COVID-19: A different world (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
The arrival of COVID-19 has changed all of our lives and continues to be a rapidly evolving situation.
While our health and that of our loved ones is of primary importance, the care of our livestock and sustainability of our small ruminant enterprises is also important.
Everyone needs to be prepared for how COVID-19 might impact their sheep/goat enterprises.
COVID-19 is having an impact on demand, markets, and prices. Some sale barns have closed. Others are limiting attendance to buyers.
Voluntary price reporting by USDA has been suspended at some auction barns, including New Holland (Pennsylvania) Sales Stables.
The majority of American lamb is sold to food service industries, so the closing of restaurants is having a devastating effect on national lamb sales.
The second largest lamb company has already filed for bankruptcy.
The American Sheep Industry Association has requested the USDA to step up its purchase of lamb products. Easter/Passover (on April 8-19 this year) is the single largest lamb consumption period of the year.
It is not known how COVID-19 will affect demand/prices, but it is likely to be negative, as traditions are altered and slaughter capacity is reduced.
Sheep and goat producers in the East may be better insulated from COVID-19 disruptions since many of our animals are processed in smaller facilities, some are processed on farm (by ethnic customers), and most end up in non-traditional markets.
Local food may be one of the few “winners” in this horrible pandemic.
Agriculture is a critical industry, but producers need to be prepared for disruptions or slowdowns in supply chains. It is important not to wait until the last minute to secure feed sources and get supplies. It is possible that some products will be in short supply. Farm stores and veterinary offices are staying open but may have reduced hours.
While some producers sheared their sheep ahead of lambing, the shearing season is here for most others.
Shearers may be harder to find.
When you get someone to shear your sheep, be sure to protect yourself and your shearer by following distancing and hygiene recommendations.
The same is true if you allow on-farm slaughter by live animal buyers. Don’t put you or your buyers) at risk.
While universities, Extension offices and research centers have been closed temporarily, Extension agents and specialists are teleworking and are available via phone or e-mail.
During these times, there will be increased educational offerings available online: social media, videos, webinars, etc.
Be sure to take advantage of them.
Now is a good time to catch up on record keeping.
The number of people with COVID-19 is increasing. While the urban population seems to be more affected, no one is immune from this terrible disease.
You need to have a plan in place if you or your family members get sick: Who will do the day-to-day chores? Make a list of chores, if someone has to care for your animals while you are sick.
It goes without saying that everyone should practice social distancing and good hygiene, according to CDC/government requirements/recommendations.
Wash your hands regularly (with soap and warm water) and disinfect high-touch surfaces.
Stay home. Enjoy your farm. Play with your lambs/kids.
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