Improving Sheep Flock Profitability

Dennis L. DeWitt, Livestock Field Specialist, Northwest

Problem Statement:

Reproductive efficiency, or percentage of lamb crop raised and marketed, is the major factor affecting sheep flock profitability.  Attempts to improve reproductive efficiency must be concerned with increasing ovulation rate and reducing embryo wastage and lamb losses.  Rams that have substandard sexual activity during the breeding season contribute to losses in fertility of nearly 50%.  Selecting rams on objective Estimated Progeny Differences (EPDs) will increase the rate of genetic improvement in the flock. 

Programmatic Response:

The Northwest Iowa Sheep Producers Association and ISU Extension Service in the past 12 months held five educational opportunities.  A How do we Pick our Next Stud Ram and Ewes? seminar was held to explain EPDs and how to use them to meet the needs of the producers flock.  An Improving Your Sheep Flock Profitability twilight program was held for demonstrating the importance of doing a ram breeding soundness evaluation.  In addition a FAMACHA (anemia guide) training program was held to identify the adult sheep and goats that are able to withstand the unfavorable effects of Haemonchus.  A breeding soundness evaluation (BSE) program was held for northwest Iowa sheep producers to have a trained veterinarian complete a BSE.  A lambing school was held in the producers lambing barn to demonstrate to producers techniques to save those baby lambs.  Finally a seminar was held that updated sheep producers on sheep abortions, adapting rations to higher grain prices and importance of establishing an on farm biosecurity program.


The EPD seminar was attended by over 100 persons from five states.  The outcome was the overwhelming acceptance of rams and ewes with EPDs offered for sale.  The 2007 educational seminar features speakers from two states for two days and the second offering of rams and ewes with EPDs from 4 breeds coming from 6 states.  Three national sheep magazines reported the extremely successful event in their magazines.  Fifty five persons attended the twilight meeting and 14 individuals became FAMACHA certified.  Two of the six rams failed their BSE which opened the producers eyes!  Following this seminar 19 producers presented nearly 100 rams for a BSE.  The chocking results were 2 producers had no fertile rams, 11 producers had at least one non-fertile ram, and less than one-third of the rams were rated as being acceptable.  Five producers needed to locate and purchase rams prior to their breeding season.  The lambing school was attended by 23 persons including a banker to view lambing time to assist him in his loan decisions.  Twenty-two persons attended the sheep update with none having an on-farm biosecurity program.  All 22 persons were going to utilize at least one of the feeding recommendations presented to reduce ewe and lamb feed costs. 

June 29, 2007
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