The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of our worlds upside down. Luckily for sheep and goat ranchers, the pandemic has pushed the lamb and goat markets to historic highs. But before we jump right into the factors that led to this, let’s step back and discuss the different markets in the Texas sheep and goat industry.
Texas is the largest goat-producing state by a large margin. To be more precise, there are more goats in Texas than the next 10 highest goat-producing states combined. While goat meat is not commonly available at your typical grocery store or restaurant, it is a common protein in ethnic markets and among ethnic communities across the U.S. Nearly one-third of goat meat consumed in the U.S. is imported, primarily from Australia and New Zealand, to keep up with this demand.
The kid goat market has been strong, and the pandemic only pushed the market higher (Figure 1). One can assume that during the lock down the typical goat consumers had more time to host family functions and cook goat meat. This pushed prices for kid goats above $4 per pound for two consecutive months leading up to Ramadan. Muslim-Americans make up the largest portion of ethnic goat consumers. And there are two holidays, Ramadan (mid-April to mid-May, 2021) and Festival of Sacrifice (mid-July, 2021), that result in an increase of demand for goat meat. Yet, the demand is not for the same type of goat. Moreover, these holidays move up two weeks on the calendar each year. This will be discussed in detail at the Texas Sheep and Goat Expo on Aug. 20-21.
The Texas sheep market gets a bit more complicated as there is a nontraditional sector similar to the goat market and a traditional sector similar to the beef industry. The traditional sector is a global market and domestic lamb purveyors compete with imported lamb for U.S. consumers. Imported lamb represents nearly two-thirds of all lamb consumed in the U.S.
Nearly half of the lamb from the traditional sector is marketed to restaurants, hotels and resorts. These businesses went away basically overnight during the lock down. Retail sales of lamb did increase but not enough to make up for the loss of demand in the fine-dining sector. The ripple effect was quickly realized by the Texas feeder lamb market. Feeder lambs pulled back to below the five-year average from April to September (Figure 5). In hindsight, average markets during all the chaos were more a blessing than a curse.
Over the last two decades, Texas has transitioned from predominantly larger-framed wool sheep to small-framed hair (shedding) sheep, due to lack-luster markets for wool and labor shortages. Lambs from wool sheep breeds are preferred by feeders as they will finish at the right weight, 130-160 pounds, for the traditional market. In contrast, lambs from hair sheep breeds are preferred by the nontraditional market, who will take these lighter weight lambs, 55-85 pounds, straight to harvest. This light-weight lamb market was slightly depressed in the months following the COVID lockdown. But, by the later part of the summer, the market returned to historic highs and has sustained these high markets until present. Again, this demonstrates the strength of the lamb and goat market in the U.S.
All charts and figures presented above are kept current and are available at our San Angelo center website. We have developed an app to determine what size or month is likely to return the most profits from a lamb or kid crop. This “Lamb & Goat Market Forecast” app can be found in the iPhone app store.
– by Reid Redden, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Animal Science, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service sheep and goat specialist, and center director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo/Sonora