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December 1996 Sheep Update

Livestock Update, December 1996

Steve Umberger, Animal and Poultry Sciences

Record Year For Sheep Production In Virginia.
The average price paid for Virginia slaughter lambs through October 1996 was $.91 per pound. That marks the highest average price on record. Prices averaged over $1.00 per pound in April and May and didn't dip below $.80 per pound until September. In comparison, the average price paid for slaughter lambs in 1995 was $.81 per pound. Including 1996, this was the third consecutive year of strong prices, which has contributed to record levels of profitability for Virginia sheep producers. Most of the reason for higher prices can be attributed to steady consumer demand for lamb and the 24% decline in National sheep numbers that occurred over the last four years. Even with the exceptionally high lamb market, there has been little, if any, rebuilding of sheep numbers in the U.S. While Texas received some much needed rain this fall, ranchers are still taking a wait and see attitude on whether their three-year drought has come to an end. If the rains continue, a moderate rebuilding of Texas sheep flocks will likely occur in 1997. Given the current situation, all signs indicate that Virginia sheep producers can expect another year of strong lamb prices. Such will not be the case for wool, which accounts for less than 3% of gross revenue for Virginia producers. Poor wool prices in 1996 were attributed to low consumer demand for wool products in the U.S. and the poor economy of major wool consuming countries, such as China and Russia. It will take at least another one to two years before there is any significant change in the depressed wool market. Virginia sheep producers can take advantage of the positive outlook for sheep production by expanding their flock size through the retention of high quality replacement ewe lambs this fall. Assuming a very conservative drop of $.20 per pound in the lamb market over the next five years, replacement ewes placed back in the flock this fall should yield a 100 percent return on investment when amortized over the next five years. Ewe lambs should weigh at least 100 pounds at the time of breeding. Sixty days after ram removal, ewe lambs should be checked for pregnancy using real-time ultrasound. All lambs diagnosed as being open should be sold for slaughter. To ensure proper development, ewe lambs should receive 1 lb of grain daily up through the time of lambing. To avoid excessively large lambs at birth, grain should not be increased the last six weeks of pregnancy.

There's Still Time To Register For 1996 Virginia-North Carolina Shepherds' Symposium.
Sheep producers who have not pre-registered but would like to attend the 1996 Virginia-North Carolina Shepherds' Symposium still have time to do so. The pre-registration deadline has been extended to Monday, December 2. The Symposium, which is scheduled to be held at Virginia Tech on December 5 and 6, features a comprehensive educational program that will benefit novice and established sheep producers alike. Some of the topics to be covered include an in-depth session on sheep diseases and health management, an outlook on sheep production in the U.S., an update on the sheep industry in New Zealand and Australia, a detailed examination of the "heavy muscle" (callipyge) gene in sheep, information on artificial insemination, sheep grazing and lamb feeding management, current techniques for coyote control, and sheep producer presentations on different aspects of lamb and wool production. For a copy of the program brochure and pre- registration information call (540) 231-5253.

The Value Of Alternative Grains For Sheep Production.
When additional energy and protein are required, corn and soybean meal commonly form the basis of the grain portion of most sheep diets. However, when justified by supply or price, other grains may replace all or part of the corn and soybean meal in a diet. The energy values of certain small grains such as barley, oats, and wheat are 90, 80, and 100% of corn, respectively. Barley can replace up to 100% of the corn in a diet, while oats can replace 50 to 100% of the corn in a diet. The higher replacement rate for oats is used for breeding sheep, while the lower rate is used in creep feeds and finishing diets for lambs. Because the carbohydrate fraction of wheat is so highly digestible, wheat can only be used to replace up to 50% of the corn in a diet. Alternative sources of protein to replace soybean meal include cottonseed meal, peanut meal, corn gluten feed, and dry distillers grains. To determine if other feeds are a better value than corn or soybean meal, comparisons can be made based on the cost per unit of nutrient. If corn is selling for $0.06 per pound and barley is selling for $0.05 per pound, is barley a better buy even though it has 90% of the energy value of corn? To determine which is the better buy, divide $0.06 per pound by 92% TDN for corn to get a value of $0.065 per pound of TDN. Divide $0.05 per pound by 85% TDN for barley to get a value of $0.059 per pound of TDN. In this example, even though barley has a lower energy value than corn, it is still a better buy. If alfalfa hay is selling for $120 a ton and soybean meal is selling for $250 a ton, which is the better buy for crude protein? Divide $0.06 per pound by 15% crude protein for alfalfa hay to get a value of $0.40 per pound of crude protein. Divide $0.125 per pound by 44% crude protein for soybean meal to get $0.284 per pound of crude protein. In this example, even though alfalfa hay is selling for less than half the price of soybean meal, soybean meal is still a better buy for crude protein than alfalfa hay. Caution should be used when substituting alternative feeds for corn and soybean meal when they appear to be a better value. Although alternative feeds may be comparable in nutrient analysis, the animals may not perform similarly. Therefore, it is important to know if there are problems with certain alternative feeds, and to monitor the performance of the sheep flock once changes have been made. For a complete guide to feeding the sheep flock, request the Extension publication "Feeding Sheep" (410-853, revised 1996) from your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office.

Sheep Working Pens Are A Necessity.
Timely management practices such as vaccinations, foot trimming, and internal parasite control are more likely to happen when working pens are a on the farm. Otherwise, there is a tendency to delay or avoid getting the work done. Unfortuanately, this may lead to unnecessary death loss and poor flock performance. The six essential components of an effective working facility for sheep are: 1) large holding pen; 2) crowding pen; 3) crowding chute; 4) long narrow working chute with cutting gates; 5) foot bath; and 6) loading chute. The general space requirement for the large holding pen is 8 sq. feet per ewe for ewes with lambs or 4.5 sq. feet for ewes only. The space requirement for a pen footbath is 3.7 sq. feet per ewe. The crowding chute, working chute, and loading chute should have solid walls. During periods of inclement weather, it is extremely helpful when the primary working area is under roof. Basic plans for sheep working pens are available. For more information write or call Steve Umberger, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061-0306, (540) 231-9159.

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