Purdue University - Indiana
Establishment of a Hair Sheep Flock for Research
and Education in Indiana and Kentucky
The commercial hair sheep industry is one of the bright spots in the U.S. sheep industry. The ethnic demand for lambs, the low input needed to produce them, and the growth of this specific part of the industry in less traditional sheep producing regions of the country has been a boost to the national flock. Kentucky led the U.S. in increases in sheep numbers in 2015 and southern Indiana has realized strong growth as well. The overwhelming growth in the region has been commercial hair sheep operations with an end market of the ethnic trade. Hair sheep breeds fit these areas of the fescue belt in the southern part of the eastern corn belt and the southeast due to the biological nature of these sheep. Heat tolerance, parasite resistance, a seasonal breeding potential, no need for shearing, and the ability to primarily produce saleable lambs off forage are real strengths of these type of sheep. The lower growth rate and light finished weights are limitations when considering potential financial returns. Hair sheep marketed for the ethnic trade are normally sold at 60 to 80 pounds. This prevents producers from capturing increased gross income potential by selling lambs at the heavier weights that traditional wool breeds can attain. This makes it imperative that profitable production of commercial hair sheep is highly dependent upon low costs of production and sound marketing to the nontraditional market. This proposal is a multi-state, multi institutional request for a modest grant to establish a flock of hair sheep at the Southern Indiana Purdue Ag Center (SIPAC) to service this emerging part of the industry by providing applied research results and as a centerpiece for producer educational efforts in the states contiguous to this region. Another very significant aspect of this proposal is that if it is funded, it will be a rare opportunity to actually grow sheep research and education efforts in the U.S. The long term trend with Land Grant Universities has been shrinkage or even elimination of sheep education and research programs across the country.
The immediate objective of this proposal is to obtain funding to establish a flock of hair sheep at SIPAC that will help us realize the long range goals of enhancing producer education through sharing of applied research results and dissemination of information. Establishing a flock will allow us to investigate production practices that can support the industry and help grow the industry in the region. The flock can also serve as a base for producer education activities and for increased partnerships between the industry and the Land Grant Universities.
We requested funds to purchase 75 head of grade Katahdin ewes and two Katahdin rams. We actually purchased 65 head of ewes and 2 rams. We wanted to limit the procurement of ewes from no more than two unique sources due to animal health and biosecurity reasons. We identified two producers that met our production criteria for purchasing breeding stock, but the maximum total number of ewes available from the two producers was 65. Rather than compromise our animal requirements we chose to limit our purchase to the 65 ewes from the producers we identified.
We also purchased 2 rams from the ARS station in Booneville, AR. These rams had NSIP EBV data and ranked well in all traits, but were especially strong in WEC EBVís, ranking high among the breed in parasite resistance. Purchasing these rams from ARS also has the advantage of genetic linkages to the ARS flock, which will be helpful as we move forward with research activities.
Our main objective with the proposal was to obtain enough funds to help establish a hair sheep flock to enhance the industry in the region through applied research and education. Thanks to the NSIIC, this objective was accomplished.