North Carolina Small Ruminant Improvement Program

Progress report for EDS22-32

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $49,996.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: North Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Andrew Weaver
North Carolina State University
Dr. Emily Cope
North Carolina State University
Johnny Rogers
North Carolina State University
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Project Information


Small ruminant production in the Southeastern United States has observed increases in both animal numbers as well as market demand. Adaptability of small ruminants to small acreage farmsteads have resulted in growing interest among new farmers. Additionally, an expanding solar industry has offered grazing opportunities for sheep at reduced cost. Furthermore, aging poultry houses are now being converted to small ruminant housing facilities. These increases in small ruminant producer numbers are matched by increases in slaughter demand. Growing ethnic populations in urban centers along the east coast have resulted in a strong non-traditional (ethnic) market for sheep and goats. These markets demand a lightweight, heavy muscled animal that is readily available. Consequently, growth in small ruminant producer numbers needs additional support in terms of educational programs and resources to meet growing market demands with high quality sheep and goats that are raised in a productive, sustainable, and profitable fashion. Thus, the North Carolina Small Ruminant Improvement Program should be established to address these needs. The program will function under three objectives. 

First, development of educational resources and programs to address modern production practices for different management systems and environments. Best management practices (BMP) will be written which address data-driven production practices in different production systems (Small Farms, Solar Grazing, etc.). The BMP will cover genetics, nutrition, animal health including lambing/kidding management, reproductive management, and marketing. To translate these BMP to producers, three hands-on workshops will be conducted each summer of the project. The workshops will be held in the three regions of the state (Coastal, Piedmont, and Mountains). Additionally, a five-part winter webinar series will be conducted. These workshops will be available to producers, extension agents, and NC Department of Agriculture (NCDA) staff.

Second, provide data collection services and resources to producers to encourage data-driven production practices. You can’t select for those things that you don’t measure. Producers cannot select for traits if data measurements are not collected and recorded. Metrics used to improve production and sustainability require data collection. Data collection resources such as scales, equipment and expertise to run fecal egg counts, ultrasounds to collect pregnancy and carcass data are lacking on many small ruminant operations. Many of these pieces of equipment are too costly for a single producer to afford. However, equipment shares and university resources can address these needs. County extension agents and NCDA staff will assist with data collection. Educational programs will be available to Cooperative Extension county agents, NCDA and NCRS personnel to provide additional training in record keeping and data collection technology. These skills can then be passed on to producers.

Third, provide data processing and analysis. Once data are collected, processing and analysis is necessary before implementation and data-driven decision making can take place. Many small ruminant producers lack experience with technology including computer systems and data analysis. Thus, processing at a centralized location will minimize these barriers. Additionally, a central processing lab will allow for standardization of data processing and better evaluation of industry improvement over time. 

Project Objectives:

Objective One) Develop educational resources to improve producer understanding and utilization of data-driven production practices. These educational resources will consist of a set of Best Management Practices, associated regional field days, and winter webinars. 

Objective Two) Develop a data collection program to assist producers in record collection and organization systems. Provide resources to allow for greater data collection and measurement of difficult-to-measure traits (fecal egg counts for parasite resistance and carcass ultrasound data). 

Objective Three) Develop a data processing program as a centralized management system to assist in data analysis and summation for improved producer understanding and implementation. Organize data collected under objective two into standardized form to allow for selection and management decisions. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Neil Bowman
  • Kyle Mayberry - Producer
  • Joe Hampton - Producer
  • Brock Phillips - Producer
  • Lee Holcomb - Producer


Educational approach:

The North Carolina Small Ruminant Improvement Program focuses on providing educational resources and opportunities to small ruminant producers in the state with an emphasis on improving management practices through data driven decision making. These educational resources include virtual (webinar series) and in-person (workshops and field days) trainings. All materials from these trainings are available to producers through extension channels. To complement these trainings, best management practice publications are being drafted and submitted for publication related to key management areas. Further, networking groups are in development to improve communication between industry members.

Educational & Outreach Activities

80 Consultations
1 On-farm demonstrations
9 Online trainings
6 Tours
9 Webinars / talks / presentations
9 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

1,903 Farmers participated
29 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

A workshop series was conducted during the winter and spring of 2022-2023. Workshops were held in each region of the state (mountains, piedmont, and coastal). Three workshops were held in the mountain region in December of 2022. These included workshops in Swain County, Haywood County, and Yancey County. Due to the geographic distribution of small ruminant producers in the mountain region, we felt a few county based workshops in lieu of a larger regional workshop would be more effective. These workshops focused on nutrition and using hay analysis to improve small ruminant feeding. The coastal region workshop was offered in March 2023. This workshop was held in Duplin County. This workshop included material on parasite management, nutrition, and fencing infrastructure. Further, 2 farm tours were incorporated into this workshop. The piedmont region workshop was offered in April 2023. This workshop was held in Guilford County at North Carolina A&T State University. This workshop included material on health management, nutrition, and forage selection and utilization. Hands-on opportunities were provided at the A&T teaching farm and included plant ID and body condition scoring.

A second workshop series was developed for 2023-2024. Workshops were held in the mountain and piedmont regions. A workshop is currently being planned for Eastern NC that will take place later this year. The first workshop of this series was held in Alexander County and served as the North Carolina Small Ruminant Improvement Program Fall Field Day. During this workshop, we discussed sire selection practices, grazing systems and forage management, cost-share opportunities, and results of a collaborative project funded by a producer SARE grant. This workshop involved two farm tours. The second workshop was a lambing and kidding school held in the piedmont region. This program was more topic specific as a need was identified with the large number of new producers. This program covered all facets of lambing and kidding including nutrition and housing, diseases, dystocia care, orphan management, and troubleshooting challenges. This workshop included hands-on instruction at the Upper Piedmont Research Station.

A summary of registration and participants for the first two years is listed below.


Year 1


Year 1


Year 2


Year 2


Mountain Region 

No pre-registration 




Piedmont Region





Coastal Region



Coming Summer 2024

Coming Summer 2024

In addition to the regional workshops, a need was realized for FAMACHA trainings. A FAMACHA training series had not been conducted since prior to 2020. FAMACHA scoring, and the associated record keeping of scores and deworming practices, can provide valuable information for decision-making related to parasite management. Four FAMACHA trainings were planned in summer 2023 in various regions of the state (Pitt, Rockingham, Richmond, and Haywood counties). 16 individuals registered for the Pitt workshop and 22 for the Rockingham workshop. These trainings included classroom and hands-on instruction covering parasite management strategies and the FAMACHA scoring technique. Minimal registrations for the Richmond and Haywood workshops resulted in cancellation of these two trainings.

A webinar series was conducted from November 2022 through March 2023. These webinars were held on the third Thursday of each month. A webinar was devoted to each of the following topics: nutrition, health, post-weaning development, marketing and genetics, and reproduction. Registration numbers for each webinar are summarized below along with participants during the webinar and viewers of the recordings posted on Youtube. 

Webinar Topic


Webinar Participants 

Youtube Views









Post-weaning Development




Marketing and Genetics








The five webinars had a total of 224 participants that joined live. Of those live participants, there were representatives from 37 North Carolina counties, 17 US States and 4 countries (Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico). An evaluation of the webinar series was sent to the participants. A majority (70%) of those who filled out the evaluation had significant improvement in their knowledge on the presented topics. 

Based on feedback from the 2022-2023 webinar series, the 2023-2024 webinar series was developed. This series was designed to build on the first year webinar series. The 2023-2024 webinar focused on peer-to-peer learning through producer-led discussions. For each webinar, we identified experts or experienced producers in each topic area (2-3 individuals for each webinar topic). These individuals raise sheep and goats in North Carolina and other states including New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Texas. We had these individuals discuss their personal experiences and approach to that specific area of management. Registration numbers for each webinar are summarized below along with participants during the webinar and viewers of the recordings posted on Youtube. 

Webinar Topic


Webinar Participants 

Youtube Views

Nutrition and Grazing
















The four webinars had 267 total participants that attended live. This series reached a larger, more diverse audience than any NCSRIP event in the past. Of the 267 live participants, we had representation from 38 North Carolina counties, 27 US states and 3 other countries (Nigeria, Canada and Brazil). Of the evaluations completed, 93.5% received average and above significant improvement in their overall knowledge from participating in the webinar series.

Two flyers were developed with links to all the webinar recordings. These flyers were posted on the NCSRIP website ( for easy access to webinar recordings. These flyers have also been handed out at workshops.

Numerous consultations have been done by the program team. The number provided here is an estimate but likely underestimates the true number of producer interactions. 

Best management practice publications are currently in progress. Seven best management publications have been drafted. This included two publications on nutrition, two publications on genetics and selection, and publications on reproduction, health, and marketing. These publications will be submitted for review and publishing through our NC State Extension publication process. This should be completed by fall 2024.

Learning Outcomes

145 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Nutritional Management

  • Parasite Management

  • Fencing and Infrastructure

  • Factors affecting profitability

  • Importance of Data Collection

  • Selection Tools

  • Herd Health Management

  • Forage and Pasture Management

  • Predator Control

  • Resources available for small ruminant producers

  • Lambing and Kidding Management

Project Outcomes

64 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
3 Grants received that built upon this project
6 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project has benefited the rapidly growing number of small ruminant producers in North Carolina. Through personal conversations with new producers or through conversations with county extension agents, multiple inquiries (phone or email) are received per week from individuals interested in raising small ruminants. Based on workshop evaluations, most attendees have been raising small ruminants for less than 5 years. For small ruminant production to be sustainable in North Carolina, these new producers need to be provided with resources necessary to succeed. These resources include educational information about small ruminant management and skills necessary for day to day management.  Through the North Carolina Small Ruminant Improvement Program (NCSRIP), we are able to provide producers with these resources with an emphasis on data collection and analysis to help with decision making. 

This program offers flexibility in providing virtual and in-person learning opportunities. The combination of webinars and workshops offer monthly learning opportunities through the winter months and in-person trainings to teach skills associated with small ruminant management. Further, by posting these webinar recordings and making other resources available on our webpage (, these producers can continue to reference these resources even after the program.

Prior to receiving SARE funds, the NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences funded a workshop series in the spring of 2022 to promote improved management practices. These three workshops included a lambing/kidding school, on-farm producer workshop related to health and nutrition, and an on-farm grazing school. This started the momentum that led into the SARE funded programs. 

Environmental and economic benefits have been realized through better animal and forage management. Through the numerous workshops and webinars conducted over the last two years, we have provided producers with information on all facets of animal management including forage and grazing management, lambing and kidding, genetic selection for adaptability traits (parasite resistance for example), and improving reproductive outcomes. This information has been presented in the context of data driven decision making with farm profitability in mind. Based on producer feedback in evaluations, these producers plan on adopting many of these management practices. 

To build on the NCSRIP, the program team was awarded a National Sheep Industry Improvement Center Grant to start the Lead Shepherd Program. This program focuses on innovative management practices and networking to allow mentorship opportunities for producers. This program has worked in conjunction with the SARE funded NCSRIP to provide social benefits through improved communication and producer networking opportunities. 

One outcome project leaders have realized is the challenge in balancing the needs of new producers with those of more seasoned producers. With the growing number of new producers, we have shifted some focus to this demographic while still including more advanced information for experienced producers. Long-term sustainability and growth in the small ruminant industry relies on informed decision making and using tools and technology for more accurate and efficient management. To address some of the needs from this new producer demographic, more focused programs were implemented in Year 2 such as the lambing and kidding school. The available seats for this program were filled in only 5 hours after registration opened and I received 15+ emails from individuals and families hoping to be on the waitlist or attend future programs of this kind. This supports the demand for this type of basic training.

In addition to educational materials and events, the NCSRIP team has established research and extension sheep flocks at Upper Piedmont Research Station (Reidsville, NC) and Upper Mountain Research Station (Laurel Springs, NC) to demonstrate management and data collection practices in various locations across the state representing differing geographic and climatic regions. A NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences equipment grant has helped with the establishment of this flock by providing funding for a Shearwell Livestock Data Management System and other handling equipment. Since establishing these flocks over the last year, they have been used for multiple workshops (FAMACHA training, Shepherd’s Bootcamp, Lambing School) and data has been collected for a variety of research projects.

Partner farms have also been identified that serve as an example and role model for data collection practices. These farms include the Biltmore Company, LeeDer Farm, Carolina Solar Services, and Back Creek Angus. Relationships have been established with these partners and data has been collected on carcass traits and parasite resistance. These measures have allowed for enrollment in the National Sheep Improvement Program and/or improved selection decisions on these operations.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, a no-cost extension was requested and granted. Over the next year, we will be finalizing our best management practice publications and completing the final regional workshop in Eastern NC. These will build on the first two years of educational material and further emphasize the importance of data collection and tools to improve data collection. These efforts will continue to support and encourage the growth and sustainability of the North Carolina small ruminant industry and its farmers. 

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.