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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Hats Off to the Sheep Industry

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

by Dennis Sun, Publisher

Times are changing in the world of raising sheep, as many producers are learning a new vocabulary including words like data collection, phenotypic or genomic data and management software. If it sounds like they are going high-tech, they are.

At the 2020 American Sheep Industry (ASI) Convention, a few producers got together with a common vision to develop and utilize better genetics in their herds by starting a genetic clearing house.

Being business people, sheep producers realized the movement was going to take organization, more meetings and of course, money. Out of the meetings, Sheep Genetics USA was developed. 

For some time, genetics were popping up across the nation but not on a large scale. The few operations who were involved were producing better sheep, and other producers soon recognized the need to get involved. 

In four quick years, great strides in sheep genetics took place – hats off to the sheep industry.

With Sheep Genetics USA moving forward at a fast pace, research, education and data management are now commonplace in the sheep business. The best part of all of this is young producers are coming into the business with an understanding of the benefits and money savings which can come from knowing this data.

As Tom Boyer of Sheep Genetics USA said, “Like the entire field of genetics, sheep genetics is changing with increasing speed as new technology increases and associated costs continue to decrease. Gene editing can assist in the creation of disease resistance, the development of climate-related traits, parasite-related issues, the elimination of long tails and scur horns and antimicrobial resistance.”

“Expected progeny differences or estimated breeding values (EBV) are a widely used tool in making genetic decisions centered around breeding objectives,” he continued. “With the progression of DNA technology, the industry is now starting to incorporate genomics based on EBV data.” 

As with cattle, these tools can be used for traceability, which is needed for value-added processors if a disease issue were to arise.

As I’ve said before, one of the few positives of COVID-19 was the American consumer realizing lamb is a great protein to serve at evening dinner, and the food industry catching on with the restaurant business. 

As a cattle producer, and a former owner of sheep, I’ve always been envious of sheep producers who benefit from raising two products in one animal – meat and wool.

While realizing sheep producers have been through some rough times since World War II, they are survivors. 

We all know in the early days of statehood, up to the 1960s, sheep were king. Let’s face it, our region is best for grazing sheep, but the issues of predator control, available labor and erratic markets have forced producers to raise more cattle. 

This vision to develop and utilize better genetics by a few sheep producers is the future of the industry. Just look what it has accomplished for the cattle and horse industries.

In nearly four years, the sheep industry has made great strides. But, I’ll bet five years into the future, many producers will be using this data as common management practice, and hopefully, their pockets will be jingling.

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