Easycare sheep and systems at the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska became an active discussion point when the New York Times newspaper ran a couple of ugly, misinformed, ideological articles about it in January.
As it happens, Dr. Kreg Leymaster, MARC's leading sheep geneticist for the past 30 years is about to retire. The sheep research community will miss him. And I will miss him personally.
With his imminent exit in mind, he prepared a report about the project. Click on link below.
We at Premier have partial experience with the genetics MARC used for this.
When we decided to expand our flock in 2007 we reached out to Kreg and Mike Wallace (head shepherd for MARC at the time—now retired). Based on their work to that point they encouraged us toward White Dorper/Romanov (WD/R) ewes and pasture lambing with minimal care.
Perhaps unwisely, we didn't try to purchase "ready to use" WD/R ewes (in our defense there were very few available at the time). Instead we purchased excess WD/R rams from MARC and mated them with selected pre-existing Premier wool ewes (some had minor hair genetics from prior Premier experiments); 35 White Dorper/Romanov/St Croix ewe lambs (from Mike Wallace's personal flock); and 35 Katahdins. From their progeny we gradually built up a flock of over 700 breeding ewes that are 60-90% hair genetics.
Initially we lambed them once a year outside in the spring—imitating MARC's system.
Over time we observed location-specific disadvantages to this approach that would not be present at MARC. MARC is 400 miles west of Premier in the High Plains with lower humidity, less cold rain and ice storms in the spring, less gnats, less flies, less challenges from coyotes with new-born pups and fewer mid-summer internal parasites.
|Hair ewes (White Dorper/Romanov plus minor amount of wool genetics) with lambs at Premier.
We now lamb our hair ewes in winter, spring and fall—sometimes inside (winter, spring) and sometimes outside (fall). We wean about 3 lambs per ewe/year in this accelerated system. We breed them to White Dorper rams and sell the result to the ethnic market at 50-80 lbs.
Upon reading Dr. Leymaster's report (above) I can now see several genetic advantages that we missed in not purchasing more ewes and more rams from MARC's reduction sales in recent years.
Note: We don't share any of the above in an attempt to persuade sheep people to do as we have done or as MARC has done. Situations and markets vary so much that we think it would be foolish to assume that what worked and failed for us would do so for you.
Best wishes to you, and our gratitude to Kreg Leymaster, Mike Wallace and the MARC sheep unit. The Easycare Project was only one of many contributions from their decades of dedication to to our industry.