Within the last few years, articles on genetic improvement have consistently been featured in conferences and magazines in the sheep industry. Finally, producers are starting to put an increased emphasis on performance data and its role in selecting breeding stock. The National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) has provided a framework to compare sheep across the nation, which are raised in different management systems and climates. Katahdins have really been in the forefront of this movement in so many ways.
I have used Katahdin sires, who were registered in NSIP almost since the beginning of my hair sheep days. In 2012, I was sold on the importance of parasite resistance at my first KHSI conference. I knew back then that this whole movement was for me. I could truly see its crucial importance for the entire sheep industry. It focused on the science of sheep from nutrient management to immunology to microbiology.
Last year, I performed the tedious task of entering the performance data into the NSIP program all the lambs that were born at our farm since 2013. I could see more clearly the sheep that I have known for years. There were numbers to support my intuition that a sheep was a great one or a dud. Certain ewes were better than others. My best ewes raised multiple lambs with ease and kept those lambs close to protect them. Their lambs grew faster on their good milk. These qualities can often be obvious by visual appraisal. Sometimes a shepherd just knows who are the best sheep in her flock. Other times, it can be muddier to see. That is why NSIP is so important. It is a quantitative analysis of our sheep, which puts numbers to our observations. Going forward, the viability of the sheep industry in the U.S. depends on breeding for the strongest lambs with resistance to parasites.