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Riverton – In most families the parents’ interests end up transferring to their children, but in the case of the VonKrosigk family, it was the children who brought home the sheep breed that became a big part of the family.
    Dean and Charleen VonKrosigk are well known and well-respected in the sheep industry for their purebred Targhee sheep. They were introduced to the breed after their kids starting showing in 4-H. It was Barney Cosner, a Fremont County extension agent at the time, who encouraged the VonKrosigk children to try Targhees and in 1977 Dean and Charleen started their own purebred flock.
       Now over 30 years later, the Targhee breed has not only given the VonKrosigks a name in the Wyoming sheep industry, but has given the family an opportunity to gain friends and grow together.
    As ranchers in the Riverton area, Dean and Charleen have raised Shorthorn cattle and other sheep breeds in their 48-year marriage, but it is the Targhees that have evolved as a lasting part of the family’s operation. Dean grew up on the VonKrosigk farm, which his family has owned since 1934. He and Charleen then raised their three sons and one daughter on the operation and over the years have kept agriculture values instilled in their 12 grandkids and one great granddaughter.
    For the VonKrosigks, their Targhee sheep have always been a family affair. Kids and grandkids have been involved in raising, showing and everything in between.
    “We would’ve quit a long time ago if it hadn’t been for the grandkids staying in it and wanting to go,” says Dean.
    Throughout the years the Targhee sheep have brought the VonKrosigk family closer together. Charleen says their lives in the sheep industry have instilled agriculture values in their children and grandchildren. She says being close to the land has given their kids a more solid base.
    “The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is all these years at national sales there was only one time we didn’t have our own kids or grandkids with us,” says Charleen.
    The family has even taken “vacations” each year since the 1970s to travel to national Targhee shows. The VonKrosigks have only been absent from two shows since then. Dean says those two missed shows were an attempt to slow down. “We tried to slow down but that didn’t work,” he says. “We just got right back in.”
    VonKrosigk sheep have been doing well at national shows for years and this year was no exception. The 2008 National Targhee Association Sale in Brookings, S.D. saw the Wyoming breeders walking away with Champion Ram, Champion Ewe, Champion Pen of Two Ewes and Premier Breeder.
    The VonKrosigk name is also a familiar one at the Fremont County Fair and Wyoming State Fair where children, grandchildren and now their great-granddaughter have shown. Charleen still shows and came away with the Overall Champion Fleece at the state fair wool barn.
    The friends made along the way have also been a source of joy for the VonKrosigks. Charleen says they’ve been in all but six states in the nation because of the national shows and sales.
    “That’s the only reason as farmers that we travel,” says Charleen. “It’s like a reunion where we see the friends we’ve made through the years.”
    The VonKrosigk Targhees have been a valuable asset from the beginning. The Targhee breed got its start at the U.S. Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho when crossbreeding between Rambouillets, Columbias, Corriedales and other breeds produced the “ideal range breed,” says Dean. The VonKrosigks’ success with the breed speaks for itself with the breed doing well at national sales and at the Wyoming Ram Sale.
    “The Targhees have a large loin and are dual purposed,” says Dean of the breed used for both wool and meat.
    Dean says the breed has a good spinning count with numbers 58 and up. He also says the Targhees’ twinning and milking ability has been a big boost to the breed’s success and he tries to emphasize those characteristics in his own flock.
    Even though money can be hard to come by in agriculture, Charleen says they’ve justified the traveling to shows and all the work put into the Targhees because the animals have always paid well. Several of the VonKrosigk grandkids reaped the benefit of Targhee sheep by selling their sheep to pay for college.
    Although the VonKrosigks show their Targhees, Dean says their priority has never been to win ribbons in the arena. They would rather focus their efforts on raising quality range animals.
    “Our rams do well at national shows, but they are still just raised with the other range rams,” says Dean. “It just so happens that those are the rams we pick to take. Everything is geared toward raising range rams.”
    The foundation Targhees the VonKrosigks raise have been emphasized as a range breed and that’s something Dean says has kept the breed pure and successful. He says over the years the Targhee has changed very little making it a reliable breed that sticks to the basics.
    “We have good buyers,” says Charleen. “That’s a reward for our efforts when they keep coming back year after year.
    The VonKrosigks also like seeing their customers do well in the market place.
    “We smile if people who buy lambs from us get the premium of the month for the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative,” says Dean. Monthly the MSLC recognizes the top performing lambs for the month in their newsletter.
    Dean and Charleen believe in helping carry on the Targhee breed and have been instrumental in helping aspiring producers gain a foothold. The couple has donated sheep on three occasions to the Wyoming Youth Flock program and Charleen says it is rewarding to see those youth still involved with Targhees today.
    As for the future of the sheep industry, Dean says he hopes it maintains and producers can continue to address challenges. No matter what the future holds for the sheep industry, Dean and Charleen, along with the VonKrosigk Targhees, will have a hand in its direction and will support future Wyoming sheep producers.
    Liz LeSatz is the 2008 Summer Intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.

Although ewes can typically graze most of the year and meet their nutritional requirements, during critical points in their production cycle some supplementation may be needed, according to a North Dakota State University sheep extension specialist.

During the recent webinar, “How Much to Feed Sheep,” Reid Redden explained to producers how overfeeding ewes can be as detrimental as underfeeding them. 

“The old way of feeding, that more is better, doesn’t necessarily work anymore since alfalfa is no longer $125 a ton and corn three to four dollars a bushel,” he said. “With feed costs as high as they are, sheep producers have to become more efficient feeding their ewes to not only maintain productivity, but to stay in business.”

One of the most important questions to consider when supplementing ewes is what stage of production they are in. 

“There is a drastic difference in nutritional requirements depending upon their stage of production,” he explained. “Ewes are in maintenance at least four months of the year. During those periods, their maintenance requirements are very low, and they don’t require much.” 

“Mostly, additional supplementation is needed to meet nutritional requirements during relatively short periods of time throughout the year,” Redden continued. “We should be able to maximize feed during those periods and still get good production from the ewes.”

Feeding in gestation

Early gestation, late gestation, lambing and flushing are periods when ewes may need some additional supplementation, Redden said. 

“Gestation is the most critical feeding period for sheep. If we overfeed or underfeed the ewes, there can be some detrimental effects,” he added.

During early gestation, Redden said a ewe’s nutritional requirements are only slightly above its maintenance requirements. But those requirements are higher by late gestation and may increase even more at lambing depending on if the ewe is carrying twins. 

“If the ewe is over or underfed during the first 60 days of pregnancy, it will affect how the placenta develops,” Redden explained. “If the placenta is improperly developed, it doesn’t matter how well we feed the ewe in late gestation, those lambs will not develop properly.”

A lot of fetal growth also takes place the last 60 days, so if the ewe isn’t properly fed, it can affect how the lamb develops. Embryonic loss, birth weight, lamb vigor, colostrum production, milk production, lamb mortality and reduced weaning weights are all influenced by how the ewe is fed, Redden relayed. 

“I don’t recommend underfeeding ewes after lambing, either,” he continued. “Especially for the first 60 days.” 

However, one period he advises producers to consider cutting back is a week prior to weaning. 

“It will cut back milk production, helping the ewes dry up sooner and prevent mastitis issues,” he explained. 

Available feed

To calculate a least cost ration, Redden said producers will need to research what types of feed are available in their area and are the most economical. Producers should consider forages and grains, but also byproducts like distiller’s grains, beet pulp and corn stover.

To develop a list of prospective feed ingredients, producers will need to know the cost per pound, the percentage of dry matter and the percentage of crude protein and total digestible nutrients. 

Redden recommends having the feed analyzed, if possible. Producers can also seek help from a mentor, Extension agent or nutritionist for help formulating a ration.

The Montana State Sheep Ration program can also be accessed through the internet. The free program allows producers to enter custom feeds and prices to help them calculate their own least cost rations. It also has a built-in library of feedstuffs, Redden said.

Feeding strategies

Typically a ewe will consume about three percent of her body weight, so when determining a ration, Redden said it is important to use feeds that are not so low in quality that a lot is needed to meet the ewe’s nutritional requirements. 

“They can only eat so much,” he said. “They will eat even less if they are carrying twins because they just don’t have the capacity for extra feed.”

It is also important to ensure that once a least-cost ration is determined, the ewe is consuming what a producer is feeding her. 

“Make sure she is eating what you are putting out everyday and not sorting it,” he cautioned producers. “If there is a mixture of ingredients, they may eat all the beet pulp the first day and the corn stover the next. That is not a very good diet.”

Redden recommended that producers target a certain amount of feed per day that will go toward meeting nutritional requirements at that stage of production and adjust it as that stage changes. 

“A least-cost ration can be formulated to feed to sheep,” Redden said, “but, over time producers should be willing to tweak it to continue to feed the least cost ration that will still allow the producer to maximize production of his flock.” 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – According to Clean Kimberling of Optimal Livestock Services, LLC, sheep producers need to work through and evaluate what a ram really costs their operation.
Kimberling spoke at the 2009 Profitability Conference held in conjunction with the Wyoming Stock Growers and Wyoming Wool Growers annual meeting in Casper.
He added that ram evaluation includes recognizing which input factors can be controlled or influenced. Although the lamb and wool market can’t be influenced at all, he said ram selection is 100 percent.
“Figuring out which characteristics are important to you is the priority,” he said. Those could include wool characteristics, meat quality, scrotal circumference or being a twin from a twin-bearing ewe.
Once priorities have been identified, Kimberling said producers will know where their cash flow is coming from. Following that, he said to calculate what it costs to put each lamb on the ground.
He noted ram costs include not only purchase cost, but also feed and maintenance, health costs and maybe genetic tests. “Those may not be large costs, but they’re still costs,” he reminded. “They’re charges that need to be assigned to ram costs.”
Kimberling estimated ram costs equal $250 to $300 each year for maintenance, plus initial purchase price. Although those are fixed costs, he said it’s possible to manipulate the system to reduce cost per lamb.
“If you have one ram and you’re breeding him to 30 ewes, if you have singles it’ll cost more than $10 to put each lamb on the ground,” he explained. “If you put one ram on 100 ewes, at singles that’ll cost you $3.50 per lamb.”
Kimberling said he recognizes that one ram to 100 ewes is more than the traditional rate. “But every producer I’ve talked to over the years have had a mis-mate situation, where a ram gets out and how many does he get in one night?” he asked. “One producer in Colorado had a ram get into his flock of 300-some ewes and he wanted to preg check before turning them out on the desert. That ram was in there not more than eight hours, and 64 of those ewes were pregnant. You get a good ram and they’ll do you one to 100 without any problem whatsoever, and you just reduced your cost from $10 to $3 with singles. If you go to twins, you cut that in half.”
“The greatest predator in the sheep industry,” said Kimberling, “is tradition. We’ve always run one ram to every 30 or 50 ewes. The reason we do that is because the first thing we look at when the lamb crop starts to drop is buying more rams, but you’ve got dominant rams in there that aren’t fertile and they’re running off the good rams. It’s a snowball effect.”
Regarding a ram’s genetic influence on a flock, Kimberling said it’s between 60 and 80 percent, which is important if a producer keeps their own replacements. “If you don’t keep replacements it’s insignificant, and if you’re going to improve your flock genetically you want to concentrate on what the ram does with the ewes you’ve selected,” said Kimberling.
“Scrotal circumference, or capacity, is 35 percent heritable, while the 120-day weight for market lambs is 30 percent heritable,” he explained. “You can change that trait in about three generations. Retail cuts – where we get our money – are 45 percent heritable, and you can change the composition of retail cuts in a couple years if you do your selection right.”
To keep track of traits, health and behavior, Kimberling said he advocates identification. “You can’t measure progress if you can’t identify your rams,” he said, adding that electronic identification tags are the cheapest form of identification when accuracy and labor are taken into account. “You can also remove the tags, reusing them and assigning them to next year’s crop.”
“That’s why you really want to pay attention to the scrotal circumference and the capacity of a good ram. It’s important you concentrate on your rams and what they’re doing,” he said, noting that the best way to observe accurately is to watch ram behavior when they’re at rest.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Gillette – “Without genetic records, some bucks don’t look too bad to producers,” explained Lisa Surber, manager of the Montana Wool Lab and research scientist at Montana State University. “However, those bucks can cause more harm than good in an operation.”

Surber discussed the benefits of genetic records when purchasing sheep to improve flocks at the Northeast Wyoming Sheep Symposium held Sept. 4 in Gillette. 

Importance of records

“A poor quality ram is going to cost producers more than the purchase price of a good quality ram,” Surber said. “When purchasing a ram, producers should buy a ram with lots of records pertaining to traits that are important to their operation.”

Records allow producers to select animals based on visual appraisal, the animals’ own performance and the performance of its parents, siblings and relatives. 

“There are a plethora of traits that can be examined with records,” she continued. “Producers have to decide what is important to them and the bottom line of their ranch.”

Growth traits, such as weaning weight, and carcass traits, such as loin eye area, are associated with selection for terminal sires in breeds such as Suffolk and Hampshire. Reproductive efficiency, growth and wool traits are often sought in wool maternal ram breeds such as Rambouillet, Targhee and Columbia.

“Although a ram itself may perform well, it does not mean its progeny will do the same,” she added. “Examining genetic records will give producers a better idea of how the progeny will perform and know what to expect from that ram.” 

Ewe traits

Reproductive traits, such as number of lambs born, should be considered when selecting replacement ewes. 

“It is a common practice in many western sheep operations to select the heaviest ewe lambs as replacements without knowledge of type of birth,” she elaborates. “This selection results in reduced reproductive efficiency as the largest lambs are more likely to be born as singles.”

“Select replacement ewes from twin-born ewe lambs or from dams that have a history of twinning,” Surber continued. “Selecting replacement ewes from lambs that were born single results in larger ewes and decreased number of lambs.”

Research has shown that for every one-pound increase in weaning weight in lambs, there was a 2.5-pound increase in mature ewe body size. This increase in body size creates a greater demand for nutrients. 

“Bigger is not necessarily better in ewe body size,” she continued. “With the cost of feed being as high as it is we cannot follow the large carcass trend of the cattle industry. Even show sheep are trending towards larger sheep and larger carcasses, but that is undesirable in our range sheep because of the limited resources available to them.”

Profit selection index

One way producers can manage selection of traits is using a profit selection index. Scoring traits with positive or negative pressure, this method allows producers to select for multiple traits simultaneously. 

“The selection index is not a new concept,” she continued. “The original scientific paperwork describing the technique was published in 1943, but the sheep industry has been slower to utilize this.”

However, selecting using the index helps increase desirable growth, wool and reproductive traits. 

“In a project done by Montana State University, the top 20 indexing Targhee ewes weaned 239 more pounds of lamb than the bottom 20 indexing ewes,” Surber explains. “This is 12 more pounds of lamb per ewe.”

Growth, wool and number of lambs born are the selection traits desired by producers. Carcass quality is also a concern when selecting rams especially with the movement to lamb marketing cooperatives, such as Mountain States Lamb Cooperative. 

Eye muscle depth

Surber said that increased loin size gives American lambs a competitive advantage over imported lambs. The loin eye area (LEA) has a direct effect on dressing percentage and is the best predictor of carcass merit.

“American lambs average 2.9 inches of LEA compared to New Zealand and Australian lambs that average 2.1 inches of LEA,” Surber said. “However, improvements in LEA, if any, made in the United States over the last 10 years is likely due to increases in carcass size, not genetic improvement.”

Surber and Dave Notter from Virginia Tech developed a simplistic method to calculate LEA by scanning for eye muscle depth (EMD).

“We can predict area from depth very accurately,” Surber said. “This is one of the reasons that Targhee and other National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) breeds have gone to solely using depth to measure carcass trait in sheep.”

“As producers, we have to move from measuring LEA and start measuring depth like the rest of the world,” she continued. “We still report the LEA, but that is an area calculated from the depth measurement.” 

Twinning selection

 

For producers facing limitations on record keeping, Lisa Surber, manager of the Montana Wool Lab and research scientist at Montana State University, outlined short and simple methods that can be utilized to improve the genetic merit of flocks.

“Producers should ear notch or somehow identify twin lambs at birth and then sort their lambs at weaning,” she began. “Select at least half of the replacement ewes from twins and don’t select against twinning by keeping large, single-born ewes.”

“Identify the top quarter or half of ewes and breed them to the best rams. These ewes should be out of ewes with a long history of twinning,” she explained. “Then, if they choose, producers can breed the remaining ewes to terminal sires.”

“Simple steps such as these can help improve flocks without the producer making a considerable time commitment devoted to record keeping,” she added.

Kelsey Tramp is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Kaycee — Dave and Janine Foley started Foley Shearing in 1989 and today operate two crews that shear around 150,000 sheep annually. Their crewmembers are primarily from New Zealand, and are procured through word-of-mouth.
Dave was born in New Zealand and learned to shear sheep from his father, also a shearer. At 19 he came to the U.S. to shear for the first time, and today he provides shearing services for producers across Wyoming and in parts of Colorado.
“It was adventure to come to the U.S. and shear. Then he met me and we got married and traveled the world shearing for a few years before settling in Kaycee. We still travel to New Zealand every other summer,” says Janine.
“We have a lot of contacts in New Zealand, and if someone doesn’t want to come back there are typically others who want to shear in the U.S.,” explains Dave of how crewmembers are found.
The Foleys add that finding workers is becoming more challenging due to a variety of factors, one being the poor exchange rate.
“A good exchange rate makes it more worthwhile for shearers to come over. With the current rate, young shearers aren’t as motivated to travel to the U.S. to shear because they don’t make as much money,” Janine explains.
Another factor affecting the ability to hire crewmembers is the increasing average age of shearers worldwide.
“There aren’t a lot of young shearers starting today. When we started in the 1980s the average age of shearers coming over was in the 20s. Today it’s in the 30s, and some guys are over 40.
“As they get older they don’t want to travel as far because they have families and can secure work closer to home. It used to be that everyone was young and looking for an adventure and now its just work,” notes Dave.
The increased hassle of getting foreign workers into the U.S. due to changes in immigration and deportation laws is something with which the shearing industry continually deals, adds Dave.
“The paperwork required to make everything legal today is unreal and is resulting in problems in a number of industries. One example are the farm workers brought into the country to pick fruit. The government thinks that since unemployment is up American workers should do those jobs, but you can’t find Americans to do that kind of work. It’s the same with shearing,” explains Janine.
According to the Foleys, one result of the increased paperwork and regulations necessary to secure a working visa in the U.S. is an increasing number of crews that operate illegally.
“We’ve all heard the comments about how Wyoming needs another shearing crew, and we could not agree more, but time and money needs to be put into making crewmembers legal. Illegal workers are unfair to those who do take the time, and will only result in even more paperwork in the future,” says Janine.
Part of her job within Foley Shearing is ensuring all paperwork is completed and crewmembers have the proper visa to work in the U.S. She says ranchers have the right to be shown documentation to ensure their crew is legal, and it is up to the rancher to check.
Of their hired workers, The Foleys say they are almost always good quality workers who are professional and easy to work with.
“Once in a while you get a young one that’s learning, but for the most part this is what they do year round, so they’re good at it. It’s very rare we have someone we aren’t happy with,” comments Dave.
One unique challenge to shearing in Wyoming is the weather and set lambing period. Weather often leads to rescheduling and can make it difficult to get everyone finished prior to lambing season.
“Weather is a big factor in Wyoming. You have weather everywhere, but not the storms and snow and cold like we have here. We have to get everyone sheared before they lamb, but ranchers won’t shear early because they’re concerned about the weather and getting caught in a storm,” says Janine.
Dave noted additional differences are that shearers develop a more personal relationship with ranchers in Australia and New Zealand, conditions are more favorable for shearers there and sheep are typically dry-lotted the night before shearing.
The Foleys have four children: Jayson, Tiana, Hannah and Laree, who work within in the family business in a variety of capacities.
“All our kids help with the business and every time we need something they jump in and help wherever they can,” says Janine.
Despite declining sheep numbers in recent years, Janine says Foley Shearing Company couldn’t do much more and is booked solid.
“We do have to travel farther distances to get the same numbers, but a lack of shearers has created more work as well, so we keep busy,” adds Dave.
With the 2010 shearing season well under way, Foley Shearing Company is keeping both crews busy between spring storms.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..