Proposal Changes Will Mean the Loss of the H-2A Sheepherder Program


by Peter Orwick, Executive Director, American Sheep Industry Association


The Department of Labor (Department) issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register of April 15, 2015 [FR Doc. 2015-08505], concerning proposed amendments to its regulations governing certification of the employment of nonimmigrant workers in temporary or seasonal agricultural employment under the H-2A program to codify certain procedures for employers seeking to hire foreign temporary agricultural workers for job opportunities in sheepherding, goat herding and production of livestock on the open range. This notice extends the comment period for 15 days, from May 15 to June 1, 2015

Please note you have two weeks extra to file your comments. For your convenience in commenting this month we include two sets of talking points that you may find quotes and statements to use. [Talking Points are pasted at the end of this email.] Dr. Shiflett confirms in her analysis that 38 percent of breeding sheep are on herded sheep ranches. Further she finds on a typical herded sheep operation that the wage proposal pushes the ranch into negative returns. Also, Shiflett shares total lamb and sheep and wool revenue since 1990 and 1994, which do not bear out the Department of Labor contention that revenue will offset the drastic change in wage expense.

Legal advisors assisted with the second set of points and I note they view the definition of open range changes to be just as threatening as the wage proposal.

  • DOL’s insistence that livestock grazing only takes place away from fences is unrealistic and not practical for grazing. Even when grazing on large allotments of land, herders rely on fences to keep the livestock in a manageable area. Additionally, many sheep ranchers in the West rely on the ability to graze their sheep on crop residue and close to the urban interface (ie forage reduction for fire prevention) which requires the livestock to be watched and under the care of an H2A sheepherder employee.
  • The definitions and job descriptions for all occupations involved in the grazing production of livestock should include the input of stakeholders.
  • As they are presented in the proposed rule, the definitions and job descriptions would make it impossible for a large percentage of current users to comply and hire H2A labor.

Also, we provide the link to view comments filed so far and you may well find statements by fellow producers that work in your comments.!docketBrowser;rpp=25;po=0;dct=PS;D=ETA-2015-0004;refD=ETA-2015-0004-0001

A couple of statements I found in reviewing those filed already:

Comment from ranch family with H-2A sheepherders – “We are a ranching family, with a substantial amount of owned and leased private land. The lands only use is for grazing. It will not grow crops. If the new rules are implemented it will not only put our family out of business, but will also make our ground useless. Our product does not only affect our bottom line, but also other businesses as well. We employ truckers for transportation, contract labor for shearing, and vet services, just to name a few. The local stores in our area will be hurt as well. We purchase groceries for our 5 herders, buy fuel and propane for their trailers, clothes, boots and whatever they may need. We spend a great deal on keeping the improvements up on our ranch. We constantly are buying material for fencing and corrals. We purchase supplemental feed such as hay for our livestock and with livestock you have a lot of dogs. The feed, shots and license for our animals would also no longer be an income for our county.

As you can see if the new rules go into place it will not only be detrimental to my family, but to a lot of other industries as well. The special procedures that have been in place since the 1980’s has been working, and should continue to be the rule.”

I have visited with several producers who are planning to share their budget today and show the change with the proposed wage.

The talking points will be updated as additional information and comments are generated. Recall that you can COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS SHARED BELOW IN THIS EMAIL.

Peter Orwick, Executive Director
American Sheep Industry Association (ASI)
9785 Maroon Circle Suite 360 Centennial, CO 80112
(303) 771-3500 ex 33

Please file your comments by JUNE 1. Below are instructions with 4 key points to include in comments for a consistent and powerful message from the sheep industry. Please share this email with other producers and companies to participate in the comment period.


DATES: Submit written comments on the proposed rule on or before May 15, 2015. Submit comments by one of the following methods:

* Federal e-Rulemaking Portal:!documentDetail;D=ETA_FRDOC_0001-0195
Click on “Comment Now!”

* Mail Submission: Submit written comments to:

Adele Gagliardi, Administrator
Office of Policy Development and Research, Employment and Training Administration
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-5641
Washington, DC 20210

Include subject line as: Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Foreign Workers in the Herding or Production of Livestock on the Open Range in the U.S. ID: ETA-2015-0004-0001
Postal delivery in Washington, DC may be delayed due to seccurity concerns.

The Department will post all comments received on without making any change to the comments, including any personal information provided. The Department cautions commenters against including personal information such as Social Security Numbers, personal addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses in their comments as such information will become viewable by the public

If you use the H-2A herder program, please indicate so in your comments and how the impact would affect or end your operation. Sheep producers and lamb or wool affiliated businesses should indicate that loss of the herded operations will impact the entire industry and loss of companies.

Use instructions to comment and ensure points included;

  1. Tripling the wages as proposed will force operations out of business. Ask the Department of Labor to withdraw the wage proposal and reply with a common sense approach.
  2. Carefully consider sheep industry organization input and response to the multitude of questions posed in the Department’s proposed rule including definition of open range.
  3. Special procedures have proven critical to the successful H-2A sheepherder program and need to be retained.
  4. H-2A employers: Include your financial figures and budgets to show if you could continue under the proposed wage rates. Mention if questions on any fencing for the definition of open range would affect your operation. What about 50{f2533179b7c7e7cbdbc11018732de14c82f3d44c9f1e829e9a046cc47141a2e6} of the year on open range on your operation?

It is critical that the sheep industry comment with a consistent message that the Department’s proposal will mean the loss of the H-2A sheepherder program that has been used for 50 years plus the loss of hundreds of thousands of sheep.



Source:  American Sheep Industry

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