Data plays a critical role in the management of my flock.
Decisions are made based on data, not emotion.
I firmly believe that the cornerstone of any herd enterprise is its female base.
Assembling a winning team of ewes is every bit as challenging as putting
together a winning sports team. The key is to identify those
individuals who are "pulling the wagon" and those who are weighing it down.
There are numerous flock management programs available to manage flocks,
including Ewebyte, NSIP and others. None of these meet my need to
maximize the only parameter that I'm truly concerned with - profitability.
Starting in the fall of 2007, I have been developing
a selection methodology that
combines virtually every profit controlling parameter into single number -
what I call the Profitability Index (PI). Simply, the PI is the
amount of profit that the ewe is generating under given market conditions (I
currently use a 4 year average).
The index includes all variable costs (including labor), fixed costs, finish weight,
feed efficiency, prolificacy, heterosis and longevity.
The method not only helps me find those ewes that are making me the most
money, but also attempts to project future performance based on to-date
performance and historical data for sheep of that type (breed / cross).
Further, the software decouples each characteristic so that complimentary matings can be identified.
Finally, the software models the price
of lamb, corn and other feedstuffs to assist in marketing and
The software is not commercially available, in part, because it is not
I use the NRC 2007 "Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants" to
rations for highly productive sheep for
gestation and lactation periods. The
goal is to provide high performance rations at the least cost.
The primary advantage is the elimination of all
commerical feeds. I only buy commodity feedstuffs, vitamins and
I monitor and project lamb and feed prices to find the marketing date
that produces the maximum profit. That may mean selling the lambs as
feeder lambs all the way up to the upper end of Yield Grade 3.
I measure the following data:
Prolificacy is measured by the number of lambs weaned per ewe
dry-lotted after breeding.
Ewe longevity is measured by the ewe's age.
Growth is measured by taking 3 weights of the lambs.
Generally, these are at weaning, around 100 days and right before
slaughter. The weights are then standardized to 60, 120 and 180
day values by curve fitting the 3 measurements to the Gompertz growth
function. The Gompertz growth function is a mathematical model for
growth. It accounts for the fact that a lamb's growth rate
continuously varies with time. This is particularly important
because growth starts to decline as they 'finish' or put on fat.
This method is more accurate and far less optimistic than the linear
methods used by virtually everyone else.
Ewe feed cost is computed from the ewe's mature weight
and production. Ewes
are weighed once a year and adjusted to Body Condition Score 3.
Feed efficiency is computed from the 60, 120 and 180 day weights
using a relationship between body weight and feed intake. In 2010, the
average predicted feed efficiency for a group of about 40 lambs was
within 2% of the actual feed efficiency I measured. In 2011, the
predicted value was within 1% of the actual value.
Labor. Prior to 2012,
labor costs evenly across the ewe flock. Starting in 2012, an
estimate of individual annual labor requirements is assigned to each
principle differentiators of labor are: assisted births, time required
to make barn checks during lambing and special feeding arrangements made
for ewes raising quads (and ewe lambs with triplets).
The goal of the labor tracking
is to make sure that production levels are optimized with labor
requirements. Analysis of the labor data indicates an ewe that weans
quads will require up to 4 hours of additional labor compared to a ewe
with triplets. While ewes with triplets require only 1 extra hour over
those with twins. The viability of the 4th lamb depends on the prices of
lambs and available labor resources. With my off-farm employment,
labor is a limited resource. Labor requirements have been used in
determining ewe lamb selections starting with the 2013 crop.
Results - Mature Ewes:
I began using the software in Spring 2008 to select
replacement ewe lambs, rams and culls. For the first two years, I did
not have a scale, so the growth data was estimated. Starting In 2010, precise growth data was added. Results for ewes born on my
farm are presented below. The finish weights are standardized to
Starting in 2014, I purposely sacrificed production to reduce
costs - particularly labor. Specifically, no ewes are allowed to wean
quads. In 2016, the weaning rate and production rate were new record highs, yet
the lambing rate decreased slightly. This is the exact result
I had been hoping for and continue to work toward. This is the
first time the flock produced over 300 lbs of finished lamb per
ewes. The trendline indicates that the ewes are each adding
about 5 lbs of finsihed lamb per year since the new management
method was employed.
Potential = Lambs Born x Finish
- Ewe Lambs:
Potential = Lambs Born x Finish
In 2015 I had record drop rates
in my ewe lambs. This was an undesired result that I sought to
change by slowing the ewe lamb's development during summer growth period
for the ewe lambs that lambed in 2016. I believe I
overcompensated, resulting in lower drop rates than desired. For
the ewe lambs that will lamb in 2017, I tried to do a better job of
balancing the ewe lambs development and selction for optimal lambing
rates (around 200%).