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I plan to start breeding sheep in two weeks, so it’s time to nail down my final pairing plans. I’ve decided to use four rams, three of which were born here, so have relatives in the flock. So it takes quite a bit of analysis to figure out which pairings would be too inbred, and to make final decisions about the best pairings, and leveling out how many ewes each ram breeds.

Spreadsheet O’ Choices

I started with a list of the ewes in Excel, with their sire and dam in the next columns to refresh my memory. Then I gave each ram a column. First I went through and made gray X’s on any pair that wouldn’t work: these are inbred pairings, such as father-to-daughter or brother-to-sister. (And I should say, I’m not entirely opposed to this, but avoid it if I can, because a lot of other people are skittish about inbreeding, so it makes it harder to sell those animals.) Then I marked as “LB:x” any that were line bred on a particular animal, “H” for Hershey, etc. I don’t mind breeding half siblings together as  much, that just means the lamb will have one common grandparent. As long as it’s a good grandparent, that’s ok. If it were a mediocre grandparent, I’d avoid fixing those genes so strongly in the pedigree. Finally I just wrote “OK” in any pairings where there was no genetic relationship.

Then I iterated through the list over and over, choosing a sire, totaling up the counts, and changing my mind what felt like a million times. To double-check myself, I used my Ranch Manager software, which has a pairing tool that displays the pedigree of the proposed lamb, and marks in red any common ancestors. More than once I caught errors where I thought a pairing was ok, but the pedigree display showed me it wasn’t. There are cases where some animals were line bred a couple of generations back, and if two of them have this same line breeding, you can have one animal show up four or six times in a pedigree. I tried to steer clear of that.

Working with the Curve Ball

Because of my sperm-cooking problem with the new ram, I wanted to only give him a small group of ewes: he ended up with six. But some ewes are too related to my other two mature rams, I was counting on using this new guy a lot. This caused me to choose a ram lamb out of this year’s crop to keep at least long enough to breed this season. I agonized over this, and finally decided to gamble on one that was a mis-castration and had retained one full-sized-looking testicle. This choice was bothering me, thinking this could be as much of a risk as the sperm cooker. I might have to use a cleanup ram behind him if his testicle turned out to be non-functional. But I thought he was my best choice genetically, so I went ahead and worked through the spreadsheet and assigned him some ewes.

Then I went out in the pasture and looked at all the rams again. I decided he is ugly: very cobby and short-necked. There was another ram that kept catching my eye: so gorgeous and long. I decided I’d better go back and look at my NSIP metrics again on the ram lamb crop, and re-evaluate that decision one more time. If the numbers said the one-ball guy was the best, then fine, I’d use him despite his lack of eye appeal.

Back to the Numbers

But the numbers did not say that! He was actually low on the list, I had just forgotten. The gorgeous ram has OK numbers, but has many close relatives here. And then another factoid emerged: my best ram lamb out of this year was actually a 87.5% crossbred out of my Dorper cross ewe. A plain-Jane, solid brown dude. He was for sale, cheap, and I hadn’t given him much notice because of his non-purebred status and because he’s QR (scrapie resistant, but could have non-scrapie resistant lambs). I figured he’d be great for some commercial flock, but there is never much market for rams, so he was on the list for butchering next week. Could I use him? It turns out, there are a lot of available pairings for him, many line bred on my favorite old Hershey guy, who is now gone. So I had to think through the ramifications of his crossbred-ness and QR status.

His mother is 75%, so cannot upgrade to purebred status (they have to be at least 87.5% or 7/8 purebred). But I did have her hair coat inspected, anticipating that I may want to fully register one of her sons one day. So this guy can actually upgrade to 100% status if he passes a hair coat inspection as a yearling. Which means… I’d need to keep him around through next summer. And he is a bit shaggy, so there is a chance he could fail to shed fully. But I don’t have that crop up much. His QR status means some unknowns with his lambs, unless I breed him to an RR ewe (and I have a few, but most of my ewes are untested, I just know they are QR or better). I’ll likely have to DNA test any of his lambs that I think are worth breeding, or sell them for a lower price if they are untested.

But, I went back to my priorities: meat production, high birth weights, good growth to weaning and post-weaning. This guy’s the winner by a long shot. So he missed the butcher date by three days, and made it into the breeder’s circle instead. I will deal with what comes: worst case, he does not upgrade, and his offspring will be recorded until they can pass a hair coat inspection. The extra DNA testing costs some money, but it’ll pay back if he produces nice breeding ewes.

It’s going to be a juggling trick to maintain for separate breeding groups for 2.5 weeks, but I think I can make it work!

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