Saturday, September 22, 2018

Getting Ready for Next Year

We're already making plans for next year's research project. The project will be similar. We will be comparing ram, wether, and short-scrotum lambs. It is important to replicate this year's project to see if we get similar results.

We plan to add a 4th treatment group. Ideas for the 4th treatment include giving wether lambs a Ralgro® implant. Ralgro® (zeranol) is a non-steroid growth promoter. It is not a hormone. Another idea is to evaluate the effect of late castration in lambs using a callicrate bander.

Fall planting of cool season pasture mix

The farm that provided this year's lambs has agreed to provide lambs for next year's project. This is great news. This year's lambs were very healthy, despite all the rain, and produced good quality carcasses. They were docile and easy to handle.

The lambs grazed mostly annuals this year:  spring oats and dwarf pearl millet. We are establishing perennial pastures, leaving two acres for annual forages. A cover crop was planted into these two acres. The perennial pasture mixes include a variety of cool season grasses (orchardgrass, fescue ryegrass, and bromegrass), clovers (red and white), and herbs (chicory).

The pasture system consists of 10 acres. It will be divided into five, 2-acre paddocks for rotational grazing. There is an additional ~2.5 acres of silvopasture that contains mostly cool season grasses (fescue). The lambs always have access to a central laneway that contains shelter (40 ft. x 40 ft. roofed structure), water troughs, feeders, and the handling system.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Carcass Measurements

After determining ending weights (LW) on August 13, the lambs (n=60) were transported to Hamzah Slaughterhouse (in Williamsport, Maryland) for immediate slaughter. The slaughterhouse was 9.5 miles away.

Carcass data was obtained from 51 lambs:  16 ram lambs, 15 short-scrotum lambs, and 20 wethers. Hot carcass weights (HCW) were determined immediately after slaughter. After overnight chilling, the carcasses were evaluated. The carcasses were split between the 12 and 13th ribs to expose the rib eye. A plastic grid was used to measure the area of the rib eye muscle (REA; 20 dots=1 in²). A metal ruler was used measure to backfat thickness (BF) and thickness of the body wall (BWT). Kidney and heart fat (KH) and leg conformation scores (LC) were subjectively evaluated.

Dressing percentage (DP) was determined using the following formula HCW ÷ LW. A few cold carcass weights were obtained. Shrinkage was less than 1 percent. REA was converted to an equivalent weight basis (100 pounds; CWT) using the following formula:  (REA ÷ LW) x 100. Yield grade (YG) was calculated using the following formula:  (back fat x 10) + 0.4. Percent boneless, close trimmed retail cuts (BCTRC) was calculated using the following formula:  49.936 - (0.0848 x HCW) - (4.376 x BF) - (3.530 x BW) + (2.456 x REA)*.

Ram 16 117.5 56.3 48.7 0.122 0.619 3.06 2.66 1.84 12.4 1.62 50.0
Short-scrotum 15 116.5 57.3 49.1 0.113 0.647 3.19 2.74 1.79 12.1 1.53 50.1
Wether 20 104.4 53.4 49.6 0.145 0.640 2.91 2.71 1.85 12.1 1.85 49.7
ALL 51 113.3 55.4 49.2 0.128 0.636 3.04 2.70 1.85 12.2 1.68 49.9
It is not known if any of the differences are statistically significant.

HCW ranged from 37.0 to 72.0 pounds and averaged 55.4 ± 7.5 lbs. The short-scrotum lambs had the heaviest HCW:  57.3 ± 5.3 lbs. HCW of the ram lambs (56.3 ± 8.8 lbs) was more than the wether lambs (53.4 ± 7.6 lbs). DP ranged from 44.9 to 53.3 and averaged 49.2 ± 1.9 percent. The median DP was 49.2 percent. The wethers had slighter higher DP (49.6 ± 2%) than the short-scrotum (49.1 ± 1.7%) and ram lambs (48.7 ± 1.9%).

Jeff Semler
BF ranged from 0.5 to 0.25 inches and averaged 0.128 ± 0.05 inches. The median BF was 0.10 inches. The wether lambs had the most backfat (0.145 ± .056 in) . The short-scrotum lambs had the least (0.113 ± 0.035 in). The ram lambs were intermediate (0.122 ± 0.045 in). BWT ranged from 0.30 to 0.80 and averaged 0.635 ± 0.144 inches. The median BWT was 0.60 inches. The ram lambs had the lowest BWT:  0.619 ± 0.167 inches. Short-scrotum and wether lambs were similar.

REA ranged from 2.25 to 3.85 in² and averaged 3.04 ± 0.45 in². The median REA was 3.10 in². The short-scrotum lambs had the largest REA: 3.19 ± 0.45 in². The wethers had the smallest REA:  2.91 ± 0.48 in². The ram lambs were intermediate: 3.06 ± 0.44 in². REA per 100 lbs. (CWT) ranged from 2.00 to 3.41 in² and averaged 2.70 ± 0.29 in².  The median was 2.64 in². CWT was lowest for the ram lambs (2.66 ± 0.20 in²) and similar for the short-scrotum (2.74 ± 0.32 in²) and wether lambs (2.71 ± 0.32 in²).

KH ranged from 1 to 3 and averaged 1.85 ± 0.65 percent. The median KH was 2.0 The three groups of lambs had similar KH. LC ranged from 10 (low Choice) to 14 (average Prime) and averaged 12.2 ± 0.9. The median LC was 12 (Choice plus). YG ranged from 0.9 to 2.4 and averaged 1.68 ± 0.48. The median YG was 1.40, The short-scrotum lambs had the lowest YG: 1.53 ± 0.35. The wether lambs had the highest YG: 1.85 ± 0.56. The ram lambs were intermediate: 1.62 ± 0.45.

Group No. YG 1 YG 2 YG3 Choice < Choice
Ram 16 11 5 0 14 2
Short-scrotum 15 11 4 0 15 0
Wether 20 8 11 1 18 2
ALL 51 30 20 1 47 4

Thirty lambs (58.8%) were yield grade 1. Only 21 (41.1%) of the lambs were yield grade 2 or 3. Yield grade 1 lambs may be suitable for some ethnic markets, but they are generally considered to be too thin (not finished). They typically sell for lower prices than yield grade 2 or 3 lambs, unless they are sold as feeder lambs for further feeding/finishing.  Four lambs (two rams and two wethers) had less than 0.8 inches of back fat; thus, failing to qualify for the USDA Choice grade. All other lambs graded USDA Choice or higher.

Percent BCTRC ranged from 46.9 to 52.8 percent and averaged 49.9 ± 0.84 percent. There were numerical differences between the three groups, but they are not likely statistically significant. 

Compared to ultrasound data
 While the carcass measurements showed the lambs to have more BF and larger REA, the comparisons between the three groups of lambs were similar, regardless of data source.

Group No. BF-scan BF-carcass REA-scan REA-carcass
Ram 16 0.860 0.122 1.81 3.06
Short-scrotum 15 0.900 0.113 1.86 3.19
Wether 19 0.104 0.142 1.69 2.87
ALL 50 0.940 0.127 1.78 3.03

*Source: Scott Greiner, Lamb Carcass Evaluation, Virginia Tech

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ultrasound Results: Unanalyzed Data

The lambs were scanned on August 6 to determine carcass characteristics.The short-scrotum lambs (n=17) scanned with slightly larger rib eye areas (1.88 in2) than the ram (n=19) or wether (n=23) lambs (1.85 and 1.70 in2, respectively) but when rib eye area was adjusted to a common weight (100 lbs), they had slightly smaller rib eye areas (1.54 in2), and there were no differences between the ram and wether lambs (1.58 in2). The ram and short-scrotum lambs had deeper loins compared to the wether lambs (0.99 vs. 0.93 inches).

For the 59 lambs scanned, the average rib eye measurement was 1.8 in2 or 1.59 in2 per 100-lb. live weight. It is worth noting that the actual carcass measurements were considerably higher.  For the 51 carcasses measured, the average rib eye measurement was 3.04 in2 or 2.70 in2 100-lb. live weight.

Group No. Live Wt., lbs. REA, in2 REA per cwt Loin depth, in. Backfat, in.
Ram 19 117.5 1.85 1.58 0.99 0.086
Short-scrotum 17 116.5 1.88 1.54 0.99 0.088
Wether 23 104.4 1.70 1.58 0.93 0.102
ALL 59 113.3 1.80 1.59 1.00 0.090
It is not yet known if any of the differences are statistically significant.

According to scanning, the wether lambs had a little more backfat (0.102 inches) than the ram and short-scrotum lambs (0.086 and 0.088 inches, respectively). Average backfat for the 59 lambs scanned was 0.09 inches, compared to 0.128 for the actual carcass measurements (n=51). All carcass measurements (ultrasound and actual) were taken between the 12th and 13th ribs. Rib eye was measured on the carcass using a plastic grid (Iowa State University), where 20 dots are equal to 1 in2.

The moderate level of nutrition (pasture, plus some grain) provided did not result in the majority of lambs reaching market readiness. Lambs with less than 0.8 inches of backfat fail to qualify for the USDA Choice grade. The yield grade of a lamb with 0.9 inches of backfat is only 1.3 Yield grade 1 lambs are considered too thin and generally do not receive the price premiums than yield grade 2 and 3 lambs receive.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Fertility: Preliminary Results

The fertility of ram (n=17), wether (n=24), and short-scrotum (n=17) lambs was evaluated. Blood samples were collected from each lamb to measure testosterone levels.

Libido was evaluated using a pen test. Each lamb (n=60) was placed in a 8 ft. x 8 ft. pen with two estrus ewes. The ewes had been treated with CIDR inserts so that they were in estrus (heat) on the day of testing (August 9). There were two pens of two ewes. Lambs were randomly assigned to a pen (A or B).

Each lamb was in the pen with ewes for five minutes. Breeding behaviors were observed and recorded. Behaviors observed included sniffing, butting, kicking, lip curling (flehman's response), mounting, servicing (ejaculating), and time to service.

Pen test to evaluate libido
The short-scrotum lambs displayed similar breeding behavior as the ram lambs, though the ram lambs had twice as many services and a shorter time to service (table 1). 

Table 1.  Libido
 Sex No. Mounts, # Services, # Time, sec.
 Ram 19 1.78a 1.11a 103a
 Short scrotum 17 2.05a 0.53b 143a
 Wether 24 0.22b 0c NA
Numbers with different superscripts are statistically different.

Semen was collected from six rams and six short-scrotum lambs. An estrus ewe was used for collection. The semen was collected using an artificial vagina (AV). The semen samples were evaluated on site, then later in a lab by Dr. Dahlia O'Brien from Virginia State University.

Ejaculates of short scrotum lambs were essentially devoid of sperm and could not be tested with standard procedures.  Ejaculates of the intact rams had a concentration of 1.2 billion sperm/ml, 87% motility, and 82% viability. Ejaculate characteristics of short scrotum males would have rendered them sterile.

Click to view video of ejaculate from intact ram lamb
Click to view video of ejaculate from short-scrotum lamb

Testicles were collected at the time of slaughter, five pairs each from rams and short-scrotum lambs. The testes were dissected and weighed by Dr. Stephan Wildeus at Virginia State University. The short-scrotum lambs had significantly smaller testes than the ram lambs: 114.5 g vs. 393 g. The testicles from the short-scrotum rams also had a different consistency. The epididmymal weight was also smaller (21 vs. 50 g) in the short-scrotum lambs, as were the ratios of parenchyma: tunica and testis: epididmymis (table 2)

Table 2. Organ weights
 Sex No. Total testes, g Epididymal wt, g Parenchyma:
Testis: epididymis
 Ram 5 393.4a 50.0a 14.9a 7.31a
 Short scrotum 5 114.5b 21.0b 12.0b 5.39a
Numbers with different superscripts are statistically different.

Testicles from short-scrotum (L) and ram (R) lambs

Friday, August 17, 2018

Zero Problems With Worms

During the 110-day grazing period, the lambs had ZERO problems with worms. There are several reasons why. The lambs were rotated among three grazing areas, all clean pastures. Upon arrival on April 26, they were given access to a silvopasture, ~2.5 acres of mostly cool season grasses (tall fescue). This pasture had not been grazed for ~18 months.

The next pasture they grazed was a 5 acre paddock of spring oats, an annual forage. Later in the summer, they were switched to a 5 acre paddock of dwarf pearl millet, another annual forage. The lambs always had access to the grass (fescue) in the central laneway. Like the silvopasture, it had not been grazed for ~18 months.

Silvopastuure:  cool season perennials

Previously, the pasture system had been used to graze the bucks in the Western Maryland Pasture-Based Meat Goat Performance Test. After 11 years of performance testing, levels of pasture infectivity (with worm larvae) had reached very high levels, as evidenced by the very high fecal egg counts in many of the goats.

After the last buck test ended in 2016, the fields were rested, then planted in corn. By the time the corn was harvested, it was too late to establish perennial pasture, so annual forages were used for this year's project. Now that this year's project is over, the fields will be seeded to cool season perennial forages. Two acres will be set aside for warm season annuals.

Spring oats

Another reason why the lambs didn't have any problems with worm parasites is because they came to the site relatively "worm-free," as they had been born in the winter in a confinement (dairy) system. After (early) weaning, they remained in confinement, never pastured or exposed to worm larvae. Zero grazing is a common method of keeping lambs relatively free from parasite infection.

Mouthful of millet

The lambs were born in the winter months (January-February). Upon arrival on April 26, their average age was 78 days. In July-August, when worm parasites are typically the worst (in Maryland), the lambs were 4-5 months old. This aged lamb can tolerate parasites better than a 2-3 month old lamb, born in the spring. One way to reduce parasite problems is to lamb/kid earlier in the year (or in the fall).

Supplemental feeding
The lambs were also supplemented with feed, a 16% CP mixture of whole barley, soybean meal, and minerals. The grain was gradually increased, until the lambs were consuming 2 lbs. per head per day. The feed was always hand-fed twice daily in 8 foot galvanized metal feed troughs. Despite being fed twice a day, the lambs proved to be active grazers.

Eventually, the feed was increased to 2.5 lbs and to 3 lbs. towards the very end of the project. Supplemental feeding is another way to mitigate the effects of parasitism. Animals in better body condition are better able to tolerate the negative effects of parasites. By-pass protein has proven to be especially beneficial.

Supplemental feed

Throughout the project, the lambs had FAMACHA© scores of mostly 1's, with some 2's, and an occasional 3. There was no point in collecting fecal samples, as parasites were a non-issue in the project. It was fun to raise small ruminant when parasites are a non-issue!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ending Weights Determined

We ran into some problems with the scales, so the data from the last several weighings has been discarded, for concerns of accuracy. Final weights were determined by weighing the lambs on certified scales at the local county fairgrounds. The fairgrounds are located on an adjacent property, so the lambs weren't transported far. After weighing, they were transported to the slaughterhouse for immediate slaughter.

Final weights were determined using certified scales.

For the 60 lambs, ending weights ranged from 84 to 141 lbs. and averaged 113.4 ± 13.4 lbs. The median ending weight was 116.5 lbs. Starting weights ranged from 36.0 to 80.3 lbs. and averaged 57.3 ± 9.6 lbs. The median starting weight was 56.3 lbs. The feeding period lasted for 110 days (April 26-August 13). Gain ranged from 35.0 to 76.2 lbs. and averaged 56.1 ± 8.7 lbs. The median gain was 55.7 lbs. 

Average daily gain (ADG) ranged from 0.318 to 0.693 lbs. per day and averaged 0.510 ± 0.079 lbs. per day. The short-scrotum rams (n=17) had the highest ADG:  0.548 ± 0.063 lbs. per day. The wethers (n=24) had the lowest ADG: 0.482 ± 0.078 lbs. per day. The ram lambs were intermediate in ADG: 0.512 ± 0.083 lbs. per day. The data will be analyzed to determine if the differences are statistically significant.

The ram lambs were the heaviest upon arrival on April 26. They averaged 61.2 ± 11.5 lbs. Their median weight was 64.4 lbs. The short-scrotum rams and wethers were similar in starting weights:  56.2 ± 7.7 and 55.0 ± 8.5 lbs., respectively. At the conclusion of the feeding period, the ram lambs and short-scrotum rams were similar in weight: 117.5 ± 16.4 and 116.5 ± 8.2 lbs., respectively. The wether lambs were the lightest at 108.0 ± 12.3. lbs.

Sex No. Start Wt., lbs. End Wt., lbs. ADG, lb/d
Ram 19 61.2  ± 11.5 117.5 ± 16.4 0.512 ± 0.083
Wether 24 55.0 ± 8.5 108.0 ± 12.3 0.482 ± 0.078
Short scrotum 17 56.2 ± 7.7 116.5 ± 8.2 0.548 ± 0.063
ALL 60 57.3 ± 9.6 113.4 ± 13.4 0.510 ± 0.079

During the 110 day feeding period, the lambs were fed at a moderate nutrition level: pasture + some grain. Pastures were a mixture of annual forages (spring oats and dwarf pearl millet) and perennial grass (mostly fescue). Grain was a mixture of whole barley, soybean meal, and minerals (hand-fed twice daily). Hay was fed at the beginning of the period, as pastures were slow coming.

Monday, July 23, 2018

6th Weighing

The lambs were weighed for a 6th time on July 19. Gains continue to be good. From July 5-July 19, gain ranged from 3.9 to 16.3 lbs. and averaged 10.0 ± 3.6 lbs. One lamb lost weight (3.5 lbs); no explanation why.  The median gain was 10 lbs. For the sixty lambs, the 14-d ADG ranged from 0.279 to 1.19 lbs. per day and averaged 0.717 ± 0.256. The median ADG was 0.711.

Grazing dwarf pearl millet
For the weigh period, the short-scrotum ram lambs (n=17) had the highest ADG:  0.854 ± 0.204 lbs. per day. The wethers (n=24) had the lowest ADG: 0.620 ± 0.254 lbs. per day. The ram lambs (n=19) were intermediate in gain: 0.740 ± 0.243 lbs. per day.

For the entire 84 days of the project, gain has ranged from 28.1 to 71.4 lbs. and averaged 52.1 ± 8.3 lbs. The median gain is 52.4 lbs. For the sixty lambs, ADG has ranged from 0.335 to 0.850 lbs. per day and averaged 0.620 ± 0.099 lbs. per day. No lamb has lost weight. The current weight of all sixty lambs is 109.4 ± 13.4 lbs.

So far, the short-scrotum ram lambs have demonstrated the highest ADG:  0.680 ± 0.061 lbs. per day. Their current weight is 113.3 ± 9.1 lbs.  The ram lambs are intermediate: 0.608 ± 0.103. Their current weight is slightly less than the short-scrotum lambs: 112.3 ± 16.2 lbs. The wethers have the lowest ADG:  0.587 ± 0.101 lbs. per day. Their current weight is 104.3 ± 12.3 lbs.

Sex No. ADG - 6th period 84-d ADG
Ram 19 0.740 ± 0.243 0.608 ± 0.103
Wether 24 0.602 ± 0.254 0.587 ± 0.101
Short scrotum 17 0.854 ± 0.204 0.680 ± 0.061
ALL 60 0.717 ± 0.256 0.620 ± 0.099

The lambs are currently grazing a field of dwarf pearl millet. They have been consuming 2 lbs. of feed per head per day: whole barley, mixed with soybean meal and minerals.

All but a couple of the lambs had a FAMACHA©  score of 1.

Getting Ready for Next Year

We're already making plans for next year's research project. The project will be similar. We will be comparing ram, wether, and shor...