Commissioner Shell celebrates February as Lamb Month in Kentucky
Celebrate the diversity sheep, lamb offer
FRANKFORT (Feb. 6, 2024) - Kentucky sheep and lamb producers joined Commissioner of Agriculture Jonathan Shell today to commemorate February as Lamb Month in Kentucky.
“Sheep add to the diversity of our state’s agricultural landscape and are an excellent livestock option for many Kentucky farms,” Commissioner Shell said. “Lamb is the perfect lean meat for the dinner table because it is packed with protein. But it provides more than meat, sheep are an excellent source of fiber, as well. Their gentle nature also makes them perfect for livestock shows, including a newer program at the Kentucky State Fair called the Sunshine class. Every day, but this month in particular, we salute the value sheep and lamb add to our farms.”
About 5 million sheep are raised by roughly 80,000 farmers and ranchers across the United States. With more than 12 million acres of agriculture land in Kentucky, the commonwealth is home to 70,000 head of sheep and lamb, ranking it 23rd nationally for sheep inventory. Those 70,000 sheep are spread over more than 4,000 sheep producers who are dedicated to producing high quality products for consumers.
“It’s that time of year again to celebrate the ever-growing sheep industry in our beautiful state of Kentucky. Kentucky is tailor made for sheep and we are so proud of the strides our sheep community has made and will continue to make in the future.” said Harry Frederick, a sheep producer out of Tompkinsville and president of the Kentucky Sheep and Wool Producers Association. “Celebrate with us by trying something different tonight on your plate!”
Kentucky has a strong tradition of sheep production in the U.S. with the number of head reaching as high as over a million in the mid to late 1940s. Kentucky’s sheep industry’s numbers declined in the last 40 years, but with the help of the Kentucky Sheep and Wool Producers Association and the American Sheep Industry Association, those numbers are on the rebound. Sheep numbers experienced a 51 percent increase over the past five years. Many producers are retaining breeding stock to increase the number in production.
The Kentucky sheep industry adds more than $7 million in revenue to Kentucky’s agriculture receipts. For 2023, market lambs and sheep stayed steady at 14,000 head, with higher numbers of breeding stock in inventory. The market lambs’ inventory was the second highest level on record for Kentucky. With solid markets, an increase in retail demand, growing grazing opportunities in the state, and increased value-added opportunities for wool, this industry is expected to keep growing into the future.
February serves as a reminder of the great versatility and value of sheep and lamb. In addition to being a source of protein, zinc, selenium and B vitamin, it’s also a good source of iron and riboflavin. Numerous products and byproducts also come from sheep, including milk, fiber for wool, and lanolin, a natural moisturizer. Across the world, farmers also use sheep to combat noxious weeds on their property, promote healthy forests, and prevent wildfires.
In addition to the value sheep and lamb add to Kentucky farms, they are also perfect for the show ring. Lambs, which are often gentle in personality and movement, create an enthusiasm for the show person, while also teaching valuable lessons used in day-to-day life.
Lambs and sheep are often the animal of choice for those involved in Sunshine classes, which offer an opportunity for individuals with special needs to work in a show ring at the Kentucky State Fair. Working with a mentor, the exhibitor will show the animal and at the end all are presented with a championship banner. The Sunshine classes have been offered at the Kentucky State Fair for the past two years.
To celebrate Lamb Month, the Kentucky Sheep and Goat Development Office offers information on its website about the versatile livestock. The website also offers a buyer's guide for lamb at: https://www.kysheepandgoat.org/on-your-plate.