Convention: EBVs Pay Off for Producers

EBVs Pay Off for Producers

Special to the Sheep Industry News

Texas A&M Sheep & Goat Specialist Reid Redden, Ph.D., kicked off the Genetic Stakeholders Committee meeting with a presentation of the Let’s Grow project results using National Sheep Improvement Program vs Non-NSIP sires.

“Enrolling in NSIP doesn’t make your sheep better, but provides the EBVs that allow breeders to breed better sheep,” he said.  Redden provided an overview of producer projects involving both NSIP and non-NSIP sires, with producers reporting improvements from the NSIP sires out distancing their non-NSIP counterparts.

The Leading Edge Project was conducted on the Mickel Ranch in Utah. Ewes were bred in two groups, using 19 NSIP terminal sire rams and 19 conventionally sourced terminal sire rams. About 400 lambs were sired by NSIP rams, and another 400 were from the non-NSIP rams. The bottom line was a 3-pound difference in weights at 5 months of age, in range conditions. The NSIP lambs had a 105-pound average weaning weight, compared to the 102-pound weight of the non-NSIP lambs.

The EID Mountain States Project was conducted at David Arieux farm in Iowa on Polypay ewes, using two NSIP terminal sire rams (one Suffolk, one Hampshire) and two non-NSIP terminal sire rams. Preliminary data from this project indicates substantial breeding rate improvements of the NSIP sires compared to non-NSIP sires, regardless of the breed of rams used. Redden used this example of using NSIP data to “take research to the ranch,” and the use of EID technology makes this type of research easier for the producer.

NSIP program director Rusty Burgett gave a fascinating presentation on genetic trends through time with breeds on NSIP. Burgett explained that by using NSIP data, producers are able to shift the average bell curve to the right when it comes to improvement in their sheep flocks. He noted the recent history of the U.S. sheep flock, which has experienced both a decline in production, as well as a decrease in overall sheep inventory.

“We’re not getting any better in producing more pounds of lamb, or more pounds of wool,” Burgett said. But using NSIP data can help producers to increase production traits even with a reduction in numbers, with the goal of producing more pounds of lamb and wool with a smaller flock.

“We have increased the size of our sheep, but we have not increased our output,” he said. Since profit is determined by the pounds of lamb sold per ewe, production improvements can be made by focusing on breeding stock. Using visual appraisal is difficult because 80 percent is due to the environment in which the animal is raised, but 20 percent of traits are genetic.

“So it’s something we can work with,” Burgett said. Using the estimated breeding values detailed in the NSIP program, producers can use breeding stock with genetic predictability. Breed improvements are already being experienced, as Burgett explained.

Targhee producers using NSIP have had an increase of 9 percent more lambs within the last 10 years, and those lambs are 1.5 pounds heavier. Not only are the NSIP Targhees producing more lambs, and heavier lambs, but the breed has had an increase of 6 percent in the pounds of greased fleece weight while maintaining fiber diameter.

Polypay producers have increased by 12.5 percent the number of lambs born, as well as the pounds of lambs weaned, now weaning 15 percent more lambs than the previous breed average. Using NSIP data on these traits has resulted in Polypays that are producing more lambs, that are faster growing and heavier.

Suffolks have experienced a 3-pound gain in weaning weights and an increased eye muscle depth while decreasing fat depth, according to Burgett.

Katahdins in the NSIP program have increased their desirable traits, as well, including an increase in reproduction rates and an additional 1.5-pound increase in weaning weights – all while experiencing increased parasite resistance.

Burgett noted that the number of NSIP enrolled flocks has more than doubled in a few years.

Dr. Dan Morrical of Iowa State University facilitated a producer panel discussion on terminal sire management in range production systems. He said he often hears producers complain about trying to keep terminal sires alive. Most of the black-faced rams used by the producers on the panel are Suffolk or Hampshire, and are bred with white-faced ewes. White-faced rams are also used to produce replacement ewe lambs, so the breeding groups are managed separately.

Matt Mickel of Utah said at his outfit, rams are turned out all summer, and then brought in to buck in wet, short-stubble hay fields in November. He reported the biggest problem in his operation is keeping the rams sound because of the wet fields. The rams leave the fields to trail to the desert range some 30 to 40 miles away. This year there was too much snow to get rams out until mid-January, but he prefers to pull the rams in mid-December. He said although he culls his white-faced rams for age, he’s never had to cull a Suffolk because of age. He spends a lot of money on terminal sires and gets an average of about 2.5 years of breeding from these rams. The rams look good at turnout, he said, but really loose condition during breeding. He has found that older Suffolk rams won’t stay with the flock and tend to wander away, but ram lambs do a better job of staying with the flock.

Brad Boner of central Wyoming has a mid-December turnout date for rams, using 40 percent black-faced rams and 60 percent white-faced rams. The rams are managed as a group together as mature rams. He said by purchasing ram lambs instead of yearlings, he’s managed to get another full year of breeding out of these rams. Boner also said he’s never had to cull a terminal ram for age.

Ben Lehfeldt of Montana buys a mixture of Suffolk ram lambs and yearlings for use on his Rambouillet ewes. He said there is always a concern that the Suffolks can survive in that environment, in which rams are turned out Nov. 10, for shed lambing in April. The black-faced rams are returned to pens after 30 to 40 days, as the rams lose condition because of intensive breeding and fighting, and the animals tend to wander off. White-faced rams are used as clean-up. He said the black-faced rams require an increased feed ration, but are kept close to his home place with fairly easy living conditions. Lehfeldt said although he really likes using terminal sires, Suffolk cross lambs will teach white-faced sheep how to crawl under fences. Lehfeldt said he has culled a few terminal sires for being too old, but not nearly as many as he does with white-faced rams.

Even though terminal sires require extra management, the producers agreed that there is a value proposition, or else they wouldn’t be doing it. Boner cited the 5- to 6-pound increase in weaning weights, while Mickel noted his appreciation for the hybrid vigor making for easier lambing and increased overall lamb survival. All three of these producers said they would pay more money for rams with EBV data.

After listening to the panel discussion, Dave Notter, Ph.D., noted that there is both a tremendous opportunity and need to have locally grown and developed sires for this segment of the industry within the western United States.

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