PERC is Updated on Research Voids

PERC is Updated on Research Voids

Sheep Industry News Contributor

Research is an integral part of the sheep industry’s infrastructure, and it needs shoring up to support industry welfare and growth, said Rodney Kott, retired sheep researcher from Montana State University.

“Not that many research people are dedicated to the sheep industry, and that’s a problem for the future,” Kott said in a presentation at the Production Education and Research Council (PERC) during ASI’s annual convention in Charleston. “The West and Southwest have reduced or eliminated their university sheep programs, and existing research may or may not be focused on industry needs.”

Kott cited examples of major research programs that have had lasting impacts on the industry. Programs like testing of wool in the 1930s and ’40s, which is now used worldwide; the Western Sheep Breeding Project, from which emerged the Targhee, Columbia and Polypay breeds; and ram performance and genetic testing, which have increased average weaning weights and number of lambs weaned per year.

Targeted grazing is another important research program, although Kott said its extent or impact has yet to be measured John Walker, professor and director of research Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research and Extension Center at San Angelo, agreed with the potential for targeted grazing.

“If more emphasis were placed on conservation in farm policy than on production – and it’s now on production – the sheep industry would fare well,” said Walker.

He noted that U.S. sheep numbers have declined mainly from problems with money, efficiency, labor and predation. Some producers are able to control predation, he said, but only if they put enough labor into it, which further exacerbates the challenge.

Kreg Leymaster of the Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, NE, said research there is exploring easy-care sheep and low-input, pasture-lambing production systems. The stimulus, he said, is the high labor costs associated with traditional breeds and production systems, which stifle both profits and the potential to increase flock size.

“Reducing labor per ewe is one of the best ways to increase profitability and attract investment to the industry,” said Leymaster. The research is working on two prominent breeds of easy-care sheep, Polypay (wool) and Katahdin (hair), to develop and evaluate maternal lines and mating systems. Katahdin and Polypay rams will be sampled from industry flocks and purebred ewes produced for evaluation over the next two years. About 1,700 ewes are in the experiment, and Leymaster expects data collection by 2019.

Predator Control Update

Larry Clark, director of the National Wildlife Research Center, updated PERC on research into predator-control products.

One, sodium nitrate, is mainly targeted at feral swine, which are becoming increasingly troublesome for agriculture. If sodium nitrite is ultimately approved, Clark said it could be expanded for use on sheep predators. The center is also researching PAPP, which targets coyotes.

Another project is studying the effectiveness of livestock protection dogs that can limit grizzly and wolf attacks. These dogs, mainly imported from Europe, are currently in pilot studies on a Montana ranch and two Montana Hutterite colonies. Clark anticipates that more dogs will be imported and placed on ranches this spring. Part of the research will be on dog behavior.

Bret Taylor, research leader at the U.S. Experimental Sheep Station in Dubois, ID, updated attendees on research into chlorate salts and supplemental selenium. Chlorate salts will be tested in production systems, after which an industry partnership will seek FDA clearance.

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