Inside the ARECS: Southwest sheep sale

The Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are a network of 11 research centers located throughout the state that emphasize the close working relationship between the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Inside the ARECs” highlights the work and accomplishments of these 11 centers and will appear in every Insights.

Virginia Tech’s Southwest Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Glade Spring recently completed a record-breaking ram sale.

sheep

The sale was the culmination of four years of a forage-based ram lamb evaluation. The program had seen continuing growth with an inaugural year in 2012 yielding strong participation from breeders around the region who consigned more than 60 rams. In 2015, the program grew to 21 producers from eight states participating, consigning 110 rams to the test. Thirty-six of the high performing rams on test were sold at the annual educational field day on Sept. 26. The sale average was $1,222 per head. The high selling ram brought $2,600, and was consigned by Roxanne Newton of Hahira, Georgia. This was the highest sale average to date, topping last year’s record breaking sale average of $875 per head.

Ram test sale averages from 2014 and 2015 surpassed national sale averages from other Katahdin ram sales around the country including the Midwest Stud Ram sale in Sedalia, Missouri, and the annual Katahdin breeders sale held in conjunction with the breeds EXPO event.

The ram test program is unique because it is the only test in the United States evaluating rams through a forage-based ram performance test, designed specifically to quantify growth and parasite resistance in rams. The test has primarily been dominated by the Katahdin breed, a breed of hair sheep known for their environmental adaptability, low maintenance, and parasite resistance. Other breeds have joined in to participate in the trial over the years, with some wool sheep breeds showing genetic potential for parasite resistance as well.

“The value-added research and data collected on these rams is a huge asset to both seedstock and commercial producers around the country making selections for their breeding programs,” said Lee Wright, superintendent and test manager at the SWAREC. “Over the years our research has shown that parasite resistance genetics are a highly heritable trait from the sire, but also a highly variable one. Trying to identify rams that have the potential of passing these genetic traits along to the lambs they sire can make a significant impact for the health and wellbeing of many producer flocks.”

The program’s purpose is to provide a standardized post-weaning performance evaluation of growth and parasite resistance that will furnish records useful to consignors’ breeding programs. It will also serve as an educational tool for the sheep industry both regionally and nationally. Although the test is run at the SWAREC, faculty from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, animal and poultry sciences department including Professors Scott Greiner, David Notter, Mark McCann, and Anne Zajac, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, collaborate on the project for a multitude of research analysis.

“Internal parasites are among the leading health concerns for sheep, and potentially pose dramatic economic losses for many producers, especially those in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the U.S. where forage based production is an ideal management system for livestock,” said Wright.

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