|Letter to the Editor-May 2012
(May 1, 2012)
The article on terminal sire improvement, ‘Breeding Better Sheep’ (SIN, February) deserves some comment.
An implicit premise in the study is that breed is the principle variable influencing terminal sire performance. With this in mind, the study recruited flocks randomly to obtain research animals. However, I would submit that differences between subject populations within breeds are far more significant.
The California study cited in the article, that “the average Suffolk ram lives a little more than a year,” is revealing. This certainly was not the norm a generation or two ago.
There is no question that the decline in range ram longevity is a function of the influence of show-ring genetics on production stock. The competitive emphasis on maximum size has led to the development of animals that require grain to maintain condition and to the loss of convenience traits.
Commercial buyers can be their own worst enemies when they go to ram sales, selecting the largest animals in hope of buying rapid growth, but instead bringing home the hardest-doing, most grain-dependent genetics.
As a production-oriented program, we expect every ram we sell to last at least four seasons under commercial conditions, barring accident or injury, and we select for measurable carcass traits, efficient conversion, and growth to slaughter weight – not mature size.
The USDA study might have been more productively directed to identifying commercially superior animals within breeds, rather than working from an assumption of cross-breed mediocrity.
I also noted that the ‘new breed’ development project added a whiteface objective. This is an interesting concept, but perhaps dubious as to commercial acceptability. The Australians developed a White Suffolk breed some years ago, and it has not caught on sufficiently there to have attracted material interest in the United States or United Kingdom.
As always, we enjoy our copy of ASI News. Keep up the good work.
Very truly yours,
Jim Baglien, Baglien Suffolks, Corvallis, Ore.