Wyoming Ram Test finished 52nd year with high averages, despite challenges
Laramie – The 52nd year of the Wyoming Ram Test began when 68 ram lambs were sent to Laramie last September. While only 55 finished the test, UW Sheep Unit Manager Kalli Koepke notes, “It was a rough year. We will be making some changes in the future to make things better.”
This year, eight of the entries were lost to water belly, five were removed from the Test as a result of bent leg and two were involved in an accident.
“As far as our averages, though, we did exceedingly well,” Koepke continues. “The averages were better than last year’s.”
She adds, “Everyone who came, and most of the producers who attended our field day, were impressed with how the rams looked. They had a good year.”
Koepke comments that feed efficiency was up across many of the rams on Test, and the averages for weight of gain, loin eye area and wool were all very good.
“We only certify the top 30 percent of the group, and this year, that ended up being 20 head eligible for certification,” she explains. “Only two of those 20 didn’t qualify based on their scores.”
“Certification is the highest honor the Rambouillet Association can give,” Koepke says. “The people who have their rams certified are doing well in their breeding programs.”
This year, however, the number of rams entering the test was down from 102 to 68 ram lambs from 18 consigners.
“Our feed prices did go up for the Test,” Koepke explains. “I think that had a lot to do with the number of lambs we had consigned.”
At the same time, three or four new consigners joined the test.
“We are always excited about new interest in the Test,” Koepke comments. “Most of the consigners came back, and we had participants from Utah and South Dakota, as well as from Wyoming.”
In the sheep industry, Koepke further notes that gathering data is becoming more common, though it is relatively new.
“In the sheep industry, we haven’t used expected progeny differences (EPDs) in the past. The big thing coming now for our breeding programs is EPDs,” she explains. “We used to just base our breeding decisions off of the look of the ram and microns in the wool.”
The Wyoming Ram Test was started over 50 years ago to help producers gather more information to utilize in their selection decisions.
“We want to give people data on their rams, so they can make their own flocks better,” Koepke says. “We want to get more data to producers – especially the sire breeders who are selling stud rams.”
From the beginning, the test has looked at rate of gain, and Koepke adds that with the instillation of GrowSafe systems specifically designed for lambs at UW, they are able to calculate feed efficiency using residual feed intake, or RFI.
“We are the only test looking at feed efficiency,” she comments. “There are tests also in North Dakota and Texas, but our GrowSafe system is unique.”
At the Wyoming Ram Sale, Koepke also notes that the data is available to buyers, which assists in marketing decisions.
“At the sale, we provide sire and dam records, registration numbers and all the information the buyer might need,” she says. “We are trying to help producers by providing those records.”
Koepke continues, “A lot of people are very gun-shy in starting to use data, but there are couple of programs being started around the state to help producers with EPDs.”
“This test is important because of the data it provides for the rams and for producers,” she adds.
Koepke adds that because of the health issues they have seen in the past several years – particularly with water belly – the Wyoming Ram Test make adaptations in attempt to alleviate problems.
“We are going to work on changing up the ration a bit,” she says. “We think the ration is a bit too hot right now.”
She also notes that the cold Laramie winters create difficulty in making sure the animals are drinking enough water, so they will add salt to the ration.
“Trying to do a test in the middle of winter in Laramie is a task in itself,” Koepke comments. “It gets very cold, and when it’s cold, the rams don’t want to drink.”
“Another significant change we are making is when we test our RFI,” she says. “We usually use the GrowSafe systems the fist 60 to 70 days of the test. However, in the future, we are going to wait until the last 70 days of test.”
Acclimating the lambs to the GrowSafe systems, pelleted feed and a new environment simultaneously has been challenging, Koepke says, adding that with more time to adjust to the environment, they hope to see rams using the GrowSafe systems better.
“If we can get the rams get used to the GrowSafe systems and get them using the systems better, our efficiency values will be more accurate than in the past,” She comments. “These are some major adjustments.”
While some things are changing within the Test, the data provided will remain the same, says Koepke.
“All the indexes we use and the data we provide are mandated by the Rambouillet Association,” she explains. “We also try to stay the same as the South Dakota and Texas Test, so producers can compare information.”
Next year’s Test will start taking rams toward the end of October for the next year.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.