This classification covers establishments primarily engaged in the production of sheep, lambs, goats, goats' milk, wool, and mohair, including the operation of lamb feedlots, on their own account or on a contract or fee basis.
In 2002 there were 64,170 sheep operators in the United States, compared to 68,810 in 1998. The number of operations has continued to drop each year since 1992 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported about 100,000 sheep operations. Although sheep and goats are produced in every state, western states produce 80 percent of the total U.S. flock. Sheep and goats are among the most versatile animals in the world. They can live in many climates from the desert Southwest to the colder climates of Wyoming, and they can efficiently turn barely edible browse into food and fiber. Many farmers use sheep to clean up crop residues. In the West, sheep are often run on alfalfa fields under temporary fence. Goats, however, are even more hearty than sheep, and, therefore, can make do on land that even sheep cannot.
Along with the decline of operations is the decline in gross sheep and lamb production. According to USDA-NASS Agricultural Statistics, in 2003 the total number of sheep and lambs was 7.8 million, down 4 percent from 2002. Breeding sheep numbered 4.6 million in 2003, while market sheep and lambs numbered 3.2 million, both reflecting a 4 percent decline from 2002.
In eastern states the farm flocks are generally small, while in the West the flocks are much larger, often numbering in the thousands. The top five sheep-producing states as of 2002 were Texas, California, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Colorado. Texas alone accounted for 1.05 million of the 6.4 million sheep raised by farmers and ranchers in 2003. California boasted a sheep population of 790,000; Wyoming, 460,000; South Dakota, 380,000; and Colorado, 370,000.
Sheep production in the United States is unique among all sheep-producing countries, because the U.S. market emphasis is on meat, rather than wool production. Three-fourths of the American sheep producer's income is derived from the sale of meat, whereas, in the rest of the world, wool is the primary commodity. Sheep that are processed before the joints in their legs ossify produce meat referred to as "lamb," while older sheep produce mutton. There is a very...