CALS Revisits Suffolks
UI Sheep Center purchases new flock of Suffolk sheep
University of Idaho animal and veterinary science students and faculty gathered at the Sheep Center near the Moscow campus in December. The short field trip offered a look at a flock of registered Suffolk sheep that is adjusting to its new home.
The 48 ewes, four rams and 18 ewe lambs were purchased in November by the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, which operates the Sheep Center as part of the Palouse Research, Extension and Education Center.
The flock’s arrival in early December was a sort of back-to-the-future moment for the experiment station and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. In 1919, the University of Idaho became home to the West’s first purebred Suffolk sheep, three ewes and a ram donated by England’s Suffolk Sheep Society.
UI Agriculture Dean E.J. Iddings welcomed the new flock then with the support of sheep producers, who wanted to use Suffolk rams to sire blackface market lambs.
This fall, AVS professor Matt Doumit recommended the purchase after learning from Washington State University colleague Jan Busboom that a high quality flock of registered Suffolks bred by Dick Ducharme, owner of Tucannon River Suffolks, was on the market.
The high quality, production-tested, purebred Suffolk sheep flock that Ducharme developed offered a good opportunity for testing the genetic influence of different sires.
The flock’s past enrollment in the National Sheep Improvement Program offers a wealth of production information that takes years to amass. Adding in the animals’ registry with the United Suffolk Sheep Association adds more value.
“We try to emphasize to our students the value of record keeping in livestock production,” Doumit said.
For Brenda Murdoch, assistant professor of animal science, the flock provides a valuable resource to expand genomics research. The animals’ uniformity will enhance her ability to use DNA testing to seek genetic markers tied to specific traits.
The older animals are already known to be genetically resistant to scrapie, a prion disease known for decades in sheep and controlled by strict monitoring of breeding operations. Most of the new lambs resulted from resistant parents, but about half of the ewe lambs will require genetic screening.
That screening, Murdoch said, will offer a valuable lab exercise for students in sophomore-level livestock production or senior-level sheep production classes.
Working with registered sheep offers a wealth of information about genetics, productivity, economics and other factors that will help students and researchers better use modern genomics information, Murdoch added.
Sheep producers have wanted the university to resume active participation in livestock shows and sales. That will be an option with registered animals, Doumit said, as will new markets to sell registered animals with performance data as breeding stock.
Another option will be creating a student-run cooperative that will oversee the flock, exhibit and sell animals, and manage the finances.
Mark McGuire, the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station’s interim director and Animal and Veterinary Science Department head, said the flock adds new options, too, for the college’s partnership with the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois. The station is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s largest facility for range-based sheep production.