WWGA focuses on sheep industry challengesWritten by Saige Albert
Sun Valley, Idaho – From Nov. 16-20 , the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) joined forces with Idaho, Nevada and Utah for the West Central States Wool Growers Convention in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“It was a fantastic meeting,” said Kay Neves, WWGA interim president. “We had very interesting topics that went from H-2A to Bighorn sheep and more. We covered almost every topic.”
While attendance from Wyoming was down from prior years, WWGA Executive Director Amy Hendrickson noted that the meeting was a great opportunity for sheep producers to get together.
Never said, “We had people from Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Idaho, of course, but we also had attendees from Colorado, Montana and Oregon.
Neves said that discussions between producers on economic and production practices were very valuable.
“On the afternoon of Nov. 19, I hosted the discussion, and that was really fun,” she noted. “Bridger Feuz from the University of Wyoming started telling us about our economics. He told us we really need to look at what we’re doing and start looking at our margins.”
Whit Stewart from Montana State University also spoke during the convention on minerals, and Neves explained, “Whit showed us a map that is available online that shows where minerals are high or low and what minerals are in our area.”
A lambing best practices panel included two producers from each state, including Peter John Camino of Kaycee and Laura Pearson of Rock Springs.
“There were good ideas from everyone on that panel,” Neves continued. “Everybody does some things the same and some things different, but there were lots of good ideas to pick up on and use.”
She continued, “Probably the most important thing from the meeting is getting to see people I’ve met in past years and catch up. We never see people any other time, and it’s always fun to meet new people and broaden our network.”
Hendrickson also noted that several speakers from Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Ill. were also present, and they provided a good chance to visit about tough issues facing the sheep industry.
“As usual, we had our natural resources panel where we talked about grazing,” she said. “Allan Riley from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) came and talked about what they’re trying to do.”
Riley talked about the negative impact that fire has on USFS lands across the West.
“Someone in the audience asked why grazing hasn’t been incorporated as a tool, and Allan said they are beginning to look at use of targeted grazing in areas to help reduce fuel load,” Hendrickson explained. “In some areas, for instance with 15-foot-tall trees, grazing isn’t useful, but it can be used in areas with smaller shrubs.”
Additionally, Riley discussed risk of contact modeling, which is controversial in the sheep industry.
“At the national level, their opinion is that they don’t prescribe, but rather use a suite of tools,” Hendrickson said. “We were really grateful to have him at our meeting.”
Neves said sheep producers appreciated the opportunity to network with federal officials.
“It was nice to get federal employees in from Washington and Chicago,” she said. “They had the chance to meet real people and understand our issues. They were also really interested in what we had to say.”
Hendrickson echoed, “We had a good dialogue. Woolgrowers throughout the West are genuinely interested in figuring out how to comply with federal rules. That does not mean we like them, though. We are often frustrated with the regulations, but we want to try to comply. It’s good to have those discussions.”
Breeding ewe lambs at eight months may increase crop, genetic improvementWritten by Emilee Gibb
Breeding ewe lambs at eight months of age may potentially increase the ewe lamb’s lifetime production, operation production, reduce generation interval and be useful for selecting for fertility, said Paul Kenyon, head of the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at Massey University in New Zealand.
Kenyon gave a presentation for the American Sheep Institute’s Let’s Grow initiative on improving reproductive performance of ewe lambs bred at eight months.
He noted that, while breeding ewe lambs can prove to be beneficial for producers, it should be a decision made on a yearly and individual basis.
“Ewe lamb breeding should be a year-by-year decision. It needs to be a flexible policy and should be dependent on ewe lamb live weight and predicted feeding levels,” said Kenyon.
Different breeds and breed crosses have differing fertility, with different lines within breeds expressing greater fertility compared to breed averages, said Kenyon.
“Within breeds, there are lines that are very suitable for ewe lamb breeding,” he explained.
When selecting which ewe lambs to breed, it is important that they are at least 60 percent of the mature weight for their breed.
“When we look at mature weight, we want to be around 60 percent of the mature weight to get 80 percent pregnancy rate,” continued Kenyon.
He noted that many farmers do not breed all of their ewe lambs but selectively breed the lambs that have reached the target weight.
Producers can also evaluate body condition score to evaluate whether a ewe lamb is ready to be bred, with performance dropping off dramatically below a score of 2.5.
“When we think about the physiology behind puberty, in all mammals, puberty is triggered when the brain believes that the animal is physiologically mature enough to cope with pregnancy and lactation,” said Kenyon. “One of the triggers that the brain uses is the amount of adipose tissue, or fat.”
As body condition score is a subjective measure of body fat, it can be an accurate tool to determine if ewe lambs have reached their target weight.
“I would argue that that’s a better indicator than live weight,” explained Kenyon.
According to Kenyon, the most important thing to do is to monitor the weight of ewe lambs from weaning to breeding to determine whether they are on track to meet live weight goals.
“The earlier we know we have a problem by monitoring, the more likely we are to successfully fix that problem,” stressed Kenyon. “It’s no good being a month out and figuring that ewes are four or five kilos behind where they should be because it’s going to be too difficult to get them there.”
“Many farmers are excited because they can get their ewe lambs to 40 or 40-plus kilos at breeding. They think they’ve won the game when really, the match has just started,” said Kenyon. “All we’ve done is allow that ewe lamb to get to the start line.”
To be successful, Keynon advised that producers feed pregnant ewe lambs throughout their pregnancy. Traditionally, mature ewes are held at a maintenance diet for the first two thirds of pregnancy.
“We can do this because they’ve reached their mature weight. We can’t do that with a young female because she needs to grow in those first 110 days,” continued Kenyon.
The fetus will use the majority of the nutrients that the ewe lamb ingests in the last third of gestation regardless of whether her nutritional needs for growth are met.
“If we haven’t grown her in that earlier two-thirds, what we’re doing there is setting her up for a large fetus – because it’s going to happen anyway – but she hasn’t grown, and she’s going to have those birthing difficulties,” said Kenyon.
The lighter the ewe lamb is three weeks prior to lambing, the greater chance she will not successfully rear her lamb.
“If we’re going to go to the effort of getting her pregnant and feeding her extra so she gets to that target weight for breeding, we want a lamb to be successfully there at weaning,” he stressed.
Many producers wean lambs off of ewe lambs slightly earlier to give her more time to recover before being rebred.
“Lactation itself is an energy drawer, and it’s harder for the ewe to gain weight during that time. We can also go into feeding her lambs that are lighter using a high quality feed,” said Kenyon.
He summarized the goals of a nutritional program by stating, “It’s about making sure we’ve determined what that target live weight is at breeding for our various breeds, monitoring her so she achieves that and then ensuring that she continues to grow throughout pregnancy.”
Inside the carcass: Young producers learn to evaluate lambs for carcass traitsWritten by Saige Albert
Laramie – This fall, University of Wyoming (UW) teamed up with Oregon State University Extension, Washing State University Extension, Superior Farms and the American Sheep Industry Association’s Let’s Grow initiative to explore the marketability of lambs through a course titled Lamb 300.
Lamb 300 is a three-day workshop that allowed students the opportunity to learn, in-depth about producing and marketing high-quality, profitable lambs.
Whit Stewart of Montana State University said, “A lot of young producers haven’t been trained in sheep production. Though information has been passed on through their families, it hasn’t been extensive.”
“This program is a great way for those students to learn a lot more about lamb production,” he added.”
The workshop started with an program to assist producers in assessing carcass traits on a live lamb. Caleb Boardman of the UW Animal Science Department described how to assess back fat and yield grade in lambs.
“It’s important to estimate and understand carcass traits based on live animals,” Boardman commented.
First, he noted that weight is an important factor.
“Live weights can range extensively, but we don’t want lambs that are too big,” he said. “Then, we evaluate dressing percentage.”
Dressing percentage of lambs ranges from 45 to 57 percent, and the percentage influences carcass value significantly. These percentages are calculated by dividing carcass weight by shrunk live weight.
“Fill affects dressing percentage,” Boardman noted. “That is based on whether the lamb has been off feed for 12 to 24 hours or if it is coming straight off the bunk line.”
He added, “The biggest factor is the weight of the pelt. There can be differences among breeds, as well as whether they are shorn or not.”
Muscling and the degree of fatness also increase dressing percentage.
“The heavier muscled an animal is, the more dressing percentage will rise,” Boardman explained. “Heavy-muscled animals range from 54 to 60 percent, depending on their fat.”
Additionally, show lambs tend to have higher dressing percentage because they are bred for heavier muscle.
Back fat is measured between the 12th and 13th rib.
“When we try to estimate back fat on the live animal, we want to look at back fat in the middle of the ribeye area and take an average,” Boardman said. “We measure body wall thickness a little further down.”
Back fat ranges from 0.05 to 0.5 inches, with a lean lamb coming in at 0.15 inches and fat lambs at 0.35.
“0.1 inches of fat is not very much,” he commented, recommending using an old 4-H trick to assess depth of fat. “If we make a fist and rub our fingers over the knuckles, that’s about 0.1 inches back fat. The back of the hand, where we can feel the bones just a little bit would be about 0.2 to 0.25 inches.”
Finally, fatter lambs where a producer can’t feel the ribs likely have close to 0.3 inches of back fat.
Boardman noted that often first impressions are very important when it comes to evaluating livestock.
“I teach my students that they should turn around, look at the animal and give them a score of good, average or bad right away, instantaneously. First impression is important,” he said. “Our former meats judging coach used lean, average or fat.”
He continued, “Start with a range and then move from there. If it’s super lean, it might be 0.15. If the lamb looks fat, it’ll probably be 0.35.”
Fat, he noted, will make an animal look smoother, wider and deeper.
“Fat can trick us into thinking that lambs have extra muscle, but fat is smooth, whereas muscle is shapely and round,” Boardman said. “We have to get our hands on the lamb to really know. We can feel the fat over the ribs.”
He summarized that muscle will be firm while fat is soft.
“It’s good to get a visual evaluation, but our hands are a great tool toward complementing what we see,” he commented.
Describing yield grade for lambs is more simple than evaluating yield grade of live cattle or hogs.
“Cattle have four factors that affect yield grade, and hogs have two factors,” Boardman said. “When we look at sheep, back fat is the sole factor that goes into yield grade of lambs.”
The formula to figure yield grade in lambs is back fat thickness multiplied by 10. Then, add 0.4 to determine the yield grade.
For example, a lamb with 0.2 inches of back fat would be a yield grade 2.
“Yield grade 2 is ideal,” Boardman said. “Yield grade 3 is concerning and Yield grades 4 and 5 get big discounts.”
As producers begin to evaluate their lambs, Boardman noted that muscle size across lambs – and any other animal – is highly correlated.
“Most muscles are correlated,” he explained. “As we look at a lamb, if they have a small forearm, they’ll have small muscles everywhere else.”
Visually, Boardman said that the leg shape is one of the easiest ways to look at muscles.
“We can give them a leg score to see how much thickness there is through the leg and stifle,” Boardman said, adding that the leg size can be a predictor for ribeye size.
Evaluating lambs for carcass traits can help producers to capture more value for their lambs overall.
Look for an overview on the Lamb 300 program in next week’s Roundup, including insight on the course from several attendees.
Grandin: Proper sheep handling is not only beneficial but moral responsibilityWritten by Emilee Gibb
“Calm, low stress handling of sheep is easy to do if we understand behavioral principles,” said Temple Grandin, renowned animal behavioral expert and professor of animal science for Colorado State University.
Grandin created a three-part video series with the American Sheep Industry Association and the Livestock Marketing Association addressing the importance of low stress handling of sheep and practices that handlers can easily implement to improve their handling practices.
Grandin stressed that proper animal handling is the responsibility of all individuals that handle sheep.
“Everybody who works with sheep – ranchers, feedlots, truckers, shearers, livestock markets and meat packing plants – has the responsibility to do good handling and maintain good animal welfare,” she said.
First and foremost, the responsibility is due to the morality of animal handling.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to handle animals with good animal welfare because it’s the right thing to do,” she explained.
Grandin also noted that public perception is another important element that demands handlers use proper handling techniques.
“We must remember, the public is out there watching. We need to be thinking about what we’re doing,” Grandin said. “What would it look like if it were posted online?”
Grandin explained that it is important to remember that sheep have wide-angle vision when determining what practices to use when handling animals.
“They’re a prey species animal, and their vision is designed so when they’re grazing they can look all the way around for predators,” she said.
However, animals that have long wool around their eyes, or are wool blind, will have limited wide-angle vision
“This is unless they have very long wool around the eyes, which is called wool blind. If they’re shorn, they can see all the way around,” explained Grandin.
When handlers stay within the animal’s visual field, the sheep will either move forward or at an angle.
To work with their natural vision, Grandin suggested using solid crowd gates and solid side barriers.
“Crowd gates closed behind the sheep, as well as the sides of the barriers leading to the gate, should be solid, whereas gates in the direction sheep are moving should allow the sheep to see where they are moving,” explained the narrator in the video series.
“The flight zone of the animal is kind of their personal space,” said Grandin. “If we have an animal that’s been out on the plains or pasture that’s very extensive, they’ll have a huge flight zone. We’ll just get 50 to 100 feet from them, and they’ll run away. Then, we can have a completely tame 4-H lamb that we can stroke and lead around.”
Multiple factors affect the size of an animal’s flight zone, explained Grandin.
“There are different factors that affect the size of the flight zone. They are genetics – genetically flightier animals have a bigger flight zone, the amount of contact with people and the quality of that contact,” she said.
All sheep will maintain an individual zone of comfort or security. When handlers apply pressure to the flight zone, the animal will typically move.
The narrator explained that the size of the enclosure the sheep are located in also affects the size of the flight zone.
“Sheep confined in a narrow alley will have a more narrow flight zone than sheep confined in a larger area,” continued the narrator.
Grandin recommended using dogs only in large areas where sheep can move away, as well as using solid-sided panels to encourage animals to move forward through chutes, loading ramps and crowding pens.
It is important for sheep handlers to be able to recognize how to use the natural behaviors of sheep to their advantage to move animals humanely.
“People need to learn to interpret and use those natural behaviors to help them to handle sheep,” said Grandin.
An example of using natural behavior is walking in the opposite direction of desired movement.
“As we pass the shoulder of each sheep, they tend to go forward,” she explained.
Handlers can utilize the strong flocking instinct of sheep and their desire to follow a leader to efficiently move animals.
“Lead sheep in a pen that are walked through a chute can be used to lure sheep through a working facility. This is especially recommended when approaching sheep are unable to see previously sorted sheep,” explained the narrator.
A lead sheep can be trained to move through a chute and open an escape gate to return to the crowding pen to lead another group of animals.
Grandin recommended positioning sheep corrals so sheep go through the system following the same route for multiple procedures.
“Sheep will move more easily through a corral if they have followed the route before,” explained the narrator.
Orienting working parts of the system, such as the sorting chute, toward the “home” pasture or another large lot encourages sheep to move more easily as they are moving toward the area they came from.
Grandin stressed that it is important not to locate the sorting chute or pen exits toward a building because sheep may balk if they do not see a clear route to escape pressure.
Reproductive efficiency Industry looks to increase national lamb crop with best practicesWritten by Emilee Gibb
“We looked at how to double lamb consumption in this country and also at increasing domestic production. To meet those goals, we need to produce more lamb,” said Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist Reid Redden.
Redden presented a webinar to the American Sheep Industry Association titled, “Best Practices to Increase Your Lamb Crop,” where he outlined the current state of the national lamb crop, personal stakes for producers to consider in increasing reproductive efficiency and 12 best practices producers can consider in flock management.
“It’s not just about the 12 steps. It’s also about gaining industry acceptance of a need to improve lamb crop,” commented Redden.
A national Reproductive Efficiency Task Force laid out a 12-step best practices program for producers to use as a resource.
“We came up with a 12-step plan to educate and promote the industry to work towards a better lamb crop. These 12 steps are set not by rank but by some level of importance or level of building upon one another,” said Redden.
The steps include nutrition, breeding ewe lambs, selecting for prolific genetics, crossbreeding, culling, reducing lamb loss, pregnancy testing, disease prevention and treatment, reproduction-to-management matching, testing rams, managing seasonal reproductive changes and accelerating lambing.
Redden noted that the steps are not revolutionary information for many in the industry, but the program is designed to provide resources to producers.
“These aren’t novel. We’re just putting them into an umbrella where a producer can answer how to move their flock’s reproductive efficiency forward,” said Redden.
Rather than attempting to make improvements with every step, Redden encouraged producers to select one to three steps that are most relevant to their operation to focus their efforts on.
“We want producers to dig into those couple methods, make some progress, evaluate their successes and failures and then keep with those couple of methods or move into some new methods,” he said.
Nutrition is one top priority.
There are five important time periods to tailor nutritional requirements, said Redden. The five time periods are maintenance, breeding, early gestation, late gestation and lactation.
Proper nutrition and body condition prior to breeding is essential for meeting lamb crop goals.
“The number of lambs born is set just after fertilization,” said Redden. “We need to make sure that the animals are in the right condition or are being flushed appropriately prior to breeding or we can’t increase lamb crop after the breeding season from what our potential is.”
It is important to feed ewes that are pregnant with or nursing multiple lambs differently than ewes with a single lamb to meet nutritional needs.
“If we feed all of our animals a static amount, we’re going to underfeed our ewes that are most reproductively fit to meet our lamb crop goals,” said Redden. “They’re either not going to do the best job raising the lambs, or they’re going to lose a lot of body condition through late gestation and lactation.”
Losing body condition prior to breeding season may have a significant impact on the ewe’s ability to produce multiple lambs the following year.
“If they had a twin or triplet this year, they may only have a single next year because they’re lighter in condition. It’s important that we target our resources appropriately to the animals that need it the most,” continued Redden.
Breeding ewe lambs to give birth at one year of age is a practice that can significantly increase the lamb crop without making changes to other aspects of an operation, said Redden.
“Ewe lambs lambing is one way we can increase lamb crop without affecting a lot of the things that we do,” he continued.
Ewe lambs account for 10 to 20 percent of a producer’s flock. Depending on the type of operation and inputs, producers can expect 30 to 65 percent of ewe lambs to conceive.
“If we have 10 to 20 percent of the flock that’s not producing lambs, there’s a significant opportunity to increase lamb crop, both within the farm and nationally,” emphasized Redden.
He noted that breeding ewe lambs is a fairly common practice in farm flocks but is not commonly implemented in range flocks.
Regardless of a producer’s decision to breed ewe lambs, those animals that exhibit estrus and are able to lamb at one year of age have a higher lifetime productivity.
“Selecting for ewes that can lamb at one year of age is going to improve the productivity of the flock,” said Redden.
The heritability of age at reproductive maturity is 0.18. Redden noted that this is not high, but it is one of the highest heritable reproductive traits.
“We can probably make faster progress selecting for ewe lambs to lamb at one year of age than we will selecting for prolific genetics because it’s a little bit lower in its heritability,” concluded Redden.