SCC81: Sustainable Small Ruminant Production in the Southeastern U.S.

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

SCC81: Sustainable Small Ruminant Production in the Southeastern U.S.

Duration: 10/01/2012 to 09/30/2017

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

In January 2012, there was a 2% decline in sheep and lambs and a 5% decline in all goat inventory in the U.S. (NASS, 2012). Even though total inventory decreased from 2011  2012, some southern states have experienced large increases in sheep and goat numbers. For example, Virginia experienced an increase of 10% in total breeding sheep and lamb inventory and a 12% increase in meat and other goat inventories during the same period (NASS, 2012). Increased sheep and goat numbers in some states reflects a growing demand by ethnic populations and niche markets. However, the U.S. is still importing more lamb and goat meat than it is producing for domestic consumption. There is also a growing market for organic meat products (Green and Kremen, 2003). Both conventional and organic lamb and goat production in the southeastern U.S. is challenged because of the prevalence of gastrointestinal nematodes (GIN), particularly the blood-sucking Haemonchus contortus which has developed resistance to available dewormers (Howell et al., 2008; Crook et al., 2010)). Research to find new methods of GIN management is necessary. Priority areas include improved genetics, novel products or feedstuffs that act as anthelmintics, continued integration of the FAMACHA system (Kaplan et al. 2004) and a selective deworming program, and alternative forage systems. An abundance of forages in the southeast allows for organic and forage-fed systems for small ruminants. But low forage quality of warm season species during summer months limits growth and productivity of livestock. Although these forages are hardy, they often cannot meet nutritional needs during growth and lactation phases. Goats prefer browse species which have been grazed out of many pastures or were not available if goats were added to existing sheep or cattle operations. Forage-based production systems require appropriately adapted small ruminant germplasm. Traditional, high producing breed types may not necessarily be the breed resources best suited for the environmental and management conditions in the southeastern U.S., but rather small-framed breed types, such as hair sheep and landrace goat breeds may be a better fit. Although these breed types have slower growth rates, their production efficiency may be higher, and their leaner and smaller carcasses are well accepted by most ethnic markets (Wildeus, 1997). Research is needed to evaluate the production potential of various breed types and crosses under forage-based production systems. These research priorities, parasite control, forage resource management, and identification of appropriate breed resources, require coordinated efforts of multiple research institutions, each contributing their specific expertise towards the design of integrated systems.


  1. Develop integrated GIN control methods that decrease reliance on chemical dewormers through the use of selective deworming (FAMACHA system), better forage management and grazing options, and breed or animal selection for nematode resistance or resilience.
  2. Develop a forage-based feeding system for year-round grazing that meets nutritional requirements by evaluating performance of forage (legumes, grass, and browse) varieties and/or forage systems and animal performance.
  3. Evaluate the production potential of pure- and crossbred sheep and goat germplasm under forage-based production systems in the southeastern US.
  4. Disseminate research results and information to producers through station field days, workshops, and websites.

Procedures and Activities

Objective 1: Integrated control methods will include the strategic use of anthelmintics, FAMACHA, copper oxide wire particles (COWP), condensed tannin containing forages, complete balanced rations, nematode-trapping fungi, vaccines and resistant breeds. Participating agencies include Louisiana State University (LA), Fort Valley State University (GA), USDA ARS Booneville (AR), Langston University (OK), University of Maryland Western Shore (MD), Delaware State University (DE), Kentucky State University (KU), West Virginia University (WVU) and Auburn University (AU). The importance of evaluating these methods in various combinations is to achieve adequate control with minimal use of anthelmintics. Studies involving condensed tannin containing forages including the legume sericea lespedeza etc. will be conducted at all participating agencies to evaluate potential both as a forage (grazing schemes and fed fresh) and as processed (hay, pellets, cubes, extracts, etc.) products. OK will compare sericea lespedeza with Kobe lespedeza for effect and palatability. Trials in LA, AR and GA will evaluate COWP administered in capsules and in supplement feed. Trials in LA and GA will evaluate nematode-trapping fungus administered in feed and bolus. Trials in LA will evaluate an antigen from Haemonchus contortus as a potential vaccine. Trials at WVU will measure specific immune responses of St. Croix sheep during a primary and challenge infection with H. contortus to elucidate mechanisms of immunity generated by sheep resistant to H. contortus infection. Trials in DE and KY will evaluate the use of breeds resistant to worm infection. AU will continue to collaborate with others to extend and explore genetic analyses of variance covariance to obtain estimates of heritabilities and correlations for traits associated with nematode resistance (eg: FEC, FAMACHA, PAC /immunological indicators etc.) to aid in selection of individuals via EPDs. The development of genetic markers or polymorphisms will be explored by AR and collaborators. Trials in LA and AR will evaluate and compare COWP, sericea lespedeza and complete balanced ration for use in organic farming. Ultimately, the results of these trials will lead to an integrated strategy for controlling worms.

Objective 2: Cool-season and warm-season annual and perennial forages will be established, evaluated and compared to determine forage availability and quality, stocking rate, and animal performance during different stages of production by North Carolina State University and Kentucky State University for goat production systems, and by the USDA-ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory, Reno, OK, for sheep production systems. At North Carolina State University, other thrusts will be the integration of fodder trees into grazing systems for goats and evaluating the performance and impact of grazing goats on soil nutrient cycling in legume-grass pasture systems.

Co-grazing of cattle and meat goats on reclaimed coal-mined land to control invasive species such as broadleaf weeds and brushy and woody vegetation will be evaluated by Virginia Tech, as an environmentally friendly alternative to herbicide application or mechanical cutting. Fort Valley State College will use goats and sheep in browse-type vegetation management experiments for the removal of unwanted species or for the management of browse areas as a feed resource. Kudzu will be one of the invasive species under evaluation.
Low-input establishment of Sericea lespedeza as a summer grazing/hay crop for small ruminants will be evaluated by Fort Valley State University, whereas Langston University will compare the efficacy of grazing Sericea lespedeza and Kobe lespedeza to help control gastrointestinal tract nematodes in goats. Three varieties of Sericea Lespedeza will be established at Kentucky State University to evaluate grazing preference and animal performance with varied levels of condensed tannins.

Objective 3: The performance of different hair sheep breed types under an accelerated mating system will be evaluated at the University of the Virgin Islands and Virginia State University. St. Croix, and Dorper x St. Croix (20 ewes/breed) will be used in VI, whereas Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix, and their crosses with Dorset (60 ewes/breed) will be used in VA. At both locations ewes will be mated and lamb in 8-months intervals, and bred during 35 and 30 day breeding seasons, respectively. Systems at both locations will be forage-based using rotational grazing, except during the dry season and winter, respectively, when hay and concentrate supplementation will be provided. Lambing will occur unassisted on pasture, and lambs will be weaned at ~ 63 or 120 (VI) days. Ovulation, pregnancy and lambing rate, and prolificacy and production efficiency will be recorded for ewes. Mortality, birth and weaning weight, and pre-weaning average daily gain and pre and post-weaning fecal egg counts (VI) will be recorded in lambs. The post-weaning growth and fitness of purebred and crossbred lambs on forage diets with limited supplementation will be evaluated.

Kentucky State University will evaluate the differences in growth and performance of Boer, Savanna, and Spanish goats using forage based production systems. A total of 50 high percentage Boer and Savanna and 50 Spanish does will be used for the evaluation of doe productivity under this system. Kidding rate, weaning rate, and parasite resistance will be evaluated in the does. Kids will be evaluated for growth from birth through market weight on different forage and feeding programs. Kids will be managed on alternative and annual forages for growth during the summer months. Supplement will be provided to the doe herd and kids based on forage availability and quality.

Objective 4: Producer workshops, which teach the use of FAMACHA©, fecal egg counts, and other integrated parasite control strategies will be taught throughout the region. Parasite control will continue to be an important educational focus in the region. Efforts are strongly supported by the work in the other objectives.

Local, county and regional meetings will be held in each of the states. Efforts will continue to update extension field faculty on small ruminant production and management. Kentucky State University will host two field days focused on goat production, as part of their nationally recognized Third Thursday Thing programming. Information from several research stations is presented at these field days, which typically attracts more than 120 producers from several states in the region.

Producer information will be posted to various web sites including the University of Kentucky, Langston University, and the Maryland Small Ruminant Page at The University of Maryland (College Park) will conduct webinar short courses and continue to hold a biennial Lambing & Kidding School as well as an annual pasture-based buck performance test. Efforts will be made to continue to support the eXtension Goat Industry as an online information source to producers.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Improved forage-based systems for conventional and organic small ruminant production.
  • Improved selection for sheep and goat resistant to GIN to reduce need for deworming.
  • Improved summer gains for growing lambs and kids on forage-based systems.
  • Identification of sheep and goat breed types most suited for production in the southeastern US.
  • Exchange of ideas and information.
  • Outcome/Impact 6; Coordination of specific research and extension programs to accelerate goals; Outcome/Impact 7; Identification of critical research objectives; Outcome/Impact 8; Improved outreach to scientific community and producers

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Technical committee members of this project have been involved in organizing producer workshops and field days at their respective institutions. These events will be the basis of the educational and outreach activities of this project. The project will facilitate the coordination of these activities and provide a range of subject matter expertise in the selection of the presenters at workshops and field days. Members will prepare articles for publication in industry magazines. There are several participants from 1890 Land Grant institutions that have a special mandate to serve under-represented groups and small-scale, limited resource farmers. These groups have shown a particular interest in small ruminant production that will benefit from activities from this project.


A nominating committee proposes a slate of officers consisting of chair and secretary. Traditionally, the secretary becomes the chair the following year. Officers are elected from official representatives of participating stations. The committee then votes to accept or reject the proposed slate of officers.

Literature Cited

Crook, E.K., D. OBrien, R. Barczewski, N. Whitley, B. McCrea. 2010. Use of the fecal egg count reduction test and larval development assay to characterize anthelmintic resistance in gastrointestinal nematodes of small ruminants in the Mid-Atlantic U.S.. Masters thesis: Delaware State University., Dover. DE.

Green, C., Kremen, A., 2003. U.S. organic farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of certified systems. USDA, Economic Research Service, Resource Economics Division, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 780.

Howell, S. B., Burke, J. M., Miller, J. E., Terrill, T. H., Valencia, E., Williams, M. J., Williamson, L. H., Zajac, A. M., and Kaplan, R. M., 2008. Prevalence of anthelmintic resistance on sheep and goat farms in the southeastern United States. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 233, 1913-1919.

Kaplan, R.M., Burke, J.M., Terrill, T.H., Miller, J.E., Getz, W.R., Mobini, S., Valencia, E., Williams, M., Williamson, L.H., Larsen, M., Vatta, A.F., 2004. Validation of the FAMACHA© eye color chart for detecting clinical anemia on sheep and goat farms in the southern United States. Vet. Parasitol. 123:105-120.

NASS, 2012. 2012 Census of agriculture sheep and goats. Downloaded from:

Wildeus, S. 1997. Hair sheep genetic resources and their contribution to diversified small ruminant production in the United States. J. Anim. Sci. 75:630-640.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

ARS, Kentucky State University
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