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Sheep count up a bit in county; prices dip

Sep 9, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Wyoming as a whole boasts 5,000 more sheep and lambs this year than last, a difference of about 1.3 percent.

With 20,500 animals, there is about one sheep or lamb for every two people in Fremont County, according to recent statistics and 2011 census numbers.

And according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the size of the local sheep flock is unchanged from last year, and the 2:1 ratio of people to sheep has held constant since 2010. As recently as 2006, there was one ovine for each human in Fremont County.

Wyoming as a whole boasts 5,000 more sheep and lambs this year than last, a difference of about 1.3 percent.

No. 8

Fremont County has the eighth-largest flock in the state. Converse County, with 62,000 head, has the biggest and has held the top spot for at least eight years.

Sheep numbers are down sharply from their peak, however. The state's flock dropped from nearly 4 million from the 1930s to early 1940s to about 375,000 now.

Taking the U.S. Census Bureau's estimate that there were about 573,000 Wyoming residents in 2012, there are about 1.5 people for every sheep.

Peak year

That ratio peaked in about 1932 when Wyoming's flock was at its largest. The sheep population peaked that year at 3.97 million animals.

The 1930 U.S. census counted 225,000 people in Wyoming, meaning there were about 17.65 sheep for every person.

Predator losses

The newly published numbers show some other trends statewide.

Last year saw a 6 percent increase statewide in the loss of sheep and lambs to predators, which represents 1,000 lost animals.

Coyotes killed 900 more sheep and lambs in 2012 than in 2011, and foxes were responsible for 500 more deaths. But 600 fewer were attributed to bears and 900 fewer to eagles.

Sheep and lamb deaths due to other causes statewide dropped by about a third last year from 2011 to a total of 24,500. Much of the downturn was due to weather-related deaths dropping by more than half, from 26,800 in 2011 to 12,200 in 2012.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service also gave less detailed but more local figures about sheep and lamb losses in 2012.

In the five-county northwest agricultural district, of which Fremont County is a part, 32.1 percent of deaths were due to coyotes. The next biggest killer was weather at 15.1 percent, with old age at 11.3 percent.

Ravens caused 3.8 percent of losses in the five-county area, mountain lions caused 3.8 percent, bears 1.9 percent and eagles 1.9 percent. Wolves, foxes and bobcats killed fewer than 100 head each and were not included in the report.

Revenue

Sheep and lamb production brought in $35 million of gross income to Wyoming in 2010, the most recent year for which such figures are available. That was down about $1 million from the year before but up from 2008's total of $32.9 million.

Sales of Wyoming wool brought in about $5.5 million to the state in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That total was down 15 percent from the year before despite wool production increasing from 2.45 million pounds in 2011 to 2.6 million pounds in 2012.

The average price per pound of wool dropped 22.4 percent, however, between those two years.

Last year saw a 4.5 percent increase in the average weight of a fleece in Wyoming to 9.2 pounds from the 8.9 pounds seen in 2011.

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