GrowSafe data available at state ram sale
GrowSafe data will be available on consigner-selected rams in this year’s Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) State Ram Sale. This marks the first set of rams in the United States that have gone through the entire GrowSafe program.
As with a cattle GrowSafe system, the computerized, individualized feeding system is fully computerized and measures animal intake and performance. The primary interest in using the GrowSafe system is to monitor individual animal efficiency, and UW is the first university to implement a system specifically for sheep.
“We have a lot of information on growth and performance in sheep, but we don’t have a lot of information on how efficient they are at converting feed. We now have the facilities and ability to do that with the GrowSafe system at the UW farm,” comments UW sheep professor Bob Stobart.
Funding for the system was provided through dollars leftover from UW Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) grant money. Stobart explains AES opened a request for proposals to fund research or equipment that fit into the college’s objective and his and UW Flock Manager Brent Larson’s grant for a sheep GrowSafe system was selected.
This year marks the first completion of a 140-day white face ram test. Rams were weighed every 28 days during the test and at the close of the testing period residual feed intakes were calculated for each ram.
Stobart says there was a huge difference in the efficiency of rams on the test. “When we looked at the data from the first year we saw some huge differences,” he notes.
WWGA Executive Vice President Bryce Reece notes he heard the differences were as high as 500 percent between the top and bottom performing rams.
“Feed efficiency, or the measure of an animals’ efficiency at converting pounds of feed to pounds of gain is an extremely important and critical factor in the livestock industry. It is also an economic parameter that has not received much attention because of the difficulty in measuring it on an individual basis in sheep,” adds Reece.
“This data opens up a huge area of research and is another valuable tool that provides producers a tremendous amount of information in addition to the other performance data already collected during the ram test. It increases the ability to see the whole picture of a ram’s genetic potential,” says Stobart.
“With the development of the GrowSafe technology, producers can now accurately measure feed efficiency of an individual animal. It is estimated that feed efficiency is 40 to 50 percent heritable, which is a tremendously high level of heritability, and one through which significant advancement can be made,” notes Reece.
In addition to measuring feed efficiency, the GrowSafe system is providing a variety of behavioral data as well. “There is a lot of behavioral information to look at, such as how many times per day each ram eats, and how much he consumes per feeding period. There are also factors that impact how much each ram eats daily, and this system is providing us with that data,” notes Stobart.
Another meat breeds ram test is also conducted annually in conjunction with WWGA. This is the second year that test has been performed, and Stobart explains it is more focused on traits such as daily gain, loin eye area and muscling ability.
“Now we are working on determining what portion of the feeding period is most representative of the growth that will be expressed in that ram’s offspring. They’re maturing throughout the test, so their growth rates change. We want to know how efficient they will be over their entire lifetime,” notes Stobart.
He adds the benefit of selecting more efficient sires extends beyond his marketable offspring.
“You are also producing replacement stock out of your rams. If a ram’s ewe lambs are more efficient, eventually you may get to the point where you can run more animals per unit because of their increased efficiency. That’s another advantage to using this information,” notes Stobart.
Producers attending the State Ram Sale this year will have access to the GrowSafe data on select test rams. Having the option to include the feed efficiency information in their selection criteria is a monumental step in ram selection.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.