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National Sheep Improvement Program can boost commercial, purebred producer profits

published: October 7th 2016
by: Steve Burns
SAN ANGELO – Stud ram selection within most sheep breeds has pretty much been a case of “luck of the draw” for all but a handful of traits, said the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state sheep and goat specialist.
Dr. Reid Redden of San Angelo said given their high price, most beef producers wouldn’t think of buying a bull without first examining the animal’s Expected Progeny Differ-ences or EPDs, used to evaluate an animal’s genetic worth as a potential sire.
Yet the same doesn’t hold true for stud ram buyers who often must resort to visually selecting animals with little knowledge of the genetics needed to improve their flocks. Redden is on a mission to change that. 
“Texas A&M is encouraging the Texas sheep and goat industry to use the best available technology to improve the genetic potential of the industry in Texas,” Redden said. “The National Sheep Improve-ment Program can provide that technology.”
Redden said the program, commonly called the NSIP, is America’s genetic foundation for a profitable sheep industry. The program is available to all sheep and goat breeds in the U.S. The technology has proven to be very effective in identifying superior genetics in other livestock species, notably in the beef and dairy cattle industries.
“Perhaps the best known example is that of the American Angus Association whose extensive use of EPDs has helped catapult the breed to the forefront of our domestic beef industry in a relatively short time,” he said.
NSIP record-keeping methods are being used extensively in other major sheep producing countries including Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, he said. And there are a few breed groups in the U.S. that are using the technology to good advantage to make significant gains in the genetic potential of their sheep.
“But the majority of the sheep industry in the U.S. has not tapped into the full potential of this technology and this is especially true in Texas, home to our nation’s leading sheep flock,” Redden said.
Unlike other test programs where animals are brought to a central location, the NSIP allows purebred breeders to collect performance records on their own ranch. The NSIP then connects cooperating breeders via genetic pedigrees of their animals.
“Animals that are top performers are identified and once that’s done, breeders of both commercial and purebred animals know which animals have the genetic potential that best complements their flocks’ productivity goals,” he said.
“Likewise, underperforming genetics are also identified, and can quickly be removed from the gene pool.”
Redden said the program can identify sheep and goats with greater potential for traits such as reproductive performance, growth rate, carcass characteristics, fleece traits and has even been used by some breeds to select for improvement in parasite resistance.
“The Texas A&M Agri-Life Research and Exten-sion Center in San Angelo has enrolled a flock of Rambouillet sheep into this program as we are committed to help other purebred breeders learn how to effectively use this technology to their best advantage,” he said.
Redden said the components of the NSIP complement the Texas A&M AgriLife Ram Performance Test.  
“The ram test has long been very effective in increasing the growth rate and wool traits of our Rambouillet sheep industry in West Texas,” Redden said. “But along with those traits, we see there’s a growing need for a higher degree of selection for other traits such as twinning rate and parasite resistance within the breed, which our test cannot select for.”
Redden said ram lambs have been selected for the ram test from the Agri-Life’s NSIP-enrolled flock to demonstrate its eventual positive genetic potential within the breed, but more sheep are needed.
“The key to the success of the NSIP is industry participation,” Redden said. “The more purebred animals in the program within a given breed, the more valuable the resulting genetic information becomes, not only for the purebred producers, but possibly even more so for the commercial flock stud ram buyer’s eventual bottom line.”
For more information, contact Redden at 325-653-4576, reid.redden@ag. tamu. edu. And for more information on the Na-tional Sheep Improvement Program, go to http://nsip. org/ .

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