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Opinion by: Kalli Koepke

Sheep Research Continues at UW

By Kalli Koepke, Laramie Research and Extension Center Sheep Unit Manager

The University of Wyoming Laramie Research and Extension Center (UW-LREC) Sheep Unit has undergone some changes this year. Due to the drought, we are cutting back on numbers to lower our feed costs while keeping in mind a maximum lamb crop.

The mission at the UW-LREC Sheep Unit is to provide a quality flock for research and teaching. In the past, the lamb crop numbers have been too low to provide animals for all of the proposed research projects and courses. The purebred flocks were not producing enough lambs and the number of ewes had to be increased, thus increasing the cost of feed. 

Personnel at the UW-LREC Sheep Unit met and decided to retain only two purebred breeds. This group consisted of faculty and staff with a vast array of knowledge concerning the sheep industry. They decided to focus on their Hampshire and Rambouillet programs. The commercial flock will be combined with their Rambouillet flock in hopes to increase the lamb crop to support the needs of the many research projects at the University of Wyoming. Their Rambouillet flock will retain approximately 10 to 15 percent as registered purebreds, with the rest of the flock being used in the crossbred program. The UW-LREC Sheep Unit also has retained a Targhee flock that is jointly owned with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA).

Some of the current research projects at the UW-LREC Sheep Unit include feed efficiency studies, reproduction projects and our annual ram sire test, put on by the Rambouillet Association and WWGA. 

These changes in numbers and breeds will give the UW-LREC Sheep Unit the freedom needed to excel in research that will benefit the industry. It will also provide an ample amount of carcasses and animals for the many courses and teaching opportunities for the students in the Animal Science Department of the University of Wyoming. 

We have just ended our WWGA black-faced sheep test. The final report will be posted on the University of Wyoming Animal Science website, as well as the WWGA website. 

The Rambouillet Association test will start on Sept. 23. Information regarding that test will also be posted on the websites above. 

We are working with Phil Purdy from USDA in Fort Collins, Colo. on artificial insemination. Through the experiments we have tried different collecting and freezing techniques that would give us the optimal amount of sperm. We have also been trying different methods of synchronization on the ewes. With this, we want to AI every ewe at the peak of estrus. Purdy’s overall goal is to be able to inseminate ewes vaginally instead of surgically. 

UW-LREC acquired a GrowSafe system a few years back – the only system used for sheep in the United States. UW-LREC’s GrowSafe unit provides us with an opportunity to actually collect data for feed efficiency by calculating the amount of feed an animal actually consumes. We can then calculate that to find out what animal is going to be the most cost effective for producers. All of our ram tests are performed on the system. 

Kristi Cammack and animal science graduate students do many of their projects on this system. They are working to identify ruminal microbes that recognize feed efficiency. This research will help producers immensely in their feed costs, if they were to be able to start breeding towards feed efficiency. 

Visit uwyo.edu/uwexpstn to learn more about UW LREC Sheep Unit.