Recap: 2019 Ohio Sheep and Hay Day

Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team

Supported by The Ohio State University, Ohio Sheep and Wool Program, Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, Ohio Farm Bureau, and a sunny summer day, the 2019 Ohio Sheep and Hay Day held on Saturday, July 13th at the Jackson Agricultural Research Station (JARS) was a success. For those not as familiar with JARS, this facility is located on 495 acres in the rolling hills of southern Ohio. Historically, this stations research interests revolved around beef cattle reproduction and forage management systems. However, in 2014 interest expanded and the research station added sheep to the list of research interests. Jackson is now home to the universities first hair sheep flock using the Katahdin breed.

To kick off the days events, attendees had the opportunity to hear from Mrs. Susan Shultz, the Vice President of the American Sheep Industry. Proud to be Buckeye, Mrs. Shultz announced that the Buckeye state ranks third in the nation when it comes to total number of sheep producers! This is an amazing feat and demonstrates the importance of the sheep industry in the state of Ohio. From the university, Dr. Graham Cochran, Associate Dean from the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences and Dr. John Foltz, Chair, Department of Animal Sciences joined to offer an update on the new developments occurring in both our college and department. To conclude the opening session, Scott Payne, station manager, gave a brief overview of the farm and then it was off to the covered wagons to begin the day.

The first stop on the tour led us to the main sheep facility on the station. Here the discussion began with sheep handling equipment. A unique piece of equipment that JARS has in place for their sheep operation is a raised sheep handling table. As a means to reduce operator strain and improve animal comfort, animals are walked up a ramp to a handling platform which has a catch head gate. Animals are easily and comfortably restrained for management procedures and staff members reduce the amount of time spent bent over working with the sheep. In addition, JARS has modified a calf head catch gate, allowing all sheep (ewes and lambs) to be caught and restrained using this tool. In using this piece of equipment, sheep can be handled easily and efficiently.

While within the sheep facility, gears swiftly changed as the discussion switched to on-farm data collection, specifically focusing on NSIP (National Sheep Improvement Program) data. Bill Shultz, a NSIP producer, noted that “all other livestock species are collecting data records, so why aren’t we?” This statement couldn’t be more true, why aren’t we collecting more data? Some may say time, others may say labor, but at the end of the day, using NSIP as a selection tool allows producers to select breeding stock based upon performance data rather than physical appearance. This type of data can be applied to any breed or type of sheep as outlined by our presenters. During the session, attendees had the opportunity to evaluate 3 rams live and then compare them based upon their Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s). In addition, attendees were were shown how the Jackson flock stacks up to all other Katahdin NSIP flocks in the nation and what the research branch does in order to maintain themselves above the national average. For those interested in learning more about NISP, I encourage you to check out NSIP homepage! For those wanting to learn more about how NSIP could be implemented in your own operation, be sure to check out my latest piece: What Data are you Collecting? The Value of NSIP in Commercial Production.

The next item on the agenda for the day’s events shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone given the current forage situation in the state. Fortunately for our producers, Dr. Mark Sulc, the Forage Extension Specialist with Ohio State joined us as he discussed how to manage forages in less than ideal conditions. To begin the session, Dr. Sulc provided those in attendance a soil analysis report of all forage plots on the research station. Understanding the basics of how to interpret a soil analysis and forage nutrient utilization is key. For example, Dr. Sulc mentioned that in any case, most fields need phosphorus. This is something that producers neglect to realize. Phosphorus is important in terms of root growth. The critical Phosphorus level is about 50lbs. For soil samples indicating Phosphorus levels lower than this, added Phosphorus is beneficial! In addition, Potassium is important nutrient needed to encourage winter hardiness. Furthermore, soil pH should be at a minimum of 6.0. Grasses need a soil pH of 6.0 or above, whereas legumes require a soil pH of greater than 6.3 with alfalfa needing 6.5. In order to increase the pH of your soils, consider adding lime. Lime is relatively inexpensive and is beneficial as it raises the soil pH which is needed in order for other nutrients to become bio available to plants. It is also important to note that when you remove hay from a field, you are also removing nutrients! Therefore, it is important to monitor and test your hay fields regularly in order to make sure that you are re-supplying your fields with the appropriate nutrients needed. To conclude his talk, Dr. Sulc mentioned that if you are in need of additional forages this year, there are still options available. For those interested in learning more about options still available, take a look at: Emergency Forages to Plant Yet this Year for Grazing.

To continue the discussion on grazing management, it was off to the test plots to see what those in Extension had been experimenting with. Dr. Tim McDermott, Dr. Jeff McCutcheon, and Christine Gelley outlined the importance and implementation of high tannin and warm season forages into a grazing system. As a management tool to control for internal parasites, producers have the option to incorporate a high tannin forage, sericea lespedeza. The exact mode of action is still being determined, but currently sericea lespedeza serves as a natural anthelmintic due to the unique functions of the plants tannins interacting with the parasite itself as well as being a source of by-pass protein. With this being said, you may be thinking, I should plant some of this on my farm! A word of advice, be cautious. Sericea lespedeza is labeled as an invasive weed species and is slow to establish. It is recommended that the plant not to be grazed during its establishment year for the best results in crop survivability.

On the other hand, if you are not concerned about parasites and need some growing forages to fill in the summer grazing slump, our extension team is working on this as well. Warm season forages, such as sorghum-sudangrass, pearl millet, and even corn can be viable options that can still be planted in your fields and pastures to feed your livestock. Ideally, planting these forages into an existing pasture is the most cost effective, but forage establishment and production is limited. Thanks to our dedicated OSU Extension staff and their on-farm field research efforts, this information will be known for the years to come!

During the afternoon the stage was set for hay from quick tips on making hay to seeing live demonstrations. To begin the afternoon, Dr. Mark Sulc joined us again to remind us of the basics to making good quality hay. First and foremost, enure that the hay that you are making is dry. For small square bales, a minimum of 20-22% moisture is required, whereas hay needs to be drier for large bales (round or square) at 18-20%. You may be thinking, how could  you test the moisture of your hay? Look no further, we have some suggestions for you! A few tools that Dr. Sulc shared with us in regards to moisture testing included a purchased moisture probe, using a microwave to dry the forages and then compare your beginning and ending weights, or by using a vortex dryer. The vortex dryer, developed by Penn State University, is a device that can be easily built or purchased to be used to dry forages in a short amount of time (15-20 minutes). This dryer works similarly to using a microwave, but in my opinion is much easier! And plus, you get to keep your microwave for those hot-pockets your eating for lunch.

To wrap up the day, attendees joined Dr. Sulc and the JARS crew in the fields and watched demonstrations of the hay making process. Some key points made in the field for hay making included: approximately 90% of all forages should ideally be ran through a conditioner for faster drying, it is recommended that the hay is tedded no earlier than 2 hours after it has been mowed in order to allow for some of the ground to dry, and hay should be raked at about 40% moisture. These certainly aren’t all of the key points made during the demonstrations, but we’ll mark up the rest as I guess you had to be there.

There were also opportunities for the littlest shepherds to enjoy Ohio Sheep and Hay Day at the kid’s area. Children ages 4-10 were invited to play games, do creative crafts, shear a shaving cream sheep, and make new friends while their parents attended the learning sessions. Special thanks go out to the volunteers who kept the fun flowing for the kids!

All in all, a great day was had by all at the 2019 Ohio Sheep and Hay Day! For those that weren’t able to join us this year, be sure to mark your calendars for July 11, 2020 as we will head back to the OARDC Sheep Research Unit in Wooster, Ohio. We hope to see you there. Until then, happy shepherding!