July 25, 2021

Sheep group focuses on improving flock genetics

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The sheep industry will never be any better than the genetics of the flocks.

The goal of the new Sheep Genetics USA group is to focus on improving genetic tools to enhance profitability.

“Our mission statement is advancing the U.S. sheep industry through genetic technology because genetics is the base,” said Ben Lehfeldt, a Montana sheep rancher.

“We are trying to create a communication network across the industry to make sure we’re prioritizing the right research projects for things that are important to the industry that comes from the grassroots level,” said Lehfeldt, secretary-treasurer of the American Sheep Industry Association. “We’ve got a great group of researchers in the country and the big thing is tying everything together.”

Historically, Lehfeldt said, there has been a slow uptake of genetic improvement in the sheep industry.

“We based the organization on initiatives from other industries like the Beef Improvement Federation, Meat & Livestock Australia and Sheep Genetics Australia,” he said. “Ultimately we want better utilization of our finances to help leverage genetic research projects that are important to the industry.”

All segments of the industry will be represented in Sheep Genetics USA.

“Our goal is to inspire producer adoption through education, ensure inclusiveness of all industry stakeholders, drive research and development and deliver tangible solutions leading to measurable results,” Lehfeldt said.

Work to develop the new group started in January 2020 with a steering committee that brainstormed ideas.

“We rolled it out in January 2021 and now we’re doing a membership drive,” Lehfeldt said.

Action leads will direct each of the committees and all members are asked to serve on a committee that best fits their interest. The committees are: ASI/Producer; American Lamb Board/Consumer; National Sheep Improvement Program; Seed Stock and Registries; Feeder/Packer; and Research, Education & Emerging Technology.

“These six committees tie together the important parts of our industry and will make sure voices are heard from each of these so we go down the right paths,” Lehfeldt said.

“The action leads are responsible for organizing discussion within the committees and they will connect with each other to hash out which things are most important to move forward,” he said. “They will prioritize result implementation and deliver that priority to the directors of Sheep Genetics USA.”

Better Together

“This is a solutions-based organization,” said Rusty Burgett, program director for the National Sheep Improvement Program. “We’re trying to develop solutions for every day problems and make sure we’re at a profitable standpoint for the sheep of the future.”

Burgett does not know what sheep will look like in 2031, “but I can guarantee efficiency will be key to the success of the industry,” he said.

“Efficiency starts with genetics and often times it’s difficult to have information flow from the different segments of our industry,” he said. “Sheep Genetics USA will provide that platform to have an industry-wide systematic approach to moving everyone forward because we will be better together than we will be individually.”

More Meaningful

“Our ability to be a clearinghouse not only for future research, but past research is something our industry desperately needs,” said Brad Boner, ASI vice president and Wyoming sheep producer.

“U.S. research in the past has been a little disjointed, regional and too driven by economics at universities and not industry,” Boner said. “Now we have the chance to drive the research in the direction we believe is most beneficial to the industry.”

The sheep group plans to utilize grant money as a source of funds for research projects.

“I think we have a better opportunity to get these funds and look at more meaningful projects than we’ve done in the past,” Boner said.

For more information about Sheep Genetics USA, go to www.sheepgeneticsusa.org.

Martha Blum

Field Editor