With the decline in demand for wool and increased desire for “pasture-raised” meat, there is now a need to focus on producing fast-growing, heavily muscled meat animals that can be raised in a low input, pasture-based production system. These factors have stimulated small farmers to ask about new ways to produce low input, high quality market animals for sustainable sheep production. Because the production of pasture-raised lambs has gained national attention, it has resulted in a push for the addition of hair sheep into flocks, especially in the East.
Hair sheep, such as Katahdins, are low maintenance, with a high tolerance to heat and internal parasites and outstanding maternal characteristics, while also having the ability to thrive on low to moderate pasture conditions. These characteristics make this hair sheep breed ideal for use in pasture lamb production. However, Katahdin market lambs are not generally noted for their carcass traits, with a rather small carcass compared to traditional market lambs. Therefore, research needs to identify a crossbreeding system to combine the low-input, excellent maternal characteristics of the Katahdin female with a male that would produce faster growing market lambs with better carcass qualities on pasture.
Four years of studies were conducted to evaluate the use of three sire breeds (Suffolk, Dorper, and Texel) for producing quality lambs in a pasture-based production system. The overall objective was to identify a sustainable approach to sheep production that is beneficial to farmers in terms of profitability and promoting a satisfying lifestyle, while also enhancing the environment and protecting community values. However, the specific objectives were: 1) to compare the lambing survival of three sheep breed crosses; Texel, Dorper and Suffolk-sired Katahdin crossbred lambs vs purebred Katahdin lambs, 2) to compare the growth performance of these breed crosses on a pasture production system, 3) and to compare the carcass characteristics of the lambs as market animals in order to develop an alternative but competitive livestock enterprise in the Northeast and nationwide.
For the project, lamb body weights at birth and pre- and post-weaning were collected and average daily gain recorded. Live animal ultrasound measurements for loin/rib eye area and backfat were conducted. In addition, fecal egg counting was conducted to determine parasite resistance among the breeds. A subset of lambs was slaughtered at finishing and carcass and meat quality/sensory traits were measured. University and on-farm research studies were conducted and the results were presented at extension workshops, during farm tours and at producer group meetings as a part of the project. Results were also presented at National scientific meetings, further expanding the impact of the project.
A product of this project was the implementation of different low input crossbreeding systems that allow small producers to take advantage of niche markets in their areas. Other products include newsletter articles, scientific abstracts, posters and 2 new farms involved in sustainable lamb production. More informational products are planned, including a fact sheet or farmer-level handout for workshops and Extension specialist level peer-reviewed manuscripts. In addition, producers involved are using less chemical dewormers through the use of more sustainable parasite control methods, including the use of the FAMACHA© eye color monitoring system, more extension personnel were trained in sustainable small ruminant production techniques and there are more farmers interested in the production of hair sheep.
Increased immigration of people into the U.S. from countries whose inhabitants eat primarily lamb and goat meat, and increased interest in higher protein diets has contributed to an increased interest in lamb meat. This demand for lamb meat can be exploited by American sheep producers instead of maintaining higher levels of lamb meat imports. However, there is a decreased demand for wool in the U.S. and a mounting interest in healthier meat from pasture-raised animals and for meat in general, so alternative, more sustainable lamb production systems should be explored.
Because traditional lamb breeds are late-maturing, larger breeds (with wool) that meat processors generally prefer, market lambs are primarily raised in a feedlot-type system. However, although feedlot lambs grow faster than those raised on pasture, lambs fed concentrate diets also have fatter carcasses with higher levels of “unhealthy” fat, resulting in meat that is not the preference of the majority of ethnic consumers and that does not fit the current lifestyle of lower fat, healthier eating. Therefore, although feedlot-raised animals meet the processors demand of “large” lambs at slaughter, the recent changes in consumer demand may not be met with the resulting fatter lamb carcasses/meat.
With the increased desire for “pasture-raised”, leaner, possibly healthier meat by both ethnic and domestic consumers, there is now a need to focus on producing heavily muscled, acceptable-tasting meat animals that can be raised in a low input, pasture-based, more sustainable production system. This need has stimulated interest in new ways to produce high quality market animals in low input sustainable sheep production systems, specifically using breeds of hair sheep.
Hair sheep, such as Katahdins, are low maintenance and very adapted to sustainable production but do not produce lambs with carcasses acceptable to most traditional meat processors. Therefore, in order to more successfully utilize hair sheep breeds, research needs to identify a crossbreeding system that combines the low-input, excellent maternal characteristics of the Katahdin female with a male that would produce faster growing market lambs with better carcass/meat qualities when raised on pasture.
Sheep production profit seem to be driven by several things, including cost control, overall production, post-weaning weight gain in lambs, and market price among others. Therefore, identifying a crossbreeding system that provides acceptable animals (leaner) with good prices at market, and acceptable growth rates from a low input production system would provide greater profits for the producer while providing a lamb that is desired by the consumers. Therefore, market demand (consumer needs) should be a factor in deciding which sire breed to use in market lamb production, since a sire that produces the most-desired lambs will most likely receive the highest market prices.
Therefore, this research was designed to help farmers identify a crossbreeding system to combine the low-input, excellent maternal characteristics of the Katahdin female (since a flock is mostly females) with a male breed that would produce faster growing market lambs with better carcass qualities on pasture. The breeds chosen for alternative sires to study include the Dorper, Suffolk and Texel. The Dorper is a hair-type breed that originated in South Africa where it was bred for growth and carcass traits; Dorper sheep are thought to be resilient to parasites (able to withstand parasites with little health effects), but not resistant. The Suffolk is a traditional market lamb breed, known primarily for fast growth to a large finishing weight; purebred Suffolks are not known for parasite resistance and generally need a moderate-high nutritional plane to grow efficiently. Texel sheep were bred primarily for extreme carcass traits but are smaller framed so they could finish early (but with a smaller carcass) with moderate nutrition. Not much is known about parasite resistance in the Texel breed.
In this project, Suffolk-, Texel-, and Dorper-sired lambs from Katahdin ewes were used to compare the effects of sire breed and nutrition on growth rate, parasite resistance, carcass compositional traits, meat quality and market prices in both University and producer-led on-farm studies. Results were presented to producers, extension personnel, scientists and students during workshops, farm tours, producer group and scientific presentations and traditional University classes as well as through newsletter and scientific abstract publications
Of the 40 sheep producers engaged in this SARE project, 10 will use a Texel or Dorper ram with their herd to increase profitability and lifestyle satisfaction by producing an improved, crossbred, pasture-raised market lamb.
Result: This performance target has been met. Many producers were interested in the work and at least 10 producers attempted to use a Texel, Dorper or Suffolk to breed some ewes (known because we purchased the animal for them or let them borrow one of ours) and/or via follow-up calls, visits/emails. The producers felt the ram breed they chose to use with their ewe breed would produce animals they could raise in a more sustainable system or direct market more effectively. In addition to this performance target, more farmers began raising hair sheep/producing lambs and more farmers have incorporated the use of sustainable production techniques on their farms
Animals and Housing
In four experiments (Exp), the growth performance, parasite resistance and carcass/meat quality was compared among Katahdin and Katahdin-crossbred lambs (Dorper, Texel or Suffolk sired). Katahdin ewes were from several farms in the Northeast, South and Midwest and represented different management styles (from extensive to semi-intensive). Three sires from each of the 4 breeds (including Katahdin) were used in Exp 4. In the first 3 Exp, single sires were used (some were different each year); lambs were studied until 160-180 days of age (at least). For all Exp except Exp 1, purebred Katahdin lambs were also included for comparison. Ewes were supplemented with grain during lactation while on pasture; lambs did not receive supplement (except what was consumed with their dams prior to weaning).
For Exp 1 (crossbred lambs only) and 2 (Katahdins included), body weights were measured at birth and every 20-30 days thereafter. Live animal ultrasound and fecal samples for fecal egg counts (FEC) were collected at the same time as body weights beginning at/after weaning (approximately 90 days of age) and analyzed using the McMaster’s technique, or a more sensitive method, the Wisconsin technique (Exp 2 only). Deworming was conducted based on FAMACHA© scores and/or overt signs of parasitism. Thus, all lambs were dewormed at weaning due to gross signs of parasitism and/or high FEC, but were then dewormed individually as needed.
At an average ultrasound backfat measurement of approximately 0.15 inches, 5 lambs per breed type were slaughtered and carcass/meat quality traits were analyzed. Carcass length, leg circumference, pluck weights (heart, lungs, kidneys), empty digestive tract weight, hot and cold carcass weights, dressing percentage and retail cuts weights were measured. Color and tenderness (shear force) were measured on meat cuts from the loin. For Exp 1, a trained taste panel also evaluated cooked meat cuts from the loin for tenderness, juiciness and off-flavor.
After presenting results of Exp 1 to producers at various Extension workshops, producers requested feedlot information. So, in Exp 2, at weaning, 15 crossbred lambs per sire breed were removed from pasture and placed on a feedlot diet to compare breed and nutritional differences compared to those fed on pasture alone. Body weights and ultrasound carcass traits were measured on days corresponding to weighing days on pasture. Again, a subset of 5 lambs/breed type raised in the feedlot lambs were slaughtered (at an average of 0.15 inches backfat) and carcass/meat traits were analyzed as for pasture-fed lambs. However, for sensory analysis in Exp 2, a consumer taste test was used (instead of trained taste panel) to determine if consumers could detect differences in (and had a preference for) pasture vs. grain fed or the different breed types.
For Exp 3, at weaning, female lambs were transported to the Western Maryland Research and Education Center (WMREC) facility and body weights and fecal egg counts (monthly; using the Wisconsin technique) along with body condition scores (BCS) and FAMACHA© scores (every 2 weeks) were measured/recorded. Animals were dewormed based on FAMACHA© scores only to determine differences in sire breeds. Male lambs were retained at the University for measurements of body weight, packed cell volume and ultrasound carcass traits every 3-4 weeks. Male lambs were slaughtered at an ultrasound backfat measurement of approximately 0.15 inches and carcass data was collected.
For Exp 4, lamb body weights were measured at birth and every 30 days thereafter until 210 days of age. Blood samples for packed cell volume and fecal samples for fecal egg counts were collected at the same time as body weights beginning at weaning (approximately 90 days of age) and analyzed using the McMaster’s technique. Several attempts over a 2-month period were made to slaughter animals for Exp 4 to collect carcass data and meat quality/nutritional analyses data, but the USDA-inspected facilities in the area could not fit the project into their busy schedule (several out-of-state facilities were also consulted with no results). The lack of a sufficient number USDA-inspected slaughter plants is yet another issue that small farmers must face when determining their ability to direct market their product and this project shows that it is truly a problem when a State facility even has problems finding a slaughter facility
Growth and parasite data were analyzed using the Mixed Linear Model (PROC MIXED) procedure of SAS for repeated measures to test effect of sire and time on body weight and FEC, including the interaction of sire by time. Means were separated using the LSMEANS procedure of SAS (Statistical Analysis Institute, Inc, Cary, NC). Quality grades (1 = good+, 2 = choice-, and 3 = choice), conformation scores (1 = good+, 2 = choice-, and 3 = choice), flank streaking (1 = trace, 2 = slight), and sensory panel data were analyzed using the npar1way procedure of SAS (Wilcoxon rank sum and Kruskal-Wallis tests; Petrie and Watson, 1999) and means were separated using the Student-Newman-Keuls (SNK) test. All other data were analyzed using the GLM procedure of SAS and means were separated using the LSMEANS procedure of SAS (Statistical Analysis Institute, Inc, Cary, NC).
In Exp 1, lamb birth weights were similar among the breed groups and averaged 8.1 lbs/lamb. From weaning to 180 days of age, Suffolk-sired lambs were heavier than Texel- and Dorper-sired lambs. Weaning weights averaged 74 lbs for Suffolk-, 68 lbs for Dorper-, and 67 lbs for Texel-sired lambs. At 180 days of age, body weights averaged 114 lbs for Suffolk-sired lambs, while Dorper- and Texel-sired lambs averaged 98 and 94 lbs, respectively. Average daily gain (ADG) was also greatest for Suffolk- (0.58 lb/d) compared to Doper- (0.54 lb/d) and Texel-sired (0.48 lb/day) lambs. However, when sold at live auction, total market price/animal (averaged approximately $100 per animal) was similar among the breeds. Fecal egg counts were less than 280 eggs per gram (epg) at all time points measured except at weaning in which they were approximately 1012 epg.
At slaughter, although Suffolk lambs had carcasses that averaged approximately 3 inches longer than Dorper and Texel lambs, the total retail cut weights were not different among breeds and averaged 28.9 lbs of marketable cuts. This indicates little, if any, economic advantage for one sire breed over the other in this area. However, body conformation scores and quality grades were higher for both Texel- and Dorper-sired lambs compared to Suffolk-sired lambs (4 Suffolk-sired carcasses were graded less than choice while all Texel- and Dorper-sired lambs graded at least choice for both quality and conformation). Sensory panel tenderness, juiciness and off-flavor detection scores were also similar among the breed groups, indicating no differences in breed types.
In Exp 2 (purebred Katahdin group added for direct comparisons), lamb birth weights were similar among the breed groups and averaged 9.4 lbs. During this year, by as early as 30 days of age, Suffolk-sired lambs had the greatest body weights compared to the other breed types while purebred Katahdins typically had the lowest. At weaning, body weights averaged 75 lbs for Suffolk-, 67.5 lbs for Texel-, 66.4 lbs for Dorper-, and 62.5 lbs for Katahdin-sired lambs. At the end of the study (160 days of age), body weights averaged 95 lbs for Suffolk-sired lambs, while Texel-, Dorper-, and Katahdin-sired lambs averaged 88, 84, and 82 lbs, respectively.
Pre-weaning ADG was greatest for Suffolk (0.73 lb/day) compared to Dorper- (0.64 lb/day) and Texel-sired lambs (0.64 lb/day) and lowest for purebred Katahdin lambs (who gained 0.60 lb/dday), but post-weaning ADG was similar among all breed groups at approximately 0.3 lb/day. When sold at live auction, total market price/animal (approximately $81/animal) was similar among the breeds.
Overall, as seen in Exp 1, FEC in Exp 2 were low for all lambs (< 350 epg) throughout the experimental period except at weaning. Suffolk-sired lambs (40.2 in) had the longest carcasses while Texel-sired lambs had the shortest (35.2 in; Dorper and Katahdin 38-38.5 in) but again, total retail cut weights were similar among the breed types, averaging 24.3 lbs. Sensory and carcass quality data indicated little differences among the breed types with basically no differences in meat color or tenderness. Nutritional analysis on meat from loin samples collected indicated that total saturated fatty acids (SFA) was lowest in the meat from hair type crosses (Dorper and Katahdin; averaging 53%/100 g fat) compared to wool type crosses (Suffolk and Texel; averaging 56%/100 g fat). In addition, the unsaturated fatty acid/saturated fatty acid ratio (UFA/SFA) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content was higher in meat from hair type crosses (Dorper and Katahdin; averaging (0.7 %/100 g fat) than meat from the breed types with wool (Texel and Suffolk; averaging 0.6%/100 g fat). This indicates that meat from hair type lambs might be healthier than that from wool type lambs.
Also in Exp. 2, due to producer request, 15 lambs/breed were placed in a feedlot and compared to a pasture-raised group. As expected, by d 130, the feedlot lambs weighed 114 lbs while the pasture group averaged 81 lbs. Also, ADG from weaning to 130 days of age (finishing for feedlot lambs) was greater in feedlot lambs (1.2 lbs/d) compared to the lambs on pasture (0.2 lb/d). Although price/lb was similar between feeding regimes and sire breeds at live auction, because grain-fed lambs had greater body weights at auction than pasture-fed lambs the total market price/animal was greater for grain-fed lambs ($95/animal) than pasture-fed lambs ($84/animal).
When slaughtered at a similar backfat, pasture-fed lambs had a greater dressing percent (51 vs. 47%), loin eye area (7 vs 6 in2), carcass length (41 vs 39 in), and total retail cut weights (32 v. 29 lbs) compared to pasture-fed lambs. However, nutritional analysis indicated that pasture-raised lambs had “healthier” attributes in terms of higher CLA (0.3 vs. 0.1%/100 g fat), better ratios of SFA/UFA (0.6 vs. 0.9%/100 g fat) and lower Omega-6/Omega-3 ratios (1.45 vs. 8.75%/100 g fat) than meat from lambs raised on grain.
Sensory data from Exp. 2 indicated that consumers could not tell the difference between cooked lamb patties prepared from grain fed and pasture fed meats. However, 58% of consumers that participated in the test preferred lamb patties prepared from pasture fed meat (not statistically significant though), but may be somewhat of an indicator of the decidedly “ethnic” make-up of the consumer taste tests at UMES (our University has a great number of international students, faculty and staff who volunteered to taste the lamb).
In Exp 3, for the lambs transported to WMREC, at approximately 200 d of age, body weights averaged 86.8 lbs. In addition, ADG was similar among all breed types and averaged 0.26 lb/d. Although FEC were very low for all lambs, Texel lambs had the lowest FEC, with only 120 epg vs 375, 228 and 209 for Suffolk, Katahdin, and Dorper lambs, respectively. Also, in this experiment, fewer Texel lambs needed deworming compared to the other crossbred lambs (6.5% compared to 24.1% Suffolk, 20.3% Katahdin, and 10.6% for Dorper lambs). FAMACHA© scores were lower for Texel (1.8) and Dorper (1.8) lambs compared to purebred Katahdin (2.2) and Suffolk (2.3) lambs while BCS were highest for Texel (3.1) and Dorper (3.1) compared to Katahdin (2.9) and Suffolk (2.8) lambs. Other data from Exp 3 has not been completely analyzed.
In Exp 4, lamb birth weights were similar among the breed groups and averaged 8.8 lb/lamb. As seen in the previous experiments, Suffolk-sired lambs were heavier than all other breed types from 30 until 210 days of age. At the end of the study, average body weights for Suffolk lambs were 100 lb compared to Dorper (92 lb), Texel (90 lb), and Katahdin lambs (88 lb).
Fecal egg counts were the highest in Exp 4 of all the Exp and allowed for a better determination of differences in parasite resistance. In this study, Texel (1013 epg) and Katahdin lambs (1305 epg) had lower FEC than Suffolk (4964 epg) and Dorper (5173 epg) lambs. Packed cell volume (a direct measure of anemia) supported results from the FEC and was also higher for Texel and Katahdin compared to Suffolk and Dorper lambs. In addition, the number of lambs dewormed (49 vs. 69), age at first deworming (147 vs. 167 days old), and times dewormed 0.14 vs. 1.2 times/lamb) were lower for Texel and Katahdin lambs compared to Suffolk and Dorper lambs.
Although the better parasite resistance of the purebred Katahdin lambs was expected based on the known traits for this breed, the similar parasite resistance for the Texel breed (noted in Exp 3 and especially in Exp 4) was a pleasant surprise. This information gives another possible breed option for low input systems. Indeed, a West Virginia producer raising commercial market lambs is very interested in the use of a Texel ram for his flock since he does not want hair sheep in his flock but wants to improve parasite resistance.
Based on the overall results of the 4 experiments conducted for this grant, the different breed sires all have positive attributes for use in a sustainable pasture lamb production system, offering producers proof of the variety of choices for breeds (or crossbreeding) depending upon their unique markets and resources. For example, for direct marketing meat or direct marketing animals for slaughter to an ethnic market that may prefer a smaller framed lamb, the Texel or Dorper rams might be used. For selling pasture-raised, low input breeding stock, the purebred Katahdin might be used or, if producers prefer a ewe breed that has wool and more meat, a Texel x Katahdin ewe might make a good choice to use for parasite resistance, perhaps including a Suffolk ram to use on the ewes to add growth performance and body size in the lambs. The largest benefit of the Texel cross might, however, be with producing a small-framed, more parasite resistant lamb for “grass fed” meat production. However, with more research, the seeming nutritional benefits found for Dorper crossbred and Katahdin lambs (with one sire per breed) may offer a unique direct marketing approach for meat as well. In contrast, if marketing to a traditional type feeder lamb auction (vs an ethnic market auction), or if more feeder lamb buyers came to the auctions used in the present study, the larger framed animals may be preferred, so the Suffolk-crossbred lambs might be optimal for that marketing option. Some producers involved felt this may also be the case for those preferring to finish pasture-weaned lambs in a feedlot and direct market the meat. However, for direct marketing animals for slaughter to an ethnic market that may prefer a smaller framed lamb, the other breed rams might be more economical to produce (finish faster, less chemical dewormer treatments for some breeds) and would be equally acceptable as the Suffolk crossbred lambs.
During all years, symptoms of parasitism seemed to be more important for determining when to deworm than fecal egg counts and although the FAMACHA© system proved to be an effective management tool for controlling internal parasites in grazing lambs (Exp. 3 at WMREC), other signs such as worms in the feces (tapeworm) , diarrhea and weight loss were also important to monitor. On a side note, at the University, over the course of the study, all anthelmintics available were used and all deemed to have lost at least some effectiveness in controlling parasites. Pasture-raised ewe lambs of all 4 breed types were sold at an on-farm auction (WMREC) and hair type lambs (Dorper x Katahdin and purebred Katahdin) brought the highest price because they were likely bought for breeding stock, with the Texel and Suffolk cross lambs bringing “meat” prices that were similar between those two breeds. Therefore, it seems that the breed to use in a sustainable pasture lamb production system logically depends highly on the market chosen along with the inputs the farmer has available. This becomes clearer when the results of the parasite data and the carcass trait and meat quality data are taken into consideration. The data analysis on body weights and ultrasound carcass data collected on the males has not been completed.
Milestones have been met as follows: approximately 40 producers responded to flyers and 20 attended at least one workshop, 8 attended a second workshop. These milestones were met over a series of workshops held mostly in Year 2 and 3. At least 6 local producers learned fecal egg counting or FAMACHA© use it on their farm and most have told others about it or trained them to use it unofficially. The parasite workshops were more popular than any others. Susan Schoenian held more through her IPM grant and we collaborated through that grant and thus did not offer many via this grant.
Workshops were held independently and in conjunction with other meetings (Small Farm Workshop, Sheep/Goat Marketing or Production workshops, etc.). The most effective workshops seemed to be the IPM workshops, with more producers indicating that they learned a lot about parasite control and more producers implementing something they learned (the eye color testing technique primarily) than for any other workshops given on a variety of topic by the project coordinator or collaborators in many years. The workshops were extremely effective in producing learning and change. The specific evaluation information on IPM workshops is covered in another NE SARE R&E grant and therefore will be not duplicated here.
Workshops and tours of the UMES farm generated a moderate amount of interest from producers wanting to try different breed rams. A “crossbreeding” workshop during a Year 2 Small Farms Conference also generated a moderate amount of interest in the research. Overall, the greatest learning experience for the Project coordinator came from workshops or producer meetings in which producers asked questions and suggested alternative research that supported the goals of the grant proposal and discussed the outcomes. Producers also seemed very interested in the discussions and often followed up with emails and calls with several requesting use of different sire breeds.
Six newsletter articles were written (see www.sheepandgoat.com/news) and several producer contacts (about rams and IPM workshops and other parasite control issues) were made through those publications, so these seemed moderately effective as far as impacting producers. At least five scientific abstracts were published (Extension Specialist level) which resulted in discussions and/or collaborations with other scientists/Extension Specialists interested in alternative parasite control (including 4 other states) but not limited to Drs. Steve Hart, Jim Miller, Joan Burke and Stephan Wildeus). This spread the impact of the research itself to other states and regions of the U.S. These publications were moderately effective in impacting producers via stimulation of more discussions/research involving parasite control and given Extension Specialists more information to take back to their Educators and producers.
Involving students and farmers in the actual research sampling/organization was probably the second most effective tool as far as impact (after the IPM workshops). Farmers are natural teachers and the students were impressed by the interactions among research, teaching and extension. Two of the undergraduate students are preparing for a future in Extension (with a “sustainable ag” mindset now) and 1 graduate student studying sustainable agriculture with this research as her dissertation project is now working in Extension in the Northeast (Delaware).
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Project information has been reported in several issues of the Maryland Sheep and Goat newsletter. In addition, results were presented to producers, extension personnel, scientists and students during workshops, farm tours, producer group and scientific presentations and traditional University classes as well as through scientific abstract publications. There is a great interest in more meat quality and nutritional data as more people begin to direct-market meat as value-added products.
As long as there are producers interested, we will continue the parasite workshops through Maryland Cooperative Extension (MCE), indicating continuation of the project. To date, at least 6 producers have practiced a new skill (fecal egg counting or eye color to determine need to deworm – eye color training was added this year) and 10 have obtained a Texel, Dorper or Suffolk ram to use in their flock (either using their own money or letting the project provide one for them). Additionally, at least 3 producers acquired offspring of these Suffolk, Texel or Dorper rams from the study and have either incorporated them in their breeding herd or raised the lambs for meat.
Based on the information obtained in this study, because price “per head” was similar among breed types studied, farmers would not see an economical benefit of one breed type over another when selling at a commercial auction house. However, because time to finishing was shorter for some breeds, while overall resulting “meat” to sell was similar (with better quality for the smaller breeds), if a producer were direct marketing meat, an economic benefit might be seen in choosing a smaller, faster finishing sire breed (Texel or Dorper) over the Suffolk. Depending on the market, finishing some animals on grains may provide a financial benefit (since they get to market very quickly) while direct-marketing meat from animals fed pasture only could prove financially sound for other markets (healthier meat, or ethnic markets that may prefer the pasture-raised meat).
One of the producers involved in the study conducted an economic comparison of Katahdin x Suffolk lambs with Katahdin and Katahdin x Dorper lambs. He found that slaughter and auction sales (based on a “per pound” basis) were similar among the breed types though his direct market sales (off-farm, ethnic market) indicated a consumer preference for larger animals of any breed type. He noted that the Suffolk-cross lambs grew faster than Katahdin or Katahdin x Dorper lambs, and that if he were going to continue to market for meat, the Suffolk sire would be one he would choose of the three he tried (he did not use a Texel) since they would reach a larger size faster (so less inputs, more profit). However, because he decided to change his focus to only breeding stock, he decided to stick with Katahdin sires only.
Overall, for this study, even though complete overall economic analyses were not conducted, the scientists, extension personnel and producers involved learned quite a bit about the possible financial (along with lifestyle/environmental) benefits of crossbreeding and choosing breeds to fit the market desired. Different breed types can fit into a sustainable lamb production system, depending on resources available and market focus.
As noted previously in this document, several farmers have adopted the use of different sire breeds as well as training learned in IPM and other workshops (Section 3, 5, 6 and 8). At least 4 farmers have indicated decreased use of chemical anthlemintics (dewormers) and thus increased profitability and lifestyle satisfaction.
Areas needing additional study
Most of the data collected was expected based on known attributes of the breeds tested, however, the parasite resistance information collected on the Texel breed is novel and very interesting and should be studied in more detail (perhaps in different environments, over multiple years, with more sires, with different breed ewes, etc.). One producer plans to do this with his commercial herd and West Virginia University is also planning on try a Texel in their commercial herd based on the findings of this project.
Because of the intense interest in healthier meat choices, more research is also needed involving nutritional comparisons for breed type and pasture production systems. For example, more studies involving the possible breed effects on the overall nutritional composition of meat (increased CLA, better PUFA:SFA and Omega 3:6) is needed to confirm our findings that hair sheep possibly offer a “healthier” meat product.