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Laramie – The first of two ram tests conducted in Wyoming wrapped up several weeks ago, and Laramie Research and Extension Center (LREC) Director Doug Zalesky says, “This is the 54th anniversary of the White-Face Ram Test.”

This year, 14 producers consigned 52 rams to the test, where a variety of data related to both carcass and wool quality was collected. Consignors came largely from Wyoming, with two producers from Utah this year.

At the conclusion of the test, rams were ranked, and the top rams that are eligible for certification are sold via silent auction.

“We collect all kinds of data through this test,” Zalesky explains. “We collect wool data and carcass information and, more recently, we collect feed efficiency data through the use of our GrowSafe system.”

LREC Assistant Farm Manager and Sheep Unit Manager Kalli Koepke says, “This data can help producers genetically improve their flocks.”

“Most of our consignors are stud ram producers,” she adds. “If they can improve their genetics on the ram side and sell them, we are increasing the profitability and genetics across the flock.”

LREC has one of three ram tests held nationwide, and it hosts the only ram test collecting information on feed efficiency as residual feed intake (RFI).

“There’s another test in North Dakota at the Hettinger Station and one in Texas,” Koepke says. “We all run the same test with the same parameters, but Wyoming is unique in that we’re the only ones who can do RFI data.”

Data

During the test, Koepke notes that the data collected is varied.

“In the White-Face Test, we collect wool data, so they have to be here longer than the Black-Face Test we do in the summer,” Zalesky says. “The rams are here for 140 days, whereas the black-face rams are only here for 70 to 75 days because we are only collecting growth and carcass data.”

Rams are determined to be eligible for certification based on a set of parameters developed by the Rambouillet Association. The traits included in the certification process are the most economically relevant traits. The index ratio for the test compiles those traits.

“It includes staple length, clean wool, wool microns, face cover, wrinkle score and average daily gain (ADG,” Koepke says. “They also have to have an R in their scrapie genotype.”

The data that can’t be collected from the White-Face Ram Test empirically is scored by a panel of producers.

“I get a panel of producers to come down and mark the lambs for face cover and wrinkle scores. I take all of those scores and average them out,” she continues. “I also have them help me take the staple length of the wool because we measure that on the ram.”

Face cover and wrinkle scores are largely subjective, says Koepke, so she uses an average in an attempt to eliminate bias and create a more accurate score.

“For the other wool data, we send wool to Yokum McColl in Denver, Colo.,” Zalesky adds. “We collect the ADG data, and the genotyping is done through a blood test.”

Trends

A steady number of consignors has been seen  over the past several years, Zalesky notes.

“Our averages this year were a bit lower than last year’s,” Koepke says of the results. “It’s hard to compare one year to another. There are certain situations and conditions that we can’t replicate from one year to the next.”

For example, this year, she says that the 2015-16 winter was more difficult than in previous years.

“Our average gains were a little bit lower this year, and we didn’t have as many certified rams this year,” Koepke says. “Wool was also coarser this year, but that could be as a result of the feed intake. Intake was higher this year, and it was higher than we expected.”

She adds, however, that the coarseness of the wool may improve by one grade over the next year.

Field day

On March 28, sheep producers from across the state will gather at LREC for the annual White-Face Ram Test Field Day.

“At the field day, most of the consignors come to Laramie, and we have a good event,” Zalesky says. “We also have a silent auction for the top rams that are eligible to be certified. It essentially ends up being the top 30 percent of all Rambouillets.”

This year, 11 rams were eligible to certify and will sell through the silent auction.

“If consignors want to sell their rams private treaty through that event, that is also an option,” he adds.

The event starts with an opportunity to view the rams.

“Then, we have lunch, and we also typically try to have an educational program associated with the event,” Zalesky says. “We talk about the test, and then we have the silent auction.”

He adds, “It’s a good event, and we really encourage everyone to come down to see what we have. There are some of the highest quality rams in Wyoming for sale at the event.”

Saige Albert 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..

Laramie – This fall, University of Wyoming (UW) teamed up with Oregon State University Extension, Washing State University Extension, Superior Farms and the American Sheep Industry Association’s Let’s Grow initiative to explore the marketability of lambs through a course titled Lamb 300.

Lamb 300 is a three-day workshop that allowed students the opportunity to learn, in-depth about producing and marketing high-quality, profitable lambs.

Whit Stewart of Montana State University said, “A lot of young producers haven’t been trained in sheep production. Though information has been passed on through their families, it hasn’t been extensive.”

“This program is a great way for those students to learn a lot more about lamb production,” he added.”

The workshop started with an program to assist producers in assessing carcass traits on a live lamb. Caleb Boardman of the UW Animal Science Department described how to assess back fat and yield grade in lambs.

Evaluating lambs

“It’s important to estimate and understand carcass traits based on live animals,” Boardman commented.

First, he noted that weight is an important factor.

“Live weights can range extensively, but we don’t want lambs that are too big,” he said. “Then, we evaluate dressing percentage.”

Dressing percentage of lambs ranges from 45 to 57 percent, and the percentage influences carcass value significantly. These percentages are calculated by dividing carcass weight by shrunk live weight.

“Fill affects dressing percentage,” Boardman noted. “That is based on whether the lamb has been off feed for 12 to 24 hours or if it is coming straight off the bunk line.”

He added, “The biggest factor is the weight of the pelt.  There can be differences among breeds, as well as whether they are shorn or not.”

Muscling and the degree of fatness also increase dressing percentage.

“The heavier muscled an animal is, the more dressing percentage will rise,” Boardman explained. “Heavy-muscled animals range from 54 to 60 percent, depending on their fat.”

Additionally, show lambs tend to have higher dressing percentage because  they are bred for heavier muscle.

Back fat

Back fat is measured between the 12th and 13th rib.

“When we try to estimate back fat on the live animal, we want to look at back fat in the middle of the ribeye area and take an average,” Boardman said. “We measure body wall thickness a little further down.”

Back fat ranges from 0.05 to 0.5 inches, with a lean lamb coming in at 0.15 inches and fat lambs at 0.35.

“0.1 inches of fat is not very much,” he commented, recommending using an old 4-H trick to assess depth of fat. “If we make a fist and rub our fingers over the knuckles, that’s about 0.1 inches back fat. The back of the hand, where we can feel the bones just a little bit would be about 0.2 to 0.25 inches.”

Finally, fatter lambs where a producer can’t feel the ribs likely have close to 0.3 inches of back fat.

Evaluating

Boardman noted that often first impressions are very important when it comes to evaluating livestock.

“I teach my students that they should turn around, look at the animal and give them a score of good, average or bad right away, instantaneously. First impression is important,” he said. “Our former meats judging coach used lean, average or fat.”

He continued, “Start with a range and then move from there. If it’s super lean, it might be 0.15. If the lamb looks fat, it’ll probably be 0.35.”

Fat, he noted, will make an animal  look smoother, wider and deeper.

“Fat can trick us into thinking that lambs have extra muscle, but fat is smooth, whereas muscle is shapely and round,” Boardman said. “We have to get our hands on the lamb to really know. We can feel the fat over the ribs.”

He summarized that muscle will be firm while fat is soft.

“It’s good to get a visual evaluation, but our hands are a great tool toward complementing what we see,” he commented.

Yield grade

Describing yield grade for lambs is more simple than evaluating yield grade of live cattle or hogs.

“Cattle have four factors that affect yield grade, and hogs have two factors,” Boardman said. “When we look at sheep, back fat is the sole factor that goes into yield grade of lambs.”

The formula to figure yield grade in lambs is back fat thickness multiplied by 10. Then, add 0.4 to determine the yield grade.

For example, a lamb with 0.2 inches of back fat would be a yield grade 2.

“Yield grade 2 is ideal,” Boardman said. “Yield grade 3 is concerning and Yield grades 4 and 5 get big discounts.”

Correlations

As producers begin to evaluate their lambs, Boardman noted that muscle size across lambs – and any other animal – is highly correlated.

“Most muscles are correlated,” he explained. “As we look at a lamb, if they have a small forearm, they’ll have small muscles everywhere else.”

Visually, Boardman said that the leg shape is one of the easiest ways to look at muscles.

“We can give them a leg score to see how much thickness there is through the leg and stifle,” Boardman said, adding that the leg size can be a predictor for ribeye size.

Evaluating lambs for carcass traits can help producers to capture more value for their lambs overall.

Look for an overview on the Lamb 300 program in next week’s Roundup, including insight on the course from several attendees.

Saige Albert 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..

 By Jennifer Womack, WLR Managing Editor

Kemmerer – “From docking we were out 716 lambs,” says Kemmerer rancher Dave Julian of his ranch’s losses to bears and wolves this past year. Julian, who ranches in western Wyoming with grazing permits on the Hamsfork drainage north of Kemmerer, is president of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association.
    Of one herd where a bear was preying all summer Julian says, “By the time we trailed them out of the forest you couldn’t even bed them down.” He says, “They were the worst lambs we brought off the mountain.” Of 32 kills he attributes to bears he says Game & Fish verified 21 for reimbursement.
    Wolves working another herd, he says, killed 22 sheep. Julian says 12 were confirmed kills and six were listed as “probable.” He says, “There’s all this talk of being reimbursed in trophy game areas, but it doesn’t take any time at all before the carcass is completely gone.” There are also the losses that don’t result in death.
    For example, he says, the next night the wolves struck another herd further south scattering 800 head of sheep far and wide. “We never did get 80 of them rounded up,” he says noting two days of flying the area.
    “We have eight summer herds,” says Julian noting that every herder saw wolves this year. “All of our allotments border each other,” says Julian noting they run from Lake Alice to the forest service boundary north of Kemmerer during the summer months. He says one herder had to yell to scare off a wolf that was pushing a small bunch of sheep.
    “Between the coyote, the wolf and the bears it was a terrible year,” says Julian. “If we had years like this every year we couldn’t stay in business.” If you’re able to prove the kill and get reimbursed says Julian, “You get paid for the nice two year old ewe, but receive nothing for all the lambs she would have raised for several years.
    “I’m not sure how the stock growers are going to handle this. We have a guy around the sheep every day. Cowmen turn their cows out. I don’t know how they’ll ever get kills verified.”

Heritage, family and sheep are ranch’s driving force

Kemmerer — There is a legacy of sheep ranching in Wyoming. The landscape, with its vast openness, shrubs, grass and sagebrush makes it an optimum area for raising sheep; since the species was introduced in the state, it has played an important role in shaping the economic future of Wyoming, as it has in much of the West.
    Along with the rich, agricultural heritage of sheep ranching, a tough breed of sheepmen was forged. They stood for their family, their state and their industry, working to keep sheep ranching viable.
    “You see it most in the sheep industry. A lot of people give time and willingness to step up and take on tough issues and make tough calls,” says Bryce Reece, executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA). “There seems to be this underlying feeling that one of the things you are supposed to do is that you are supposed to give back. And some feel they have to give back more than they take.”
    These words exactly describe a longstanding sheep ranching family in Wyoming, who for generations, has given what they had and then some to both the national and state sheep industries – the Julian family of Kemmerer.
    “They are very plain spoken, they are brutally honest and they have a huge pride first in their family, second in the industry and in this state,” says Reece of the Julians. “They have had a huge impact.”
    In a time when most people are two to three generations removed from agriculture, Julian Land and Livestock is going strong, with the fourth generation of Julians now working the land and teaching the fifth generation the ways of sheep ranching.
    Truman and Marie Julian, their son Dave and daughter Trudi, and their respective families, run the 10,000-plus head Rambouillet operation, making them one of the largest sheep ranches in Wyoming.
    “They’ve tried to get bigger when most were trying to get out,” says Reece.
    Their operation is typical of most range operations, summering in the high country and wintering in the deserts of Wyoming. They still trail their sheep between the seasons, with the furthest traveling band making a 300-mile round trip from one range and back to the other.
    Not as typical, though, is the Julian’s progressive management of their operation.
    “My dad has always been very progressive and tried new things,” says Dave.
    The operation breeds its own replacement rams but they are always looking for ways to improve the genetics of their flock, focusing on both meat and wool quality.
    “You have two products there. Why just select for one when you can get both?” Dave says.
    In addition to their breeding program, the Julians were one of the first families in the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative.
    “I think the co-op has saved the whole industry,” says Dave. “It raised the prices for everybody, even those not in the co-op.”
     At fall shipping time, the larger lambs, averaging 90 pounds, will go to the feedlot and then into the Mountain States program. The smaller lambs go to pasture and then to market. The Julians specifically breed their bands at different times to provide the lamb market a steady product no matter the season.
    “We’ve been trying to stagger the breeding, so we can hit the market at different times,” Dave says. “We really just try to give what the consumer wants.”
    Dave, also, is looking into diversifying the operation by capitalizing on the one thing that Wyoming is guaranteed to have: wind. The energy boom in Wyoming is gaining power and windmills for the energy generation are in demand.
    It’s this type of forward thinking that has made the Julian family such good leaders in both state and national organizations.
    Truman has served as president of the WWGA, president of the National Public Lands Council and sits on the board of directors of the Western Range Association.
    Dave is currently president of the WWGA and sits on the board of directors of the Mountain Plains Association. In addition, he is active in the American Sheep Industry Association, attending the annual legislative trip to Washington, D.C., for the past three years in hopes of helping our nation’s lawmakers understand the impact of their decisions.
    “Common sense has eluded a lot of people,” he says.
    He is especially concerned about both the management of the public lands he runs on and issues that are revolving around predators and sheep herders.
    “Of course in this country, we couldn’t run without public lands,” he says.
    So far, he has been able to work with the governmental agencies to preserve his allotments – this has been crucial for the Julians’ survival during the latest drought that hit hardest six years ago, as they could move the sheep from allotment to allotment to make up for the lack of forage.
    “We have the flexibility of doing what’s right for the sheep and the land,” he says. However, he can name several examples of other ranchers in the state that have had to change their grazing plan because of endangered or protected species and forage issues.
    “Once they do get us off the range, it will be subdivisions, and there won’t be any habitat. I can see a lot of subdivisions that were once agriculture land,” he relates, adding that he feels environmental groups and their influence on public land policy is the “scariest unknown.”
    In addition, management of predators is a concern. Last year, the Julians lost 800 to 1,000 lambs, even with guard dogs in place, though he touts the dogs as an invaluable tool.
    “Between the bear and the wolf last year, it was unbearable,” he says, adding that the wildlife management agencies have been helpful in managing predators.
    “Our relationship with Game and Fish has come a long way. We are both in the business of raising animals. They need us for the habitat,” Dave says, adding the Wildlife Service’s (WS) programs, such as trapping and aerial management, are irreplaceable for his operation.
    “That’s a great program, and it works real well for us,” he says.
    Something else that is irreplaceable to the Julian operation is the many herders they employ to stay with the bands year round, which is why both Dave and Truman are active in organizations that help bring herders into the country.
    “We need those herders. Without them, we couldn’t stay in business,” he relates.
    The key to protecting those things that are valuable to the sheep business is education and working together, believes Dave, whether it is collaborating with education institutes, promoting products or building relationships with government agencies.
    “Education is probably the biggest thing that people can do so others don’t buy into the misconceptions about the industry,” he says.
    The Julians are very dedicated to this philosophy, donating sheep for various studies at the University of Wyoming, working with UW researchers to monitor their grazing land and working with public land agencies to make improvements on permits, just to name a few.
    But, Dave also stresses that every sheep producer has the responsibility of educating the public, and touts the importance of a unified industry and involvement in the state and national sheep organization.
    He says, “We really do need to be fighting these battles together. It’s our way of life, and I know I don’t want to do anything different.”
    Article written by Becky Talley and reprinted courtesy of the American Sheep Industry Association News.

During lambing, the priority for sheep producers is to successfully deliver a thriving lamb crop. 

Philip Berg and Mike Caskey of the Pipestone Lamb and Wool Program in Minnesota discussed a number of ways that producers can reduce labor during lambing to increase success during a recent American Sheep Industry Association webinar.

“When we start to use lambing pens, we would not like to spend time feeding, watering and bedding lambing pens,” said Caskey. “Rather, we should spend our time making sure our lambs are nursing, bonding with the ewes, healthy and off to a good start.”

Housing requirements

Because lambing occurs during the cold months of January and February for many producers, Berg said that a warm environment is important.

“We don’t want the lambs to chill,” he explained, “so we use warm housing that is above freezing temperature, which is more favorable to lamb health.”

A well-insulated barn aids in retaining heat, requiring minimal heating aside from the heat produced by shorn ewes, Berg said.

“The biggest problem we have is ventilation,” he continued. “Closing a building to maintain heat is a huge mistake.”

Additionally, it is important to have plenty of space for ewes and lambs to move.

“We estimate that ewes need 12 to 16 square feet of building space,” Berg said. “Ewes and their lambs tend to require 20 to 25 square feet of space.”

Berg further noted that he recommends utilizing more space, rather than less, when possible.

“If we reduce space, we will run into more health-related issues and more lamb injuries,” Berg said. “Also, we use 1.5 to two square feet of creep space per lamb.”

Flow of lambs

Berg also noted that the flow of sheep through a lambing system is very important.

“As we move sheep through the system, it is important to focus on the shortest distance from the drop area to the lambing bins,” said Berg. “We want to keep the distance as short as possible to make the flow as easy as possible.”

Berg encouraged producers to evaluate their system to attempt to achieve that goal.

At the same time, Berg recommended that producers should locate artificially reared lambs in a high traffic area.

“We need artificially-reared lambs in an area where we can quickly and easily access them,” he said. “Once we have started them and they have figured out how to nurse, we can move them, but initially we want them in a high traffic area.”

Barn layout

Depending on the facilities available, Caskey encouraged sheep producers to best utilize their barn space by analyzing the flow of lambs further.

“Each person has their own building and situation,” said Caskey.

For example, arranging lambing pens along the outside walls with drop pens and grouping pens in the middle is the best way to utilize a narrow barn.

“In our cold climate, it may not be ideal to have lambing pens along the outside wall,” he said. “It is more space efficient to have the lambing pens along the outside walls, though.”

In the center of the barn, it is also important to divide drop pens using gates through the middle to separate ewes further.

“In all of our lambing barns, we only put 25 ewes in a pen, so it reduces the odds of more than one or two ewes lambing at night and mis-mothering,” Caskey said. “No matter where our ewes are at, it is a short distance to the lambing jugs.”

In a larger barn, lambing pens down the center of a barn is feasible, with drop pens on the outside of the barn.

The most important thing, emphasized Caskey, is a short distance between the drop pens and lambing jugs. 

Watering systems

“Producers spend valuable time feeding, watering and bedding,” said Berg. “We can reduce labor in accomplishing these tasks to allow producers more time to tend to lambs.”

To reduce the amount of time required to water lambs and ewes, Berg suggested utilizing water tubes.

“Watering tubes are a practice that almost all of our producers have in place,” he said, noting that the tubes are easy to fill, can provide water to multiple lambing jugs and are easier to clean.

“Water is our most essential nutrient, and we want to provide clean water,” Berg explained. “These water tubes help us to reduce labor.”

The water tubes are lengths of six-inch pipe with holes cut into the top. 

“For the water openings on top, we learned very quickly that we should cut a fairly narrow opening in the top, so we retain the volume of the tube,” he said.

Using tubes

The tubes are suspended above the ground, so ewes can drink without filling them with straw and manure.

“We suspend the tubes 24 to 27 inches in height, which varies based on the size of the sheep,” he said. “We want them as high as they can be so the ewes can still drink.”

Water tubes, said Berg, can be placed along outside walls to serve one row of pens or in the center of a building, serving two rows of lambing jugs. 

Tubes are filled quickly and easily using a hose or a float system.

“Because of the climate here, most of our producers don’t use a float and hydrant because they have to shut off the hydrant so it doesn’t freeze,” said Berg. 

Additionally, removing the end caps easily empties water tubes for cleaning.

Feed resources

Producers can save time, said Caskey, by utilizing self-feeders that are easily accessible to ewes.

“There are feeders that can feed long-stem hay and grain, and we can self feed, as well,” he noted. 

Some feeder options, he noted are simple.

“Some producers simply use five-gallon pails filled with pellets and grain,” said Caskey. “We can self-feed those, and it will hold enough for four or five days.”

He also noted that ewes should have access as soon as they hit the lambing pens.

Utilizing feeds such as soybean hulls and dried distiller’s grains is also advantageous, so producers have to worry less about acidosis.

At the end of the day, Caskey said, while there are options to reduce labor, each operation is different.

“Each producer has to work with the buildings that they have,” he commented. “Hopefully, the flow of sheep works well, and it is easy to move ewes and lambs. Less labor in a system allows the producer to focus on what is important – saving lambs.”

Saige Albert 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..