Production Efficiency Topics

The Livestock Marketing Information Center worked with the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) to provide baseline estimates regarding the on-farm/ranch costs of producing lambs. Best-estimate industry parameters were used to generate regionally representative budgets.

Lamb production occurs across the U.S. and in a variety of ecological zones; economic costs of production reflect that diversity. Farm level production costs and risk have increased in the last decade and needs to be described and evaluated including feedstuff costs, management practices, labor costs, predator losses, etc. The lamb industry includes several sectors, but this sector is the foundation and economic aspects require careful documentation and estimation.

Many universities have budgets to assist producers, but they are not standardized and most are updated irregularly. Existing budgets and expertise will be evaluated and adapted. As part of their lamb producer educational programs, all of the participants in this Livestock Marketing Information Center project have participated in developing farm/ranch level budgets in their respective regions. The results of this project will be useful in educational programs, policy analysis and applied research for the U.S. lamb industry. Input and output data will be easy to depict graphically and summarize trends.

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Mentoring is an invaluable way to transfer knowledge from the established to the new in any industry. In recognition of this fact, the American Sheep Industry Association has established a mentor/intern network on a state-by-state basis across the nation in an effort to attract and support new producers. These mentoring guidelines are designed to provide a resource for new and experienced producers alike, guiding them in their relationship and highlighting the impact that strong mentoring relationships can have on successful personal and professional development.

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The Sheep Education Catalog provides information on opportunities to learn about sheep production, from online courses, webinars and university courses. Readers are encouraged to contact the author with course title, sponsor and website or descriptive information for new course listings and course updates for the next edition. Author contact: parsons@OptimalAg.com.

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Lambing percentage (prolificacy, number born, lambs born per ewe lambing) is one of the most important factors affecting profitability of a sheep enterprise, regardless of geographic location or production system.

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Financial success in the sheep industry largely depends upon optimizing the income from the sale of lamb – most dollars coming in relative to expenses. The most critical bottom-line number is the total pounds of lamb sold as compared to ewes on inventory. This means the ewe must be bred, maintain the pregnancy with multiple fetuses through parturition and the producer has the ability to sell a live lamb to the next link in the market chain. Managers might benefit from some benchmarks or targets to hit at each of these junctures, knowing that achievable levels will vary with types of operations, geographic locations and climate.

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Improper nutrition during the last month of gestation and early lactationcan have devastating effects on lamb survival and productivity.Most of which occur when ewes are in a poor body-condition score(BCS) entering the last trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, ewe-feedingstrategies to maintain productivity and survival of lambs starts wellbefore this critical time period.

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It is important to recognize that there are several species of gastrointestinal “worms” and they are located in different parts of the digestive tract or other organs. Season of the year can determine which species are affecting the flock and the stage of life or production influence which sheep will be most affected. Factors such as feeds and feeding are influential too.

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Almost everyone has heard the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But it is often forgotten that prevention requires a plan, and the most basic prevention plan starts with biosecurity. Biosecurity refers to management measures taken to prevent disease agents from being introduced to animal populations or between groups if the farm is large. Biosecurity has three main components. These are: 1) isolation; 2) traffic control; and 3) sanitation.

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A key part of reducing lamb mortality is to document loss patterns on an individual farm basis. These patterns may show some variation from year to year, but it is common that farm-specific patterns emerge. Once these patterns are identified, a producer can work with specialists (health, management, nutrition) to develop a prevention plan targeted at those categories of loss that have the greatest potential for impact. With this overall goal in mind, let us examine lamb mortality according to both time and category.

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Vaccines are valuable tools to prevent and control disease. However, vaccines are available for only a few of the potential diseases affecting sheep. Many other sheep diseases can be controlled by preventing initial introduction, by sanitation, by isolation of sick animals and by culling chronically ill animals. Farmers and ranchers should develop their vaccination program in consultation with their veterinarian and take into account the disease problems in their flock and those common in their area. Excessive vaccine use without a plan can be expensive and ineffective.

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Most reproductive traits such as lambs born and pounds weaned are lowly heritable. This means that management and environment greatly impact number born and weaned within a breed. Crossbreeding increases output via beneficial effects of hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is the improved production of a crossbred individual compared to the average of its purebred parents.

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