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New Millennium Sheep Alliance
Receives NLPA Funds


By Jennifer Chick

Dwight Tisdale's vision of a sheep breeding alliance is becoming reality with help from the National Livestock Producer's Association (NLPA) Sheep & Goat Fund. Through NLPA's Sheep and Goat Fund, Tisdale and his wife Sharon, his daughter Nicole Snyder and her husband Larry, and Gene Purdy, all of Kimball, Neb., have received low-interest loans. These producers, along with others, form the New Millennium Sheep Alliance.

"Gene and Larry wouldn't have been able to get the money to develop these breed lines if it hadn't been for the NLPA money," Tisdale said. "These loans give them an interest rate that is low enough to make this venture economically feasible."

The Sheep and Goat Fund was set up to bolster the sheep industry after the wool-incentive act was terminated. The revolving fund awards loans to enhance production methods and services, improve marketing efficiency and product quality in the industry, promote coordination and cooperation within the industry and create opportunities for adding value to sheep and goat products.

Pierce Miller, chairman of the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (Sheep Center) and a member of the Sheep and Goat Fund committee, said that one of the first criteria the committee looks at when awarding loans is if the project will have a positive impact on the industry at the local, state, or regional level. He said that New Millennium will meet that criteria by having a positive impact on the sheep industry at the state and regional levels.
Richard Drake vice-chairman of the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund Committee, said the idea behind New Millennium, creating ewes with multiple births and out-of-season breeding, intrigued the committee.

"It's not a new idea, but Tisdales have taken it from what universities and researchers have done on a small scale to a much larger, commercial scale," he said. The production records that the alliance keeps will also help the industry."

New Millennium producers will use these loans for facility and equipment improvements and to purchase genetically specific breeding stock. Miller said that the Sheep Center and NLPA are always looking for new projects to award these low-interest loans to, whether in the meat, fiber or dairy sector of the sheep and goat industry. If interested, contact the NLPA at 1-800-237-7193, visit their web site, www.nlpa.org, or FAX (719) 538-8847.

New Millennium

Tisdale got the idea for New Millenium after he heard the results of a study conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper during an American Sheep Industry Association's (ASIA) annual meeting in January 1999. The study pointed out a void in the sheep industry that wasn't being filled.Tisdale Chute

"Eighty percent of the lambs that are born today are born in a two-month period in the spring," Tisdale said, "and they are marketed in a five-month period in the fall and early winter. That leaves 20 percent of the lambs born to satisfy the meat market demands for the other seven months of the year."

New Millennium's goal is to provide replacement ewe lambs for terminal-cross flock producers. The ewe lambs will breed out of season to reduce the seasonality in the sheep industry. These ewes, through breeding management, will have very consistent highly maternal genetics, Tisdale said, which will enable the meat industry to produce a consistent fresh lamb product year-round.

"High numbers of ewes with the genetics to breed out of season and year-round are very, very hard to find," he said.

Alliance producers are raising commercial Polypay-type ewes, which are highly prolific and able to breed out of season with the milking ability to raise lambs. The Polypay breed is a composite of Dorset, Rambouillet, Finn and Targhee breeds. The alliance's lambing goal is that their ewes will produce three lambings in two years, roughly every eight months. Twins are expected, but many ewes will give birth to three, even four lambs.

To maintain consistent highly maternal genetics, the ewes are bred to registered, purebred Polypay rams. These rams are produced from Tisdales' purebred Polypay flock, Tisdale's Superior Polypays.

"The offspring ewe lambs will be of commercial-grade, designed with specific EPDs (expected progeny differences) in mind," Tisdale said.

Technology

The alliance is making use of up-to-date technology to enhance their efficiency. Each lamb and ewe is tagged with a bar-code ear tag. Each producer in the alliance uses a Palm PC with bar-code scanner to keep track of the ewe and her lambing information. The scanners read the bar-code ear tags and then the information is downloaded to a computer program specifically designed for New Millennium's operation.

Lambs are also weighed by a digital scale head at 60 and 120 days. The scale head scans the ear tags and stores the weight for each lamb. This information is also downloaded to the computer program.

Headcount
The scanners and scale head were purchased with grant money through PARTNERS, an agriculture group in Kimball whose goal is to support and sustain agriculture in the area.
The alliance keeps meticulous records to track the lambs. Sharon Tisdale said that time spent entering data is cut drastically, from days to a matter of hours. This information is e-mailed to the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP). NSIP produces EPDs for the commercial flock and Tisdale's Superior Polypays. Dr. Dave Notter of Virginia PolyTechnic Institute and Dr. Dan Morrical of Iowa State University advise and provide breeding consultation for the alliance.

Recently, Tisdales hired Dr. Todd Bettin, a veterinarian from Lake View, Iowa, to artificially inseminate (AI) 40 of their purebred ewes.Tisdale AI

"We are hoping to get two very highly maternal lines to breed back and forth," Sharon said.
The method of artificial insemination used was transcervical, where semen is deposited into the uterus through the cervix, as opposed to laproscopic insemination, a more invasive procedure.

Because of the difficulty of transcervical insemination, only a handful of veterinarians across the country use this method.

Tisdales used semen from their top national maternal Polypay ram, Flock Maker, who died four years ago, and another top maternal Polypay ram, Willie. When Tisdales learned that Flock Maker was the top maternal Polypay ram in the nation, they sent him to Elite Genetics in Waukon, Iowa, to collect and freeze his semen in anticipation of this procedure.

Tisdales had not tried AI before because they were waiting for a generation of ewes far enough removed from Flock Maker that birth defects and other inbreeding problems would not result,
The ewes bred were granddaughters of Flock Maker.

Bettin has performed this procedure on 100 to 200 ewes, averaging a conception rate of 60 percent in an industry where rates as low as 40 percent are normal. Tisdales plan to continue this procedure over the course of the next five years.

Through AI, Tisdales hope to get a ram or two that is similar genetically to Flock Maker. These rams will then be used to breed purebred ewes in the Superior Polypay flock for production of rams to be used in the alliance.

There are three tiers in the alliance. Tisdales' purebred Polypays form the first tier and are the building blocks of the alliance in terms of genetics. They are used purely for breeding purposes.

"Our goal on our purebred ewe is a 300 percent annual lamb crop," Tisdale said. There are 500 ewes in the flock, which is one of the largest flocks of registered Polypays in the nation.

Producers within the alliance maintain multiplier flocks of commercial, nonregistered Polypay ewes, which make up the second tier. Tisdale sells new producers within the alliance commercial Polypay ewe lambs and provides the purebred rams for breeding at no cost. The replacement ewes are sold at a premium because of their out-of-season, year-round breeding ability and consistent highly maternal genetics. The premium is split between Tisdales and the individual alliance producer. The Tisdales and the Snyders also provides expertise and advice to the producers.

The ewe lambs, which start the multiplier flocks, are purchased from producers outside of New Millennium. To maintain the goal of consistent highly maternal genetics, Dwight investigates the genetics of the supplier flocks as closely as possible. In another two years, he said that these alliance Polypays will have some of the most consistent genetics of any commercial flocks in the United States.

"I firmly believe management is the key to success here," he said.
These multiplier flocks will be used to produce replacement ewes for the slaughter lamb industry. Rams born in multiplier flocks will be sold as slaughter lambs. At present there are approximately 1,700 ewes in the multiplier flocks within the alliance. Each alliance member owns between 300 and 650 ewes.

"I want producers to have enough head in their flock that this isn't just a hobby," Tisdale said. Within five years, he would like to see 7,000 to 8,000 ewes in production within the alliance. The top 20 percent of the ewe lambs from the multiplier flocks will remain in the flocks. The bottom 10 percent won't be breed quality and will be sold. That leaves approximately 60 to 70 percent of the ewes to form the third tier. These ewes are sold to terminal-cross producers who contract with the alliance.

These terminal-cross producers will use the replacement ewes in their flocks. In the terminal-cross flocks, the ewes will be bred to terminal-cross rams such as Suffolk or Hampshire with the intent that every lamb born to the ewes will end up at slaughter.

New Millennium is currently in the process of contracting with terminal-cross producers. They are also interested in adding other producers to the alliance. For more information about New Millennium, contact Dwight and Sharon Tisdale at (308) 235-2246 or via email at
tisdale @megavision.com.



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