The Sheep Flock Improvement Program
Table of Contents
The Sheep Flock Improvement Program (SFIP) is a home test genetic improvement program designed to assist Ontario purebred and commercial sheep producers in the evaluation of potential breeding stock and to provide a measure of the comparative productivity of ewes in the flock.
The SFIP program provides information that producers can use to improve the genetic merit of their flock and monitor performance, and maintains a large database of the performance records of tested sheep breeds in the province.
The performance of an animal that you see and measure is a result of both the genetics of the animal and the animals' environment. For example, animals with exactly the same genetics will perform differently if they are fed differently and animals that are fed exactly the same will perform differently due to genetics.
The program evaluates the differences between animals that are caused by genetics. Therefore, groups of animals must be treated or managed the same in the same environment to attempt to evaluate the differences caused by genetics. This is called a contemporary group or a management group. A management group consists of lambs that were born within 30 days of each other, are located in the same place and have received the same care and management. This ensures that most of the differences observed between animals are due to genetics.
In order to participate in the program, some basic information must be collected on the animals, i.e., sire, dam, foster ewe and lamb identification, lamb birthdate, breed of sire and dam, sex of lamb, born as and raised as. All animals must be individually identified by tag or tattoo. The weight information is optional. Weights can be collected at birth, 50 days (35-65 days) and 100 days (85-115 days). Lamb reports are issued after the 50 and 100 day weighings if weight information is sent in to the SFIP office.
The weighing portion of the SFIP program is divided into a supervised and unsupervised program. The program operates exactly the same except that in the case of the supervised program an official weighperson supervises the weighing of the lambs and in the case of the unsupervised program, producers weigh the lambs themselves. In either case, the producer must have an accurate scale suitable for the weighing of sheep. It is recommended that producers selling breeding stock be enrolled on the supervised program. The supervised program provides increased credibility particularly with people from other countries and when an animal has an exceptionally good weight.
To enrol in the program, contact the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency (OSMA) and the number listed at the bottom of this page. There will now be a user fee for the program. A fee of $169.50 must be included with your enrolment form to use the SFIP program.
If you have data for lambs born prior to 2009, they can be processed without a fee.
There is a fee for supervised weighing which is paid to the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency district.
Following enrolment, producers receive a package of information, including forms for the recording of data.
Lamb reports are produced after the 50 day weighing and again after the 100 day weighing. These reports summarize the information the producer provided on the lamb input forms. The 50 day lamb report calculates adjusted 50 day weights and a ewe index. The 50 day weights are adjusted for age and sex of lamb, age of dam and type of birth and rearing (single, twin, triplet, etc.). All actual weights of lambs are adjusted to a standard age of 50 days and are also adjusted to the equivalent of a ram lamb raised as a single from a mature ewe, four or five years of age. This adjustment means that adjusted weights on all lambs in the management group can be compared directly within the management group and within breed. The adjusted 50 day weight is influenced by the milking ability of the dam and to a lesser degree by the genetic gaining ability of the lamb itself.
The ewe index ranks each ewe according to the total adjusted weights of her lambs within the management group and within breed. The ewe index does not take into account any information on the ewe's previous lambings. It is only relevant for the one lambing. Ewe indexes are only reported for contemporary groups with a minimum of five ewes with lambs who have 50 day weights.
Estimated Progeny Differences (EPDs) are also provided on the report for the following traits: birthweight direct and maternal, 50 day weight direct and maternal, number born per lambing and number weaned per lambing. An EPD is the genetic value that is expected to be passed on to an animal's progeny.
Also provided at the time of the 50 day lamb report is an inventory of all the breeding animals in the group, their updated summary information and their updated EPDs.
The 50 day lamb report is primarily used for culling ewes, initial selection of replacements and monitoring flock performance.
Culling Ewes: The best time for culling ewes is shortly after weaning. Ewes should first be culled for physical soundess, i.e., udders, prolapses, etc. An average cull rate is 10-20% of the flock. The average performance numbers and EPDs on the inventory report can be used for culling ewes that have low production. By culling some of the poor producing ewes there is room in the flock to keep genetically superior replacements and increase the average performance of the flock over time. The ewe index will assist with the identification of ewes that are not milking well or have poor mothering ability. The inventory will provide information on average lambing interval and average performance of the ewe per lambing and per year.
Selecting Replacements: Use the information available from the 50 day lamb report as a first step in identifying potential replacement lambs. The reason for making some preliminary selections is to ensure that prospective replacement lambs are retained if some lambs are marketed prior to the 100 day weighing.
Monitoring Flock Management: The 50 day lamb report can also be used to monitor flock management of the lambing group. Basic data such as average group information for number born, number born alive, % (percent) mummified, % stillborn, % death loss 0-10 days, % death loss 11-50 days, number weaned and average 50 day adjusted weight should be used to evaluate changes in management techniques and ensure that the producer is maintaining, and hopefully improving, the performance of the flock. If these numbers are not what is expected, this is the time to try and evaluate what the problem(s) may have been so they can be corrected for the next lambing.
This report is exactly the same as the 50 day lamb report with 100 day information added. 100 day adjusted weight, average daily gain (ADG), 100 day index and multi-trait index are provided. The 100 day adjusted weight adjusts the actual 100 day weights for the same factors as the 50 day weighings, and as if the lambs were 100 days of age. The adjusted 100 day weight is calculated by adding the weight gain between 50 and 100 days and the adjusted 50 day weight. The average daily gain is the gain from 50 to 100 days adjusted for sex.
Contemporary Group Indexes: These indexes only include the 100 day index, multi-trait index and the ewe index. These indexes are used to simply rank the animals in the group. The 100 day index ranks the 100 day adjusted weights against the average 100 day adjusted weight for the group. The multi-trait index combines 100 day adjusted weight with a factor for number born and reared and compares this against the average for the group. These indexes are strictly for the specific lambing compared to the rest of the animals in the group. If there are less than eight lambs weighed in the contemporary group at the 100 day weighing, there will not be a 100 day or multi-index reported.
Estimated Progeny Differences (EPDs): The report includes updated EPDs for all of the traits provided at 50 days plus an EPD for 100 day weight. The 100 day weights on an animal can affect the birthweight direct and maternal EPDs as well as the 50 day weight direct and maternal EPDs. The gain between the 50 and 100 day weighing is based primarily on the animal's own ability to grow and can change how the direct and maternal components of birthweight and 50 day weight are divided. There is also a growth index. This index is based on a combination of the lamb EPDs for growth characteristcs. The EPDs and EPD growth index are much more reliable for selection than contemporary group indexes since they are based on the performance information of all relatives as well as the lamb's own performance.
The 100 day lamb report is used for final selection of replacement ewe lambs and the selection of flock sires. The lamb report provides the information necessary to easily identify the best gaining animals in the group and the best gaining lambs from multiple births in the group by using the 100 day and multi-trait indexes. To ensure that the best animals in the flock (rather than just the group) are selected, it is necessary to use the EPDs.
The EPDs rank animals using all of the available data for each trait from the animal itself and it's relatives. This information can be used to monitor the average flock EPDs for each trait so that when purchasing animals a flock improver is selected. Also, it can be used to select animals based on specific traits, particularly maternal traits, which are difficult to improve unless information on relatives and their groups are used.
The growth index is an EPD index and is based on EPD values. It can be used to select animals for all of the growth traits simultaneously. If a producer is interested in improving growth rate, this index will be easier to use than trying to consider EPDs for birthweight, 50 day weight and 100 day weight separately. The growth index will not improve maternal traits. A maternal index which combines the data for a number of maternal traits is under development.
Always try to select a group of animals, perhaps double the number needed, using the performance information and EPDs on the animals and their parents. Then go to the barn, sort off the group and select from that group based on physical soundness and appearance. This helps to prevent the selection of a large, very good looking single lamb from a mature ewe that only lambs occasionally.
Ewe and Ram Inventory Reports: This report lists all of the breeding animals in the flock with their average performance information listed on one line. Inventory reports are useful for identifying the best ewes and sires in the flock as well as those ewes that should be culled due to poor performance. It is also a good reference when choosing replacement animals to check age at first lambing, lambing interval, etc. of dams. The inventory is produced for a group with each 50 day report. An inventory can be requested at any time during the year by contacting the SFIP office.
Flock Evaluation Report: This report summarizes the average performance of the flock for a year by breed. The current year is broken down by age of ewe, as well as listing a total average for the flock and the average of the previous year.
The primary function of this report is to monitor flock performance. Particularly in larger flocks, it is difficult to notice small changes in things like average lambing interval, number of lambs weaned per ewe and percentage of stillborns. This report compares the current year to the previous year so that these changes can be identified.
Animal Performance Certificate: The animal performance certificate provides information on the animal's pedigree and performance data. The pedigree lists parentage for three generations. The performance data recorded on the animal as a lamb and the current EPD values are also listed. This report can be used to monitor inbreeding. It is recommended that there be at least four generations between two ancestors that are the same animal to keep inbreeding to a low level. The animal performance certificate is also useful to provide buyers with the basic information on an animal.
Data can be submitted on supplied forms by mail or fax or in electronic format on disk or email. EweByte is an on-farm computer system used for sheep management. Data collected in EweByte can be emailed or sent on disk to the SFIP system and the EPDs sent back. If the producer is already enrolled on SFIP, the historical data can be sent via email or disk for transfer to EweByte. If a producer is using another on-farm computer system, SFIP may be able to download the data as well. Enquire with the SFIP office prior to submitting data electronically.
At the provincial level, the Ontario Record of Performance (ROP) Sheep Advisory Committee is responsible for making recommendations regarding the direction and operation of the SFIP test program. The Ontario Committee consists of five members who participate in the program elected by the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency (OSMA), three members representing the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and one member from the University of Guelph.
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300