Texas lamb and goat producers are seeing positive price trends, but challenges related to higher input costs, drought and predation remain, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Reid Redden, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension sheep and goat specialist and director of the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, said the lamb and goat markets experienced positive gains over recent weeks but that he is unsure if higher prices may signal a longer trend.
Prices had dipped from the post-pandemic gains, which were well above the previous decade’s high, he said.
In Texas, a large segment of lambs and goats are harvested at lighter weights – 40-80 pounds compared to traditional markets, where they are weaned and sent to feed yards so they may reach 140-180 pounds.
Lambs are shipped live to markets around the state and country where they are sold directly to consumers or harvested and marketed by ethnic processors. These non-traditional markets demand smaller, leaner lambs — and pay a premium for them.
“The last few years we saw strong price gains, especially in the late fall and winter months, but this year we did not,” he said. “A big part of that was the traditional sector was down, redirecting feeder lambs from the western states to the nontraditional market outlets, and imports were up.”
Texas lamb and goat prices return to normal
In January 2022, lightweight market lambs were $3.60 per pound, whereas the five-year average was $2.30 per pound, Redden said. Prices over the past summer fell to the five-year average and remained there through the rest of 2022, but they have since returned toward the previous highs.
Imported lamb, which costs half the price of lightweight live lambs, has captured market share of the traditional section, which likely impacted overall premium lamb prices during their slide.
Redden said COVID-19 travel restrictions likely heavily influenced higher live lamb prices because more consumers were purchasing them for traditional meals at home.
“There is a strong desire from the nontraditional outlets to buy from local processors who are buying live lambs,” he said. “But the traditional market matters, and whether it is cheaper imports or inflation, this can influence the lightweight lamb market.”
Goats demand premium prices as well but are also subject to market influences like the economic pressure on consumers when live weight prices reach $4 per pound, Redden said. Texas goat production was down 2% in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA.
Redden suspects the impact of drought on rangeland conditions and higher supplemental feed costs likely resulted in reduced returns to producers. Many areas continue to experience drought, and it may take time for rangelands to recover.
“Sheep and goats fare better through drought than cattle, but many areas have been dealing with drought for several consecutive years. Even if rains come this spring and summer and it will take time to restock. Range health is a top priority for ranchers, and they’ll wait for the rangelands to recover before restocking.”
Additional income and costs for producers
Drought and higher production costs continue to impact producer bottom lines, Redden said. Wool production provides additional income for some producers, but it is considered a byproduct to meat production.
Texas produces quality wool and mohair, and about 80% of the products are shipped overseas for processing. Tariffs and losing market share to other nations like Australia, which has bulked up wool production following higher rainfall, have impacted prices and potential profits.
Redden said there is only a fraction of the Angora goats left in Texas compared to a few decades ago. With a major reduction in supply, kid hair – the first or second cutting – demands premium prices, up to $15 per pound, and adult hair is $6-$10 per pound.
But Redden doesn’t predict any major increases in mohair production because raising Angora goats tends to require a bit more specialized labor than meat goats, restricting mohair production to come from those already in the trade.
The impact of economics and drought to Texas meat and fiber production were evident, but Redden said predation continues to plaque sheep and goat raisers. Coyotes, domestic dogs, bobcats, raptors like golden eagles and black-headed buzzards, and even large feral boar hogs are responsible for roughly 100,000 lamb and kid losses, or 10% of the lamb and kid crop, according to USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service. Redden suspects Texas producers lose closer to 20% of their lambs and kids to predation on average due to how the losses are quantified.
Many producers have transitioned to livestock guardian dogs as their primary defense to predation, which have been researched by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension. Redden said good fences and guardian dogs can mitigate a majority of predation losses but these practices are costly and difficult to implement for ranchers operating larger tracts of rangeland.
“That 20% is an average, which means some are hit harder than others,” he said. “Some operations on smaller areas may not have a single loss, whereas a larger range might have severe losses that aren’t sustainable for small ruminant ranching.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Soil moisture levels were very short to adequate across the district. A storm delivered 0.5-2 inches of rain throughout the district along with heavy winds in excess of 70 mph. Parts of the district were drying out quickly due to wind, hot days and adequate sunshine. Other parts of the district were seeing slight improvements to pastures due to the combination of rain, warmer temps and sunshine. Corn planting was underway but slightly delayed due to rain. Some producers were top dressing wheat and oats with fertilizer. Fruit trees were starting to bud. Winter grass was still short but some winter forage was emerging for grazing. Overall, rangeland and pasture ratings were poor to fair. Cattle remained in good body condition as producers continued to feed hay and other supplements.
Rain and storms delivered moisture and strong winds with some property damage reported. Some areas received heavy rains while others reported trace amounts. Temperatures were warmer. Recent rains were expected to improve agricultural conditions. Cotton farmers were beginning to prepare fields for planting, but high winds were a concern. Wheat looked very good for the most part but needed rainfall. Some dryland wheat was in poor condition. Cattle were being turned out on more wheat fields. Producers were preparing to make decisions regarding grazing fields out or going to harvest with wheat. Native and improved pastures were starting to green up slowly. Farmers were top dressing pastures with fertilizer in hopes of catching rainfall, as well as preparing soil to plant hay grazer. The price of hay remained very high. Producers were spraying for alfalfa weevils. Tanks and ponds remained critically low in some areas, but others received runoff from rains. Producers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock, and calving rates were surprisingly good. Feral hogs have moved into bottomlands.
Temperatures were moderate, and most areas reported good soil moisture. Localized rains delivered as much as 1.5 inches with hail reported in some areas. Corn and sorghum planting were in full swing in many areas and near completion in some. Germination rates in corn and sorghum were good. Some cotton planting was underway. Fieldwork was active with planting, fertilization and bed preparations. Some fields were still too wet to work while a lack of soil moisture was holding other producers back. Winter pastures were producing well in some areas but continued to deteriorate in others. Warm-season grasses and cool-season annuals were green and growing in pastures that were not overgrazed. Livestock markets remained strong. Calves 400-600 pounds were selling for $2 per pound. Hay was in short supply, but most producers had enough winter grass growth to go without putting out bales. Livestock were in good condition. Hay producers were renovating pastures with aeration and fertilizing with potassium and phosphate applications. Cattle were grazing ryegrass heavily, and oats were about grazed out.
The weather was spring-like, and corn and other vegetable crops were being planted. Pastures and hay meadows began to grow and green up, with Bermuda grass and weeds making an appearance. Some ranchers applied preemergent herbicides. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Cattle chased green tender weeds and cool-season grasses. Producers were either low on hay or completely out, and some were feeding range cubes. Livestock were in fair condition. Wild pigs were on the move and being destructive.
Extremely high winds caused blowing dirt. Occasional fires were reported but nothing significant. Rain was needed for all aspects of agriculture. Most counties were very short to short on moisture. Pastures, rangeland and winter wheat were in very poor to fair condition.
Conditions were very dry. The overall topsoil and subsoil moisture is very short to short. Winds with 70 mph gusts damaged wheat fields and dried out the soil. Soil profiles continued to dry. Protective cover crops were damaged in some fields due to recent high winds. Soil moisture losses were expected to increase due to cover loss. Winter wheat was in very poor to fair condition, but producers were watering sparingly, and dryland fields were trying to hang on. Normal irrigation passes by pivots were not showing typical results. Fertilizers and some preemerge herbicides were applied to fields. Summer crop preplant farming activity was increasing. Many farmers were prewatering to help tillage. Stocker cattle were being removed from wheat that was going to grain. Overall pasture and rangeland conditions were very poor to poor.
Temperatures were in the mid-70s. Subsoil moisture and topsoil moisture for the district were adequate to surplus. The district received 1-2 inches of rainfall. Stock tanks were filling and mostly recovered from the drought. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Winter pastures were growing more with longer days and warmer weather. Hay feeding continued. Pastures were showing some promise and should provide some grazing over the next couple of weeks. Wheat and oats benefitted from the moisture and were doing well. There were a few wheat fields with severe Hessian fly infestations. Livestock conditions were good. Ground for corn was prepared, but no planting had occurred yet.
Daytime temperatures were in the 70s-80s and in the 40s overnight before a cold front dropped to highs in the mid-40s and lows in the low-30s. The wind, coupled with the dry conditions, resulted in several wildfire outbreaks across the region. Two of three wildfires started from downed power lines but were contained immediately. Another fire burned around 2,800 acres and was 85% contained. High winds caused other damage throughout the district. Sustained wind of 65 mph and gusts reaching 90-105 mph tore pens and barns up from the ground. High winds kept producers out of the fields. Topsoil and ground cover was lost from most farms and filled the sky with dust. A narrow band of showers moved quickly through the region ahead of the windstorm with trace amounts of moisture reported. Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels were very short to adequate to very short throughout the district, but most areas reported short soil moisture. Most producers were prewatering to prepare for corn planting in the coming weeks and cotton planting over the next few months. Some producers were waiting for rain before they begin watering. Fieldwork continued as growers were laying off rows and starting to plow up beds. More producers were considering planting into hay grazer and sorghum stalks to help with wind erosion. Much alfalfa was expected to be planted in the next two to three weeks. More acres in the Upper Rio Grande Valley were likely to be farmed because of access to good groundwater. About 25% of crop land was expected to be planted in some areas due to drought. Irrigation rations were expected to shift to pecans. Most pecan farmers were in the process of pruning and/or irrigating to keep moisture in the root zone. Weeds were emerging and growers were spraying preemergent herbicides. Brush control and prickly pear programs were expected to begin soon. Pastures were mostly bare, but some leaves were seen on mesquite trees. Pasture and rangeland ratings were very poor to fair in most counties. Cattle were still being fed. Livestock were in good condition with ranchers rotating them from different sections of land to keep them fed and out of the wind. Some livestock were in poor to fair condition. Producers continued to lamb and kid across the eastern portion or the district.
Rainfall was reported with trace amounts up to 1 inch. Temperatures were unseasonably warm. Pastures were reacting to warmer temperatures and greening up, but grazing remained short. Volunteer ryegrass and vetch were growing, and a few wildflowers were starting to bloom. Supplemental feeding continued for livestock, though some grazing in wheat and pastures could begin soon. Wheat was in good condition, but most fields needed moisture. Some producers started preparing to plant haygrazer in April. Many tree species were blooming early, including fruit trees like peaches. A late freeze would hurt fruit production. Fieldwork continued for cotton planting, and corn planting was underway. Cotton producers were applying preemergent herbicides to some fields. Calf prices were steady to slightly up on good quality calves at the local auction while fair calves were fetching discounted prices. There was strong demand for all classes of calves and yearlings. Stocker steer prices were steady while stocker heifers were $2-5 higher per hundredweight.
Temperatures were mild, and soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus with sunny days. Spring green-up was underway under optimal conditions, and producers were managing pastures for broadleaf weeds. Ryegrass was up and thriving and some warm-weather forages, including Bermuda grass, were beginning to come out of dormancy. Clover and other planted legumes were flowering. Improved conditions spurred springtime optimism among calf buyers, and it reflected in positive price trends and local auctions. Overall, rangeland and pasture ratings ranged from very poor to excellent. High winds downed limbs.
Rains delivered trace amounts up to more than 1 inch around the district. Soil moisture levels were short. The moisture should benefit pastures and croplands. Strong, gusty winds were in the forecast. Daytime temperatures warmed with cool nights. Corn planting was in full swing with many grain corn fields beginning to emerge. Sorghum planting was expected to resume when corn was finished. Pecans were preparing to leaf out, with most other tree species already budded out. Pasture conditions were poor to fair with warm-season grasses coming out of dormancy, but more moisture was needed. Oats and winter wheat were in fair to good condition. Mesquite trees and guajillo were budding. Cattle body condition scores were 3-5, and livestock were in mostly fair condition with supplemental feeding. Some producers continued to feed heavy rations to livestock and wildlife. Spring shearing was underway.
Windy, hot days were sapping moisture from the topsoil. Daytime temperatures reached 90 degrees. Field conditions were dry and in much need of more rainfall. Mesquite trees were starting to put on new growth. Native cactus was starting to put on tuna berries and new growth, and black brush was still blooming and helping pollinators. Rangeland and pasture conditions were improving following recent rainfall, but drier areas continued to decline. Supplemental feeding continued to maintain good body condition scores in all livestock. Hay supplies were short. Cattle producers continued to cull herds. Coastal Bermuda grass fields were turning green and being irrigated. Producers were preparing to plant other crops or planting. Most corn and grain sorghum fields were planted. Sorghum germination looked good. Irrigated fields were being prewatered for cotton and late sorghum. It looked more sorghum was planted than corn. Cotton was being planted and some had emerged. Citrus, sugarcane and cool-season vegetables were being harvested. Onion harvest was getting underway and early yields looked good.