook is in the process of being revised and should be ready for release next year. Written for a broad audience of those wishing to operate a targeted grazing business, and those who want to hire credible contractors, the handbook is a “how-to” guide, with advice and recommendations from practitioners.
ASI’s Young Entrepreneurs heard a variety of presentations on topics ranging from ranch camps in Wyoming to utilizing social media to marketing and cooking lamb.
Texan Brady Rose Evans – a member of ASI’s Young Entrepreneurs Executive Committee – provided a presentation on her family’s Defaid Livestock Company. The operation transitioned from sheep and goats to primarily raising Dorpers, White Dorpers and a commercial Dorper flock beginning in 2016. Eventually, the family opened Defaid Emporium to sell its custom meat and Defaid Candy Company products.
The ASI Board of Directors approved more than two dozen policies to govern the association for the next five years and welcomed comments from Rep. August Pflugar of Texas and USDA Deputy Under Secretary Katie Zenk regarding federal priorities of the nation’s sheep industry.
The next ASI Annual Convention is scheduled for Jan. 10-13, 2024, in Denver.
ASI is an equal opportunity employer. It is the national trade organization supported by 45 state sheep associations, benefiting the interests of more than 100,000 sheep producers.
–American Sheep Industry Association