Ohio Sheep Day speaker dispels myths, encourages practices that work

WOOSTER, Ohio — Ohio Sheep Day was held under sunny skies July 13 at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s Sheep Research Unit.

Producers gathered from across the state to learn a wide range of sheep handling and management skills, including better lambing, parasite and pest control, nutrition and pasture management.

The research unit is home to about 300 ewes and is believed to be the largest sheep research unit east of the Mississippi River. Its indoor corrals and pastures were in full use, as workshop leaders from OSU and Natural Resources Conservation Service spent the day giving lectures and hands-on sessions.

Dispelling myths

Francis Fluharty, an Ohio State University animal sciences professor, delivered the keynote address: “Myths of Successful Sheep Production.”

He said the first myth is that producers cannot feed corn silage to sheep. He pointed to two silos at the sheep center — one filled annually with corn silage and the other with haylage — as proof to the contrary. He said all the research ewes are wintered on silage and that from a nutritional standpoint, “alfalfa is a great forage for sheep production,” resulting in better weight gains than grazing from grass alone.

The second myth, he said, is that “if you have sheep you don’t need to worry about your soil pH.”

Fluharty said that is “absolutely” incorrect and said that maximum nutrient absorption happens at a pH of 7. He encouraged soil sampling to ensure pastures are balanced, and do not become too acidic.

“That’s one of the most important things you can do from a mineral nutrition standpoint,” he said. “If you are grass-based, regardless of whether they are sheep or cattle, you have the soil tested.”

Nutrient awareness

The third myth: Animals are nutritionally aware. Fluharty said this was once believed to be true, due to some poorly done studies in the 1950s. But he said sheep are not aware of the nutrients they consume, and therefore producers need to ensure their animals are getting what they need. He said common mineral salt blocks are only about 5 percent absorbable by the animal.

Because minerals are hard to properly mix, he encouraged producers to buy them from professional feed companies and nutritionists, and to avoid buying the cheaper nutrients, which he said are often less absorbable and therefore less beneficial to the animal.“When we’re thinking about mineral nutrition, the most important thing is that the animals have to consume (and absorb) the nutrients,” he said.

Thin sheep

Myth four: Thin sheep are wormy. Fluharty said this is possible, but not necessarily the case. Sheep could also be thin because they have a disease, they’re grazing in a pasture with a low pH, and they’re not getting the right nutrients.

Myth five: Genetics don’t matter. He said genetics and record keeping are important factors in growing a strong flock of sheep, and noted that all of the work done at the OARDC Sheep Center is based on records.

“Superior performance requires superior genetics,” he said, adding that “what we do here in research — the information that we gather — it’s basically just really, really good record keeping.”

Those records include such things as how much animals weigh per head per day, the amount of feed going into ewes during the winter, yield estimates from the fields and forage quality tests, etc.

Animal variation

Myth six: All animals in a breed are equal. Fluharty said this is false, and that there can be as much variation within a single breed of sheep as there is from breed to breed. He said producers should look at records to find good families of sheep, and keep those animals in the flock to enhance those traits.

The final myth is that the show ring selects optimum performance animals. He said he supports sheep shows and exhibits, but said the judge is usually interested in what the animal looks like on show day — not its records or its genetics.

“What the show ring looks for changes over time,” he said. “It is not records (genotype) — it is phenotype.”

Related … Ohio Sheep Day packed with workshops

WOOSTER, Ohio — The Ohio Sheep Day was filled with morning and afternoon workshops that included hands-on learning and a healthy dose of PowerPoint lectures.

A common focus was the importance of good record keeping.Animal Sciences Professor Francis Fluharty, who gave the keynote address, said record keeping is central to the work done at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center — and is something producers should be doing as well.

“The reality of it is, it all goes back to record keeping,” he said.

Records should be kept for things like weight, how many survive per ewe, how she lambed, etc.

OSU Shepherd Doug Clevenger, in a talk on better lambing, said records should also be kept as to how each ewe lambs, whether she keeps the lambs close to her, and any other important information.

“If it’s useful information, take it,” he said. “If it’s not, then don’t waste your time.”

Other workshops focussed on preventing parasites, basic sheep handling skills, nutrition and rotational grazing.

Fluharty said an area producers need to pay special attention to is mineral balance. He encouraged them to buy their minerals pre-mixed, from a professional feed company.

He also said it’s important to shop for quality minerals the animal will absorb — noting that the cheaper minerals are usually less absorbent and include more of a retail markup than the higher quality minerals.

With minerals, “you truly get what you pay for,” he said.Additional resources, including some of the presentations from the July 13 event, will be available online at www.sheep.osu.edu.

The site also lists upcoming Ohio sheep events, and useful resources for beginning and experienced sheep producers.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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