K Bar K Farm
There are a number of questions that often pop up from inquiries and purchasers of our sheep. Below I've tried to address the most frequent questions (click on question to jump directly to the response):
Questions Related to Performance Testing, NSIP/Lambplan and EBVS (Expected Breeding Values)
Since CIDRs (Controlled Internal Drug Release progesterone implant used to synchronize ewes through the use of progesterone) have been legalized for sheep, some breeders are using them to synchronize ewes to tighten up lambing seasons and also to try to bring anestrous ewes into heat. For commercial flocks this is not a problem and makes perfect sense. However, for seedstock breeders producing stock for commercial flocks, this will make it more difficult to determine whether ewes naturally conceived during the first cycle, fall-born animals were naturally fall lambing or whether it was assisted via the use of CIDRs. K Bar K Farm has decided NOT to use CIDRs (or any other hormones to affect breeding) except during artificial insemination where they are necessary - that way the sheep can express their natural fertility patterns which will help us continue to select for natural out of season breeding, and also for ewes that naturally conceive during the first breeding cycle. While this means our out of season lambing drop may be lower, in the long-run this will strengthen this trait in our flock and the flocks in which we sell breeding stock.
The short answer is 'NO'. The long answer is that we only retain a very select few rams to offer for sale (usually 15-20% of the top of the crop at most).
Why do we do this? First, the expense of carrying too many rams over a year can quickly become cost-prohibitive. Secondly, in order to make genetic improvement in our flock or yours, we should and can only retain the 'cream of the crop'. I won't retain average or inferior animals simply to make additional sales.
We have often found that the 'best of the best' rams don't often sell first. Sometimes rams sell based on price (lower priced rams sell first), sometimes they sell on other attributes that may not be of interest to the next buyer, so an ideal ram may still be waiting to improve your flock genetics.
So, just because there are only a few rams for sale, be assured that they are the 'top of the crop' and that you are selecting from the best of our flock, sometimes rams that we've used ourselves in our flock and are selling to allow us to use the next generation.
Our sheep are raised on forage (pasture during the growing season, hay in the wintertime) and only supplemented with grain when necessary. Therefore, we are not pushing our post-weaned lambs for maximum growth. Feeding grain can mask genetic differences in growth potential in forage-based systems, which is where we sell the bulk of our breeding sheep. As a result, our ram lambs are not as mature or fully developed until they are about 1 year of age. Therefore, depending on year, sometimes we will offer ram lambs the same year as birth, while in other years we may retain our potential stud rams until they are 1 year of age to fully evaluate them and collect sufficient genetic information for NSIP EBVs before offering them for sale.
No. Culls are culls, and go to a terminal market. I first select cull ewes/ewe lambs based on involuntary culls....those that must go due to problems. Then I cull off the bottom indexing ewe lambs, and they also go to market. The rest are available as replacement ewes for my own flock, or are for sale. I try to keep a representative sample of different bloodlines in my flock, so often the ewes for sale are duplicate genetics to what I have in my own flock. Sometimes I will offer a larger group of ewes than I plan on selling, to give buyers a selection from which to choose. Whichever ones don't sell remain in my flock as breeding ewes.
We have sampled many of the progressive production Dorset flocks from around the country. For the most part, all purchased rams brought something positive to our flock, but my own homegrown rams were consistently out-performing the purchased sires. By going back to the same flocks (none of which had NSIP or Lambplan EBVs), I would not know whether we were making a positive, stagnant, or negative genetic move until that animal produced EBVs within my flock, which could take a couple of years, especially in the case of reproductive traits. By that time, the genetics are all through the flock, and if it was a negative genetic move, there is a lot of culling to do that could have been prevented by using a sire with known performance.
Therefore we decided to import genetics from systems with very progressive genetic recording systems. England is the 'motherland' of the Dorset breed, and they had the phenotype and production we were looking for in our flock. They also heavily emphasize the maternal qualities of the breed, including fall lambing. Combined with outstanding performance records, we decided this was our next genetic move. Kathy saw the flock during a visit to England, and was impressed with the phenotype and production. After sifting through piles of data, in 2007 we imported semen from the Blackdown flock, a British flock that was at the top of Signet (the UK genetic recording system) and was one of the most genetically linked flocks in the country. We have used some of this semen, have more semen in storage, and plan on future importations of semen, either from England or from Australia. We first AI'd in fall 2007, again in 2011, and have future plans to continue to AI every 3-5 years.
While the Australian Dorset is a much different animal than the British Dorset, we feel that they have some progressive traits to offer our flock. First and foremost, AUS is the home of LambPlan, and they are certainly quite progressive in selecting sheep based on EBVs. The AUS Dorset breeders have been very progressive in selecting for internal parasite resistance, which we hope to improve in our flock. The carcass traits will also be important to us as well.
For many of the reasons mentioned above (only retaining a small percentage of the best rams, raising them out for a year) as well as the inputs we have in the genetics of our animals, we can't sell rams for $200 and afford to stay in business for very long. Click here to see some economics on this topic. We can often sell 50-70 lb. weanling lambs into the ethnic markets for $100-120+ (even higher with current lamb prices). These 'terminal' lambs require little follow-up or guarantee, unlike breeding animals that I raise, cull aggressively, sell, and guarantee. There has to be some type of financial incentive to continue to produce outstanding breeding stock for use in purebred and commercial flocks. While we love doing it on principle, that doesn't pay the bills.
Each buyer has their own concerns/requirements when purchasing animals (we know we do!), and we often get asked why we don't test for "disease X, Y, or Z". If we tested the flock for every known disease for sheep, it would financially put us out of business, as there is no way the market could bear what we would need to price these animals. When you figure in a minimum of $10-15/sample per disease (plus labor, materials and shipping) multiplied by several hundred sheep, repeated annually, the costs can be staggering.
That said, we are more than willing to test for any disease that a buyer requests, at the buyer's expense, unless there would be a positive result, in which case we would absorb the cost and the buyer would be under no obligation. We necropsy deceased animals of questionable death at the Penn State Animal Diagnostic Lab, and will request a panel of diseases to be tested. If we observe suspicious symptoms of any disease, we conduct aggressive diagnostics to find and correct the problem, but this has been rare, and has never ended up being anything contagious. Another factor to consider in disease testing is that many of the diagnostic tools (blood testing, etc.) are not very accurate or specific for sheep, are only valid with animals of a specific age or production stage, or are only specific enough to assess presence in the flock, not individual status of each animal. This means you can get false readings, which significantly increases the costs with repeated testing, and the confidence in the results is not as high as we would like them to be.
In Fall 2008, 70 of our animals were tested by a buyer for Q-fever, B.ovis, and tuberculosis. All results were negative. We have also shipped animals to states that require testing (i.e. B ovis testing for North Dakota and Montana) with no positives. We do not make health claims on the whole flock based on this sub-sample. We only present the information I have and let buyers decide for themselves.
We select heavily for multiple births. While we do retain/sell mostly animals of multiple birth, we do retain/sell some single-born animals. This is where the power of EBVs (expected breeding values- see the following questions regarding EBVs) can help. The NLW (number of lambs weaned) EBV must be well above average to retain a single-born animal. Additionally, some single-born animals are out of a young (12-18 month old) ewe, and we certainly don't hold it against a ewe who shows early prolificacy, especially if their first lambing is in the fall and has good NLW EBVs. Other reasons that an animal may be single-born is if they are out of a ewe who has accelerated well for us. For example, we've had ewes have several twin births (sometimes twice in one calendar year), then turn around 7-8 months later and lamb again with a single. This dam has demonstrated outstanding acceleration, and certainly deserves a 'break' with a single lamb. That 'single' lamb she raises should carry those acceleration genes, so we don't automatically cull the lamb because it's a single.
That said, any animal that repeatedly has single lambs is culled, as are the offspring.
We have found little advantage to having registration papers. We do not show, and we are able to track pedigree information through our Ewebyte software and NSIP. Most of the efforts of the Continental Dorset Club focus on show efforts, which has little impact on our flock. In 2014, the CDC increased the cost of transfer of sheep by 66% in the name of supporting yet another show. The EBVs we receive on our sheep through NSIP have much more value to us (and to our buyers) than registration papers.
Currently all of our
sheep are eligible for registry. We do register rams that we use in the flock.
We do not register ewes (i.e. to register offspring that were sold and the buyer
wants papers). However, we are currently weighing whether that additional fees
that would be incurred due to the rate increase would be better spent on paying
for our NSIP membership fees to support objective genetic evaluation, which has
been long-neglected by the sheep industry, including the CDC. Another productive
use of the money we spend annually on registrations/transfers would be to
support the commercial aspect of the breed (or breed type)-
we may consider offering an equivalent value in ewe lambs in a
competitive program to a junior shepherd to start a commercial,
production-oriented flock. We feel a program like this would be more beneficial
to young shepherds to promote the commercial aspect of the industry.
We have changed our price structure for our breeding stock as we no longer we
feel we can absorb the price of registrations/transfers. We have priced animals
to include registration paper fees, and are now offering a slight discount to
those who choose not to have their animals registered that covers the cost of
registration/transfer/labor for data entry. We will let the buyers vote with
their dollar. This may influence the number of animals we register in the coming
years depending on the needs and desires of the buyers and the future direction
of the CDC.
We have changed our price structure for our breeding stock as we no longer we feel we can absorb the price of registrations/transfers. We have priced animals to include registration paper fees, and are now offering a slight discount to those who choose not to have their animals registered that covers the cost of registration/transfer/labor for data entry. We will let the buyers vote with their dollar. This may influence the number of animals we register in the coming years depending on the needs and desires of the buyers and the future direction of the CDC.
Expected breeding values (EBVs- also called expected progeny differences (EPDs) in some other genetic evaluation programs) are used to accurately select rams and ewes that produce consistent and profitable progeny based on the traits selected. EBVs estimate the genetic merit of animals for key production traits. In doing this, we are able to remove the environmental variables (such as season of the year, forage quality (i.e. pasture vs. hay), supplemental feeding, age of dam, litter size), and across different flocks if sufficient genetic links are made between flocks.
In practical terms, this allows us to remove the effect of management (or environment) from genetic selection. For example, if we were to select the largest lambs from each group at weaning, we are likely to be selecting the singles, which may be counterproductive to increased fertility. It also allows us to compare different contemporary groups. For example, if I had one group of lambs born in winter and fed grain in the barn vs. another group born on pasture and not supplemented, weaning weights between these groups would obviously be different, but the bigger winter-born lambs aren't necessarily genetically superior- they simply had more nutrients available for growth.
1. Many production traits cannot be assessed accurately by visual inspection
Key examples of this are prolificacy and milk production. When purchasing a ram, how can the maternal traits that he will pass to his offspring be assessed? EBVs can give you a view into the genetic potential of his daughters.
2. Comparing animals in different flocks or management groups.
If we have a winter-born lamb group that is fed high-quality hay and creep feed, and my 2nd lamb group is lambed on pasture with no supplemental feed, at the same age, we would expect the winter-born group to be larger.
Does this automatically make the winter-born lambs genetically superior? No. We need to remove the environmental (feed) factor, and compare genetics. EBVs can do this by taking the performance of that animal as well as the performance all relatives/ancestors of that animal in the flock, and produce numbers that reflect the true genetic potential of that animal.
EBVs can also 'even out' the effects of a lamb raised as a single vs. one raised as a triplet.
3. Visual assessment of carcass traits in live animals is not very accurate.
This has been shown time and again in shows where animals are judged live, then again on the rail. The ranking often changes drastically. By using objective measuring through ultrasounding and EBVs, we can improve the accuracy of selecting the animal with back fat or muscling desired by the buyer.
In short, using EBVs allow a buyer evaluate what is "under the hood" of that animal- how it will perform. After all, when you purchase a car, do you just look at it, kick a tire, and say you will take it? Of course not. You ask 'performance' questions such as mileage, fuel efficiency, horsepower, etc. We should be asking the same questions with the sheep we purchase.
In the selection of the K Bar K flock, we emphasize the maternal traits, as a Dorset is to be a good mother first and foremost. We balance these traits with growth and carcass traits to produce a well-balanced animal. These animals may not top the charts in any single trait, but we are not proponents of single trait selection. If, for example, we selected solely on the post-weaning weight EBV (see explanation below), we would inadvertently be selecting for greater mature weights and possibly greater lambing difficulties, as well as selecting against maternal traits. However, by balancing our traits, we have been able to increase the growth rates while at the same time decreasing mature body size. This results in a ewe that has lower maintenance requirements but producing a higher level of production per pound of her body weight.
Number of Lambs Weaned (NLW) Animals with a positive NLW will produce daughters that wean a higher percentage of lambs. For example, a ram with an EBV of +0.1 will sire daughters that on average will wean 5% more lambs (all EBVS must be halved because the ram contributes 1/2 of the genetics).
Maternal Weaning Weight (MWWT) Animals with a positive MWWT will produce daughters that wean heavier lambs. This EBV reflects a combination of the female progeny's potential for milk production and ability to provide a better maternal environment.
Weaning Weight (WWT) Animals with a positive WWT EBV produce lambs that grow quicker to weaning. An animal with a WWT EBV of 4.0 will produce lambs that are 2 kg (or 4.4 lb) heavier than an animal with a WWT EBV of 0.
Post-Weaning Weight (PWWT) Animals with a positive PWWT EBV produce lambs that grow faster and reach target weights in a shorter time. For example, an animal with a PWWT EBV of 7.0 will produce lambs that are 3.5 kg (7.7 lb.) heavier at the same age than lambs from an animal with a PWWT EBV of 0.
Yearling Weight (YWT) We are monitoring yearling weights to be sure that selection for greater PWWT isn't also increasing mature weight. Single trait selection for early growth has been shown to increase mature size. We are striving to produce a moderate-sized, efficient animal, so we don't want to be inadvertently increasing our mature size.
Post-Weaning Eye Muscle Depth (PEMD) Animals with a positive EMD EBV will produce lambs that have more muscle, independent of weight, and a higher lean meat yield. For example, a ram with a EMD EBV of 1.0 will produce lambs that have a 0.50 mm deeper loin eye. Eye muscle depth has been shown to be highly correlated to loin eye area, and is a bit easier (less subjective) to measure than loin eye area.
We are monitoring Post-Weaning Back Fat (PFAT), although at this time we are not actively selecting based on this EBV.
I am not enrolled in NSIP or Lambplan, how do EBVs help me?
Our use of EBVs can help your flock, whether you, as a buyer, look at our numbers or not. By selecting the genetically superior animals through the use of EBVs (and other selection tools), we are able to take a lot of the guesswork out of how an animal's offspring will perform. In this way, you only need to make decisions regarding which trait(s) is most important to you (i.e. muscling, maternal, growth) and find a ram that is phenotypically pleasing to you to produce the type of lamb you need for your market.
If you don't measure it, you can't manage it.
Let's use an example for this common question.
If you purchase a ram with a WWT (weaning weight) EBV of 4.0, this means that this ram will wean offspring that are an average of 2 kg (since only 1/2 of the ram's genetics are transmitted to his offspring, you need to divide EBVs in half) or 4.4 lb. (2 kg * 2.2 lb/kg) heavier. If you have 50 lambs, that means you have 220 additional pounds of lamb to sell at weaning (50 lambs * 4.4 lb.= 220 lb.).
Let's say that you sell weanling lambs for $1.50/ lb at auction (this is actually quite conservative for our Eastern ethnic markets). You have an additional 200 lb. * $1.50/lb = $330 additional income for minimal input.
If you use this ram for 2 years (typical for many flocks), that ram could produce an additional $660 income from 50 ewes in 2 years.
In many circumstances, this additional income alone will account for most if not all of the ram's purchase price.
But there are other things to factor: if you retain replacement ewe lambs from this ram, they will also have that additional growth that they will transmit to their offspring.
There are also maternal traits to consider: MWWT (maternal weaning weight) is an indication of the ewe's milking ability- if the purchased ram has as a strong MWWT EBV, his daughters will milk heavier, resulting in heavier lambs. An increase in NLW (number of lambs weaned) results in a greater number of lambs weaned from the purchased ram's daughters.
It's difficult to put hard economic values on the reproductive traits, but we all know that they are very crucial to impacting the profitability of the farm.
While the EBV ram may have seen more expensive at the forefront (especially when tempted to buy another (non-EBV) ram at half the price with few solid records behind him), in the end he was a bargain!
We've heard this comment more than once (from both show and non-show folks). In short, it's not true. Show flocks can (and some do) certainly select for production, while flocks that use EBVs should only be using EBVs as ONE TOOL in their 'selection tool box', not as their sole selection tool. Other tools used in selection decisions in the K Bar K flock include: ease of lambing, mothering ability, out of season lambing ability, structural conformation, breed type, disposition, and ability to thrive in a forage-based diet. We have culled animals with outstanding EBVs that have had structural or production problems. Even if that particular ram can grow fast (or large loin eyed) lambs, if they can't move properly to move and graze, or have some other physical issue, they aren't worth keeping.
Not necessarily. Selection based on EBVs is only one tool that should be used when selecting your next flock sire. There are other factors that are just as important, such as flock management. It's important that you purchase a ram that is either from a flock that is managed similarly to yours, or from a 'rougher' (more extensive) environment. That way the ram (and his offspring) are ready to work in your environment. If a ram is genetically selected based upon a confined diet of alfalfa and corn, he may or may not excel in a pasture-based system.
Also consider conformation and phenotype. If you don't like to look at the animal, or if he isn't structurally sound, he's not likely to stick around long on your farm or produce lambs that you like.
And finally, don't forget about flock health issues. With the purchase of any animal, the diseases come for 'free'. Ask lots of questions regarding health status of the flock, ask to see sheep on the farm other than the group that is for sale, and ask if the producer tests or is willing to test for diseases (which may be at the buyer's expense) that are of concern to you. Ask questions about the flock management, such as how many ewes require assistance at lambing, how many bottle lambs are raised, what is the lamb mortality (and causes of mortality), etc.
The ram is 50% of the genetics of your flock. You can gain or lose a lot more genetic ground in your ram selection than your ewes. Keep in mind that if you use one sire, all lambs from that mating contain genes from that ram, but only a small percentage of lambs (usually 1-2 lambs per lambing season) will carry the genes of any particular ewe.
If you are buying a ram to create your own replacements:
Let's assume you want to increase number of lambs weaned in your flock. Your retain 40 ewe lambs sire by a new ram that has a NLW EBV of +0.3. We assume that your flock has a current NLW EBV of 0.0, then you could expect 6 additional lambs weaned per the following calculations:
(+0.3 +0)/2 = +0.15 lambs weaned * 40 ewes = 6 additional lambs weaned
If these lambs are worth $150 each, there is a potential $900 of additional gross revenue every time those daughters lamb.
If you are buying a ram to produce terminal lambs:
Let's assume you want to increase weaning weight. If you direct market 60 lambs, and your new ram has a WWT EBV of +4.0 for weaning weight (and your flock has a current average WWT of 0), you can potentially have the following additional revenue:
(+4.0 + 0)/2 = +2.0 kg (or 4.4 lb) additional weight per lamb * 60 lambs = 264 lb additional weight
If sold as hot house lambs, this could mean an additional revenue of $396 to $528 (assuming a sale price of $1.50 to $2.00/lb.....sometimes these prices go higher in the eastern hot house markets)
And that's just for one lamb crop......if you use this ram over multiple lambings, the additional revenue adds up even further
K Bar K Farm
Last Updated April 12, 2017