WASHINGTON – Thanks to a comprehensive evaluation by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists of animals used to produce market lambs, sheep producers in western states can now get a better idea of which breeds are best suited for their operations, according to an article written by USDA writer Sandra Avant.

USDA scientists along with university colleagues examined critical performance traits of lambs sired by rams of Columbia, Suffolk, Texel and a composite breed developed at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Roman L. Ruska US meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb.

The scientists evaluated lamb survival, growth, body composition, efficiency plus carcass merit and value at the ARS US Sheep Experiment Station near Dubois, Idaho. Rams from each breed were mated to Rambouillet ewes. They produced more than 1,800 lambs over a three-year period. ARS relayed that Suffolk-sired lambs were larger at birth, grew faster and had a survival rate as good as, or better than, other crossbred lambs.

Lambs were fed a high-energy diet and weighed weekly after weaning. Study results reveal that Suffolks had the most rapid gains, most desirable leanness and were equal or superior to other lambs in growth, fat depth and loin-muscle area.

Suffolks also scored better than other breeds when examined for feed efficiency. Meanwhile, Columbia-sired lambs needed more than 15 lbs. more feed than the other groups.

Texels, at comparable market weights, had heavier carcass weights and larger loin-muscle areas, however, they were fatter than lambs sired by the other breeds.

Although the Suffolk scored the highest in most performance traits, other breeds still have desirable qualities. The study relayed that the Texel can produce heavily muscled lambs ready for market at younger ages. The Columbia is valuable for wool production and might be used as both a maternal and sire breed. Developed mainly as a genetic resource, the composite might be useful in stressful production environments that favor a lamb with intermediate growth potential.

At present, scientists are creating new germplasm resources in hopes of capturing each breed's positive traits to incorporate them into a higher-performance breed.

The research team included ARS geneticists Tim Leeds, Michelle Mousel and David Kirschten, and professor emeritus David Notter at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ. at Blacksburg, Va.