There’s more than meets the eye in sheep death case
BIG HOLLOW—A sheep producer on the north end of Sanpete County who was the target of reports on a Salt Lake City TV station and a complaint to the Sanpete County sheriff for not taking care of his animals says there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
The TV story, and accounts from a neighbor who brought the situation to light, seem to clearly show sheep who died from starvation or neglect.
But the owner of the sheep says he and other producers have been caught in an exceptional web of difficulty because of drought, fuel costs and inflation in the supplies they need to take care of their animals.
On April 11, ABC reported that two neighbors of the producer had observed “about 40 carcasses laying out there (in a field) and just barely starting to rot.”
One of the observers, Tony Canterberry, said he became even more concerned as he got closer. Sheep were eating the wool off another sheep. An image he shared that is too gruesome to publish showed the wool nearly gone from one of the sheep.
Canterberry said that as he threw feed into a sheep pen, some of the alfalfa landed on the back of the sheep. The other sheep searched for the feed hidden in the wool to reach the alfalfa.
Canterberry said he had had conversations with the owner and given him suggestions about the health and wellbeing of his livestock, but he feels his advice has been ignored.
Matt Goble, an agriculture instructor at Snow College and a sixth-generation sheep farmer, said that from what he has seen of the producer, he “flat out doesn’t care.”
“That is just my opinion as a sheep producer and someone who works closely with other local producers to balance livestock rations and feed,” he said.
Goble said that every good producer knows that you can’t starve an animal and make a profit. He works with several producers on figuring what and how much to feed to meet an animal’s nutritional requirements.
“Most times, I find producers are overfeeding because they worry about the health of the animal so much,” he said. “And why not? Their entire livelihood depends on that animal.”
Margins right now are tighter than ever. The price of fuel affects every aspect of production. But Goble said that he hasn’t met a producer yet who will make those costs starve the source of his income.
The north-county sheep producer whose animals were apparently found dead asked that his name not be used because of fear of reprisals. He told the Messenger he had begun to receive hate mail and other threats.
He said his animals are not starving and pointed to a small stack of hay next to their corral. But he said that drought, money, and predators have not been in his favor.
Several of the sheep that were deceased throughout the property were due to predators such as coyotes and mountain lions who frequent the foothills and have been a problem for this producer.
This situation brings up the issues people in agriculture, particularly sheep farmers, are facing in Sanpete County. Take the family that has owned the Skyline Sheep Co. in Mt. Pleasant for more than eight generations.
“We have been hit with the perfect storm to push us as far as we can be pushed as farmers,” Angie Jorgensen said.
Any farmer could have chosen to do something else as a career, which would have meant fewer headaches, but this is their life.
“We love our land and our heritage, and we love helping feed the nation,” said Angie. “We want to leave something for our children, and we absolutely love our country living lifestyle.”
The severe drought that has hit the Great Basin forced the Jorgensen’s to send their sheep, which usually graze on Bureau of Land Management tracts in the West Desert of western Utah and eastern Nevada, to California for the winter.
“The desert didn’t have enough feed for our herd this winter,” Carson Jorgensen, part of the extended ranching family, said. “This year is looking up a bit, so hopefully this won’t always be the case.”
Shipping the sheep to other areas for grazing brings up another cost: gasoline. “Trucking costs have gone up tremendously,” Angie said. “With trucking costs going up, that means everything from alfalfa to bailing twine, and everything from A to Z goes up, too.”
Darci Allred, from Fountain Green, helps with the bummer lambs on her family farm. “Last year I was paying $80 for a bag of milk replacer for the lambs; this year, I am up to $155 per bag.” One of those bags lasts roughly five days for one lamb.
Wayne Cowley, branch manager at Producers Livestock Marketing Auction in Salina, said that for a time, the price of sheep was going up due to demand for sheep from overseas.
But in the last six months, the price of sheep has been driven back down due to the cost of freight and feed. Cowley said even to transport animals to and from the auction has become a cost for producers.
While everything may seem to be going against every element of agriculture, the love farmers and ranchers have for their land and animals motivates them to push through for another day.
“This is our livelihood; this is what we get up every morning to do,” Angie said. “I wouldn’t trade it.”