In 2012, Virginia Tech launched the Southwest Ag Research and Extension Center Ram Test, a groundbreaking program that has since become a beacon of innovation in the sheep industry. Unlike any other program in the United States, this initiative focuses on evaluating rams through a forage-based performance test, specifically designed to assess post-weaning growth and parasite resistance. This unique approach serves the dual purpose of providing valuable data for breeders while also offering a crucial educational tool for the sheep industry.
The Program’s Evolution
The genesis of the Ram Test Program can be traced back to the collaborative efforts of David Notter, Scott Greiner, and Lee Wright. Their research laid the foundation for a program that rapidly expanded over the last decade, attracting 32 consignors with 128 rams from 10 states in the latest iteration. The test, now an annual event, has evaluated nearly 1,000 rams since its inception.
Understanding the Purpose
The primary objectives of the Ram Test Program are twofold. First, it provides a standardized post-weaning performance evaluation for growth and parasite resistance, furnishing crucial records for consignors’ breeding programs. Second, it serves as an educational tool for the broader sheep industry, offering insights into combating parasites, particularly the notorious barber pole worm.
Parasite Resistance: A Game-Changer
One of the standout features of this program is its emphasis on parasite resistance, specifically targeting the barber pole worm. This blood-sucking parasite poses a significant threat to sheep, causing anemia and potential fatality. Given the natural occurrence of these worms in pastures, particularly in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic United States, the Ram Test Program has emerged as a vital tool for identifying rams with natural immunity.
Benefits for Producers
The benefits of the Ram Test Program are not limited to data collection. Producers participating in the program gain invaluable insights into which rams exhibit both growth and parasite resistance traits. This information is particularly crucial for saving time and money spent on deworming products. Producers can now confidently select rams that have undergone rigorous testing, ensuring genetic superiority and resistance to parasites.
The program’s success is reflected in the fact that participants not only send rams for evaluation but also purchase rams from the program, highlighting the trust placed in the testing system. By working with producers and integrating the feedback provided, the success and longevity of the United States sheep industry is ensured.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The Ram Test Program employs rigorous monitoring, including fecal egg counts as an indicator of parasite resistance. Rams are placed on a predominantly grass-based diet, with supplementation to simulate natural conditions and assess their performance under these circumstances. This unique approach sets the program apart as a trailblazer in the industry.
Real-world Success Stories
By strategically selecting rams based on parasite resistance, producers can achieved a milestone: complete cessation of deworming their flock. This will not only save them money but also eliminate the significant time investment previously required for regular deworming. Parasite resistant genetics paired with proper nutrition and management is a game changer in the face of anthelmintic resistance internal parasites.
Genetic Improvement and Sustainable Farming
The ongoing research in genetic resistance underscores the potential for selective breeding to enhance sheep immunity to parasites. While there is a cost associated with the immune response, the long-term benefits, as seen in reduced pasture contamination and healthier lambs, make it a viable strategy for sustainable and efficient sheep farming.
Virginia Tech’s Southwest Ag Research and Extension Center Ram Test Program stands as a testament to innovation and progress in the sheep industry. By addressing the critical issues of post-weaning growth and parasite resistance, this program not only benefits individual breeders but also contributes to the overall advancement of sheep farming practices. As the only program of its kind in the country, it has set a standard that reflects its effectiveness and the industry’s recognition, drawing participants from across the nation. The Ram Test Program is not just an evaluation tool; it’s a catalyst for positive change in the way we approach sheep farming.