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Cutting Stress
Boosting Survival

By Bill Hoag

Buyers desire consistency in lamb meat in the U.S., so it’s worth breeding towards consistent, uniform sheep that can quickly adapt and stay healthy in a wide array of local conditions.

When you contemplate trying a new breed for the purpose of genetic improvement, you might well ask: “How well will they handle the move to new locations?” This subject may seem insignificant, but it’s important.

Stressful conditions affect sheep in a surprisingly strong way, and thus also sheep-raising profits. Certain breeds can endure more stress before losses occur. Some breeds simply aren’t easily stressed even under adverse conditions.

Routine helps animals stay healthy, while a change of routine can upset their health and immune system, as happens merely loading and traveling and unloading. This one little-known factor has caused many a disappointment when sheep are brought to a new location. Stress impacts health for days, or even weeks, after transport. Some animals never get completely over the setback.

Most sheep need time to adjust to new geographical locations in order to be able to endure the stress. If they’ve been set back through transport stress, that adjustment may be slow.

Low-stress Royal White ewe with naturally-docked, short-tailed lambs.
Low-stress Royal White ewe with naturally-docked, short-tailed lambs.

For meat-sheep growers, I would strongly recommend looking into the benefits of the Royal White sheep breed: Selected to cope with change, it offers easy overall manageability, low stress, docility with alertness-and Royal Whites bond well with other sheep, helping impart the strong flocking ability so needful to easy management. This bonding is revealed particularly among mother ewes: Rarely will a Royal White abandon her lambs because of stress. Separating ewes with newborns from the rest of the flock can be a major chore in breeds whose stress-resistance is low-with those breeds, lambs sometimes must be grafted back onto their own mothers, disowned due to stress.

Incidentally, Royal White ewes easily and quickly clean off the birth fluids from their newborns. This is crucial in cold climates with cold winds, where a chilled lamb can mean the end. Speed of lamb clean-up is important, particularly when the ewe has another lamb to drop, or two more. Generally hair breeds have more lambs than wool breeds, so this behavior is more important still. My observation has been that a wool/hair-mix lamb also takes longer to clean up than a pure hair lamb in cold weather, when speed is essential.

Glucose and immunoglobulin1 levels are extremely high in Royal White lambs, which allows the lambs to wait longer to get to the mother’s colostrum, although they are as a rule up fast and nursing. Royal White ewes can generally handle triplets without penning, but my experience shows I need to pen about 50% of the ewes that have quadruplets. This is why unlike most sheep growers, I actually prefer triplets-even if I lose an occasional triplet the remaining surviving triplets still help me attain a 200% or more total lamb crop, which offsets first time mother ewes with a single lamb.

For registration information, breed standards or Royal White Sheep Manual, contact RWSA, 6585 CR 4105, Hermleigh, TX 79526 (325) 863-2775; E-mail: royalwhitesheep@aol.com

1Immunoglobulins are the plasma materials that contain all antibodies-they help fight disease and infection.

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