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Sheep

Bart and Gay Lynn Byrd of Douglas raise a different type of sheep called hair sheep. These sheep originated from South Africa, and they do not require any shearing, for they have hair instead of wool. 

“We are very happy with our hair sheep and just love them,” exclaims Gay Lynn Byrd. “They are such easy keepers and so much easier to run than wool sheep. It’s nice to not have to shear them.”

“Also, it’s a good way to run more animal units on an operation and get a second income,” says Byrd. 

Switching to hair sheep

They started raising hair sheep about eight years ago, and the breeds they currently have are Blackhead and White Dorpers and Katahdins. Before switching to hair sheep the Byrds raised Rambouilet that they sometimes crossed with Suffolks. 

“I got tired of barely breaking even when we had the wool sheep,” says Byrd. “We sold them and then tried goats, but then we got tired of chasing them all over the country, so we looked into hair sheep.”

The hair sheep are extremely easy to keep, and many years, the Byrds do not have to provide supplement feed to them. 

“They will survive on almost nothing and continually stay in really good shape,” states Byrd. “Due to the drought, there isn’t very much grass, and when we did feed them they just walked away from the hay. They didn’t even clean it up.”

Advantages

Byrd goes on to explain the ewes are very good mothers, and she rarely sees a bum lamb.
“I don’t know if the ewes adopt them or what,” says Byrd. “We don’t have nearly the amount of bum lambs as we used to with our wool sheep.” 

Another advantage with the hair sheep is the high docking percentage seen. 

“The very lowest docking percent that we’ve had is 110, and that was because of terrible weather and storms during lambing season. We’ve docked as high as a 132 percent lamb crop,” explains Byrd, “and that’s range lambing. We don’t put anything through the shed.”

The hair sheep are also very easy to finish for market solely on grass. 

“We’ve had them on alfalfa hay with no grain or anything, and they are very good to eat,” says Byrd. “They are a very good one to have for just a range-type operation.”

Disadvantages

One of the downsides to raising hair sheep is that they tend to become too fat.

“When they get heavy with lambs in the spring, we generally ride through them daily to roll them off of their backs,” says Byrd. “They are almost too square, with a very flat back and short legs. This causes them to be unable to get up when they have laid down and roll over a bit.” 

Byrd adds, “We’ve lost too many that way.”

To help prevent the incidence of that occurring Byrd has predicted the ideal range sheep to be a mixture of a Dorper with a slimmer body type, such cross as a Katahdin. 

Hearty animal

Byrd also notes the heartiness of hair sheep when compared to wool sheep is an advantage. 

“I also think they may fight off the coyotes a little better than other sheep,” says Byrd. “I notice these hair sheep are harder to move with my dog. They’ll stand there and fight a working stock dog more than the wool sheep would. The hair sheep stay home better than goats do, as well.” 

She further adds that the sheep aren’t worked frequently and are low-labor livestock.

“Overall, we don’t work them that much. We dock the lambs in the spring, wean them in the fall and mouth and bag our ewes then,” she explains. “Then in mid-February when we take our bucks out we go ahead and treat them for tick.” 

Byrd adds, “Those are the only times of the year we do anything with them, besides moving them from pasture to pasture.”

Madeline Robinson 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..


SIDEBAR:
Hair sheep pelts

One of the major drawbacks to hair sheep is the non-existing market in the United States for the leather of hair sheep. 

“Other lamb pelts can be sold with either the wool on or taken off, but with the hair sheep, their pelts are docked regardless of what the pelts are bringing,” explains Gay Lynn Byrd, producer of hair sheep. “They claim there is no way the pelts with the hair on can be used.”

“In South Africa, they claim hair sheep pelts are worth a premium for leather and they will pay for it, but there is no market in the U.S. right now for it,” says Byrd. “If wool pelts are bringing eight dollars, the hair sheep are going to see a dock of eight dollars.”

Byrd notes that they sell enough lambs to offset the discount, meaning they make more money from their Dorper sheep.

“There are a lot of these hair sheep in Texas, but it hasn’t really expanded like we thought it might,” says Byrd. “We thought it would have really taken off up here by now. They used to have a show at state fair for a few years, but there wasn’t enough people coming to it.”




Douglas — As rancher Gene Hardy steps to the helm of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, he says he hopes to see an increase in Wyoming sheep numbers during his presidency. Wyoming ranch families, he says, can diversify and enhance their income by running both cattle and sheep.
    That’s exactly what he and his late wife Joy did in 1965 when they brought sheep back onto the Hardy Ranch. Over time, says Gene, sheep have been profitable more years than cattle.
    Gene’s father homesteaded on property the family still owns in 1920. The ranch he founded in Wyoming is nearing its 90th anniversary and is now home to the second, third and fourth generations of the Hardy family. Gene’s daughter Michelle Musselman, along with her husband Shaun and their two children Hardy and Haley, are partners in the ranch.
    “We were strictly cattle in the beginning,” says Gene who has called the ranch home lifelong. “Dad didn’t go into sheep until 1934.” For the first year he owned the sheep, the former owner stayed on as a herder and helped with them. Gene’s dad ran the sheep until the lacking availability of labor forced him to sell them in the early 1940s.
    “We were strictly cattle until 1965 when Joy and I decided we were going back into sheep,” says Gene. “We started with a couple of bunches we bought and kept building up our numbers. We’ve been running sheep and cattle ever since.” Historically running Hereford cattle, like many Wyoming ranches, Gene says they began the gradual shift to Red Angus by replacing their Hereford bulls in the late 1970s.
    Both the calves and the lambs are sold private treaty off the ranch in the fall, says Gene. Smaller lots are run through area sale barns. While not members of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative, Gene says the cooperative has benefited the entire industry.
    “In some ways this country is more desirable for sheep,” says Gene, “but with proper management they both do well.” The Hardy family has gone to great lengths to ensure the mutual success of their livestock and the resources. “We have worked extensively with NRCS on management practices, more fencing for rotational grazing and water developments,” says Gene. “We’ve made a great amount of progress in the last few years.”
    In 1979 the Hardys purchased a ranch in northwest Nebraska. Gene says the uranium development on their ranch reached a degree that they either had to sell livestock or buy more land. Until recently the Hardy’s cattle spent part of the year in Nebraska, but Gene says this past year they leased the Nebraska property.
    Wind development has made its way onto the Hardy Ranch’s horizons, literally. From the hill beyond Gene’s house wind turbines line the distant skyline. The family doesn’t, however, have plans to bring the development too much closer. Gene doesn’t see the turbines as sustainable, costing too much money for too little electricity in return. He does, however, understand the position of those ranch families who are pursuing it as a means of revenue generation. When it comes to minerals issues of any sort — mining, oil and gas or pipelines, Gene says, “You earn every penny you get.”
     “Joy and I joined the Wool Growers in 1967,” recalls Gene, noting that they joined the Wyoming Stock Growers Association that same year. The couple did more than pay their dues, jumping in with both feet to volunteer their time and influence industry decisions for the betterment of all producers.
    “I’ve held leadership positions in both organizations,” says Gene. In the early 1990s he was one of the WSGA’s second vice presidents and has volunteered countless hours on committee work. More recently he served a term on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture. From 1973 until 1985 he was a member of the Wyoming Livestock Board. Challenges facing the board, he recalls, were as numerous then as they are today.
    It was during the early 1980s that Gene says the agency dealt with a scabies outbreak in cattle. “We had to dip the cattle as it was prior to pour-on insecticides that killed the mite that causes the disease,” says Gene. While cattle had historically been dipped, few ranches had kept their dipping vats in place. “It was wintertime and we had a terrible outbreak. It was cold out and we were dipping cattle. The state built two portable cattle dipping vats with semis pulling them.” Infected cattle, and those with fence line contact, all had to be treated.
    It was also during Gene’s tenure on the WLSB that the state first lost its class free brucellosis status. “Here we are 20 to 30 years later with a worse problem,” he says. “You try to be a voice that hopefully will accomplish some good for the industry,” says Hardy, “but sometimes you wonder if you gain much over the years. The issues just keep coming back up.” In the case of brucellosis he says cattle producers have dealt with the issue, but that real solutions lie in addressing the reservoir in wildlife.
    As chairman of the county association of predator boards, predator management is an area where Gene has long volunteered his time and continues his strong involvement. Legislative support for local predator programs, he says, have provided for the projects that are beneficial to both livestock and wildlife to continue.
    “We’ll never get back to the glory days of several million sheep in Wyoming,” he says, “but I’d like to see younger people take an interest in the sheep industry. Some people say sheep are too much work, but in our operation they’re no more work than the cattle.” He sees where the scenario is different in western Wyoming where sheep are run with herders instead of within fence lines.
    Gene’s support for youth stretches to Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom, an organization he says is important in educating the next generation about agriculture. “The program is very beneficial to the young people here in Wyoming,” says Gene.
    “I’d like to see more markets for wool and meat developed,” says Gene. He sees room for growth in the industry. “There’s a demand for lambs and for short-term ewes, maybe not in big numbers but they’re selling to a broader area of the country.” Gene takes the reins from current WWGA President and Kemmerer rancher Dave Julian when the WWGA meets in unison with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in Casper early December.
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of 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..

“Reproductive efficiency has a really large impact on the productivity and profitability of sheep operations,” said Marlon Knights of West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. “Perhaps it is the single most important factor when talking about productivity and profitability.”

While there are a number of factors impacting profits on a sheep operation, Knights noted lambing rates provides a global view of flock performance, and increasing that number improves flock potential.

Lambing rate

Knights said lambing rate is described as the number of lambs born per ewe, but he also emphasized that the value should be calculated on the basis of ewes exposed, not the number of ewes that lamb. 

“This helps us to determine lambing proportion,” he said. “Prolificacy is the number of lambs delivered by each ewe that is actually giving birth.”  

“If we combine these two factors, we get our lambing rate,” Knights said.

For instance, if 100 ewes were exposed to rams, the lambing proportion is 90 percent. If 180 lambs are born, the prolificacy is 200 percent. 

Lambing rate is determined by multiplying proportion by prolificacy. In this scenario, Knights noted the lambing rate is 180 percent. 

U.S. data

In the U.S., lambing rate has maintained between 100 and 110 percent for many years, and Knights said, “This is not a level that we would think of as being extremely good.” 

“Smaller flocks in the East have lambing rates at 140 or 150 percent, and in some cases, large extensive production systems see lambing rates that are smaller than the national average,” he explained. 

Seasonality

In addition to lambing rates, the seasonality of reproduction has an impact on the profitability and potential of operations.

“In temperate regions, such as North America, sheep are reproductively active during a very defined season,” Knights commented. “The percentage of ewes in stages of reproductive activity increases in July, August and September, then begins to decline in December, January and February.” 

He continued, “By March, very few ewes actually exhibit any signs of estrus or reproductive activity.” 

The timing of natural reproductive activity is driven by exposure to daylight. 

“The ewe measures daylight, and the time of sexual receptivity correspond to the period of shorter days in the fall,” Knights said. “The animals will be at peak reproductive activity in October, November and December, and as days begin to get longer, reproductive activity ceases. Then, ewes enter a period of anestrus.” 

Consequences

Because of the seasonal nature of reproduction, Knights commented that several impacts are felt by operations.

“Seasonality of reproduction confines the breeding season to one time for the year, and as a result, we have lower annual lifetime productivity of ewes,” he said, continuing that when breeding and lambing occurs within defined windows, the result is lambs reach market weight over a defined period, as well, which has depreciative effect on prices. 

“Most of our lambs hit the market at the same time, in the fall period, when prices are relatively low,” Knights explained. “We see that feeder lamb prices tend to be high in June and July before going low for the fall season. Low prices coincide with high lamb supply.”

He added, “Out-of-season breeding would allow us to target higher prices and get lambs to market when prices are high. If we look at an out-of-season breeding model, it suggests if we can breed animals so they lamb in the fall, perhaps our lambs will be ready for market when prices are relatively high.” 

Out-of-season breeding

Knights posed the question, however, of how can ranchers influence ewes to breed out of season.

“Their reproductive system is, in a sense, deactivated out of season, so we need to get the reproductive system of the ewe going again,” he said. 

Luteinizing hormone (LH) is commonly used as a measure of reproductive activity in the ewe. When LH is high, ewes are reproductively active. 

“If we want to get ewes back into reproductive activity, we need to do something to increase the secretion of LH,” Knights comments.

Strategies

A handful of measures can be utilized to influence ewes to produce LH.

First, Knights said light manipulation can be effective but only for small numbers of ewes.

“If we can perhaps make the ewe think it’s fall, with short days, she might begin cycling again,” he said. “The problem is, this strategy is not very practical. We can’t take a large group of ewes and exclude them from light in the summer very easily.” 

An alternative would be to treat the ewe with melatonin, known as the “hormone of darkness.” 

“Melatonin is only secreted during the night,” Knights explained. “Synthetic melatonin is available to treat the animal and make her believe she experiencing the shortened days of the breeding season, but it is not currently approved for use in ewes.” 

Male effect

The most popular method of inducing estrus is the “ram effect.”

“It was discovered some time ago that if we introduce rams to a group of ewes in anestrus that have been separated from rams for a period of time, the abrupt introduction would stimulate the secretion of LH, eventually resulting in ovulation,” Knights explained. 

Research has shown that, if rams are introduced to a flock of ewes, two peaks in estrus activity are observed at 17 and 24 days after introduction. 

“Within two to three days after introduction of rams, some ewes start to ovulate, but at least in some proportion of ewes, that ovulation is silent, resulting in no estrus,” he said. “We see estrus and ovulation occurring after 17 days, at which point ewes are sexually receptive and pregnancy can be established.” 

Knights presented during a webinar sponsored by the American Sheep Industry Association’s Let’s Grow program. Learn more about out-of-season breeding from Knight’s presentation in upcoming articles in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of 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 – “Wyoming’s sheep industry has been an important segment of the state’s economy,” stated Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Director Amy Hendrickson.

Hendrickson spoke about the history of sheep in Wyoming during a presentation at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper on Oct. 10.

“Originally, Wyoming was just a highway for sheep. A lot of them came out of northern California and Oregon,” she said.

Thousands of sheep were driven eastward across the country through the state of Wyoming.

“In 1866, Major Kimball of Red Bluff, Calif. trailed large bunches of sheep across Idaho and Wyoming, all the way to the Missouri River. He would trade them for mules all along the way,” she noted as an example.

Ideal grazing

As sheepherders moved through the state, they realized that the Wyoming landscape provided excellent forage and rangeland for their animals.

Hendrickson commented, “Wyoming’s plains provide highly nutritious forage and good shelter for sheep during the stormy, winter weather. The mountain pastures provide excellent summer grazing. Wyoming is really ideal for sheep production.”

Unlike cattle, sheep adapt well to the diverse grazing conditions found throughout the state, and they are able to utilize forages that cows ignore.

“Despite the ongoing myth that continues to this day, sheep and cattle can graze the same areas with proper management,” she noted.

Also unlike cattle, sheep eat snow and drink water from melting snow and ice.

“This allowed producers to utilize areas like the Red Desert. In fact, the Red Desert area became a very popular stopping point for sheep during their travels east,” she remarked.

Flocks were often kept in the area through the wintertime to recuperate and recondition before moving on along the early trails.

Trailing challenges

“We hear a lot about the cattle trails, but sheep drivers also ran into a lot of the same hazards,” continued Hendrickson.

Predators, for example, proved to be a challenge, as they do to this day.

“Predatory animals like wolves, coyotes, bobcats, eagles, ravens, bears and even domestic dogs were a huge source of loss for sheep producers and sheep drivers as they were trying to move across the country,” Hendrickson said.

Poisonous plants could also be deadly to sheep, including woody aster and larkspur.

“A 1911 bulletin from the Wyoming Experiment Station reported millions of dollars of sheep losses due to woody aster, and that still remains an issue to this day. We have to be really careful with sheep in that regard,” she commented.

Foot-and-mouth disease, scabies and other diseases were a problem as well.

Range conflicts

“Then, there were also the range conflicts. The sheepherders and their sheep were really sitting ducks because one herder would be responsible for anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 sheep. There were large groups of cattlemen who would go in and kill all the sheep,” explained Hendrickson.

In 1902, 150 masked men attacked 15 different flocks of sheep, killing 2,000 animals. One herder was killed, many other herders were driven out of the county, and surviving sheep were scattered.

“Arrests were rare and even if they did occur, convictions were even rarer,” she stated.

Similar events were common until the Spring Creek incident in 1909, when 15 masked men attacked a sheep camp near Ten Sleep, killing two wealthy and well-liked woolgrowers and their herders.

“Of the seven people who were arrested, two of them turned state’s witnesses, and the remaining five were convicted to various sentences ranging from three years in prison to life in prison,” she explained.

State collaboration

Weather, management of the range and public lands issues also contributed to the challenges that sheepherders faced and still face today.

“In 1902, representatives from 10 counties gathered in Cheyenne to form a state association to combat the masked men and address issues such as scabies and lobbying issues in Wyoming and Washington, D.C.,” Hendrickson remarked.

The Wyoming Wool Growers Association was officially established in 1905 and remains active today, carrying on the tradition of representing the sheep industry in state and national government.

“Though cattle were established first in this state, the sheep numbers were higher than the cattle industry’s numbers for many, many years,” mentioned Hendrickson.

Demand

Early on, sheep were used primarily for food, but over time, wool became much more important. Wyoming is still known for top-quality wool production.

“The largest shipment of wool ever to be reported as shipped by rail out of the state was 800,000 pounds, and it went to Boston,” Hendrickson noted.

Although demand has decreased over the years, wool is regaining popularity as a fiber that is durable and fire-retardant. New technology has also helped to reduce issues of itchiness and shrinkage of wool fibers.

“The history of the sheep industry in Wyoming is huge,” Hendrickson added. “This is just a scratch in the surface.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Preparations for the 2013 Ram Sire Test are currently underway as producers select intact male lambs for the test.  This test will determine the feed efficiency, average daily gain (ADG), loin eye area (LEA) and back fat thickness (BFT) of the lambs. 

Producers who participate in the test primarily enter black-faced lambs, due to their status as meat sheep, but white-faced lambs are also welcome to participate. A separate wool production test targeted towards white-faced sheep is slated for the fall.

“In my program, I raise Suffolk range lambs and sell them to producers,” says Allison Ramsbottom, a Buffalo sheep producer. “This test helps me to quickly improve the genetics of my herd. The improvements are made a whole lot faster with the test and have saved me a lot of money because of that.”

In addition to Suffolk, other breeds that were represented in the 2012 test included Dorset, Hampshire cross and Targhee. 

The ram sire test

Ram lambs will be moved to UW in Laramie on June 17 for a 14-day “warm up” period before the test begins. 

Once at the testing facility, rams are initially sorted by body size and grouped to limit competition, which may result in smaller rams due to lack of access to feed. They will be sorted throughout the test to keep the group as uniform as possible. 

A maximum of 200 rams will be tested this year. 

“This year’s test will again feature the GrowSafe system, a revolutionary new program that used electronic ID with an integrated computer system to measure and track individual animal feed intake data,” states the Wyoming Wool Grower’s Association (WWGA). “The GrowSafe system is the first of its kind that provides an efficient and accurate method to collect and track feed intake data on an animal basis, which allows for characteristics such as feed conversion, to be measured continuously.”

During the test, lambs are fed a pelleted diet that mimics what would be available for consumption on the range – high protein and low fat. Rams are measured for growth every three weeks during the 75-day duration of the test. This data, paired with the information collected by the GrowSafe system, is used to calculate feed efficiency and ADG.

Evaluation of the lambs

Once the test has concluded, the bucks will be ordered by their overall performance, and the top 20 performing lambs will be invited to the 2013 State Ram Sale, which will take place Sept. 10 in Douglas. 

The top 20 rams in 2012 had respectable averages in their traits. ADG was calculated to be 1.02 pounds per day, LEA of 3.41 inches, BFT of 0.30 inches and visual appraisal of 7.6 out of 10.

Visual appraisal of each ram, conducted by three noted and recognized sheep industry professionals, will be averaged and included as a component in the final overall index score. Judges vary each year in order to keep the scoring diverse. 

“Visual appraisal includes structural conformation, including bent leg, parrot mouth, lameness for whatever reason, things such as these,” says Kalli Koepke, UW Sheep Unit manager. “Obviously you don’t want these problems, especially in rams that are being sold for the purpose of breeding.  They get scored on a one to 10 scale, with one being bad and 10 being good.”

“The final index is calculated using an equation out of all the scores that are shown for the various categories,” Koepke continues. “Each category has a percentage for how much of that score is in the final index.”

She adds, “Average daily gain is the highest percentage of the equation. If a ram does poor on ADG then his final index is going to reflect that, and he won’t do well in the test placing.”

Rams will be placed in pens of 20 with their performance data available for purchasers to review at the Ram Sale. 

“More progressive producers will want to see that data,” Ramsbottom says. “If you can buy a ram that is more feed efficient, with the high cost of grain, it will save you a lot of money because they will spend less time in the feedlot.” 

Some breeders use the data for their own personal improvement of the flock, but the information is also pertinent to purchasers of the bucks.

Kelsey Tramp is 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.