American Rambouillet Sheep Association (ARSA) hosts Dakota ram test
Each year, the American Rambouillet Sheep Association (ARSA) hosts a ram performance test at three trial locations including Texas, Wyoming and the Dakota Ram Test, located at the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Hettinger Research Extension Center in Hettinger, ND.
The Dakota Performance Ram Testing program was established primarily to identify differences in wool traits for rams managed under the same environmental conditions and plane of nutrition. Additionally, the trial measures post-weaning growth rate as indicated by weight gain. An added feature is the evaluation of animal carcass merit using real-time ultrasound technology.
The 2011 Dakota Performance Ram Test included 57 rams, with eight rams qualifying for the ARSA’s Certificate of Merit, a value-added program that greatly increases the value of the stock who qualify into the program, according to Chris Schauer, animal scientist and director of the NDSU Hettinger Research Extension Center.
The rams were delivered to the facility in September of 2011, and the results were unveiled on March 17, in a field day where the producers and perspective buyers were invited to attend. For 140 days, the rams were evaluated for daily gains, carcass merit and wool quality.
“The top 30 percent of the registered Rambouillet rams are eligible for the Certified Ram Classification,” explained Schauer. “In addition, a ram must meet acceptable standards from the standpoint of body type, amount of body skin folds, freedom from anatomical weaknesses and wool defects, including extremely hairy britch or excessive amount of belly type wool. All certified rams must have a minimum of 4.0 inch staple length, 9 pounds clean wool, a core wool grade of 23.77 or less, a maximum of 2.7 face cover score, and must have gained at least 0.55 pounds per day on test. This year we had eight rams that certified, which is half of the 30 percent.”
So, what’s the take-home message for sheep producers when looking to purchase a high-quality ram for the upcoming breeding season? Schauer offered some advice.
“As we get into ram-buying season, make sure to look for structurally-correct rams, taking a look at feet and legs, as well as teeth and mouth,” he advised. “After that, it starts to be the goals of the producer. If you are buying for maternal traits to develop a range flock, buy a ram that is moderately-framed with moderate-to-high quality wool. Also, look for rams with growth. We have seen historical lamb prices in the last couple of years with wool prices that have doubled in the last decade. Look for growth without sacrificing wool quality to pass on these traits to both the range flock and the feedlot animals.”
Of course, once a ram is purchased, caring for the investment is critical. A breeding soundness examination is important before turning the rams out to pasture. Additionally, Schauer said nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the ram.
“I like to see rams go into the breeding season in working shape; make sure they have some body condition before turning them out, so they can maintain their weight during the season,” he advised. “Right now would be a good time to have the rams sorted away from the ewes to get them on a higher plane of nutrition before breeding season. Also, be sure to give them a chance to recover.”
2012 looks to be a great year of opportunity for sheep producers.
“The U.S. sheep herd has shrunk due to drought in Australia and Texas, cheap wool prices and the high-labor required of the aging rancher,” Schauer explained. “Meanwhile, our ethnic market has increased demand for lamb here in the U.S. We are also seeing a new generation of lamb consumers, who enjoy the taste of lamb on Easter Sunday or at a white tablecloth dinner. They realize lamb is good, if it’s prepared right.”
Additionally, Kroger and Walmart now carry 100 percent American-raised lamb, so demand is high. However, half of all lamb eaten in the U.S. is still imported, making it a perfect storm for high lamb prices.
“With fewer sheep producers, we no longer have a glut of wool or lamb, but the world keeps expanding,” he said. “Sheep numbers are at a world-record low, with more people needing to eat. The future looks bright for sheep producers.”
To participate in next year’s Dakota Performance Ram Test, contact Schauer through NDSU. For more information, check out: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/HettingerREC/.