- Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), medics/alfalfa
- Animals: sheep
- Animal Production: genetics
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
The American sheep industry has seen a steady decline in national sheep numbers dropping from a record 56 million sheep in 1942 to 5.23 million in 2017. A dramatic increase in production efficiency is critical to the future success of the sheep industry. Technologies like electronic identification (EID) tags and genomic testing have been profitably adopted by other livestock industries. We propose to work with a group of 5 sheep ranchers in California to demonstrate and evaluate the economics of how information from both EIDs, and a targeted sheep genotyping panel could be incorporated into commercial sheep production systems. These 5 ranchers have committed to implement electronic identification on their large sheep operations in collaboration with county-based UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) advisors, and are working in partnership with the largest sheep processor in California, Superior farms, to support the utilization of their new genetic testing program, Flock54. Flock54 is a targeted genotyping panel for the sheep industry for pedigree assignment and marker-assisted selection. EIDs and ear notch samples will be collected from all rams and at least 500 marketed lambs per ranch over a one year period. Lambs will be sold to Superior Farms for finishing and harvest, and data on carcass characteristics using a camera grading system will be collected. Genomic data will be used to determine parentage and for genetic evaluations. Costs and benefits associated with the adoption of both EID and DNA testing will be evaluated. The collaborating ranchers, Superior farms, UCCE specialists and county-based advisors are working collaboratively to plan, design, implement and monitor the project, and ranchers will be intimately involved in producer feedback panels at educational outreach events at on-ranch field days. This project will provide research and education on the feasibility of adopting EID and DNA technologies on commercial sheep ranches.
Project objectives from proposal:
The broad goal of this study is to evaluate the benefits and challenges of adopting EID and DNA-based information in the California sheep industry. Adoption of these technologies is one step towards the increased use of information to improve production efficiency, which is currently needed to sustain the sheep industry in California and nationwide.
Specifically, we seek to:
1) Document the current operational costs and records maintained by the five cooperating sheep ranchers at the start of this project (pre-implementation)
2) Work with collaborating producers to place EIDs and collect DNA samples from rams, and at least 500 market lambs from each of their flocks and document the expenses associated with implementing these practices
3) Collect weaning weight data and other on-ranch phenotypes where feasible, and document the expenses associated with collecting these phenotypes
4) Collect processing, carcass, and camera grading data from Superior Farms on the lambs selected under objective 2
5) Genotype the DNA samples from the rams and 2,500 lambs with the Flock54 genetic test, determine relationships among individuals, and between phenotypes and genotypes
6) Utilize the information collected in this project to quantify the economics of using EID technology in sheep management
7) Assess the value of genetic testing in commercial sheep flocks based on economic analysis of projected positive change scenarios from selecting genetically superior rams based on the genotyping and phenotyping results obtained in this study
8) Share outcomes and findings with California sheep producers through three on-ranch workshops and publications that demonstrate the project’s findings, namely the utility and potential value of EID technology and genetic selection as a flock improvement tool.