Industry advancement: White-Face Ram Test looks for top performing sheepWritten by Saige Albert
Laramie – The first of two ram tests conducted in Wyoming wrapped up several weeks ago, and Laramie Research and Extension Center (LREC) Director Doug Zalesky says, “This is the 54th anniversary of the White-Face Ram Test.”
This year, 14 producers consigned 52 rams to the test, where a variety of data related to both carcass and wool quality was collected. Consignors came largely from Wyoming, with two producers from Utah this year.
At the conclusion of the test, rams were ranked, and the top rams that are eligible for certification are sold via silent auction.
“We collect all kinds of data through this test,” Zalesky explains. “We collect wool data and carcass information and, more recently, we collect feed efficiency data through the use of our GrowSafe system.”
LREC Assistant Farm Manager and Sheep Unit Manager Kalli Koepke says, “This data can help producers genetically improve their flocks.”
“Most of our consignors are stud ram producers,” she adds. “If they can improve their genetics on the ram side and sell them, we are increasing the profitability and genetics across the flock.”
LREC has one of three ram tests held nationwide, and it hosts the only ram test collecting information on feed efficiency as residual feed intake (RFI).
“There’s another test in North Dakota at the Hettinger Station and one in Texas,” Koepke says. “We all run the same test with the same parameters, but Wyoming is unique in that we’re the only ones who can do RFI data.”
During the test, Koepke notes that the data collected is varied.
“In the White-Face Test, we collect wool data, so they have to be here longer than the Black-Face Test we do in the summer,” Zalesky says. “The rams are here for 140 days, whereas the black-face rams are only here for 70 to 75 days because we are only collecting growth and carcass data.”
Rams are determined to be eligible for certification based on a set of parameters developed by the Rambouillet Association. The traits included in the certification process are the most economically relevant traits. The index ratio for the test compiles those traits.
“It includes staple length, clean wool, wool microns, face cover, wrinkle score and average daily gain (ADG,” Koepke says. “They also have to have an R in their scrapie genotype.”
The data that can’t be collected from the White-Face Ram Test empirically is scored by a panel of producers.
“I get a panel of producers to come down and mark the lambs for face cover and wrinkle scores. I take all of those scores and average them out,” she continues. “I also have them help me take the staple length of the wool because we measure that on the ram.”
Face cover and wrinkle scores are largely subjective, says Koepke, so she uses an average in an attempt to eliminate bias and create a more accurate score.
“For the other wool data, we send wool to Yokum McColl in Denver, Colo.,” Zalesky adds. “We collect the ADG data, and the genotyping is done through a blood test.”
A steady number of consignors has been seen over the past several years, Zalesky notes.
“Our averages this year were a bit lower than last year’s,” Koepke says of the results. “It’s hard to compare one year to another. There are certain situations and conditions that we can’t replicate from one year to the next.”
For example, this year, she says that the 2015-16 winter was more difficult than in previous years.
“Our average gains were a little bit lower this year, and we didn’t have as many certified rams this year,” Koepke says. “Wool was also coarser this year, but that could be as a result of the feed intake. Intake was higher this year, and it was higher than we expected.”
She adds, however, that the coarseness of the wool may improve by one grade over the next year.
On March 28, sheep producers from across the state will gather at LREC for the annual White-Face Ram Test Field Day.
“At the field day, most of the consignors come to Laramie, and we have a good event,” Zalesky says. “We also have a silent auction for the top rams that are eligible to be certified. It essentially ends up being the top 30 percent of all Rambouillets.”
This year, 11 rams were eligible to certify and will sell through the silent auction.
“If consignors want to sell their rams private treaty through that event, that is also an option,” he adds.
The event starts with an opportunity to view the rams.
“Then, we have lunch, and we also typically try to have an educational program associated with the event,” Zalesky says. “We talk about the test, and then we have the silent auction.”
He adds, “It’s a good event, and we really encourage everyone to come down to see what we have. There are some of the highest quality rams in Wyoming for sale at the event.”