Record keeping is an important aspect of sheep production. It helps to identify which lambs should be kept as flock replacements, which ewes should be kept in your flock or culled, and which rams sire the best lambs. The National Scrapie Eradication Program requires producers to keep records on all animal dispositions (sheep that leave your flock) for five years.
As a 4-H sheep project member you are required to complete a 4-H Sheep Project Record Book each year. It is available on the state 4-H website.
The project book starts you off by defining your goals for the year, taking note of all of your sheep with their value as well as all of the equipment you have acquired to care for them. You are required to list all of your expenses and income for the year. Finally, you then review your accomplishments and evaluate your goal progress. This gives you an idea of how well your flock has improved over the year as well as how well you did reaching your overall goals.
When you evaluate your flock, review your breeding records, including all lambs. Did you have a successful lambing? Did you lose any mothers or lambs? Could you have prevented it? Then move on to how the lambs are growing. Do they eat well? Are they healthy? Are they getting enough feed and exercise for them to grow well?
Are any sheep not performing as well as you hoped? Should they be culled (removed from the flock)? Remember the ram is half of your flock. Is he performing as well as he has in the past? Is it time for a new ram? If so, what traits are you looking for to improve your flock? You should not breed your ram to his offspring. Do you know where to go to find new bloodstock? If not, please ask one of your leaders or someone who is more knowledgeable in your breed.
When you show your sheep in your county fair or other shows, how well do your sheep perform? Do you need to improve your genetics? Your feeding program? Are you happy with your breed?
These are all aspects of successfully raising and improving your flock that need to be periodically revisited. Your “records” will show how successful or unsuccessful you are so that you may make informed decisions regarding improvements and growth.
By Susan Miller, Hunterdon County 4-H Volunteer, Rutgers Cooperative Extension