|...And Time Stood Still
By BILL SHULTZ
Bunker Hill Farm
(January 1, 2008) Leafing though old issues of the Shropshire breed magazine that I had recently been given, I came across the following article written by my father, Farrell. It was published in the November 1951 issue of The Shrop. Upon reading, it proved to be both a revealing and provocative assessment of our U.S. sheep industry, both then and now.
BREED MUST HAVE PRODUCTION RECORDS
By Farrell Shultz
As people are becoming conscious of production in all types of livestock breeding, we look back to see how production testing has changed the method of selection of dairy cattle and poultry. We see swine and beef cattle breeders working on production testing and wonder if it isn’t about time we in the sheep industry started to think in terms of production records also.
To set up any type of program we must decide what we are striving for. Surely the only logical answer is to better fill the needs of the commercial producer.
The question will arise as to just what the commercial man wants. This will vary according to climatic conditions and the type of production interested in. However, we are going to assume that our breed [Shropshire] fits into the grass fat lamb type of production usually practiced in the corn belt. Then primarily we are seeking the production of a lamb that would return the most dollars from a given amount of feed and equipment. A lot of secondary factors necessarily enter into the picture such as livability, freedom from disease, ease of lambing, amount of care and labor involved, wool production of the ewe and the ability of the animal to convert grass and hay crop into lamb and wool. Over the past 50 years, undoubtedly the show ring has done wonders in correcting conformation of the animals and has brought about a uniformity of type that could not have been achieved in any other way. I think our shows will continue to set standards and keep our basis of selection in line. However, when the purebred breeders breed primarily for the shows, the productive factors are apt to be overlooked and a lot of slow maturing, weak, light shearing sheep are apt to go back into the breeding flock.
That brings us to the necessity of having some other basis for selection and I think production records can well be the answer. Some breeders will argue that they know things by constant contact with their flock, but I doubt this very much as most times we are influenced by the champion or prize winner.
During the years, I have kept production records I find great variation more often than not. Last year, my ewes running all together with the same care and feed produced lambs ranging from 46 pounds to 109 pounds at 120 days of age. These same ewes sheared from six to 14 pounds of wool. I would defy anyone to come into my flock to pick out the ewes that raised the big lambs and sheared the most wool by their conformation and type. Of course the big ewes on average produced the most pounds of lamb but several of the smaller ewes were just as good and in instances out produced them. The fleeces were even more confusing, in fact it is very difficult to tell a heavy shearing fleece by looking at it on the sheep. So it looks like records are the answer.
More than 55 years later, these words still ring true. While all of the other major livestock species have embraced modern production records in the form of EPD’s – our sheep industry has been woefully resistant to change. Our reluctance puts us at a competitive disadvantage with sheep producers from Australia and New Zealand as well as other livestock species in the United States who have seen significant advances in carcass quality, maternal traits and rate of gain.
Fortunately, the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) currently offers the tools necessary to make these needed changes. Gaining genetic information is vital to efficiently increase our production of lamb and wool. EPD’s give us the best opportunity to move forward and reclaim our industry’s edge in domestic and world markets. Without a serious assessment of our selection methods, I am afraid our industry will be unable to meet the challenges of the future. As we look back over the last half-century, one has to wonder: if nothing ever changes, can the hands on the clock ever move?