Sustainable pasture lamb production

2003 Annual Report for LNE03-193

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $147,495.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Federal Funds: $29,913.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Niki Whitley
UMES - Maryland Cooperative Extension

Sustainable pasture lamb production


The overall objective of the proposed research is to develop a sustainable approach to sheep production that is beneficial to the farmers in terms of profitability and promoting a satisfying lifestyle, while also enhancing the environment and protecting community values. The specific objectives are therefore: 1) to compare the lambing survival of three sheep breed crosses; Texel, Dorper and Suffolk-sired Katahdin crossbred lambs, 2) to compare the growth performance of these breed crosses on a pasture production system, 3) and to compare the carcass characteristics of these crossbred market animals in order to develop an alternative but competitive livestock enterprise in the Northeast and nationwide. The project will be conducted at the UMES Farm in Princess Anne, MD. Sixty Katahdin ewes will be bred to a Texel (20), Suffolk (20), or Dorper (20) ram. Ewes will lamb on pasture and number born and lamb survival will be measured. At weaning, weights will be recorded, and 25 of the best lambs from each sire will be kept to finish on pasture. Weights of lambs kept to finish will be recorded on a monthly basis until finishing and average daily gain (ADG) calculated. In addition, live animal ultrasound scanning will be performed at weaning and finishing to record average loin eye area and back fat thickness in all breeds of lambs, to make comparisons among the breeds for meat quality. The prices for all lambs sold will also be recorded and compared among the breed crosses. A product of this project will be the implementation of a crossbreeding system with low input that allows small producers to take advantage of niche markets that prefer smaller animals and/or pasture-raised lambs. Other products will include newsletter articles, an Extension fact sheet, and 2 new farms involved in pasture lamb production.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.
The desired change is an increase in the number of sheep producers, over a three year period, producing pasture-raised crossbred market lambs that grow fast, have increased internal parasite tolerance, and have desirable carcass qualities compared to traditional crossbred lambs when raised in a low-input, sustainable production system. This performance target will have been reached when at least 10 producers purchase, lease, or borrow a Texel, Dorper or Suffolk ram into their flock (preferably of Katahdin ewes) for sustainable pasture-lamb production. We will know this through workshop surveys and follow-up farm visits.


Our milestones in this grant were: 1) 50 interested sheep producers will respond to flyers to gain understanding about improving their market lambs and pasture management, 2) 35 producers will attend first workshop, 3) 20 producers will attend second or third workshop, 4) 15 producers will start to utilize better pasture management and will practice a new skill (fecals to determine parasite loads) on their own farms, and 5) 10 producers will purchase, borrow or lease a Texel or Dorper ram to use in their herd to increase profitability and lifestyle satisfaction by producing an improved, crossbred, pasture-raised market lamb. Milestones have not been met yet because breeding for the main part of the study started in September of this year. However, response to a small preliminary study resulted in 2 producers utilizing fecal egg counting and 4 producers so far interested in using a Texel or Dorper ram next Fall.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In a preliminary study in which only 8, 12, and 14 ewes had lambs from Suffolk, Dorper, and Texel rams, respectively, Suffolk sired Katahdin lambs had a better growth performance than the other 2 groups of crossbred lambs. However, the Texel-sired Katahdin lambs brought the highest price per pound of liveweight at auction when compared to the Suffolk and Dorper-sired Katahdin lambs. For the first official part of the Northeast SARE research and education project, 112 Katahdin ewes were split into three groups and bred to a Suffolk (n=35), Dorper (n=37), or a Texel ram (n=40) on September 15, 2003. An additional group of ewes (n = 21) were also bred to a purebred Katahdin ram. Lambing will start in mid-February and data collecting and analyzing will begin then. Also, the first hoop structure, which is vital for farmer-breeding programs so that their animals can be quarantined away from others, was recently constructed for use next year.


Susan Schoenian

Area Agent
MD Cooperative Extension
Eric Berg

Assoc. Professor
University of Missouri, Columbia
Dahlia Jackson

Extension Specialist (former UMES Grad Asst)
Delaware State University
Department of Agriculture
1200 DuPont Highway
Dover, DE 19901
Office Phone: 4108450958
Willard Lemaster

MD Cooperative Extension