Message from the Owner

Lamb production—USA vs New Zealand: an analysis

Last month Premier hosted a tour of New Zealand for US sheep farmers and ranchers. The most memorable stop for me? Campbell Tuer's farm on the Canterbury Plains. Why? He runs 3000 ewes from which he sells 5000 lambs at 75 lbs live weight from 1100 acres relying only on part-time help from his wife (for labor other than shearing).

That, folks, is efficient use of labor and land. (I am not making up the figures, though I can understand why you might assume otherwise.)

Let's examine the key reasons for their efficiency.

  1. Land/Soil
    1. It's naturally well drained. In fact, rocks are so close to the surface that heavy flat rollers are occasionally used to compress rocks that come to the surface back into the soil. Well-drained soil can't be churned into a sea of mud by grazing livestock during extended wet periods or in the winter. Contrast this with my Iowa soil—from which it's essential to remove livestock during critical days and weeks in winter and spring to prevent 50 to 100% destruction of the grass/legume stand.
    2. While not in the class of the best Iowa soils for natural fertility, the Canterbury Plains soil was above average—despite the rocks. So high stocking rates there work if enough moisture falls from the sky (from rain or irrigation—and they have ample water underground).

  2. Climate. It's neither very hot nor very cold. Nor is the air humid. From this combination they obtain essential advantages that most graziers in the USA don't enjoy.
    1. Perennial ryegrass thrives. It's been my experience that no perennial grass species can match ryegrass for its ability to cause cows or ewes to milk heavily without losing body condition. Young lambs grow rapidly and stocking rates can be heavy.
    2. Animals aren't stressed by high humidity (think Midwest and Southeast US summers). Nor are the animals and grass stressed by blizzards or extreme cold. Summer shade is not an issue for grazing livestock.
    3. They don't have to bury waterlines deep underground to keep them from freezing.
    4. They don't have to spend summers harvesting hay/silage/grain to feed their animals in the winter. Nor do they have to spend winters feeding the stored feed. Nor do they need to spend spring/summers spreading the resultant manure and bedding.

  3. Predators. There are no coyotes, wolves, bears, eagles or cougars. As a result, there are no guard dogs. Now even though I personally like the guard dogs at Premier, I recognize how much simpler shepherding would be if we did not need to feed them or protect them from neighbors/hunters. And some guard dogs add stress to a ewe flock during pasture-lambing. So we US producers suffer a “predator-tax” that our Kiwi counterparts don't.

  4. Their production system perfectly matches the situation. Specifically:
    1. The lambs leave the property at 75 lbs straight from the ewe. So the stocking pressure from growing lambs increases as the ryegrass output increases, and falls sharply mid-summer as the lambs are sold. They don't put their lambs in feedlots or barns to be carried to heavier weights. That makes their system simple—which, in turn, increases the number of lambs that can be produced per hour of labor.
    2. They have bred/selected prolific ewes that will lamb on pasture without assistance. The only reason ewes enter a lambing paddock is to correct heavily pregnant ewes that become cast (not able to get on their feet).

Those are the core factors. Lessons for the US folks? We can't change our predators or our soil or our climate. Those of us who must conserve feed in the summer and feed in the winter must go on doing so. But we can change our livestock genetics and our production systems to match our particular ranch or farm. That's our focus at Premier.

Best wishes for you all through this holiday season. Don't let the economic news get you down. Better times are ahead.

by Stan Potratz, Owner

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Special Price from Premier!

$15 Ram Shield

(Remember: FREE SHIPPING on qualified
website orders)

A leather mask that blocks the ram's forward vision. This prevents rams from charging humans or other rams. It does not limit side vision. Rams still eat, graze, breed and drink. It's so effective in subduing belligerent rams that it surprises first time "users" (both the ram and the shepherd).

Ram Shields (Polled & Horned) - $15 each (was $17)

Promo Codes:
For website orders: WNEWSE
(type code in the Promo Code Box at checkout).

For phone orders: NEWSE
(advise Premier's sales consultant at time of purchase).

Note: This offer cannot be combined with any other claim codes or offers. However, free shipping on qualified website orders still applies.

Order soon! Offer expires December 31, 2008!

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Premier Tip

Premier's Big Bale Feeder can save you money!

With today's high feed costs, now is not the time to feed hay in wasteful feeders. A good feeder will more than pay for itself in one winter.

Hay is costing somewhere around .04 -.08 cents per pound. If you are feeding 50 ewes for 120 days and they each waste just one pound per day with an inefficient feeder, the wasted feed will cost you about $360.00.

Spending $$ on Premier's Big Bale Feeder should not be considered an expense. Instead, it can make you money.

by Gordon Shelangoski, Premier's Sales Consultant

View more feeders from Premier

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What's New

Now Live! - Premier's NEW Horse Fence Website

  • Exclusively horse fences
  • Enriched with diagrams, photos, "dos & don'ts"
  • Simple online ordering
  • Most items shipped free

You can still visit for all species and products.

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Premier VIP

Cutting the fat from your sheep enterprise

by Dan Morrical

Harvest season is in full swing with lots of soybeans already harvested in northwest Iowa. Producers may need to consider rolling up some soybean stubble for winter feed or bedding. Although the nutrient content of soybean stubble is not very good, it beats snowballs. The other aspect of putting up some soybean stubble is that with the late harvest in 2008 it may be difficult to get cornstalks baled.

I recently ran a year-round feed budget for a set of ewes run in confinement year-round. With cornstalks and condensed distillers solubles fed for 250 days and ad libitum soybean hulls and dry distillers grains with solubles fed for 115 days, the total feed cost was $48.00 per ewe per year. This cost, however, did not account for the labor and the fuel to mix and deliver the rations daily. It was surprising the feed costs could be that low. Costs were set at $30 per ton for cornstalks and CDS and $180 per ton for soybean hulls and dry distillers grains. Use of the two low-cost feeds might be cheaper than grazing on a per ewe per day basis.

Cutting items that are critical to the health and production capacity of the ewe flock is not the way to trim fat from the enterprise. One example that I think many operations are making is to not offer salt or mineral to the ewes. This choice last winter resulted in ewes that were excessively licking newborn lambs, resulting in severe injuries to the newborns' ears, tails and even feet. It required over three days of high salt intake to satisfy the ewes craving for salt and stop the excess licking. Ewes that were not the dam of the lambs were involved, with five to six ewes licking newborn lambs.

The other extreme of not feeding salt and mineral is to way overfeed salt and mineral. Trace mineral salt should cost around $20 to $25 per hundredweight. Following label directions, ewes should only consume one-quarter to half ounce per head per day. Annually, that equates to 6 pounds per year, which would only cost $1.50 per head. Trace mineral salt feeding is not the place to save on the feed bill.

However, if one is feeding more expensive sheep mineral that contains high levels of calcium and phosphorous, then mineral supplementation becomes expensive. If one assumes one ounce intake per day, then the ewes consume 22 pounds per year. Cost of mineral runs roughly double the cost of TM salt, so feeding expensive mineral is four times as costly. In many situations, mineral costs per ewe are exceeding $10 per ewe per year. Reading and following label directions is critical to controlling mineral supplementation costs.

Choosing not to ultrasound for fetal counts or lambing date because $3 per head is too expensive is another poor choice in terms of trimming the fat. Culling open ewe lambs alone can cover the cost of scanning. If one assumes the winter feed bill for an open ewe is $30 to $50, then 10% open ewes more than pays for the scanning. Saving on feed by putting late-lambing ewes on the supped up late-gestation ration at the appropriate time is another place to save $1 or $2.

With the higher feed costs, many calls are coming in to my office requesting help with ewe rations. Last week a producer who had been feeding two pounds of hay and two pounds of corn to his ewe wanted to switch to cornstalks and dry distillers grains. The only reason not to switch is if one cannot control amount of cornstalks offered per day. Back in the day when cornstalks cost $10 per ton and no one worried about the nutrients being removed from the field, we could waste cornstalks.

The first step in controlling cornstalk feeding waste is to use a good large-bale feeder. If equipment exists to feed tub ground cornstalks, that is a much better approach. One can allow the ewe flock access to the cornstalk bales every other day in early-mid gestation. Ewes, because they are real hungry, tend to consume the bales more uniformly with less waste. However, for budgeting purposes I would assume a minimum cornstalk feeding waste at 25% and may be close to 50%. Cheap cornstalks may become expensive feed on a pound-consumed basis. However, the alternative to cornstalks is hay, which currently is $100 for low, low quality big round bales up to $250 per ton for the large squares of third-cutting alfalfa. So cornstalks are not cheap like they were in the old days, but still much cheaper than high-quality hay.

Another bad choice that can result in costing more than it saves is the failure to correctly supplement protein to the ewes. Many producers use energy tubs or protein tubs to supplement their ewes. It is easy and it is convenient. However, most ewes have not taken a nutrition course or read a fact sheet on feeding ewes, so they frequently overconsume the expensive nutrient source.

The other mistake is that we do not provide protein supplement at all when feeding low quality roughage sources like CRP hay, cornstalks or soybean stubble. Dry distillers grains are currently competitively priced and are an excellent source of both energy and protein for the ewes. Ewes may only need one-half pound per day of DDGS to meet the ewe's protein needs. The cost of DDGS is $180 to $200 per ton or $.09 to $.10 per pound. Protein tubs probably cost double or triple that price per pound. Using tubs is a case of fat that needs to be trimmed from the enterprise.

There are not any single magic cuts that will by themselves move the flock into positive income. However, there may be two, three or six items that combined might be enough to move your ewe flock to a positive income basis. The bio-economy is exciting, but it does make feed costs much higher and profitable sheep production much tougher.

Doing things the way we always have is no longer acceptable if one wants to stay in the sheep business with black ink instead of red ink.

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Premier Product

Need Poultry Supplies?

"Backyard" poultry is booming. Premier has even started our own operation. To accommodate needs, we continue to identify and add products to assist in this venture. Includes waterers, feeders, heat lamps, etc.

View our complete line of poultry products.

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Premier Employee Spotlight

Fawn Blodgett

Fawn Blodgett

"I love my job! Premier rocks!" says Fawn Blodgett, this month's featured employee. Fawn has been working in our shipping department for almost a year and says she likes it "because it is fast paced and physical. I am never bored and my job keeps me in shape. I also work with a great crew and that's a plus." What she likes best about Premier, she says, "is how everyone gets along and, when someone needs help, everyone is ready to step in and help you with anything. It is a great atmosphere to work in."

Fifteen months ago, Fawn and her family moved to Iowa from Corning, New York, for a reason that may intrigue some folks. They are avid whitetail deer hunters, and they moved here to chase Iowa whitetails. Fawn and her husband, Harry, run an outfitting business called Iowa Trophy Outfitters, providing guided deer and turkey hunts throughout the area. She and her family, who live in Brighton, Iowa, are also avid fishermen and love to ride four-wheelers.

Her favorite statement is "Seriously!" One day at work she told our facilities manager that she needed an item from our north warehouse. She needed it desperately for an order, she said, adding, "Seriously!" From that moment on, the word was a joke to him and her co-workers.

Fawn has a daughter, Taylor; two stepchildren, Harold and Caitlin; and a puggle puppy named Crockett.

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Chicken Cheese Dip


40 oz canned chicken, drained
2 cans cream of chicken soup
8 oz pepper cheese
1-1/2 cup Velveeta cheese
16 oz cream cheese
16 oz sour cream
8 oz jalapeno peppers
Medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Dash of garlic

Chunk up the cheeses for easier melting. Mix all ingredients in Crockpot and stir often until cheese is melted. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.

from Julie Cole, Premier employee

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