BILLINGS — Kickstarting genetic research and implementation is the main goal of an industry-wide mandate for the U.S. sheep industry called Sheep Genetics USA. Industry stakeholder are excited about the new endeavor to help the industry travel from the traditions of the past to the innovations of the future.
“Over the past 15, 20 years, we've had the National Sheep Improvement Program, which really has advanced the ability for our producers to take phenotypes, develop programs for producers to input phenotypic data,” said Sheep Genetics USA board member Ben Lehfeldt of Lavina, north of Billings. “And as that progression has moved forward, we've needed this next segment of our industry-Sheep Genetics USA-to really take that pedigree information, that phenotypic information and then try to pair it with some of our genetic traits. To really reinforce that program. Sheep Genetics USA takes the information and the entire industry segment at a grassroots level to try to prioritize some of the projects that we have in the sheep industry right now and in the future.”
He says research projects are very important to the U.S. sheep industry and Sheep Genetics USA will help connect industry stakeholders.
“Not only what we have going right now because we have some really important projects that are going, but that important connectivity of the entire industry to put power behind those projects,” said Lehfeldt. “In this program, we have the American Lamb Board which is focused on the consumer plus the feeders and packers. We also have sheep producers and the breed industries. We want our ideas to really come together and develop the grassroots programs that are important for those individual groups and get behind these projects so we can really leverage the power of the industry to go after large grants, which it really takes to do these genomic research projects.”
He says the success of Sheep Genetics USA depends on industry participation. “We rolled out the program at convention and it includes by-laws and a membership form,” said Lehfeldt. “If you go to (our website), there's a membership form that any sheep producer or any researcher can go on, pick their representative committee and be a part of the process. From that membership, we're going to select action leads that will really identify those projects and make that flow of information work across the industry.”
Membership in Sheep Genetics USA is free, and registration is now open. To learn more, visit SheepGeneticsUSA.org.