Image of sheep

What is Sheep GEMS?

GEMS stands for Genetics, Environment, Management and Society, which are four pillars of our sheep industry. Why so? In the United States, distinct breed-types are spread across climatically diverse regions and management systems. Breeding robust sheep that perform well under these conditions is therefore critical to the industry’s long-term sustainability. Currently, however, traits indicative of robustness and climatic resilience are largely absent in our genetic evaluation. Our ambition in Sheep GEMS is to remedy that shortfall.

Sheep GEMS has been underway for about two years, with exciting results generated. For those findings to be useful to sheep producers, they need to be widely shared. To begin that process, our providing further background into Sheep GEMS seems appropriate. That necessitates defining terms.

Robustness is an animal’s ability to remain healthy and productive – i.e., to survive and reproduce – within a defined environment or set of management conditions. Climatic resilience is an animal’s ability to either be little affected by, or capable of recovering from, changes in climatic conditions – e.g., extremes in temperature or relative humidity. An indicator trait is an on-farm measurement that helps predict an animal’s robustness or climatic resilience. As an illustration, fecal egg count is an indicator trait for resistance to gastrointestinal parasitism and thereby robustness.

The robustness traits incorporated into Sheep GEMS are lamb survival, udder health and gastrointestinal parasitism. Our indicator traits for lamb survival are birth weight and type, early postnatal survival and survival to weaning. For udder health, our indicator traits are udder depth and teat placement near lambing. Lastly, for gastrointestinal parasitism our indicator traits are fecal egg counts and FAMACHA scores collected in lambs and ewes at critical times.

We are assessing climatic resilience focusing on ewe longevity. As its indicator trait, we are recording a ewe’s stayability, defined by her retention in a flock while remaining productive. Additionally, we are collecting body weights and condition scores on ewes at key physiological stages – e.g., breeding and weaning – and monitoring their changes during the production season.

Collecting these additional measurements is an ambitious undertaking. Our success in doing so depends on collaborations. Three U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service facilities are core to our effort: the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station. Scientists at these facilities are recording the indicator traits we described – along with others – on their genetically connected Katahdin, Polypay, Rambouillet and Suffolk flocks.

To impact the sheep industry, producers need to collect similar data in their own flocks. In collaboration with the National Sheep Improvement Program, we have recruited 45 NSIP flocks with these same four breeds to join the project.

Another aspect of Sheep GEMS is to incorporate genomic technologies into our genetic evaluations. Those tools allow us to validate pedigrees, provide genetic conditions for simply inherited traits and more reliably predict genetic merit for complex traits such as robustness and climatic resilience.

Sheep GEMS is in its early days. Still, our preliminary outcomes are promising. They set the foundation for providing the American sheep industry with methods to further improve our flocks. We look forward to sharing our discoveries with you in the series of articles that will follow.

The Sheep GEMS scientific team is Project Director Ron Lewis, Project Co-Director Luiz Brito, Joan Burke, Carrie Wilson, Brad Freking, Tom Murphy, Bret Taylor, Luis Pinto, Sara Nilson, Artur Rocha, Hilal Yazar Gunes, and Ali Haider Saleem.

The scientific team would like to thank American sheep associations and breed organizations, NSIP and sheep producers for their contributions to this research. This work is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant – grant no. 2022-67015-36073/project accession no. 1027785 – from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USDA.

Source: Sheep GEMS


Wyoming Offers Innovation Forum

The University of Wyoming Extension Sheep Task Force is hosting an online forum entitled Innovation in the Lambing Barn on April 23 at 6 p.m. mountain time.

Join the forum as Wyoming producer Regan Smith – Smith Sheep & Stuff – and Montana producers Cord & Kristin Bieber – Bieber Land & Livestock and Skull Creek Targhee – discuss technologies they utilize in their lambing barns. Ranging from lambing barn ventilation systems to technology, such as electronic ID tags and chute systems.

Additionally, there will be time for open dialogue between participants and the presenters and University of Wyoming educators.

Click Here to register.


Australian Wool Market on Easter recess

This week the market is on the annual Easter recess. Sales will resume next week, Monday the 8th of April.

Source: AWEX


Producers needed to Participate in Phase Two of NAHMS Sheep Study

The USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) staff are seeking producers who have 500 or more ewes to participate in the NAHMS study. This study is critical for the sheep industry in that information collected supports valuable research on important sheep health and management issues.  If interested, please reach out to Dr. Natalie Urie at USDA APHIS by email at or by phone at 970.342.5090 or 970.888.4964. All operations with 500 or more ewes are eligible to participate.

If you participated in the NASS survey, you should have received a separate NAHMS Sheep Study questionnaire around the same time as the NASS Sheep and Goat Survey.

Producers with less than 500 ewes that think they may have been selected to participate in the NAHMS study but haven’t completed the questionnaire or refused the second phase, but would like to participate for free biologic testing, are also asked to reach out to Natalie Urie.

In addition, anyone who participated in the NAHMS Survey and has feedback, questions, or concerns, may follow up with Natalie.

To learn more about the study, please watch the following video:


Thermopolis to Host Wyoming Festival

The Wyoming Wool Growers Association is pleased to announce the schedule is getting packed for the Wyoming Sheep & Wool Festival to be held July 12-14 at the Hot Springs County Fairgrounds in Thermopolis, Wyo.

Make plans to bring your family to enjoy arts, educational and cultural events celebrating Wyoming’s sheep and wool industry, meet the animals, feast on some great lamb, browse through vendor and educational booths, watch the stock dog trials, go on a tour and then dance to live music at an after-dinner party on Saturday night.

Educational sessions, farm tours and the art show reception will be held on Friday. Saturday’s events include an all-day vendor fair and programming for all ages, followed by the Sheepherders Come Bye lamb feast. During dinner, some sheep folks will be honored with awards, and then the band will start up, so bring your dancing boots as Kellen Smith and the Nate Champion Band turn on the sound at the free concert.

The festival committee is happy to consider ideas for demos, workshops or other activities that might enhance the festival, so if you’ve got a great idea, reach out to the WWGA at the contact information below. Any organization or business that wants to get involved in the fun is also encouraged to take part in the festivities. Donations and sponsorships for the festival help to make most events free to the public – only the lamb dinner is a ticketed event.

Craft and food vendors are encouraged to set up shop at the festival’s vendor fair, and booth space can be reserved for as little as $25. Educational vendors are welcome, and activities for the public to participate in and enjoy at these booths are encouraged. Entries for the art show are currently being accepted.

The festival is a project of the WWGA and Wyoming SHEEP Foundation and is supported in part by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund – a program of the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

For more information about the festival, please contact WWGA’s Alison Crane at 307-265-5250, or Heather Jones in Thermopolis at 307-864-4058.

Click Here to learn more.

Source: WWGA


WRLC Hiring Deputy Director

The Western Resources Legal Center at the Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., is looking to hire a deputy director of community engagement and partnerships.

This is a distinct and specialized role focusing on strategic fundraising and external relations. Reporting directly to the executive director, this role is pivotal in securing resources for WRLC’s mission. The ideal candidate will be a visionary leader with a strong background in fundraising and should possess a deep commitment to legal education and an unwavering dedication to advocacy on behalf of natural resource users. The candidate will be innovative in securing funding through diverse giving and grant opportunities, ensuring the self-sustainability of their role.

Click Here to learn more.

Source: WRLC


Woolly Weekend Planned in Oklahoma

Woolly Weekend is a sheep to shawl festival held at Shepherd’s Cross – an authentic working sheep farm just north of Claremore, Okla., on Scenic Route 66. Come to the farm April 25-27 to watch as the sheep are shorn. Sheep shearing occurs throughout the day.

After the fiber is shorn from the sheep, visitors can watch the wool being processed on site. It will be combed, spun, woven, knit, crocheted, and felted into finished products. This is a true sheep to shawl event. During the three-day period at least three shawls will be created entirely from the wool shorn on the first morning.

Shearing and demonstrations take place inside the Amish-built tour barn, which houses some of the animals as well as the wool processing, farm museum and the gift shop. There are short course fiber classes available. Learn drop spindling, hand carding or needle felting during the event. Tour the educational interactive Farm Museum and four-story Observation Silo, as well as the Bible Garden.

Bring the entire family. Children’s activities include weaving, games, wool projects, and a coloring contest. This is a free event.

Volunteers are needed to demonstrate fiber arts. If you spin, weave, knit, crochet or needle felt, you may join our sheep to shawl team. Anyone who works with fiber is welcome. Inquire for additional information.

Fiber arts classes, animal husbandry classes and shearing lessons are available at the farm throughout the year.

Click Here to learn more.

Source: Shepherd’s Cross


Legislative Update from Washington, D.C.

The American Sheep Industry Association’s lobbying firm – Cornerstone Government Affairs – offered an update this week on legislative issues in our nation’s capital.

Senators set to introduce ag labor reform bill


Last week, several Democratic senators announced they were gearing up to introduce the Affordable and Secure Food Act, which is aimed at reforming the current ag labor system. This bill being led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) proposes streamlining the H-2A visa program and creating pathways to permanent residency for foreign farmworkers, but it lacks Republican co-sponsors, unlike its House counterpart – the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. While labor advocates support the bill, industry leaders are concerned about provisions, such as wage floors and visa reductions. Despite bipartisan challenges, lawmakers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasize the urgency of passing immigration reform to address labor shortages in the agriculture sector. To build support for the legislation, a group of 19 Democratic senators signed onto a letter to the President expressing the need to address the issue at hand. The full support letter can be found here and the bill text can be found here.

According to Peter Orwick, ASI Executive director,
“The American sheep industry supports this legislation as a good place to start to address the H-2A program. Importantly, the bill provides a set number of visas specific for sheepherders.”

New Sponsorship with Platform by James Beard Foundation

The American Lamb Board (ALB) is excited to announce a new sponsorship with Platform by the James Beard Foundation.  As a Platform Purveyor, ALB has a unique opportunity to connect with the country’s best chefs and provide them with local products for Platform events.

Platform by the James Beard Foundation is a state-of-the-art show kitchen, event space, and educational hub for outstanding culinary arts programming. The new event space and show kitchen located at Pier 57 in New York City not only attracts leading chefs, but the venue is also expected to attract 8 million visitors a year.

As a sponsor at this premier culinary venue, American Lamb will be featured at up to five monthly events. ALB promotional materials will be included in information packages, and the ALB logo will be used in all print and digital event promotions, including websites, newsletters, and social media.

At Platform, there is something for everyone to indulge their inner foodie and celebrate the people, cultures, and traditions of America’s food culture.  The venue hosts chef-in-residence programs, intimate dining events with James Beard Award–winning chefs, exciting cooking demos, hands-on culinary classes and more.

“With this unique partnership, we anticipate a high return on investment,” says ALB Chair Jeff Ebert. “We are eager to see how these top chefs use American Lamb in unique culinary dishes.”

Platform welcomes visitors to experience the best of American food culture and the people behind it through dynamic programs and events. It is fully open to the public multiple days a week.

The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America’s food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability.

Source: ALB

Skip to content