Scott County Hair Sheep Association
I’d like to thank you for inviting me. I’ve had a great time seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones today and I always look forward to talking sheep and sharing ideas. I am excited about the hair sheep business today and the opportunities we have ahead. We have many breeds and types of hair sheep to choose from more than ever before. We have the opportunity to really grow our segment of the sheep industry into a larger and more influential part of the business. With these opportunities come many challenges. I believe some of our biggest challenges are to improve our numbers and the meat qualities of our sheep.
As past president and current board member of NAHSA & ADSBS, and member of a lamb coop I have worked with all kinds of sheep, helped new sheep producers get started, and sold lamb. I have enjoyed success showing sheep and it has been good to see both the positive and the negative side of the show ring. It’s been a real challenge to cris-cross the country attending and organizing shows and sales for hair sheep and I count it a great joy in my life to have met so many nice people in the sheep business from so many walks of life. One of the many reasons I am excited to be with you today is the work you have done in selling lamb. At the end of the day this is what we are all about and that is putting meat in front of the consumer.
In producing and selling lamb under my own label I proved something to myself and to many of my customers. Yes I proved that I could jump through all the red tape of labeling, processing, marketing, and retailing meat but that was not all I set out to do. I didn’t set out to just sell lamb from our ranch. I set out to see if I could produce the finest tasting lamb in the country. Well that’s a big undertaking and definitely takes some planning and maybe a bit of arrogance. It helped that I had the right kind of sheep to produce the mild flavor the consumer in this country demands. I am firmly convinced that breed makes a difference and hair sheep are milder tasting than other breeds. There have been studies that have shown muttony flavor is associated with fineness of fiber. So it stands to reason that hair sheep theoretically would be the mildest tasting. What else could I do to make sure every ounce of lamb I sold was tasty and my customer, many of whom will be tasting their first bite, will be wowed? Other than breed, age, sex, and feed also contribute to flavor and tenderness. Now here we go with the anecdotal evidence you hear every time meat is discussed. “I’ve eaten rams and they were very good, just as good as wethers”. That can work a lot of the time but what about those rams that just have other things on their minds besides grazing and growing. It is about consistency. The same goes for feeding. Some of you like to grow out your lambs on grass but is your grass the same as the next ranchers? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe some times of the year it’s adequate to get the growth rates you need and other times it is not. I am from dry West Texas and grass is not a term we use much and it certainly does not mean that it is green. How do we get consistency in our product? What about marbling? If you grow them out on grass how old are they going to be when they reach slaughter weight? Remember age is a major factor in meat quality. Now I am going to step on some toes here but I believe to get the consistency we need to wow the public with our product we need grain finished lamb. What about the health benefits of grass fed meat you ask? Well there are a few benefits and they have been highly touted by niche marketers. There was a study completed recently at Texas A&M by Dr. Stephen Smith on fatty acid components of beef. They had grass fed, Choice, and Prime and compared how each affected LDL and HDL cholesterol levels in men. The Prime was better than Choice and Choice better than grass fed in reducing bad cholesterol levels without reducing the good cholesterol levels. In other words the longer they were fed grain the more marbling they had and the better the meat was for you. Well I may not look like it but I love to eat and I love well marbled meat so this study is great news for me! Folks, the bottom line is meat is good for you.
Another way we can improve quality and consistency of our lamb is through performance testing of our seed stock. I’ve kept weights and other statistics on sheep off and on for years but you must have something to compare to in order for your information to mean anything. NSIP has been used by some breeders but it lacked many features and data was only compiled once annually. Now NSIP is being rolled into Australia’s Lamb Plan. This will be a great asset to us and will encourage more breeders to begin performance testing. For Dorper breeders the advantages will be even larger than any other breed. This is because of the large number of Dorpers in the Australian database and the many AI sires used both down under and in the US. Other breeds are either not present in Australia or the difference between the breed here versus there are too great for comparisons to be meaningful. LambPlan has an index called Dorper Dollars. It takes into consideration weaning weight, maternal weaning weight, post weaning weight, loin eye depth at a constant weight, fat, & number of lambs weaned. The emphasis on fat has been reduced slightly so as to not penalize lambs that are slightly fatter than ideal but still have great carcass quality. With the ability to generate EPD’s sheep producers can make substantial progress toward a better more efficient sheep.
GPD’s & MVP’s the new frontier. With EPD’s we have Expected Progeny Differences and they’re calculated by taking measurements of the live animal. With GPD’s we have Genetic Progeny Differences which are made up of several individual markers for one trait. Now they have the MVP or Molecular Value Prediction which incorporates a 56 marker panel for core cattle traits. A marker panel consists of markers having effects on multiple traits simultaneously and accounts for how these markers interact.
The mapping of the bovine genome opened up tremendous opportunity for beef producers. Now cattlemen can economically test for the genes responsible for marbling, tenderness, feed efficiency, and others that contribute to the bottom line and to customer satisfaction. More genes and more accuracy are coming as work continues. As for sheep the sheep genome is still being mapped but at a much faster pace since they have the cattle genome to go by. When the genes are identified there will a single test that will test for 50 or more genes. Wow, the ability to test for so many genes in one simple test and be able to do it on very young lambs. Will this make EPD’s obsolete? I don’t know but I do know it is progress and it’s exciting.
I would like to congratulate you for having such an active and successful organization. You are a model for others to follow and the future for hair sheep looks bright.
I told you I was excited about the future of the sheep business. Now I hope you’ll join me and discuss the many opportunities ahead of us.
Philip D. Glass