Why Should Producers Keep Production and Performance Records on their Sheep?
by A. Richard Cobb
The keeping and using of production records is an important tool for producers wanting to develop a flock of sheep that will prosper under his/her production system.
In Management Guideline for Efficient Sheep Production, Ricketts et al states;”A combination of high production and efficient production is the key to a profitable sheep operation.” To ensure a high return per ewe, producers must give special attention to the following:
- A high conception rate (at least 95%)
- A high lambing rate (at least 175 percent)
- Low lamb mortality (ideally below 10 percent)
- A strong marketing program for market lambs, breeding stock, cull ewes and wool
- Heavy shearing ewes and rams with high quality fleeces
- Longevity of breeding stock
To attain these important goals producers must put as many factors in their favor as possible. The selection of healthy, vigorous sheep of known backgrounds from well managed flocks is the first step in a successful program. Ideally you will be able to use the records collect by the person you buy your sheep from to secure animals for your flock.
Other components of a successful sheep operation are to maintain the sheep in a stress free environment with adequate nutrition and disease control. A good set of working production and informational records will help producers to select superior replacements from high-producing ewes and to cull low-producing females. Records of previous performance must be used to increase the accuracy of selection and culling decisions. The most progress will be made if these decisions are based on objective information and records.
When making selections for replacements, some producers place major emphasis on visual appraisal while others place major emphasis on the records produced by their animals. I believe that selection is most successful when both visual appraisal and evaluation of accurate records of the sheep involved are used. A producer should select sheep that are both visually acceptable to them and have proven they can thrive in the environment the producer has created in his/her flock.
Record keeping takes time and costs money if you have to pay someone to help you. Therefore, producers should carefully consider which factors they feel are important enough for them to measure. The records should be kept for your use first. Not so you can sell sheep based on them.
The SID handbook states: Types of records to be maintained by the sheep breeder can be grouped into six major categories: I have listed data that can be recorded for each trait under the trait.
Age at first lambing
Identification of lambs
Sex of lambs
Date of lambing
Number of lambs born
Ease of lambing
30, 60, 90 day pre-weaning and weaning weights
Type of rearing (single or multiple)
Level of supplemental feeding
30, 60, 90, 120, 240 and 365 day weights, depending on which weights are consistent with the production and selection system the animals are in.
Height measurement, or specific bone measurement, at specific times
Fleece weights – grease and clean
Quality – staple length and micron
Carcass weight and length, fat depth, weight of Kidney-pelvic fat, Quality grade, Loin eye size, Yield grade.
Lactation Traits for Dairy ewes
Daily milk production recorded at monthly intervals
Length of lactation
Fat and protein composition of the milk
Most of the economically important traits considered for selection can be measured by the producer. For others, such as carcass and wool micron measurements, people with special skills may be needed.
All record keeping systems need to have a place for observations or comments concerning either the lamb or the dam. These would include:
- Attitude of the ewe – is she a good or bad mother? Bad means she is nervous, high strung, crazy, or cannot seem to keep tabs on the lambs.
- Any lamb that is colored or marked in an unusual way.
- Any lamb that has a physical problem
- Be sure to identify any grafted lambs and which ewe they are grafted onto.
- How and when, as well of the date each lamb was disposed of.
- Record the buyer of each lamb to leave the flock
- If the lamb is sold as a breeding animal, record the Scrapie Identification number of the lamb.
- Keep a list with the Scrapie Identification Number of each sheep in your flock, either purchased or raised. Record the number of each sheep purchased, the date of purchase, and who you bought it from. If the number is lost, replace it asap with another tag and record that number. Keep the list up to date as it could be very important to you in the future.
Information can be collected and stored in a simple manner such as a folder or clip board. It is suggested that you keep two copies. One for use in the barn collecting data and one for safe storage if you loose the first copy, or you forget and lay the clipboard down within reach of the sheep.
Individual ewe cards should also be kept for each ewe in the flock. Transfer the data from the barn sheet to the card. Information can also be transferred to a computer program for storage or for analysis. For a list and description of various computer programs, do a computer word search for “Sheep Record Programs”. One such place will be http://hem.bredband.net/ronpar/sheepsoftware.html which has a description of a number of programs used for storage or analysis. There are always new programs being developed.
Other measurements or records to keep learning more about your flock and the way you manage them:
1. Which part of the lambing season was the lamb born in; First 1/3, Middle or last 1/3 of the breeding season.
2. The number and percentage of lambs sired by each ram that were born in the first, middle and last 1/3 of the breeding season.
3. The number of ewes exposed to each ram: The number of lambs and lambing percentage sired by each ram exposed to ewes.
4. Number of lambs that died in the first five days after birth. Your guess as to reason of death.
5. Number of lambs sired by each ram that died for whatever reason, within the first five days after birth, as well their mothers, their mother’s sire, and their own sire.
6. Number and percentage of lambs by each ram that live to go to market or to be a replacement.
7. Any physical abnormalities sired by each ram. Investigate to see if there are similarities in the breeding of these lambs.
8. The identification or number of ewes that did not lamb that we exposed to each ram.
Once the data has been collected on the traits you feel are important for you program, you need to understand how to use it to allow you to make intelligent decisions. For more information on this go to the Iowa State Fact sheet no. 1; Recommendations for Sheep Selection Programs at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM989X1.pdf
This site does an excellent job of walking you through the steps to better job of understanding the data you have collected.
- Objectively collected data is necessary to develop a strong flock of productive sheep under your flock management system.
- The data is only as good as the the people collecting it. Collect all the data, not just what you think will look good.
- Collect the data for your use first.
- Use the data in conjunction with visual appraisal for your final decisions.