problems in US sheep

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problems in US sheep

Postby jpa » Tue Sep 23, 2008 8:57 pm

I thought I would start a new thread in response to some comments posted on the scrapie tag in PA thread.


Darroll Grant wrote:Phil,
Many of the less expensive blackface buck lambs from the MWSRS end up on western range ewes after spending months on hay and corn in a corral. No wonder many don't live 60 days on the range.


Why would the western sheep breeders continue to buy these type of animals if many of them can't survive? Sounds like INSANITY to me.

It also sounds to me like the range type rancher is part of the problem here too. People would breed/select/manage differently if the market demanded it. I would say there is / should be, a market for terminal sires that can fit the bill.
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Postby Darroll Grant » Wed Sep 24, 2008 8:45 am

Please don't think that all western range operators buy rams that live only a couple of months. A range ram life span study relayed to me done by UC Davis several years back found that average survival rate was much less than one year. There are range operators who raise practical rams with longevity for themselves and others.

I wonder how frequently ram expense/lamb dropped is calculated in commercial operations?
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western Oregon
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Postby Patrick H. » Wed Sep 24, 2008 9:44 am

After a long break I am back on the site.

This summer I visited the National Sheep research station in Idaho. This is the site where the Columbia and Polypay breeds originated. One of the research projects currently underway there is to develop a terminal sire breed that meets the needs of the packers and can stand up to range conditions with some longevity.
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Postby Janet McNally » Wed Sep 24, 2008 10:13 am

The longevity issue is more than just genetic, and the cow man has the same problem with bulls. It is as much how they are raised before they are purchased. In the past I have purchased rams from farms that did a lot of corn and alfalfa that nearly starved the first year, with a full bunk of hay while my home raised rams thrived. It was not that they were not genetically fit, as their offspring did swell. Its just that it can take up to several years for a sheep to learn how to survive in a tougher environment. It took the purchase of several rams, over a period of years, all of which were walking skeletons their first year here, for me to realize that our environment must be tough and that it is touch and go for the first 18 months here.

I have argued with many a producer from the corn belt who just does not understand that not all pasture is the same, and that feeding heavy levels of corn and alfalfa to breeding stock that are destined to go to pasture operations is doing no one any favors.

Some bull producers are taking the lead and producing what they call range ready bulls, meaning they have remained on a grazing program and supplementation has been minimal or in a few willing to bite the bullet, none at all.

But as any bull or ram seedstock producer can tell you, the buyer IS part of the problem. I can't tell you how many producers who are accustomed to buying those BIG sleek corn fed rams have a hard time adjusting their vision of what the ram should look like when they are looking at a pen of 100% forage fed rams from native pastures. Now don't get me wrong, the right genetics should be expressing full muscle, be thrifty, and in great condition, BUT they won't be nearly as large as their corn fed contemporaries as lambs or at one year of age. Basically they finish their growth much slower, achieving full potential around 3 years old, rather than 1.5 years old. But then those rams are going to live to what, 6, 8, 10 years old?

I've visited with plenty of pasture seedstock producers who were tempted to go back to corn feeding just to make the rams look the way the buyer wants them to look.

It does amaze me how much the sheep and cattle business spins its wheels doing self defeating things like this!

Janet
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Postby Lana Rowley » Wed Sep 24, 2008 10:54 am

Interesting that when i bought my new ewe lambs they where talking about how easily rams broke down, and that was why they were making there own "composite" rams.

Around here there are pasture cattle and range cattle. The range cattle have as smaller frame, and they only buy range bulls for them. The bulls are still heavier than the cows, and they break down and get sore as the summer wears on. A good dog is handly when the bulls crawl under heavy trees and shade up, not wanting to move on with the cows during cattle drives.

I would add that they should make more "range ready dogs". I had no idea how tough country could beat up dogs, and they are not all made for that.

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Postby Darroll Grant » Thu Sep 25, 2008 8:51 am

The frustrating thing is that most buyers presented an array of animals raised on grass or grain select the grain fed, and then many comment some months later that the animal changed drastically in appearance. Buyers say they want grass raised breeding stock but too frequently purchase grain fed.
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Postby Patrick H. » Thu Sep 25, 2008 9:47 am

I have much more background in beef than sheep, and I agree that the resemblance is more than a coincidence. Much of it comes down to frame size in my opinion and selecting for animals that perform well in a feedlot and that can be taken to higher weights. Janet without mentioning your name to the scientist that I talked to in Idaho, I mentioned that I was leaning toward rams that would produce lambs that would easily finish forages. His response indicated that heir intention is to make sure that lambs can be fed to 140 plus pounds off moderatly framed poly pay ewes, and that this is where the industry needs to be. This is where the beef industry has been too. I asked him what effect the high price of corn will have on these genetics and he did not have a good answer.
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Postby jpa » Thu Sep 25, 2008 10:26 am

Darroll Grant wrote:The frustrating thing is that most buyers presented an array of animals raised on grass or grain select the grain fed, and then many comment some months later that the animal changed drastically in appearance. Buyers say they want grass raised breeding stock but too frequently purchase grain fed.


It sure is hard to overlook size when buying rams. The ram we bought last year was the biggest in the bunch even when we are trying to produce a moderate sized traditional Dorset. :oops: He isn't one of the crazy tall frame type beast that many dorset breeders raise, but we were a little dissapointed with our decision once we got home and got our thinking back straight.

This summer we bought a nice yearling ram from K bar K which was born and raised almost entirely on pasture/forage. (Which is part of the reason we got him) Once we got him home he didn;t look as plump as we are used to so guess what we did even though he was on good quality pasture :lol:

We can be our own worst enemy at times :!:

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Postby Darroll Grant » Thu Sep 25, 2008 2:37 pm

Big if measured by the scale and related to true age in days is infinitely better than 'big' as measured by the yardstick at the shoulder.
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Postby Janet McNally » Thu Sep 25, 2008 6:01 pm

"It sure is hard to overlook size when buying rams."

That is because our long tradition of evaluating sheep visually has many generations of sheep producers hooked on visually apraising size = growth. To the eye, a taller framed ram weighing exactly the same as a smaller framed ram, appears to be the larger, growthier animal, hence the show ring bent on height.

EBVs and EPDs solve this problem...with enough records, the EBV or EPD objectively evaluate growth, and from there, the buyer just needs to decide what kind of frame size works best in his environment.

It has been interesting each year, as I evaluate the next crop of rams, that sometimes, a rather small ram comes in with big growth EBVs. Maybe he was a triplet, or out of a young ewe, or some other disadvantage that our eyeballs have a hard time compensating for. by and by I find it best to trust the numbers. It is always interesting to use one of those rams, with doubts in my mind, only to find the offspring really do perform as promissed.

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Postby lovetree » Thu Sep 25, 2008 9:59 pm

I agree with the value of acclimation to pasture but I still believe that genetics also weighs in...there are some animals that since they have never been on forage have also never been selected for their ability to convert forage to muscle and milk in real life setting....I have seen bloodlines that were born on this farm (via AI) of dams that were thrify graziers and watched those lambs dwindle in front of my eyes resembling more of a scarecrow than a sheep....the size of the animals muzzle, their rumen capacity, the length of their legs, their density of bone, even whether or not they have hair on their ears and head will make a differenc on how an animal will do on pasture.
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home of the dual purpose Trade Lake Sheep and the nationally celebrated Trade Lake Cedar Cheese
NW Wisconsin
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Postby Janet McNally » Thu Sep 25, 2008 10:02 pm

Mary, I absolutely agree, the genetics must be there. Just pointing out that even when the genetics are right, that prior nutritional experience is very important, especially in tougher environments. Back to the rams falling apart problem, it is partly genetic, and partly upbringing that does not properly prepare the rams for the range. I just cannot believe we as an industry repeatedly make the same mistakes.

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Postby Bill Fosher » Fri Sep 26, 2008 6:02 am

Rumen capacity is one area where the show ring actively discriminates against animals that could do on pasture. People go to great lengths to avoid lambs and breeding sheep that are "gutty," including some borderline inhumane practices such as liquid diets, withholding all fiber, etc. But the ideal is always to select the "right" genetics to have a tubular sheep in the first place.

The preference for tubular sheep has some grounding in logic. Rumen contents are not salable post slaughter, so a tubular sheep in theory should have a higher killing-out percentage. However, it makes no difference if the KO % is high if it costs you $500 to feed the lamb out. Unless, of course, you have the local bank bidding $2,000 on your lamb at the auction to support 4H or FFA.

But the apparent logic behind seeking sheep without rumens as a "production" trait falls apart when you talk to show people about why they prefer a long neck. The neck, as we all know, is a very low value part of the carcass, so why select long ones, thereby making a low value cut a larger percentage of the overall carcass?

Because judges put ribbons on sheep with long necks. No one know why, as best I can tell, including the judges.
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Postby lovetree » Fri Sep 26, 2008 7:56 am

Bill said
'Because judges put ribbons on sheep with long necks. No one know why, as best I can tell, including the judges."

Well geez Bill that ought to be obvious...because they are "pretty".
I had an experienced dairy shephed looking at my dairy stock make the comment at how they had such "chunky " looking muzzles", she much preferred the daintier and more feminine (yes, she actually used these terms) narrow muzzled friesians that she had seen on some other farms, including her own. My explanation of how the larger muzzles relates to more efficient grazing was totally lost on her.
BTW..she is out of business now.
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NW Wisconsin
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Postby Darroll Grant » Fri Sep 26, 2008 8:26 am

I've had the type discussion several times with a successful breeder of sheep breeds for the ring. (The leggy and tubular type in vogue that require supplemental feed.) The reason is $$. If the commercial industry paid for quality rams in relationship to the value they can add to a lamb crop, the ram breeders would produce what is desired and brought top $.
In my limited experience very few ram buyers are interested in the expected quantified genetic contribution a ram can make to a lamb crop based on EBVs or EPDs. Ram buyers generally buy on phenotype.
A range bull producer nearby uses the EPD numbers to calculate the added value to a calf crop that a bull can contribute. The same can be done for rams.
I have friends in Australia who routinely sell commercial meat rams for $800+ which equates to about $700 US with the resulting lambs selling on a cheaper market than the US. However, their ram ratio is just over 1% of the flock and they expect several years use from a ram. Ram cost/lamb is less than the US range area with 2.5-3 rams/100 ewes and shorter productive lives.
The sheep industry has a number of advantages over the beef industry in genetic improvement. One is a shorter gestation, another is more rapid sexual maturity and the third is multiple births. It would appear that these can have an accumulative effect on improvement.
Its past time I get enrolled in organized production testing.
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