Sheep rancher Rod Wille stands on his family's ranch South of Steamboat Springs Wednesday evening. Wille, and other local ranchers are benefiting from higher prices and lamb meat.

Photo by John F. Russell

Sheep rancher Rod Wille stands on his family's ranch South of Steamboat Springs Wednesday evening. Wille, and other local ranchers are benefiting from higher prices and lamb meat.

Higher wool prices benefit Routt County producers

Local ranchers report significant increases in revenue

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Sheep rancher Rod Wille checks on his sheep at the family's ranch South of Steamboat Springs Wednesday evening. Wille, and other local ranchers are benefiting from higher prices and lamb meat.

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Sheep graze on the Wille family's ranch South of Steamboat Springs Wednesday evening. The Willes, and other local ranchers, are benefiting from higher prices and lamb meat.

— Some local ranchers are benefiting from higher prices of wool and lamb meat.

Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow said because there’s not enough supply to meet demand, prices have increased in recent years.

The Northwest Colorado Wool Pool is selling white-faced wool this year for $3.25 per pound, up from $2.25 last year and $1.10 in 2009, according to numbers provided by the Extension Office. The wool pool, a cooperative of producers from Routt, Moffat, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties that takes product to market as a group, estimates that it will make $57,000 from sales this year. That’s up from $19,000 in 2009.

Pete Wille, who has about 100 sheep on his ranch on Colorado Highway 131, estimated that his revenue had increased 20 percent since last year.

Mucklow said although producers are making more money from wool sales, the real revenue comes from selling the meat. He said 90 percent of a lamb’s value comes from the meat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, weekly lamb market summary released Friday, different cuts of lamb were being sold at prices as much as about 40 percent higher than last year and nearly double the five-year average.

“Commodity prices can spike,” Mucklow said. “A spike won’t lead to people getting into the business. A sustained price will.”

Pat O’Toole owns Ladder Livestock Co., which operates from a ranch 55 miles north of Steamboat Springs just across the state line into Wyoming on the Little Snake River. It has been in his wife’s family since 1881.

O’Toole, who has several thousand sheep that graze during the summer in North Routt County, said he thinks the price is sustainable because there’s a worldwide demand for high-protein foods and fine wool. O’Toole said it didn’t hurt domestic prices that the foreign supply of lamb from Australia and New Zealand was down.

“It obviously gives you optimism for the future,” he said. “You hope that lasts for a while.”

O’Toole added that although prices are increasing, they’re covering higher costs associated with doing business, such as fuel and grain.

Mucklow said local sheep operations have dwindled to eight small year-round operations, mainly because of losses from predators. But with increased prices, he said that could change.

“Finally the lamb business is a profitable enterprise,” he said. “That’s a great thing.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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