Training Texas County Extension Agents and Mentor Ranchers to Improve Small Ruminant Health and Productivity Through Natural Genetic Selection Strategies

Progress report for ES19-147

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $76,996.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M University
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Reid Redden
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
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Project Information

Abstract:

Texas is the largest sheep and goat producing state in the U.S., but parasite infestations and poor lamb crop percentages have plagued the state industry. Producers using estimated breeding values from the National Sheep Improvement Program have improved parasite resistance and fecundity in several other states, but the Texas seedstock industry has been slow to adopt the use of this genetic selection tool. Our goal is to train county agents and mentor sheep and goat ranchers to use this technology and be ambassadors for the widespread implementation of this technology in both traditional and nontraditional sheep and goat rearing areas of Texas. Initially, we will host a workshop for county agents and mentor ranchers to demonstration how the program works and provide hands-on experiential learning. Then, specialists, agents and ranchers will tour farms and ranches i other states that have successfully used EBVs for 10 or more years. Thereafter, agents and ranchers will implement this technology on their ranches within their counties. Lastly, agents and ranchers will serve as host sites for a field day and demonstration site for local sheep and goat producers. Quantitative genetic selection can rapidly advance the genetic resistance of sheep and goats to internal parasites, which will reduce or eliminate the need for pharmaceutical anthelmintics. It can also improve the reproductive efficiency of sheep and goats to allow producers to supply the growing demand for Texas grown lamb, wool, goat meat, and mohair. Neither of these goals can be met without use of this technology.

Project Objectives:
  • Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent understanding of how EBVs are developed by sheep and goat seedstock suppliers and why it is important that commercial producers buy rams/bucks with EBVs;
  • Development of mentor ranchers that will implement quantitative genetic selection strategies and serve as leaders within the seedstock community;
  • Widespread awareness in sheep and goat industry of EBVs and why it is important that they are used in flock/herd replacement selection.

Cooperators

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Education

Educational approach:

The educational approach used in this project is “train the trainer.” We are actively working with cooperator county extension agents and mentor ranches to train them on genetic technologies associated with progressive small ruminant breeding and production. Then, to conclude the project, we are hosting field days across Texas where participants will hear from and interact with these county extension agents and mentor ranchers to learn about implementing these technologies. Our hope is that by empowering these agents and leaders within local industries that they can serve as a future resource for regional sheep producers who wish to implement this technology.    

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Producer Outreach through Field Days
Objective:

Plan and conduct field days for fellow producers to learn from mentor ranchers and county extension agents about their experiences with incorporating genetic selection technology into their livestock management plans.

Description:

Our original project timeline included conducting field days in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 where mentor ranches and county extension agents could provide an overview of their experiences to attendees about implementing technology on-farm. Due to Covid-19 related restrictions, these field days did not happen as originally scheduled, however, we have received a one year no-cost extension and have plans to conduct these field days in the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022. We are in the process of working with project cooperators to coordinate these events, which will take place across the state of Texas.   

Outcomes and impacts:

The approach we took to this project was to “train the trainer.” We have worked with mentor ranchers and county extension agents to incorporate technology such as genomic testing for DNA markers and implementing estimated breeding values to measure genetic value of sheep and goats for various traits. To date, these producers have collected data for production traits such as prolificacy, parasite resistance, growth rate, and wool quality. This data has been analyzed using quantitative genetics based software and now producers are able to use resulting EBV for breeding and selection decisions. Our goal is now to have these mentor ranchers and extension agents discuss their experiences with regional sheep and goat producers who also are interested in this technology. We will host on-farm field days where attendees will have the opportunity to see the changes that each mentor rancher has made and hear from their experiences about the changes they made.  

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
10 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
3 Tours

Participation Summary

8 Extension
10 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

10 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
10 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Our projected outcome is to significantly impact the regional utilization of genetic technologies for sheep production. However, the greatest outreach efforts will occur at the culmination of the project when field days are hosted by county extension agents and mentor ranchers. These events will occur in the fall of 2021 and spring 2022. 

5 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
10 Farmers reached through participant's programs
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.