JEFFERSON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival is held each September at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. It’s a haven for fiber-arts enthusiasts. Many others flock to the festival’s junior and open-class sheep shows and sheep-costume contest.
But there’s another important aspect of sheep production – raising lambs for meat.
Lisa Paskey served as the coordinator of the 2019 “Pen of Three” competition, in which lambs are judged as a pen in both live and carcass evaluations. Paskey along with her mother, Shelby Paskey, and brother, Scott Paskey, raise Suffolk lambs on their farm near Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. Suffolks are known as a meat breed.
A carcass contest is far from a glamorous show. But it does enable sheep breeders and producers to take a more-critical look at their flocks to see whether they’re making a positive impact on their industry, Lisa Paskey said.
The Pen of Three competition was launched in 2015 at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. It’s a way for commercial and purebred breeders to show the results of their breeding programs.
“Producing a quality lamb carcass and understanding rating scales, measurements and the importance of consistency is paramount in a breeder’s continued success,” Paskey said. “The goal of the competition has been to add carcass-trait measurements to phenotypic evaluation in pursuit of a sustainable breeding program.”
Sheep for the contest are weighed, judged in the pen and harvested. They’re weighed again before being indexed for loin-eye size, back fat and leg scores. That shows producers how their lambs compare to others, she said.
Producers participating in the competition can see how their genetic decisions affect their ability to provide quality lamb. And they can consider what changes may be needed within their breeding and feeding program.
“To actually see the end result on the rail can lead to alternative approaches with benefits toward better gains and meat quality,” Paskey said.
The National Sheep Improvement Program has been promoting the use of estimated breeding values to improve genetics in the industry, she said.
The American Lamb Board has set as a goal increasing demand for lamb by 2 percent annually to 2022. That comes after per-capita consumption of lamb in the United States has remained flat during the past 10 years. The average American eats about 1 pound of lamb per year.
“Improving the quality and consistency of our products to ensuring consumers have a great eating experience every time, increasing our industry’s productivity and stabilizing our prices are all critical to the success of creating demand for American lamb,” said Jim Percival, chairman of the American Lamb Board.
There are some bright spots, such as the ethnic market. America’s largest consumers of lamb are Middle Easterners, Greeks and Hispanics. Population demographics and immigration patterns favor an increase in demand for both lamb and goat.
The Pen of Three contest at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival provided an opportunity for sheep breeders and producers to hear from a commercial livestock buyer. John Kane of Raising Kane Farms served as the competition’s judge; he regularly buys sheep, goats and cattle.
He evaluated the pens of lambs based primarily on yield – the weight of the live animals versus what he estimated carcass weight would be once hides and viscera were removed. Most meat lambs have a yield of 48 to 52 percent, he said.
After judging the animals were harvested and carcass data were recorded. The carcasses were purchased by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Meat Science Laboratory.
“The UW-Madison’s Meat Science Laboratory has agreed to purchase 21 animals for the competition next year,” Paskey said.
She encourages producers to register early for the event because pens are on a first-come first-served basis.
Visit wisconsinsheepandwoolfestival.com and sheboygan.extension.wisc.edu -- search for "lamb carcass evaluation" -- and apsc.vt.edu -- search for "lamb carcass evaluation" -- and sheepandgoat.com/ethnicmarket and sheepusa.org -- search for "defining lamb" -- for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.
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