Delmarva Farmer Columnists


EBVs for ‘Dummies’ (Sept. 1, 2015)

Shepherd’s Notebook

By Susan Schoenian, Sheep and Goat Specialist, University of Maryland Extension

Sheep and goats are selected primarily on the basis of what they look like.
There are two problems with this approach.
First of all, many traits of economic importance, e.g. reproductive performance and disease resistance, cannot be assessed visually.
Secondly, an animal’s phenotype (what you see) is a combination of its genotype (genetics) and the environment in which it is reared.
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to separate genetics from environment.
For example, animals that are fed grain usually grow faster than those that are raised solely on pasture, but this does not mean they have superior genetics for growth.
This is where EBVs can fit in.
EBV stands for estimated breeding value.
It is a prediction of how an animal’s offspring will perform.
EBVs are calculated from an animal’s own performance (for a particular trait), along with its performance from other traits and the performance of its relatives.
EBVs can be calculated for various growth, reproductive, carcass, fiber, and disease-resistance traits.
There are some breed (and species) differences, as different breeds put different emphasis on different traits and end points.
Normally, larger values equate to better EBVs (and performance), e.g. weaning weight and litter size.
For example, if the parents of a lamb each had an EBV of four pounds for weaning weight, the lamb would be expected to be four pounds or heavier (at weaning) than the average lamb in the breed.
For some traits, e.g. wool fiber diameter and parasite resistance (fecal egg counts), smaller values are more desirable.
With EBVs, differences in management among flocks are accounted for by evaluating individual animal performance compared with animals that are managed similarly.
Animals in the same flock or herd that are managed similarly are called a contemporary group.
Thus, EBVs allow animals from different flocks and herds to be compared, regardless of management or geographic location.
Accuracy values are also calculated — and important.
They are a measure of confidence in each animal’s EBV. Accuracy values range from zero to 100.
The closer the accuracy value is to 100, the more representative the EBV is of the animals “true” breeding value and the more confident you can be in the EBV.
Many factors affect accuracy, including the amount of performance data (on the animal and its relatives), the size of the contemporary group, and the heritability of the specific trait.
Connectivity between flocks (i.e. sharing of genetics) is essential to improving the accuracy of EBVs in the sheep and goat industry.
EBVs are provided by the National Sheep Improvement Program.
The data is processed by Sheep Genetics of Australia.
While any sheep producer can enroll their flock in NSIP, the program is intended mostly for purebred or seedstock producers.
Commercial producers benefit by purchasing breeding stock, especially males, from flocks and herds enrolled in NSIP. NSIP is equally applicable to meat goat producers.
The Western Maryland Meat Goat Performance Test offers a discounted fee to consignors whose herds are enrolled in NSIP.
To participate in NSIP, there is an annual enrollment fee, along with a one-time data fee for each animal entered into the database.
Data entry is online.
The industry is making special efforts to enroll more sheep flocks and goat herds into NSIP by waiving the first year enrollment fee.
To learn more about NSIP and EBVs, go to

If it’s conservation assistance you want, we’ve got it (Sept. 1, 2015)

Keeping the Farm

By Tim Garrahan, Farm Bill Program Manager, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Delaware

Leave it up to “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin’s most iconic song, “Respect” to capture the essence of customer service in her opening lyric.
She sings, “What you want, baby I got it. What you need, do you know I got it.”
And although most can’t and won’t sing like her or call you “baby” — the message still remains the same: “I’m here to help you.”
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is also centered on customer service.
As an agency designed to help farmers help their land, our conservation professionals are asking farmers, “What concerns do you have on your land? Let us help you address them.”
Whether it’s a place to compost your dead chickens, properly store manure, build up your soil health or other — the USDA NRCS has financial and technical resources available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Management Assistance program to help you.
EQIP is a voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.
Also, EQIP is designed to help producers meet federal, state, tribal and local environmental regulations.
There are many opportunities available for assistance on agricultural operations and NRCS staff can help landowners and operators sort out their EQIP options.
Some of the more popular practices EQIP offers in Delaware include:
• Heavy use area pads;
• Waste storage structures and composters;
• Energy;
• Irrigation water management; and
• Cover crops, and more.
In addition, NRCS in Delaware has placed a special emphasis on organics and high tunnels in fiscal year 2016 with separate funding pools available for each in EQIP.
Organic producers can receive up to $20,000 per year or up to $80,000 over six years through the special organic funding.
The assistance targets over two dozen core conservation practices consistent with organic certification standards.
Eligible producers include those certified through USDA’s National Organic Program, those transitioning to Certified Organic production, and those who meet organic standards but are exempt from certification because their gross annual organic sales are less than $5,000.
High tunnels are emphasized to increase the availability of locally-grown produce in a conservation-friendly way.
The benefits of high tunnels include improved plant quality, improved soil quality, improved water quality through reduced nutrient and pesticide transport.
Eligible producers must meet the criteria for the general EQIP sign-up.
Agricultural Management Assistance
AMA provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to voluntarily address issues such as water quality, water management and erosion control by incorporating conservation practices into their farming operations.
Conservation practices eligible for funding include, but are not limited to, nutrient management, cover crops, poultry windbreaks, manure storage, composters, conservation cover and high tunnels.
How EQIP and AMA works
Interested applicants are encouraged to request conservation planning and technical assistance to address resource concerns.
NRCS will evaluate each application, with higher priority given to applications that use cost-effective conservation practices, address local priorities and provide the most environmental benefit.
Producers can sign up for EQIP and AMA at any time throughout the year; however, NRCS establishes application “cut-off” deadline dates for evaluation and ranking of eligible applications.
Those interested in applying conservation measures soon should sign up before the first deadline of Friday, Oct. 16.
Cut-off dates continue on the 3rd Friday of each month until May 20.
To be eligible for EQIP or AMA, an applicant must meet the minimum eligibility requirements:
• An applicant must be currently engaged in agricultural or forest production on eligible land; be an individual, entity or joint operation; have documented control of the land (for the term of the contract); and have an average adjusted gross income of $900,000 or less annually.
• Eligible land must be ag land, nonindustrial private forest land, or other land on which ag products, livestock, or forest products are produced.
If you’re interested in EQIP or AMA, call or stop by your local NRCS field office for a details or visit
A planner will discuss with you your vision for your land, the conservation planning process, and how to apply for financial assistance.