MESSAGE FROM THE OWNER
US dietary changes that will benefit smaller food producers
A bold prediction: An increasing % of the meals eaten in the coming years will:
- Be smaller than they are now
- Include more locally grown food (vs. that from industrial agriculture)
- Contain more vegetables
- Have less sugar
- Be less likely to include a large meat entree (e.g. steak, hamburger, pork tenderloin, etc)
What's my basis for this-given the overwhelming evidence that folks are doing just the opposite right now?
- The trend-setting baby boomers began turning 65 on Jan 1. As folks age (I speak as one of them as I became 65 last year) their dietary preferences change because:
- The future (declining health, retirement homes and death) can no longer be ignored. So steps likely to extend their healthy years begin to weigh heavily into their choices. That means less soft drinks, less alcohol, less fatty foods, more vegetables and smaller portions.
- They want something different (one reason they are so keen to travel in retirement). The foods they ate previously (hamburgers, pizza, big steaks/tenderloins and slabs of chicken or turkey) may still taste good but it bores them. "Been there, done that" is a common phrase for these folks.
- They can afford more expensive food choices. I know the recession damaged many folks' retirement funds but many are still well heeled and their kids (now age 25-40) are no longer as dependent upon them. So when they eat at restaurants and when they buy food from stores, taste, health and perceived quality matter more and price less.
- Taste buds decline in capability with age. So the search for flavorsome food (often associated with smaller portions) will increase.
For every action there is always a reaction. The obesity epidemic and the food choices that have produced it will, in time, produce an opposing response. We can expect an increasing % of people who quietly increase their resolve to eat less, eat better and exercise more.
This reactive trend will appear first in the areas in which a higher % are more educated and more affluent.
Example? In late April I was on Martha' Vineyard in Massachusetts (for a farm event not a vacation) for 2 days. My hosts took me out to breakfast. The little restaurant's ambiance was ordinary and the prices not that high (it was off season). But the portions were noticeably less than breakfasts offered in 99% of Iowa restaurants. The flavor was excellent. Much of the food was both locally sourced (and attributed).
- The costs of the obesity epidemic will become ever more clear. A pressure point will be its impact on Medicare and Medicaid-all funded by we taxpayers. Expect, in time for taxpayers to pressure the government to take more active steps to prevent it-just as was done for smoking. As with smoking the producer groups whose foods most contribute to obesity and excess weight will oppose it-and they are well organized and well-financed. But over time the huge cost to the taxpayer to fund the costs of obesity and excess weight will force the government's hand. Already there is talk of a tax on sugar-laden drinks. That's the thin edge of a long-term trend.
So who will be the winners?
- Folks who produce quality food and sell it locally in stores and farmer's markets.
- Sheep (I'm biased here) and goat producers-because the smaller meat cuts that they offer have for decades suffered in competition with pork, beef, chicken, and turkey. This will gradually change-particularly for those producers who focus on increasing the eating quality of their lamb and chevon (goat meat).
Best Wishes To You All,
Stan Potratz, Owner
How To Use Your Marking Harness & Crayons
A marking harness can tell you more than if a ram has bred a ewe. It can tell you when she was bred, which ram bred her, and whether or not a ram is doing his job. How? By switching crayon color throughout the season and using different colors for different rams.
By switching colors throughout the season you will be better able to gauge when a ewe should lamb by looking at the color on her back. If you used red during the first 2 weeks of breeding and blue the second 2 weeks and the ewe is marked blue, then she should lamb later in the season.
If you use different colors for different rams you will be able to tell which ewe was bred to which ram.
If a ram is outfitted with his own color but his color is not evident on any of the ewes, then he is not doing his job.
Since these marks do not last forever, be sure to write down when you notice a ewe has been marked. Add 147 days and this should roughly tell you when she should have her lambs. Also write down when you used a specific crayon and which ram it was on. Remember, documentation is important and can save you a few headaches down the stretch.
Download a PDF on how to install a marking crayon to your harness.
Visit our website to see all of Premier's Marking Products.
What Can a Marking Harness Tell You?
By Jim Morgan, Arkansas Sheep Producer
Many flocks use marking harnesses on their breeding rams to help manage their lambing ewes. While the most common use is to predict within a few days when a ewe will lamb, there is other information that can be discerned from using a harness. They are not a hundred percent in catching all matings, but in our flock about 90% of the time, the marks do catch the mating that leads to settling of the ewe. Typically, a shepherd will do the first cycle using a light color and then near the start of the second cycle change to a different color. In our flock, the color of the crayon is changed on day 14 to day 15. In our system, about one out of 20-30 ewes doesn't mark, but she goes ahead and lambs.
Prior to the start of lambing, based on the markings, it is possible to make a chart of the predicted order of ewe lambing. In our system the vast majority of ewes lamb at 147 days +/- 2 days. When walking through the ewe flocks, it saves us some time to only closely look at the ewes that are predicted to be close. We find it useful.
But what else can a marking harness tell you?
Ram fertility. One year every ewe in one breeding group marked in the first 15 days. Then at day ten in the second cycle every ewe was marked again after changing the color of the marking crayon. It told us that the ram wasn't very fertile. If only one or two ewes had marked with a different color, and if the vast majority did not remark in the second cycle, you blame the ewe. A marking harness can alert you to an infertile or sub-fertile ram that only settles half or so the ewes per cycle. It is better to know that information 3-4 weeks into the breeding season, rather than much later!
Managing a prolapsing ewe. Ewes occasionally prolapse in our system, about 1 out of 80 lambings. Knowing when the ewe is predicted to lamb helps determine how to manage that prolapsing ewe. If there is only a week before the expected lambing date, we would use a harness. If 3-4 weeks, we would probably resort to suturing.
Late gestation nutrition. Earlier in our shepherding careers, we noticed that the average gestation length increased from our 147 day average to 150 days one year. Our lambs were born about 1.5 lbs light on average (several 6.5 to 7.5 lb lambs). Both of these were quantifiable. Our perception was that it took 2 days after birth before any of the lambs were hopping and jumping around. The vast majority of lambs were pretty lethargic (an un-quantifiable observation unless you have a stop watch and live out there with the lambs). But the behavioral observation fit with the other data. Conclusion: Our flock had some nutritional event during late gestation.
Ewe switching breeding groups and thus exposed to a ram not in the mating book. That year, we were using a green crayon in the first cycle for one ram and yellow for another ram in his first cycle of the breeding group. After the third cycle, I noticed a yellow marked rear in the green group. After checking eartags, sure enough, we had a ewe that went over or through two 32 inch electrified cross-fences and around some ElectroNet. Never would I have considered that a ewe would do that, since we rarely have ewes that get out. I now use different colored crayons for the rams in their separate breeding pastures. This is important for maintaining accurate sire records for registering lambs.
Switching between rams or putting in the clean-up ram. For registered lambs: when switching between rams, it is important to know the sire. Safe waiting periods are ten days or maybe even two weeks. When using harnesses you can shorten the break between taking one ram out and putting in another to 4 days. Rarely have I seen a ewe breed for longer than 36 hours. You can be certain that a ewe that didn't mark with the previously harnessed ram and then marked 4 days later with the new ram was bred by the 2nd ram. But only if the shepherd goes out every day and carefully looks at each ewe for marks. It is important to watch lambing dates. If the gestation length for a ewe doesn't make sense so that you can be certain who the sire is, then it is best not to register the lambs.
Open ewes. Rarely, we have ewes that don't lamb. Marking harness records provide more information about the open ewe•. The marking records can help decide whether the ewe should be culled. Some open ewes may mark in each of three successive cycles. This indicates she was cycling but not settling and is good candidate for culling. The one in 20-30 ewes that does not mark, usually go ahead and lamb. But if they do not mark and do not lamb, it is good evidence that they were not cycling and are candidates for culling.
Making culling decisions. Occasionally, a flock will run short on winter feed. In the midst of winter, trying to decide which ewes to cull can be difficult. Marking harness records could tell you which ewes did not mark or which ewes marked multiple times. These ewes have a lower probability of lambing and may be better candidates to cull. A ewe that always takes 3 cycles to settle makes management harder.
Selecting a-seasonal lambing ewes. This task is a little tougher, since there are more variables including ewes that cycle (and are marked) and do not settle, rams that mark several ewes but have low counts or are sterile. But that said, marking records provide the shepherd with more information about his/her ewes and their cycling in the spring. If some ewes mark, than you know that the ram is detecting estrous. The marking harness provides an estimate of the percentage of the ewes that are cycling. Also, if a ram marked most of the ewes but no ewes lambed, it would indicate that many of the ewes were a-seasonal but that the ram had fertility issues.
Catching the ram. We often remove rams from the breeding pen without taking all the ewes back to the sorting pens. The sheep could be in a distant part of the rotation or across the highway from the sorting pens. By dropping a little grain or alfalfa hay on the ground, the harness straps make it handy for us to catch and control the ram as we move him out of the pen or into a cage on the trailer or back of the truck.
Problems with harnesses. Harnesses are not always the cat's meow and they do not work for everyone. If the pastures or pens have brush or junk that can catch a harness, a ram could get caught or become entangled, and maybe even be severely injured. Crayons can be purchased for three sets of temperatures (hot, warm, cold). The wax of the crayon needs to melt at ambient temperatures in order to mark the ewe. A hot crayon will not melt if the temperature is 30 degrees F. A cold crayon will melt all over the ram if the ambient temperatures are in the 70s or 80s, thus requiring replacement. If temperatures change dramatically, the shepherd needs to catch the ram immediately and change the crayons to keep the harnesses working. Harnesses can also rub the ram raw, if not kept adjusted correctly. They can cause bleeding. Some folks say the harnesses are only 25-50% successful in helping to identify ewes that are marked and when they will lamb. Harnesses are less useful for those with jobs off the farm that do not allow them to see the ewes in the daylight every day to check for marks. Some rams have a light touch or maybe a cooler chest and are less likely to leave marks. When ambient temperature is really cold, a ewe with a thick coated rear is also less likely to mark.
In summary, marking harnesses are a useful management tool. They provide much more information for managing your flock than just telling you when a ewe is likely to lamb.
This month's featured employee is Gordon Shelangoski of Brighton, Iowa. For 22 years he has been a product consultant, assisting customers with whatever questions they might have regarding Premier's products. He is also a primary member of our research and development team, helping to bring to the marketplace products that will make raising livestock more profitable, efficient and enjoyable.
Gordon says that talking to and helping other producers is one of the best things he likes about his position. "Each day is a new set of challenges to work through. This makes the day go fast and gives me a feeling that I am accomplishing something each day."
Gordon and his wife, Mary have been married for 30 years. (They were high school sweethearts.) They have three children, Alyssa who is 24, married and a nurse in Iowa. Kylie 20, is in her second year at Iowa State and works for Premier in the summer and Wyatt 16, likes sports and riding ATV's.
Gordon, Mary and the kids pasture lamb 250 Ile De France x Dorset ewes in May. Gordon was one of the first in Iowa to utilize this breed and has been very pleased with the results. The Ile De France crosses convert well on grass, are hardy and are very easy to handle. Gordon's other interest lies in local history. His grandmother's great uncle homesteaded part of the farm where Gordon and his family now reside.
The family also enjoys riding ATV's and have made trails all over the farm. So anytime you're in the area stop over and they will take you on a ride you will not forget. Bring your boots, you might get wet.