Developing a Hair Sheep Production Systems for Southwest Virginia
Activities for the SARE PDP Project “Developing a Hair Sheep Production System for Southwest Virginia” have required some adjustments since the proposal was made due to some very positive occurrences. In November 2003 Congressman Rick Boucher met with Martha Mewbourne and discussed the development of hair sheep in Scott County and the future opportunities for the producers. One of the primary goals has always been to find an alternative agricultural product which could replace tobacco in the area, and to find local marketing outlets for the resultant product(s). The Congressman then met with Steve Smith, CEO of Food City, an 88 store grocery chain in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The result of that meeting was that Food City was committed to selling lamb from the Scott County lamb producers in all of their stores. This agreement has the potential to require approximately 3,000 lambs per year, supplied year round. While we are tremendously excited about this opportunity, it has meant that those responsible for the training and education of the producers have had to modify their focus somewhat. Instead of developing a scheme for seasonal production we have had to look at year round production, including breeding genetics, seasonal breeding, and organizational structure. Extension Agents have been called on more frequently to provide production assistance. This includes everything from teaching producers how to castrate young rams, to working with processing facilities on pricing and processing. Congressman Boucher is very excited about the potential for hair sheep in southwest Virginia and has provided his utmost support for the project. This demonstrates true sustainable agriculture. A local group identified a new agricultural opportunity and is now selling their products within a regional area. The farmers are receiving a fair price for their product, the grocery chain is able to promote local high quality lamb (they previously carried New Zealand lamb) and the consumer is getting an opportunity to support local farmers AND enjoy a fabulous product.
Our objectives continue to be to provide current and consistent information to those who are likely to be resource people for producers. This includes farm store operators, agricultural extension agent, veterinarians and other producers. Just as there are standards in any manufacturing production, there need to be standards in livestock production. When those persons are engaged, either actively or peripherally, in livestock production, they must aspire to provide accurate and timely information to the producers. An example of this would be advice given for deworming sheep for internal parasites. Previously producers were taught to deworm all sheep at one time on a regular basis. New research indicates that this is not just ineffective, but it is also encouraging the resistance of the major parasites. The recommendations have changed, encouraging producers to deworm on an as needed basis. Guidelines have been developed to instruct when deworming is necessary. It is important that veterinarians and farm store employees are familiar with the recommendations when they sell dewormer products.
Several accomplishments have been achieved. Books and videotapes have been stocked at the Scott County Cooperative Extension Office. These are available to agents and producers and cover topics from lambing to castration. Academic texts have been provided in addition to more popular producer publications. Monthly magazine subscriptions have been provided as well. A lambing kit has been assembled which agents can use to demonstrate the necessary items beginning shepherds should have on hand prior to lambing. Agents have learned to do fecal egg counts and are providing the service to producers and will teach producers how to do their own testing. We have held an introductory meeting with Extension agents from five counties to develop shared information and to seek out their questions so that educational programs can respond to their needs. The Virginia Intermont College Culinary Arts program has scheduled the summer professional chefs program and has included a section on the preparation and cooking of lamb. Already applicants are being selected to attend. The regional director of family and consumer services will be one of the students, as well as vocational teachers from throughout the region. The beginning shepherd’s course, taught by Virginia Tech has been scheduled for May 2004. The field trip to New Holland, PA has been postponed until fall 2004 due to scheduling conflicts. With the new market available through Food City it became more critical to spend time learning what finished sheep look like and how to know when they are ready to go to slaughter. As Scrapie information becomes more available, we look to using our veterinarians to demonstrate testing for the 171 Codon. Agents and other educators need to understand the testing and how producers can effectively use the results in their own flocks and when marketing their sheep.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The impact of our activities so far indicate that our producers are better informed because of the educators being better informed. There is interest among the group to have the latest information i.e. parasite control and Scrapie testing. Their biggest problem noted among the Extension agents is the lack of available breeding sheep. They receive regular calls from producers wanting 10 to 15 ewes or more. They are unable to direct these producers to sources of quality breeding sheep. A directory of available sheep within the area would be a real help. It continues to be our goal to have Extension agents, producers and those who support production, i.e. veterinarians, farm store operators, etc. to share and use the most current information regarding hair sheep production. We appreciate the support of SARE in this endeavor.