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The Program

If you walk with me around my ranch you may hear me tell certain livestock to “get with the program”. I say that because I require my animals to fit into how I manage things, I don’t cater to individual needs, changing my program to attend to the demands of a single critter.

We raise Gotland sheep, which originally came from Sweden. As part of a national upbreeding program, we have increased the percentage of Gotland in our flock by consecutively AI mating our stock with fine 100% Gotland Swedish sires.

When a lamb is born, I am often reminded that half of the genes in that animal expect to be waking up on a Swedish Island instead of in the Rocky Mountains. I have no doubt that the Swedish farm where the sire was raised has a different “program” than I do. The climate and elevation differences alone mean their outfit is managed differently than mine. Now add management goals, standard practices and preferences, facilities, forages, target benchmarks, etcetera, and the Swedish half of that sheep has a lot to adapt to.

Sadly, sometimes things just don’t work out well. I’ve had too many 98% Gotland sheep that have not thrived in my program and have been culled. It is disappointing because many have exquisite fleeces and often represent a significant investment. Gotlands are known for their silvery gray, high-luster, soft, silky curls, worthy of an Elvin cloak. If they can’t maintain good body condition under the same conditions as the rest of the flock however, then they are not staying with the program.

For example, we don’t use chemical wormers. One of our ranch goals is to be as pharmaceutical free as possible. Chemicals don’t just affect the animal they are used on. When the residuals are shed through the animal, they end up killing my true farm laborers – the microbes who build my soil and make my forages flourish. I control parasites with management, not pharmaceuticals; rotational grazing, minerals, forage variety, and genetics all play a role in developing parasite resistant livestock. Ruthless culling, however, is the key. Parasite resistance is a heritable trait. So, if an animal is prone to parasites, it is not suitable for my program and it is culled.

It is good to keep in mind that your livestock work for you, you don’t work for them. Yes, of course, you provide for their needs and manage their lives, but providing those basic necessities are part of managing your ranch business. You can’t change your business to accommodate one animal, the animals need to get with the program.

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