World Sheep Congress

Querétaro, Mexico - 2007
A personal account

Recently, I attended the 8th annual World Sheep & Wool Congress in Querétaro, Mexico. The congress is held every 3 years. The last congress was held in Québec, Canada. The next one will be in Sydney, Australia in April 2010. Next year's International Goat Conference will be held in Querétaro.

The World Sheep & Wool Congress draws participants from all over the world. In Querétaro, there were over 700 participants from 18 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Uruguay, and many states of Mexico.
 

The first several days of the congress featured a scientific program and other special activities (e.g. opening and closing eremonies, Mexican Fiesta night, and a city tour). Farm tours took place mid-week, with four farms to choose from. The last several days of the congress featured a multi-breed sheep show and trade show.


American speakers included Jim Morgan, from Katahdin Hair Sheep International (KSHI) and the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) and Yves Berger, a dairy sheep specialist from the University of Wisconsin. There were probably about twenty other Americans in attendance, along with several Canadians.


While the congress focused mostly on meat sheep production, one of the more interesting speakers was Australian Ben Watts, who spoke about global wool market dynamics. Watts described a growing demand for apparel wool under 21.5 microns. The finest wools (less than 18.5 micron) are required to produce next to skin apparel. Europe (e.g. Italy) is still the primary consumer of these types of wool, whereas China is the largest consumer of raw wool in the world.


Watts also described unique government programs in Japan, designed to conserve energy, that have increased wool consumption. The global consumption of wool is expected to increase, but per capita consumption is expected to fall in the long term, from 0.462 to 0.396 lbs. per capita.

Sheep Shows

Unlike in the U.S., the largest shows were for hair sheep breeds: Katahdin and Pelibüey. Unfortunately, I had to leave just as the Katahdin show was getting underway. The Katahdins were being judged by Wes Limesand from North Dakota State University (view image). His reasons were being translated by a Mexican veterinarian with the nickname of "Rooster."


Most of the sheep at the show were breeds common to the U.S.: (Barbados) Blackbelly, Dorper, Dorset, East Friesian, Hampshire, Katahdin, Suffolk, Texel, Romanov, and Rambouillet. There were a few breeds that I had never seen before (except in pictures), such as Charollais, Damara, and Dorset Down.


The Charollais (view image) is a French breed with outstanding muscling, similar to the Texel. To me, they looked like Southdowns with ugly heads. The Damara (view image) is a fat-tailed hair sheep from South Africa. They are an extremely hardy breed, and they looked the part. The Dorset Down (view image) originates from the United Kingdom and is a cross between Southdown, Hampshire, and a few other British breeds. To me, they looked like "old fashioned" Hampshires or Shropshires.


One of the most numerous breeds at the show was the Pelibüey (view image). I'd seen commercial Pelibüeys in the Dominican Republic, but not like these. These were impressive hair sheep. There is some speculation that they have been crossed with Katahdins to improve their size and constitution. We do not have Pelibüeys in the United States -- too bad. They have a lot to offer the commercial sheep industry.

 

Pelibüeys originate from Cuba. If I was a commercial sheep farmer in Mexico, I'd probably have Pelibüey blood in my ewe flock. They are a beautiful sheep, with slick red hair coats. Like their Blackbelly "cousins," they are noted for their outstanding reproductive qualities. I saw in a Mexican sheep magazine where they are crossing the Pelibüey with the Suffolk to form a new breed, called the Pelifolk.


The Hampshires, Suffolks, and Dorsets I saw at the show looked "better" (to me) than the same breeds in the United States (as seen at our shows). They appeared meatier and more true to their breed type. The Hampshires looked like Hampshires. They still had wool on their faces and legs.


The Dorsets (view image) were big in scale, but showed Dorset breed character, perhaps due to the influence of Australian genes. The Rambouillets (view image), many of them horned, were less extreme than what I've seen in U.S. sheep shows. The Suffolks (view image) seemed more functional. Some of the sheep had "extreme" tail docks, undoubtably a bad habit learned from U.S. breeders.


The Mexican versions of the Dorper (view image), Texel (view image), East Friesian, and Romanov (view image) looked pretty much the same as what we have in the U.S. The Blackbellies (view image) were polled and resembled the "true" Caribbean version of the breed, not the "mixed breed" we have in the U.S.


The Katahdins were larger than mine and most of the Katahdins I have seen in the U.S. They were also a lot more colorful. No black ones, but lots of red and spotted ones. The Mexicans seem intent on making the Katahdin a bigger, meatier breed than what many of us raise. Of course, our Katahdin show people are pursuing the same goal.

 

The show itself was impressive, with much more fanfare than in the U.S. The bleachers were always full. At one end of the show ring, "living room" furniture was set up so that the show could be watched in comfort. Guess where the Americans sat?! The judges wore white (lab) coats, with "judge" written on the back.


Owners often do not show their own sheep. Their hired hands do. It was the same in the Caribbean. The winners and losers are gracious. The sheep are all halter-broken and well-behaved.


The show had a fantastic trade show. The enthusiasm in the Mexican sheep industry was apparent, especially in the hair sheep sector. Apparently, lamb prices (see image) are at an all-time high. The United States was represented in the trade show by the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and Katahdin Hair Sheep International (KHSI). I bought many items at the trade show. It's the only place I've been where I could buy merchandise that featured Katahdins and other hair sheep breeds.
 

The Eco-Center, where the show was held, was a very large complex, with excellent facilites. A huge blue arch marked its entrance (view image). If only we had known to follow the arch to find the fairgrounds.

 

Farm Tour
On tour day, we visited "El Gavillero Shangrila," a Katahdin stud in Tequisquiapan, about an hour from the conference headquarters, but still in the state of Querétaro. This farm

keeps approximately 600 Katahdin ewes in a semi-confinement/drylot (zero grazing) setting (view image). Confinement rearing (view image) of small ruminants is common in less developed countries, such as Mexico and the Caribbean.
 

Security is one of the big reasons why stud sheep and goats are raised in confinement or drylot. There are many hungry people in Mexico. It is also easier to control predation, internal parasitism, and footrot. Since labor is cheap in Mexico, the increased labor required by this type of production system is not a problem. While the sheep are not grazed, they still consume predominantly a forage diet.

 

The farm (they call them ranches in Mexico) had excellent facilities. All the sheep had access to shelter or shade (view image). They were fed mostly in fenceline concrete bunks (view image). There were some combination feeders with v-shaped hay racks (view image). These were usually covered. The sheep and lambs were fed haylage, silage, and alfalfa hay. Some received grain in their mixed rations, depending upon their production class. We were told that good quality feed is expensive in Mexico. The sheep were penned by sex, age, and production status.


Ewes lamb every 8 months, producing 1.3 to 1.7 lambs at each lambing, according to the owner. The lambing facilities included lambing jugs and larger pens where ewes could be separated into small groups to raise their lambs. Each pen had a creep area. There were automatic waterers (view image). Each animal had a collar (view image) which indicated its sire. I bought some of these collars to ID my own sheep. The sheep generally looked healthy. Some were on the fat side, but so are a lot of ours -- and some of mine!


The farm was very clean. It had five employees (men) to feed and take care of the sheep, plus two additional employees (women) whose job it was to keep the place clean. Even on a rainy day, it was an impressive farm to see.


After we toured the farm, the breeder paraded his rams in front of us. I felt like I was at a horse stud. It was great. I enjoyed seeing his prized rams. The pride the owner had in his animals (and ranch) was obvious. The rams were big (view image). They left me envious as a fellow Katahdin breeder. Then I reminded myself that big rams produce big ewes -- and I don't want big sheep. That's one of the advantages to raising Katahdins. They are a medium-sized breed that is easy to handle. I also value the maternal qualities of Katahdins and fear that an increase in frame and muscle will diminish these qualities, if change comes TOO rapidly -- which it usually does in the show ring.


Tourists
In between the conference and shows, my travel companion (a friend and university co-worker) and I toured the colonial cities of Querétaro, Tequisquiapan, and San Miguel de Allende. Querétaro is the capitol city of the state of Querétaro. It has approximately 600,000 residents and is conveniently located 215 kilometers north of Mexico City. A number of events important to the history of the Mexican republic have taken place in Querétaro. The symbol of the city is an aqueduct (view image), built between 1726 and 1735 to bring drinking water to the city.


Tequisquiapan is another colonial city located in the state of Querétaro. We enjoyed its narrow, cobblestone streets and central plaza (view image). San Miquel de Allende is located in the neighboring state of Guanajauto. It attracts many Mexican tourists and has a large population of foreign residents. We could see why. There are no traffic lights in the historical district. It is a beautiful city to walk in. There are many churches (view image) and monuments (view image). The shopping was satisfying.


One of our Mexican adventures was getting caught in a thunderstorm in San Miguel. The thunder was wicked and we got drenched to the bone. Being in the midst of a bad drought in Maryland, it was "fun" dodging the rain and water puddles.

 

My travel companion and I flew into Mexico City and rented a car. Most people thought us brave or foolhardy (or both) to do this. Yes, it's true. Driving in Mexico proved to be an adventure. We got lost quite a bit. Signage isn't as good south of the border. Then, there were all the speed bumps. The Dodge Stratus that we rented sometimes got caught on these. We found Mexican drivers to be the same as American drivers -- fast and impatient. Fortunately, I didn't hit anything and nothing hit me, though it was close once.


We enjoyed Mexico very much. We didn't mind paying two pesos to go to the bathroom or waiting for goats to cross the highway. I liked the fact that the cops didn't seem to mind when I went the wrong way on a one-way street, though the other drivers did. We visited a Walmart (a very elegant one) and ate breakfast at McDonald's. I added a Mexican placemat to my collection of worldwide McDonald's placemats. The egg sandwiches had refried beans in them.


There were American stores and restaurants all over the place: Pizza hut, Subway, McDonalds, Walmart, OfficeMax, and Home Depot, just to name a few. The Mexican version of a Sheetz is called OXXO. The shelves are full of junk food and convenience items. We loved the gas stations. They still pump your gas and check under your hood. The food in Mexico was very good and there was plenty of bottled water, not to mention tequila. We found the Mexican people to be friendly, gracious, and very service oriented. Mexico did a great job showcasing its sheep industry and hospitality.


Querétaro has beautiful mountainous scenery and a pleasant climate. The humidity was low, as compared to Maryland. The economy seemed vibrant. It spurred me to invest in a Latin American mutual fund.


I definitely want to go back to Mexico and could envision myself living there someday. I've already got the wheels in my head spinning. I want to buy a farm in Mexico, raise hair sheep, and drink Margaritas. I'm already working on my Spanish.

This article was written in 2007 by Susan Schoenian.

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