One of the most frequent comments I receive in the business of selling registered breeding stock is "Well, I only have a few sheep, so I can't justify spending money on anything super high quality, just something to breed a few ewes out in the backyard." I can understand this sentement, as I used to only have "a few ewes in the backyard" myself. However, I recently sat down and crunched some numbers, and the results may surprise you.
I'll illustrate a few scenarios here, but before I do, I should give a little explanation as to the basics behind my explanation. First, we will assume that the ewes in the backyard are an average ewe, Katahdin, Dorper, or some other breed. For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume their production is at the level of an average Katahdin. (An example we will use is the lambing average of 205% lambing average and 10% loss rate). Additionally, there is no way to measure improvement unless you, well, measure it! As such, you need a tool that tracks the genetics across multiple traits and generations and flocks and years and production systems and, you get the idea. This is where Estimated Breeding Values come in, producing "control knobs" if you will, allowing you to turn traits up or down depending on preferences. Of course, these cost money to produce, but we are getting ahead of ourselves here...
Let's take the example of a flock with average ewes that has, say, maybe 10 ewes (beacuse using examples with multiples of ten makes for easy math, right?) and plans on using a given ram for 5 years, selling all offspring as meat. While systems will play a role in the actual differences realized, for the sake of this discusiion, we will assume this flock has an average feed nutrition level, etc... If this flock is lambing at the average rate, and weaning at the average rate of 195%, then it is annually producing approximately 19 lambs. If a flock uses a ram with a PWWT (Post Weaning Weight EBV) of 3, then they can expect their lambs to, at 120 days, weigh approximately 1.5 kg heavier (around 3.5 lbs.) If they are finishing to 8 months, then we could reasonably expect those lambs to be 5-7 lbs heavier due to the sire's genetics. If we shoot for a middle number of 6 lbs, that is another 114 lbs. If this producer is getting paid live weight for these animals, and is charging $1.25, that is an extra $140 in revenue due to genetics. If the shepherd uses this ram for 5 years, well, that totals $700. If they pay $600 for the registered ram, or $100 for a cheap ram, they are $200 positive.
"Ok," you might be thinking, "that makes sense, but is that $200 really worth it?" Consider a couple things:
1. That analysis is for one trait only, it could be worth much more if they have multiple beneficial traits (see below)
2. If the analysis is based solely on the economics, then such a decision should make the most sense long term (setting aside for the discussion the timing factor of economics, when money is spent earlier vs. later, etc...)
3. If lambs are ever sold as breeding stock, or ewe lambs are retained, the benefits could be even greater.
Consider a flock of 10 ewes again (yes, for the same reason as above, more easy math). Except, in this scenario, the shepherd wants to sell each of their ewes after two years since they are getting older, and replace them with younger ewe lambs out of these ewes. Let's assume that this ram has a PWWT EBV of 2, a MWWT (milk and mothering) EBV of .5, and a NLW (Number of Lambs Weaned) EBV of .15. When bred to said ewes, this ram could be expected to increase weights at 8 months again by about 4 lbs, producing better meat lambs and more revenue (2 years, 15 lambs/year (5 ewelambs retained/year)) that is an additional revenue of around $150. Now, let's examine these ewe lambs. If we replace the older 10 with 10 younger ewe lambs, we can expect their PWWT to be around 1, their MWWT around .25, and their NLW around .75. (Average of parents). Over a 7 year life span we can expect these ewes to produce
6 more lambs ($750 more revenue)
Lambs that are 2 lbs heavier from PWWT ($325 more revenue)
Lambs that are .5 lbs heavier from MWWT ($80 more revenue) combined with the $150 from earlier, that is an additional $1300... So, is that $100 ram really saving you money?
To give you a personal example, I used two rams this year, one with a WWT EBV 2.5 kg higher than the other... and, you know what, his lambs weighed about 3 lbs heavier on average. Yep, just what the EBV's would predict!
These illustrations are just that, illustrations. They are not guarantees and these numbers will change dramatically between systems. Heavier feed systems may experience more benefits, lower systems probably won't experience as many. However, the principle remains the same. If you are going to buy an asset, buy one that will actually make you more money. You'll be glad you did.
P.S. Check back later and we'll share a little bit about what goes into the numbers we have on our sheep!