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Livestock

Improving sheep:Ram Sire Test preparations begin

Preparations for the 2013 Ram Sire Test are currently underway as producers select intact male lambs for the test.  This test will determine the feed efficiency, average daily gain (ADG), loin eye area (LEA) and back fat thickness (BFT) of the lambs. 

Producers who participate in the test primarily enter black-faced lambs, due to their status as meat sheep, but white-faced lambs are also welcome to participate. A separate wool production test targeted towards white-faced sheep is slated for the fall.

“In my program, I raise Suffolk range lambs and sell them to producers,” says Allison Ramsbottom, a Buffalo sheep producer. “This test helps me to quickly improve the genetics of my herd. The improvements are made a whole lot faster with the test and have saved me a lot of money because of that.”

In addition to Suffolk, other breeds that were represented in the 2012 test included Dorset, Hampshire cross and Targhee. 

The ram sire test

Ram lambs will be moved to UW in Laramie on June 17 for a 14-day “warm up” period before the test begins. 

Once at the testing facility, rams are initially sorted by body size and grouped to limit competition, which may result in smaller rams due to lack of access to feed. They will be sorted throughout the test to keep the group as uniform as possible. 

A maximum of 200 rams will be tested this year. 

“This year’s test will again feature the GrowSafe system, a revolutionary new program that used electronic ID with an integrated computer system to measure and track individual animal feed intake data,” states the Wyoming Wool Grower’s Association (WWGA). “The GrowSafe system is the first of its kind that provides an efficient and accurate method to collect and track feed intake data on an animal basis, which allows for characteristics such as feed conversion, to be measured continuously.”

During the test, lambs are fed a pelleted diet that mimics what would be available for consumption on the range – high protein and low fat. Rams are measured for growth every three weeks during the 75-day duration of the test. This data, paired with the information collected by the GrowSafe system, is used to calculate feed efficiency and ADG.

Evaluation of the lambs

Once the test has concluded, the bucks will be ordered by their overall performance, and the top 20 performing lambs will be invited to the 2013 State Ram Sale, which will take place Sept. 10 in Douglas. 

The top 20 rams in 2012 had respectable averages in their traits. ADG was calculated to be 1.02 pounds per day, LEA of 3.41 inches, BFT of 0.30 inches and visual appraisal of 7.6 out of 10.

Visual appraisal of each ram, conducted by three noted and recognized sheep industry professionals, will be averaged and included as a component in the final overall index score. Judges vary each year in order to keep the scoring diverse. 

“Visual appraisal includes structural conformation, including bent leg, parrot mouth, lameness for whatever reason, things such as these,” says Kalli Koepke, UW Sheep Unit manager. “Obviously you don’t want these problems, especially in rams that are being sold for the purpose of breeding.  They get scored on a one to 10 scale, with one being bad and 10 being good.”

“The final index is calculated using an equation out of all the scores that are shown for the various categories,” Koepke continues. “Each category has a percentage for how much of that score is in the final index.”

She adds, “Average daily gain is the highest percentage of the equation. If a ram does poor on ADG then his final index is going to reflect that, and he won’t do well in the test placing.”

Rams will be placed in pens of 20 with their performance data available for purchasers to review at the Ram Sale. 

“More progressive producers will want to see that data,” Ramsbottom says. “If you can buy a ram that is more feed efficient, with the high cost of grain, it will save you a lot of money because they will spend less time in the feedlot.” 

Some breeders use the data for their own personal improvement of the flock, but the information is also pertinent to purchasers of the bucks.

Kelsey Tramp is assistant 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.