Forage Chicory Use in Rotational Grazing of Sheep to Reduce Intestinal Worms, Reduce Grain Supplementation, And Maximize Growth

Project Overview

FS10-245
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,078.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Old McCaskill's Farm
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Kathy McCaskill
Old McCaskill's Farm

NOTE: No final report available for this project.

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: sheep

Practices

  • Animal Production: parasite control, grazing - rotational
  • Pest Management: general pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems

    Proposal summary:

    In recent years, world wide, sheep intestinal parasites have become resistant to major dewormers available for sheep. In 2009, Old McCaskill’s farm experienced high rates of flock mortality (20%) due to high intestinal parasite burdens, confirmed by necropsy and fecal examinations. These animals died despite a routine deworming protocol with appropriate dewormers recommended by the extension veterinarian and a rotational grazing protocol that according to studies has helped reduce intestinal parasite burdens. The farm’s sheep that are surviving the worms are low in carcass weight when butchered thus further lowering farm income. The farm has had to apply for disaster grants through FSA in an attempt to recuperate financial losses and repopulate the herd. The farm has invested in a microscope and the veterinarian has run on farm fecal examinations on all animals surviving and deceased. The animals were dewormed according to the FAMACHA protocol and the fecal exams repeated two weeks after the deworming. These exams have shown that virtually all animals in the flock are shedding intestinal parasites resistant to several dewormers. In addition to the intestinal parasite overload, the drought in the area has caused the farm to have to supplement feeding due to inadequate forage, despite the rotational grazing protocol used by the farm that was previously adequate in years past. Unfortunately almost all corn grown locally is genetically modified and therefore precludes the farm from becoming certified organic. Old McCaskill’s Farm is searching for an alternative to high doses of ineffective intestinal dewormers. Without effective, alternative, cost effective methods of controlling the sheep intestinal parasites, Old McCaskill’s Farm and other similar small southern farms, will be unable to continue raising sheep for local sale in South Carolina.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Old McCaskill’s Farm is proposing planting a pasture of chicory for rotational grazing by its flock. Forage chicory is a broad leaf semi-perennial that will re-grow for 3-5 years.

    This study would determine if rotational chicory forage lowers worm burden and increases weight gain as effectively as chicory as a single source of food for finishing. As chicory has to be replanted every 3-5 years from seed the rotational grazing would lower the amount of chicory pasture needed thus lowering the cost of seed and planting from that of the single large pasture of chicory as in the Clemson study.

    It would also increase cost effectiveness if the farm is able to eliminate high doses of ineffective dewormers and avoid supplemental non-organic grain.

    This on farm trial would not be financially possible without supplemental funding.

    Instead of repeating the Clemson study and feeding exclusively chicory throughout the season, the Old McCaskill’s Farm pasture in question would be added into the current rotational grazing of the flock. If the Chicory is planted this fall/winter(2009) it will be ready for grazing by early summer 2010. The flock would be rotated for 2-3 weeks each on three pastures: A bahia pasture (A), the chicory pasture (B), and then an additional bahia pasture (C). The rotation would proceed as follows A-B-C-B-A-B-C-B etc. The exact timing of grazing is determined by the height of the grass or chicory being grazed. The larva live on the first 4 inches of grass, therefore the pastures are not grazed to below this level. The farm would propose to run fecal exams and evaluate body condition on the entire flock monthly starting in the spring and continuing through out the summer and fall.

    When the flock is evaluated monthly the farmer accompanied by 2 assistants collects the sheep, evaluates the eyes via the FAMACHA protocol for anemia caused by the parasites, gathers a fecal sample and evaluates the body condition score (BCS) for each animal in the flock. This is time consuming for the farmer. On average it takes 4 hours for the farmer and assistants to collect the samples and evaluate the flock. The fecal samples, run on the farm for rapid results, take an additional 3 hours with the assistance of a veterinarian. In essence, one entire day per month will be devoted to the study during the spring, summer and fall months.

    Improving FAMACHA scores and reduced number of eggs on fecal exams will demonstrate if the chicory rotational grazing reduces the worm burden. If during the study the flock does not require deworming via traditional dewormers the farm will benefit financially. Furthermore, higher BCS without additional grain supplementation will demonstrate improved financial benefit for the farm. Eliminating the outside grain purchasing will also improve the sustainability of Old McCaskill’s Farm. The farm will also be able to re-label the lamb as “grass finished” thus adding value to the product.

    The process can then be repeated and refined the next year. Depending on the previous year’s results the grazing times may need to be modified, or an additional pasture may need to be planted in chicory in the fall of 2010.

    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.