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Producing and selling sheep seedstock

Seedstock sales can greatly increase the income derived from a sheep enterprise. Seedstock is another word for breeding stock, animals whose role is to be parents and contribute genes to the next generation.

Seedstock may be purebred or crossbred, registered or unregistered, rams or ewes. They may be of any breed or breed cross, so long as there is a market for them. Some breeds and breed crosses will have more ready markets. Demand will vary by geographic region and segment of the sheep industry.

In the sheep industry, seedstock is produced by universities and agricultural research stations, private companies, and individual producers. Breeding stock tends to sell for higher (sometimes much higher) prices than lambs for meat. At the same time, production costs are higher (sometimes much higher).

Most of the genetic improvement in the sheep industry occurs in the purebred flocks that produce seedstock. These should be the "elite" flocks of their breed and the industry. Selection should be for economically important traits. The traits that are emphasized in a selection program will vary by breed and the role the breed plays in the commercial sheep industry.

Economically important traits for commercial sheep production

Dam breeds
Sire breeds

Early puberty
Fertility
Prolificacy
Mothering ability
Milk production
Pounds of lamb weaned

Efficiency
Easy care
Parasite resistance
Resistance to foot rot
Longevity
Fleece traits
Libido
Lamb vigor
Lamb survival
Post weaning growth
Feed efficiency
Carcass traits
Scrapie resistance

Though more difficult to quantify, sheep sold for breeding should be structural and reproductively sound. Rams should be held to more stringent standards than ewes.

Breed registries

Breed registries play an important role in the production and marketing of seedstock. Breed associations set the standards for their breed, determine eligibility for registry, and advertise their breed to the sheep industry and agricultural community. Participation in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) is done through breed associations.

Higher standards of health

Sheep producers that sell breeding stock should strive for high animal standards. Biosecurity is of utmost importance. Closed flocks are recommended. Seedstock producers should enroll their flocks in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program, a monitoring program that confers "scrapie-free" status after five years of scrapie-free monitoring. Rams should be genotyped for scrapie. QQ rams should probably not be sold for breeding.

It goes without saying that seedstock flocks should be free from footrot, pinkeye, soremouth, caseous lymphanenditis, epididymitis, and other contagious diseases. In the very least, the presence of these diseases on a farm or in the past should be disclosed to potential buyers. Ideally, the flock should be tested for OPP (ovine progressive pneumonia). Johne's disease is another disease that is becoming of increased importance.



Performance record keeping

Seedstock producers should keep detailed on-farm records. Birth records should be recorded. Lambs should be weighed to determine weaning weights and post-weaning rate-of-gain. Weights should be adjusted for sex of lamb, type of birth and rearing, and age of dam. Comparisons should be made among lambs in the same contemporary group (same management and feeding regime).

Producers of terminal sire breeds (e.g. Suffolk, Hampshire, and Texel) are encouraged to participate in central ram performance tests. A central performance test is where rams from different flocks are brought to one central location where performance is recorded.

The goal of a central performance test is to evaluate genetic differences among animals. Any breed of ram can be consigned, but the data collected is of less importance to the maternal breeds. Maternal traits are much harder to evaluate.

The National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) calculates across-flock EPD's for sheep flocks. EPD stands for "expected progeny difference." EPDs provide an estimate of the genetic value of a animal as a parent. Lambs with superior EPDs are predicted to produce offspring which have superior performance as compared to the breed average.

Breeds that participate in NSIP include Columbia, Coopworth, Dorper, Dorset, Hampshire, Katahdin, Rambouillet, Romney, Polypay, Suffolk, and Targhee.

Other countries have similar computerized performance record keeping programs and sire referencing schemes. Some U.S. producers participate in Australia's LAMBPLAN.

Advertising

Seedstock do not sell themselves. Some forms are advertising are usually necessary. Signs at the entrance to the farm on on the farm truck or trailer are a good start. Advertising in newspapers and magazines should be considered. A web site is an excellent way to promote breeding stock sales. There are many web sites that list farms for free. Exhibiting sheep at shows, fairs, and festivals is another way to promote breeding stock.




Export

There is a growing export market for U.S. sheep genetics. United States Livestock Genetics Export, Inc. (USLGE) is a national not-for-profit trade association that facilitates the export of cattle, swine, sheep, and goats to other countries.

There is a lot of paperwork associated with export sales. Animal health is the most important aspect. Each country has requirements pertaining to the importation of live animals, semen, and embryos. Due to disease issues, some countries requirements are more stringent that others.

Diseases of concern for export include scrapie, bluetongue, foot-and-mouth disease, and brucellosis. Due to diseases issues, semen and embryos have greater potential for export, as they present limited disease risk. Scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow" disease) are the greatest barriers to international trade.


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Late updated 18-Jun-2011 by Susan Schoenian.
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