Sheep Teaching & Research Center
Dr. Richard Ehrhardt
3885 Hagadorn Road
Okemos, MI 48864
The main headquarters is located on Hagadorn Rd south of Bennett Rd. This site houses the Main Barn, a 3-sided west shed, animal handling facilities and central access to most pastures. An additional building with ewe and lamb feeding facilities and a hay storage area is located on Bennett Rd.
The sheep barn is open to the public daily, including weekends, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Visitors are asked to observe and comply with all posted notices.
The Sheep Teaching and Research Center provides students at Michigan State University with the opportunity to work with the sheep maintained on campus, for classes, livestock evaluation, undergraduate work and research and also graduate experience through research.
The Sheep Teaching and Research Center employees 5 to 8 students who use this opportunity to gain experience in all aspects of sheep management and research activities ongoing at the unit.
The sheep unit encompasses 90 acres of land on South Campus including approximately 85 acres of pasture. The Main Barn on Hagadorn Road houses the manager’s office, classroom, supply/workroom, student living quarters for 1-3 students employed at the farm, 8 animal pens, feed storage and handling facilities and a farm shop. As ewes approach parturition, they are moved into the pens in the main barn where lambing takes place. Close proximity to office, classroom and student quarters make close monitoring and supervision during lambing season efficient and convenient. Lambs are born in the east end of the barn and mixed with larger groups of ewes and lambs as they move through the pens to the west. At an average of 2-5 weeks (depending on season and number of ewes lambing), ewes and lambs are moved out of the main barn into the west shed or to the facility on Bennett Road. Lambs remain in these facilities through weaning, at which time the ewes are removed from the lambs and the ewes go to pasture.
Pasture provides the basic nutrient requirements for the ewes throughout the year. During part of the breeding season, late gestation and lactation ewes will receive additional energy from supplemental grain feeding. When pasture is no longer available, harvested forages (alfalfa and grass hays, alfalfa haylage) are used as the primary dietary ingredients. Ewes are continually supplied with a salt and mineral supplement to meet their remaining dietary requirements. Lambs receive a complete dietary combination of grains, forages and supplements to meet their nutritional requirements for the desired level of performance.
Sheep maintained at the Research and Teaching Center meet or exceed all guidelines for animal care as defined by national, state and university specifications.
Animals Inventory and Production
A purebred flock of Suffolks is maintained on campus. The Suffolk flock, with approximately 50 breeding females exemplifies sheep possessing tremendous size, growth and carcass characteristics that are of primary importance to the red meat sector of the industry. A commercial flock of approximately 70 ewes is also maintained at this facility and represents a typical crossbred commercial ewe well suited to Michigan production strategies. Females in the commercial flock are 3-way crosses produced from a Rambouillet, Suffolk and Dorset crossbreeding plan.
Selection criteria within the flocks vary to some degree because of different production objectives; however, animals retained in both flocks must be structurally and reproductively sound and healthy. In addition, all flocks have production goals of conception rates > 90 % and lambing rates > 180 % (per ewe exposed).
In the Suffolk flock, growth rate and carcass quality is of primary importance. Replacement females are selected from within the flock based on soundness, performance (growth), type of birth (twins preferred), and pedigree. Suffolk flock sires must excel in structural correctness, muscling and thickness. Emphasis is placed on characteristics necessary for superior carcass quality with consideration also given for multiple births with selected individuals preferably born as a twin or triplet. The Suffolk flock is enrolled in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) that enables us to evaluate, measure and predict genetic progress. Laproscopic artificial insemination (AI) is being used successfully in this flock (usually 10 to 20 ewes per year) to introduce genetics otherwise unavailable. An average conception rate from AI is approximately 75 %, which is very acceptable for this technology in the sheep industry. Most recently, ram lambs in this flock attained an average adjusted weaning weight of 121 pounds at 90 days of age and ewe lambs were 111 pounds at 90 days of age.
Selected purebred animals not being retained in the flock are offered for sale to the public via private treaty sales. Offspring produced from both the purebred and commercial flocks that are not selected as potential breeding animals are grown to market weight and sold through commercial marketing channels.
Sheep Research Activities
A variety of research projects relevant to enhancing sheep production are conducted at the Research and Teaching Unit. Projects studying milk production and the efficiency of nutrient utilization by the lactating ewe are conducted to more accurately define nutritional demands of ewes rearing multiple births. These same studies also provide valuable information on suckling lamb growth parameters. Feeding ewes to optimize milk production and lamb growth are the fundamental objectives of these trials that are immediately applicable to the industry. Feeding lambs from weaning to market weight is another area of research in which different dietary treatments are evaluated for their effect on performance and carcass composition. Monitoring feed intakes and weight changes allows for diet comparisons prior to collection of carcass data which includes information on rib eye area, carcass lean, carcass fat, fatty acid composition of depot fats, quality grade and yield grade. Applications of findings to production settings often include economic evaluations to determine feasibility in current market situations.