Enhanced genetic selection of dairy sheep for the Southern US

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,486.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Marcia McDuffie
Allen's Creek Farm


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, genetics

    Proposal summary:

    Most sustainable small farms need to be manageable by a single individual, operating either alone with occasional hired labor or with a partner employed full-time off the farm. From recent farm census data, it is also clear that the primary farmer will increasingly be female and may have little or no background in farming. One farming opportunity that meet these requirements is a dairy sheep operation producing aged ewe's-milk cheeses. Given reasonable availability of feed generated off-farm or adequate pasture, an operation milking 50-60 ewes over a 5-month season should produce sustainable income for a single farmer-operator in the Southeast region with a limited requirement for extra labor, land, or expensive equipment. However, there are impediments to realizing this opportunity. Development of a dairy sheep breed that will thrive under low-input conditions in the Southern region will require a focused effort involving individuals with expertise in breeding for the selection of complex traits and in the husbandry of small ruminants, as well as a network of individuals capable of working together to expand and test the breeding stocks under development. This proposal addresses both issues. The major goal of this project is to increase the “dairy character” in a genetically mixed sheep flock while selecting for traits of food efficiency, parasite resistance, and spontaneous shedding. My long-term goal is to develop a dairy sheep breed, requiring low inputs for feed, labor, and health maintenance, that is capable of supporting profitable farmstead (small-scale) or artisanal (cooperative) ewe's-milk cheese-making in the Southern US.

    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.