SET against the magnificent Rocky Mountains in Colorado in the northern part of the United States, Harper Feeders is an integrated livestock feeding and processing business.
Established in the late 1970s, the family run operation includes both a 70,000 lamb and a 3000 cattle feedyard as well as involvement in a livestock processing facility about 50km from the farm.
Catherine Harper runs the family's impressive lamb feeding operation on the family's 271 hectare (670 acre) property near Eaton, about 100km north of the state's capital Denver.
Harper Feeders was one of a number of livestock enterprises visited on Alltech Lienert Australia's recent sheep/beef tour of the US, led by nutrition specialist Toby Doak.
Animal health and welfare are key drivers in the management of the lamb feedyard, evident right through from the Australian-made ProWay bulk sheep handler through to the Dr Temple Grandin low stress design yards, used to efficiently move large mobs through the induction process.
In addition to family involvement, the feeding operation is staffed by four stockpersons and three truck drivers.
Ms Harper said numbers on feed were currently sat at 36,000 lambs, well below the feedyard's 70,000 head capacity, reflecting the impact of tight lamb supplies because of ongoing drought.
This reduced supply and a tightening of margins across the US lamb industry has pushed Harper Feeders to seek out further efficiencies, she said.
"Animal health and welfare are the keys to production success," Ms Harper said.
"This has become increasingly important as profits margins are being squeezed across the industry and this will unlikely change for the foreseeable future."
Interestingly, the tight supply of lamb in the US has resulted in increased volumes of Australian product being imported.
On induction, all of the incoming lambs are drenched for worms and vaccinated to help prevent parasites and enterotoxemia (pulpy kidney disease). Careful attention is also paid to any threat of thiamine deficiencies.
Both wether and ewe lambs are sourced at about 36kg liveweight from all over the mid-north of the US from larger key suppliers as well as many smaller sheep breeding operations.
Most animals entering the yard are a long popular cross of a Suffolk sire over Hampshire ewe.
Hampshires are a large breed, with black heads and legs and wool on their legs and heads. They are regarded as a superior meat breed and common as terminal sire or as a breeding ewe across the US.
Mr Harper said after a three to five day induction period with a starter ration, the sheep were fed a grower ration twice a day.
That ration consisted of a wet distillers grain, a protein pellet. wheaten hay, corn grain and corn silage.
Starter lambs were also fed a live yeast through a dosing machine to help adjust the rumen to a starch based diet and reduce the risk of acidosis.
There are 1200 sheep in each pen, with animals having 30cm of feed space.
Average liveweight gains of 350 grams/head/day are typically targeted. However, this figure has been reduced during the drought to take pressure off processors.
At the peak of the market, finished 60kg liveweight lambs were selling for US$260/head (A$373).
Despite the amount of wool they were carrying, Ms Harper said the sheep entering the feedyard were currently not being shorn.
"The Peruvian shearers charge US$5.10/head (about A$7.30) and fleece sale returns are 50c-100c (A70c-A144c), making the procedure unprofitable.
The American Lamb Board said lamb imports remained at historical highs, representing about 12pc of US consumption. About 80pc of the imports were coming from Australia.
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