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: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027

Administrative Advisor(s):


NIFA Reps:


Statement of Issues and Justification

Small ruminants remain a vital component of many small farms in the Southeastern U.S., providing milk, meat, and fiber, as well as a means to control brush. In addition to conventional and ethnic markets, there is a growing demand for grass-finished, organic, and local meat products (USDA, NASS, 2012, 2015). Small ruminants are challenged by gastrointestinal nematodes (GIN) due to loss of effective dewormers and warmer temperature much of the year. Minimizing the use of anthelmintics and focusing on other means of control (Whitley et al., 2014) such as fungus feeding addresses both conventional and organic production. The most promising means of GIN control is genetic resistance, or an animal’s ability to resist infection with GIN. The National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) includes estimated breeding values (EBVs) for parasite resistance as worm egg count (Aaron, 2014) in sheep and goats. Research is needed on combining genomics with EBVs, consideration of additional EBVs of economic importance as well as wider use of EBVs by goats that are plagued by GIN to a greater degree than sheep. It is important to understand how the immune system functions in susceptible and resistant animals to fine tune selection for resistance. And, while the group has made great strides on forage management and condensed tannin-rich forages such as sericea lespedeza (Coffey et al., 2007) for GIN control, further research is needed to examine the importance of native plants with secondary plant compounds and meeting both production goals and GIN control with existing GIN-important forages and grazing systems. Similarly, little is known on integrating small ruminants and silvopasture. Trees provide shade to increase animal welfare particularly during summer months, opportunities for better forages to graze, and another revenue source.

In general, ruminant livestock production systems are most efficient if there is maximal reliance on fresh plant material consumed by the animals, with minimal use of harvested forage or other supplemental feedstuffs.  However, this can be difficult to achieve because of considerations such as seasonal growth patterns of forage and browse plant species, varying environmental conditions, and changes in nutrient and energy requirements of animals in accordance with stage of production.  And, this is becoming even more complex because of climate change, with more variable and extreme conditions expected in addition to shifting averages.  There are numerous means by which these challenges are addressed, but which have not been adequately studied for goats, sheep, as well as co-grazing species.  Examples include use of monocultures of annual or perennial cool and warm season grasses and legumes in different areas, mixtures of grasses, forbs, leguminous forages and trees, and browse plants, silvopasture, strategic supplementation, use of inexpensive byproduct or alternative supplemental feedstuffs, modified birthing time, careful selection of species, breed within species, and individual animals within breed for specific production conditions, etc.  Moreover, for goats and sheep, how such decisions affect the degree of infection with GIN and resultant impact on animal health and productivity are of paramount importance.  Lastly, in order to most appropriately study these and other factors and manage animal and farm conditions, smart, real-time technologies should be developed, namely to characterize and monitor animal physiological conditions and behaviors indicative of well-being, nutritional status, and level of productivity.    

Profitability of small ruminant production is closely tied to optimum reproductive function. Production efficiency is closely tied to the number of offspring available for marketing, and hence a direct function of number of lambs/kids born and surviving. Reproductive performance is affected by a variety of processes, this project explores the constraints and opportunities (1) resulting from seasonal reproduction in sheep/goats, and by (2) increasing the use of assisted reproduction on small farms. Sheep and goats are short-day breeders and traditional production systems use fall breeding/spring lambing. Such systems create seasonal peaks in lamb and goat supplies and does not meet the market demands for goat/sheep meat throughout the year. Research will expolore the increased use of aseasonal germplasm and management tools, such as the male effect, to breed out-of-season and achieve a more continuous kid/lamb supply. Availability of extended or year-round breeding can be used to develop accelerated mating systems to increase efficiency of kid/lamb production. Use of assisted reproduction in small ruminants lags behind its use in other livestock species, and is compounded by the lack of approved products to control the reproductive cycle. Research here address  cost effective assisted reproduction, ranging from estrus synchronization protocols, timing of artificial insemination, processing and storage of semen, and insemination techniques.

 Because of dwindling resources for extension programs, it is imperative that we find a means to disseminate our research and transfer technologies developed from it. This will be achieved through online programs, websites, and train-the-trainer programs. These research and outreach priorities on GIN control, forage feeding programs, and improvements in reproduction require coordinated efforts of multiple research institutions, each contributing their specific expertise towards the design of integrated systems.

The U.S. relies heavily on imports of lamb and goat meat to satisfy domestic demand.  However, this reality does not ensure greater market opportunity and thus profitability for small ruminant producers.  Factors affecting the markets are scarcely understood.  Small ruminant producers possess potential for greater profit if they can enter more lucrative markets than the local sale barn.  Some small ruminant producers are using various strategies to increase the sale price of their animals or produce value-added items.  Identifying these strategies and devising new methods of increasing product value will help increase farm profit and sustainability.

The number of institutions conducting sheep and goat research, as well as large ruminant research, has been declining, along with animal numbers and researchers/extension specialists.  Hence, it has become more important to coordinate research/extension between institutions and cooperate on projects across stations to maximize available resources. Currently only one other multi-state regional project addresses small ruminants (NC-214: Increased efficiency of sheep production). There is limited duplication between the two projects, with NC-214 more national in scope, restricted to sheep research only, and with objectives that also address wool and dairy.  This project here has a more regional focus on the southeastern U.S., covers both sheep and goats, a strong extension/outreach component, and extensive representation by 1890 institutions.

Objectives

  1. Utilization of gastrointestinal nematode (GIN) control methods including feeding Duddingtonia flagrans, forage/grazing management, and animal selection for GIN resistance.
  2. Emphasis of forage feeding systems for year-round grazing to meet nutritional requirements that mitigate drought and other plant and animal stressors.
  3. Strategies for the improvement of small ruminant reproduction.
  4. Disseminate research results and information to stakeholders.
  5. Identify producers’ challenges and opportunities in marketing goats and goat products

Procedures and Activities

Objective 1: Methods of GIN control will include genetic and genomic selection, forage/grazing management, and selective deworming or the strategic use of anthelmintics and alternatives. Other control methods may include condensed tannin-containing forages, grazing systems, and nematode-trapping fungi (D. flagrans). Participating agencies include Fort Valley State University (GA), USDA ARS Booneville, West Virginia University (WV), University of Maryland Eastern Shore (MD), Tuskegee University (AL), Delaware State University (DE), Virginia State University (VA), Louisiana State University (LA), North Carolina State University (NC), Langston University (OK), Florida A&M University (FL), Prairie View A&M University (TX), and Tennessee State University (TN). Collaborating institutions to examine GIN resistant genetics and genotypes and relationships among the EBVs generated by NSIP are AR, WV, NC, DE, GA. The development of genomic enhanced EBVs and resistant genetic phenotypes will be explored by AR, WV, and collaborators. Trials at WV will measure specific immune responses of resistant breeds during a primary and challenge infection with Haemonchus contortus to elucidate mechanisms of immunity. Institutions to examine the best use of D. flagrans (BioWorma), which recently became available in the U.S., and integration of nonchemical control of GIN in conventional and organic production systems include GA, AR, LA, OK, FL, TX, TN, AL, and VA . One aspect of Bioworma use to be addressed is the necessity of daily feeding, such as if dietary inclusion every other day might suffice. Dose used will be based on manufacturer recommendations. Important measures in these Bioworma studies include Famacha score, fecal egg count, larval recovery from cultured feces, body weight change, examining feeding periods during lambing to dams, and to offspring at weaning (approximately 60 to 120 days of age occurring in winter, spring, or summer). Studies involving condensed tannin containing forages including birdsfoot trefoil, sericea lespedeza, and native legumes will occur at all participating agencies to evaluate potential both as a forage (grazing schemes and fed fresh) and processed (hay, haylage, silage, pellets). That is, forages containing condensed tannins can be used in a variety of ways, such as grazing, feeding of hay, and use of commercially available sericea lespedeza pellets. The results of these trials will lead to an integrated strategy for controlling worms on commercial and breeding operations that manage conventionally or organically.

 

Objective 2: Cool-season and warm-season annual and perennial forages, including native grasses and legumes, will be established in conventional and organic pasture, evaluated and compared to determine forage availability and quality, stocking rate, and animal performance during different stages of production by AR and GA for sheep or goat production systems. At AL, silvopasture systems (mixed pines and hardwoods) with and without annual forages will be examined for goat production, and GA will consider benefits of silvopasture for sheep and cattle. GA will examine use of natives in a pasture system for pollinator benefits as well as improving diversity of the pasture system, providing additional quality summer grazing and possible control of GIN at the pasture life cycle stage. Native and other varieties of sericea lespedeza will be examined in a pasture system as a summer grazing/hay crop for small ruminants of mixed sexes and ages depending on time of year implemented by GA and AR. Supplementation with low cost feeds (soy hull and corn gluten feed) will occur at DE and VA.

Supplements of concentrate and leguminous trees browsed or consumed in a cut-and-carry manner will be compared with growing meat goats grazing grass/forb pastures in the summer at OK, with characterization of grazing behaviors in addition to feed intake, digestion, and performance.  Also, in OK, low-cost accelerometers constructed from off-the-shelf components will be evaluated in relation to commercial units to characterize behaviors of goats and hair sheep such as grazing, ruminating, and idle, standing versus lying, distance traveled, and spatial-temporal movement. Tall fescue toxicosis continues to cause production, health, and welfare issues for small ruminants as it is an important southern cool season forage, but the endophyte-infected tall fescue variety persists more so than endophyte-free varieties. AR will examine markers (prolactin) for tolerance of fescue toxicosis in Katahdin ewes and potential genetic selection. Pregnancy and conception rate (ewes), body weight and condition (ewes and lambs), and incidence of foot and other health issues will be examined.

 

Objective 3: Work on assisted reproduction techniques in small ruminants will be carried out at a number of stations. Liquid semen AI with either fresh , cool-stored, or cryopreserved semen in goats will be conducted at TX, and DE. The research will evaluate insemination dose and volume, extender composition (animal vs nonanimal protein source), synchronization of estrus/ovulation, timing of AI, and AI technique (laparoscopic, transcervical and intracervical).  In sheep, semen collection, processing, storage, and AI protocols will be evaluated in VA. Techniques evaluated will be simple intracervical and transcervical AI with the use of a speculum to locate the cervix, the addition of antioxidants to a simple skim milk, egg yolk and defined nonanimal protein extenders, the use of fixed timed AI following CIDR synchronization or the addition of estrus detection in the protocol, and reductions in semen dose currently in use for (300 million sperm/ml) in liquid AI protocols. Stations will be cooperating in a number of these project VA, TX and DE.

In AR out-of-season breeding using multiple sires (Oct/Nov vs. Jan/Feb lambing), as well as impact of tall fescue toxicosis on reproduction in sheep will occur. This will include characterization of tolerant vs. susceptible ewes, determined by concentration of prolactin, relative prolificacy and maintenance of body condition, and management strategies to optimize reproduction in tall fescue grazed ewes. In VA work will continue on a transition from accelerated mating to semi-continuous lamb production system.  This project will also continue to evaluate the forage-base needed to develop this to be a totally pasture-based system. 

 

Objective 4: Producer workshops, which teach the use of integrated parasite control methods, will be taught throughout the region, with at least 5 conducted each year. Parasite control will continue to be an important educational focus. 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. Information for agricultural professionals including Extension staff and producers among others will be posted to various websites in each of the states, as well as the website of the  including those managed by KY, GA, and MD2 (Maryland Small Ruminant Page at www.sheepandgoat.com; American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control at www.wormx.info). Efforts will be made to continue to support the eXtension Goat Industry as an online information source to producers.

 

Objective 5: Survey questionnaires will be developed with open and close-ended questions to survey goat and sheep producers as part of a regional project entitled ‘Developing a sustainable small ruminant meat production and marketing systems for the Southeastern United States through an 1890 universities consortium.’. The questionnaire will include questions relevant to farm size and facilities, producers’ demographic information (name, gender, education, etc.), local, regional, and national market outlets that producers are using, costs and inputs involved in production, challenges they are facing in marketing their product, their suggestions to overcome such challenges, advertising avenues, and more. Producers participating in all educational and outreach events to be conducted by the collaborating SCC-81 institutions will be informed about the survey and encouraged to participate in the survey.  Survey booths will be installed at the relevant conferences, such as the National Goat Conference, Professional Agricultural Workers Conference, Small Farm Conference, annual conference of Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, and Annual Farmers Conferences to be hosted by the collaborating SCC-81 institutions, and the conference participants will be informed and encouraged to take the survey.  Extension educators and other agricultural professionals attending these conferences will be encouraged to disseminate the survey to their clientele. In addition, surveys will either be mailed to willing producers, conducted in face-to-face interviews, or as feasible based on participant producers.  Moreover, social media, email, and other similar outlets will be used to reach out to a wider producer community for the survey. Based on the survey results, challenges faced by producers and the opportunities that they have realized within their locality will be documented. Strategies will be developed to guide producers to tap into available opportunities effectively. Some strategies will be matching their production/breeding cycle with the high-demand time, such as different celebrations and festivities. Additional strategies will include keeping records of animal performance, expenses, and incomes, and use these pieces of information to calculate the sale price. Another strategy will be to create a local producers’ coalition and work together for marketing their animals and products for the best possible price. Adding value to the product and selling value-added products may be a feasible strategy for some producers. Resulting from the tabulation of the survey results, a strategic document will be prepared and published.  The document will serve as a valuable educational material for training and educating producers and professionals, who work with goat producers.

 

 

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Improved selection for sheep and goats resistant to GIN to reduce the need for deworming.
  • Increased participation in NSIP.
  • Increased use of artificial insemination and other reproductive management techniques.
  • Increased use of alternative (parasite?) control methods involving forages and forage management by producers.
  • Improved forage-based systems for conventional and organic small ruminant production.
  • Enhanced knowledge of small ruminant grazing practices that support diverse forage systems.
  • Improved summer gains for growing lambs and kids on forage-based systems.
  • Increased use of leguminous trees to provide supplemental nutrients of meat goats for increased economic returns.
  • Enhanced knowledge of the development and use of inexpensive equipment to characterize grazing behavior of small ruminants
  • Exchange of ideas and information.
  • Coordination of specific research and extension programs to accelerate goals.
  • Identification of critical research objectives.
  • Improved outreach to scientific community and producers.
  • Increased market awareness and marketing opportunities for 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.

Organization/Governance

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

American Sheep Industry Association, Inc., 2016. U.S. Sheep Industry Research, Development and Education Priorities. Accessed May 26, 2017 from: https://www.sheepusa.org/ResearchEducation_Publications_ResearchEducationPriorities2016

Aaron, Debra K. 2014. Sheep Breeding: Heritability, EBVs, EPDs and the NSIP. Agriculture and Natural Resources Publications. Paper 154. http://uknowledge.uky.edu/anr_reports/154

Coffey, L., M. Hale, T. Terrill, J. Mosjidis, J. Miller, and J. Burke, 2007. Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Small Ruminants: Sericea Lespedeza. National Center for Appropriate Technology; ATTRA. IP136; https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=217

USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2012. 2012 Census of agriculture sheep and goats. Downloaded from: http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/SheeGoat/SheeGoat-01-27-2012.pdf

USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2012. 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey.

USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2015. Organic Survey (2014). Vol. 3, Pt. 4, AC-12-SS-4.

Whitley, N.C., Oh, S.H., Lee, S.J., Schoenian, S., Kaplan, R.M., Storey, B., Terrill, T.H., Mobini, S., Burke, J.M., Miller, J.E. and Perdue, M.A., 2014. Impact of integrated gastrointestinal nematode management training for US goat and sheep producers. Vet. Parasitol. 200:271-275.

Attachments

Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

GA, TX, VA

Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

ARS
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