Texel breeders know no boundaries

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NASHPORT, Ohio – When advice travels thousands of miles to plop itself on your doorstep, you listen.
At least that’s how Robert Stonerock felt when a Uruguayan veterinarian who owns about 1,500 sheep visited his sheep farm in Nashport, Ohio.
With a flock of 20 head, Stonerock doesn’t produce on the same level as the veterinarian, Juan Scalone, but the men share an important attribute – both are Texel breeders.
Texels are a white-faced meat breed of sheep with no wool on the head or legs. They are known for outstanding muscle development and leanness, plus exceptionally large loin eyes, one of the top cuts of meat.
New ideas. Scalone visited the U.S. in hopes of exchanging information with his American counterparts. He wanted to explore the similarities and differences between North American and South American Texel production.
“He was curious about our Texels up here,” Stonerock said.
Scalone found Stonerock though the Texel Sheep Breeders Society
Web site and contacted the Ohio producer in March.
And while he was gleaning that new knowledge, he left a little of his own expertise behind as well.
Accompanied by his son, Ignacio Scalone, and his wife, veterinarian Christina Sosa Perez, Scalone compared international notes with several Midwest Texel breeders during his visit to the U.S. in May.
Scalone has been raising Texels for about 30 years and approximately 1,200 of his 1,500 sheep are Texels.
Kate and Eric Helt’s farm in Gambier, Ohio, was also part of Scalone’s Texel tour. While at the farm, Scalone discovered the pasture grass at the Helts and the pasture grass on his 6,750-acre farm in Uruguay is a similar clover/grass mix.
He also liked the rotational grazing program the Helts use on their farm.
“They liked that system so they really validated that and the way we have our paddock set up,” Eric Helt said.
Breeding. For Stonerock, one of the most striking differences between his flock and Scalone’s is the breeding method.
While Stonerock uses the traditional method of turning a ram out with the ewes, Scalone uses artificial insemination. And even more impressive, Stonerock said, is Scalone’s 90 percent success rate.
“I’ve never heard of anyone doing it that way with that much success,” said Stonerock, who has been raising Texels for three years.
According to the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, conception rates for lapraoscopic artificial insemination usually fall in the 50 percent to 80 percent range.
Scalone’s method includes artificially inseminating the ewes and then waiting 30 days before turning a ram in with them. After another 30 days, an ultrasound checks for pregnancies. Ewes that don’t get pregnant the first time go back to the beginning of the process.
Scalone also breeds his sheep out of season, a time consuming and difficult task, because the genetic trait that allows for breeding out of season has only a 10 percent heritability.
Scrapie. A concern the producers don’t share is scrapie. Scalone doesn’t have to worry about breeding lambs resistant to the disease because it doesn’t exist in Uruguay. However for Stonerock, it’s a major priority.
All of his breeding stock is genotyped, tested for ovine progressive pneumonia and given a scrapie identification number.
“I think that’s very important to producers – help eliminate scrapie,” Stonerock said. “My niche is to furnish seedstock to other producers and furnish scrapie-resistant rams to other breeders.”
Stonerock’s goal is important when it comes to exporting U.S. sheep to other countries. Right now, U.S. sheep can’t be exported to Uruguay because of scrapie, but as disease-resistant technology evolves, Scalone and Stonerock are hoping there will be a way to exchange embryos between the two countries.
“We’ve got a relationship established with a Uruguayan breeder now and it’ll be nice to be able to exchange information back and forth,” Stonerock said.
Common goals. Eric and Kate Helt have about 100 head of Texel sheep on their farm, Dharma Farm, but despite the size difference between their flock and Scalone’s, they look for the same characteristics as the veterinarian when selecting breeding stock.
Scalone, Stonerock and the Helts look for animals without wool on their legs and head; black hooves and noses; white fleece; and exceptional muscle development and leanness.
For these Texel producers, flock size doesn’t matter when it comes to objectives like promoting the breed, bettering production and developing better methods of care.
“I could tell they (Scalone’s family) felt the same way, even having 1,500,” Eric said.
With the lines of international communication open, the Ohio breeders look forward to exchanging information and improving Texels in North and South America.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009.

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