Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project – Phase II

2003 Annual Report for LNE03-178

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $105,690.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Dr. Richard Brzozowski
University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project – Phase II

Summary

This continues a previous SARE project, LNE00-138, and will explore the genetic factors involved in profitable and sustainable lamb production, specifically animals resistant to internal parasites that have improved size, lower fat, and reduced production costs. The project leader will provide farmers with information about production methods such as rotational grazing, record keeping, and proactive health management such as scrapie certification, and will continue a selective breeding program with the goal of providing ten farms with upgraded ewes for use as meat and breeding stock.

This research project has accomplished much in 2003. We continued to make strides in capturing desired traits through our crossbreeding program with a successful lambing year at both research sites. We continued a productive working relationship with the USDA lab in Washington state in identifying individual lambs carrying the gene for resistance to the prion disease Scrapie. Outside funding was secured for the development of a shepherd’s handbook in monitoring internal parasites. We learned of a breakthrough method in monitoring the internal parasite Haemonchous contortus that can be used on the farm by sheep producers at little expense. Personnel from the research project planned and hosted an international meeting of hair sheep producers. Ultrasound equipment was obtained to become an integral part of the research in measuring muscling and fat depth of live animals. Nearly 20 college students from the University of Maine and Bowdoin College participated in the project in a meaningful capacity to make this one of the most effective years of the research project.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Through a defined crossbreeding plan and using a detailed selection process, upgrade the Katahdin sheep to be parasite resistant and produce lambs that are more market acceptable.

By the use of field days, written articles, informative tabletop displays, power point, slide and video presentations as well as a web page, provide 1600 current and new sheep farmers with information about the potential of using Katahdin hair sheep as a farm enterprise.

To provide at least ten farms with a group of upgraded Katahdin ewes at the end of the project to produce and sell lambs and breeding stock.

Accomplishments/Milestones

Members of the consulting team for this research project met in October 2003 to review the results and to provide advice for the direction of the research work.

2003 Lambing Results – In 2003 eighty-seven (87) lambs were born on two different farm sites. The lambing percentage was 212% at Pineland Farms while the lambing percentage of the yearling flock at the Buxton farm was 176%.

We obtained additional breeding stock (rams and ewes) for the research project from Kathadin breeders in Kansas and North Carolina. These animals were purchased to diversify the genetic base and to improve loin size, loin shape, leg muscling and parasite resistance in our flock.

The specific genetic crosses that were used in 2003 included:
Katahdin ewes bred with Katahdin/Friesian ram
Suffolk/Gulf Coast crossbred ewes bred with Dorper/Katahdin ram
Katahdin/Dorper ewe bred with Katahdin/Friesian ram
Suffolk/Florida Native ewes bred with Dorper/Katahdin ram
Katahdin/Dorset ewes bred with Florida Native/Suffolk ram

Detail production records including 30, 60, 90 and 120-day weights were kept on all lambs. This information was used to index and rank the 2003 crop of lambs. In addition, each lamb was evaluated for leg muscle score and natural parasite resistance.

Personnel of the project continued a cooperative research arrangement with Dr. Katherine O’Rourke at the USDA/ARS laboratory at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Dr. O’Rourke is one of the foremost researchers in the United States investigating the transmission and biology of scrapie. Through her program, all replacement offspring of this project were tested for the R gene at codon 171 (transmitting resistance to scrapie). Dr. O’Rourke is using our production data to look for positive or negative correlations with the genetic resistance to scrapie.

As an enhancement to the Katahdin Hair Sheep Upgrade Project, we obtained a $6000 grant from the Maine Agriculture Center to develop a shepherd’s handbook for on-farm monitoring of internal parasites in sheep. This practical guide is currently under development and will be available to sheep farmers in the winter of 2004.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In 2003, we became aware of a breakthrough procedure for monitoring internal parasites in sheep called FAMACHA (the name is derived from the initials of the researchers involved) . In the past, the level of infection by haemonchous contortus (barber pole worm or brown stomach worm) was measured using fecal egg counts and blood sampling. These tests were time consuming and required specialized and expensive lab equipment. The FAMACHA technique was developed by researchers in South Africa and was brought to the United States by a group of veterinary and animal scientists centered at the University of Georgia. The FAMACHA technique uses a color chip card and provides an effective and inexpensive way to match of hemoglobin level to the level of parasite infection. Haemonchous contortus feeds on the blood of the host animal and has a noticeable impact on the animal’s health and productivity. Examining the pigmentation of mucous membranes around the eye of sheep and goats can monitor the parasite load. We tested 100 lambs by comparing the traditional McMaster technique in which fecal egg counts and Pack Cell Volume (PCV) were quantified to FAMACHA eye color scores. We found a 99% correlation. Our research project was the first (outside of Georgia) to use FAMACHA and to present it to American sheep producers for consideration. As part of this Katahdin research project, over 50 sheep producers were trained in the FAMACHA technique for on-farm application at the 2003 Katahdin Hair Sheep International Gathering in Maine.

Our research team hosted the Katahdin Hair Sheep International Gathering in October 2003. The gathering attracted over 150 sheep producers from around the country and region. The conference included practical workshops, demonstrations, a genetic focus sale of hair sheep, farm tours, discussions and the exchange of ideas and information. See appendix for program schedule.

With support from this SARE grant, we obtained ultra sound equipment to perform live animal evaluation of loin eye muscle size, loin eye muscle shape and back fat thickness. These important measurements will help us select with accuracy individual breeding animals for this project and beyond.

Over the duration of this research project, over twenty (20) college students from Bowdoin College and the University of Maine have participated in a meaningful capacity. The students have benefited from their research experience by taking part in animal handling, blood sampling, fecal sampling, laboratory work, eye blood color monitoring and in the authoring of research papers, presentations and honor’s theses. The biology students have become an integral part of this project. They have been enthusiastically involved in this research and have added a great deal to the excitement of the work.

Presentations, Activities and Papers Generated by this Project

“Selecting parasite resistant sheep in your flock” presented by Dr. Richard Brzozowski at the New Hampshire Sheep & Wool Festival, New Boston, New Hampshire. May 11, 2003

“Resistance to infection by Haemonchus contortus: What is the role of antibodies?” presented by Dr. C.T. Settlemire at the University of Georgia, June 4-6, 2003

“Testing and identification of sheep resistant to infection by Haemonchus contortus” presented by Dr. C.T. Settlemire at the University of Florida June 13-15, 2003

2003 Katahdin Hair Sheep International Annual Gathering, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, Maine October 16-19, 2003. Conference proceedings compiled and distributed.

“A work in progress – genetic resistance in sheep to Haemonchus contortus”. Presented by Dr. C.T. Settlemire at the Program for Profit in Sheep Production, University of Florida, Ocala and Gainesville, Florida. November 8-9, 2003

Student Research Papers:
“An investigation into the biology of parasite resistance in the ovine” Student Senior Thesis written by John Meyers, Honors, Biochenistry, Bowdoin College, May 2002. John is now pursuing graduate studies in molecular biology at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.

“A study of the unique antibody response to surface antigens on the surface of Haemonchus contortus in sheep genetically resistant to infection by this parasite”. Student senior thesis written by Elizabeth McCain, Honors, Biochenistry, Bowdoin College, May 2003. Elizabeth is beginning her first year of study at the Kansas State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Manhattan, Kansas.

Publicity of the Research to the General Public

The University of Maine published articles about this hair sheep research project in their magazines “UMAINE Today” and the “Maine Agriculture Center News”.

News stories of the 2003 Katahdin Hair Sheep International (KHSI) Annual Gathering and the research project appeared in the following daily newspapers in the past year: the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Press Herald and the Brunswick Times Record.

The hair sheep research project and the 2003 KHSI Annual Gathering were featured in the electronic newsletter “Agriculture Today” published by the Maine Department of Agriculture and Rural Resources in October 2003.