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Livestock

South Dakota rancher selects unique sheep breed

Written by Saige Albert
Faith, S.D. – As the sheep industry continues to see changes, Patty Kelly of VC Kelly Ranch developed a new breed of ram to improve her operation’s producing capabilities.
    “I started raising the South African Meat Merino’s (SAMM) about eight years ago,” says Kelly. “We could see they were just a thriftier sheep.”
    After neighbors in South Dakota imported semen and bred their ewes, Kelly says the benefits of the unique breed were apparent.
South African Meat Merino
    Rather than running a straight-bred sheep, the Kelly Ranch has developed a crossbreed, introducing SAMM genetics to their Rambouillet herd. The resulting sheep expresses hybrid vigor, allowing both the meat and wool of the animal to improve.
    “I thought I would cross them on a Rambouillet,” she explains. “Then we have the crossbred vigor, just like you have in cattle.”
    Kelly adds that the sheep gain better and have improved feed efficiency when compared to Rambouillet or Targhee, in her experience.
    “They are also a little meatier and more muscly,” she notes. “They are a very, very hardy sheep, and they utilize feed better than any other sheep.”
    She continues, mentioning that the sheep are more boxy and have more depth of body than other breeds.
    Benefits are also seen in the reproductive traits, says Kelly, noting that she is able to keep rams and ewes several years longer than her purebred sheep, increasing herd longevity.
    “With this cross, I also increased lambing percentages and herd health,” Kelly comments.
    Though their unique crossbreed of sheep has limited some sale opportunities, Kelly is very happy with the results seen in the breed.
Wool characteristics
    Aside from benefits seen in meat production aspects of the operation, Kelly says the wool is also high quality.
    “Wool is more and more important every day,” she says. “These sheep produce good wool.”
    The wool quality of the SAMM breed was a big reason that Kelly became interested in the sheep, and she says for the last three years, her wool has been from 19 to 21 microns, allowing the operation to capture more value from the livestock.
Running sheep
    Kelly also notes that they run their sheep “just like in the old days.”
    “We have herders from Peru,” she explains. “They live in the pasture with the sheep.”
    They also utilize Akbash guard dogs, which are raised as another aspect of the ranching operation.
    “I raise Akbash guard dogs. They look similar to Pyrenees, but they aren’t,” she says, mentioning they run between four and five adult dogs to every 800 to 1,000 sheep.
    “There aren’t a lot of SAMM in this part of the world,” she says, “but I think what we are doing is working.”
    For more information on the VC Kelly Ranch’s South African Meat Merino cross sheep, visit vckellyranch.com. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..