Small Ruminant Producers Program: A pilot program for small ruminant producers and county agents

Project Overview

LS20-321
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $31,895.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipients: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; North Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Andrea Gentry-Apple
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Johnny Rogers
North Carolina State University

Commodities

  • Animals: goats, sheep

Practices

  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking

    Proposal abstract:

    Over the last 10 years, there has been increased interest in small ruminant production in North Carolina, especially goat production. Total sheep and meat goats in North Carolina increased by 7.4% and 4.3%, respectively from 2018 to 2019. In addition, using sheep to manage grass in solar farms has increased sheep inventories. There is a growing demand from ethnic groups to supply lamb and goat meat. Additionally, niche meat market production, grass-fed, and organic production are on the rise. However, the United States continues to import lamb and goat meat for domestic consumption. In order to meet this demand, producers are responding by entering into small ruminant production. However, knowledge gaps exist on proper small ruminant production management, especially nutrition management, genetic selection, and parasite control methods. Feed costs often account for the highest production costs for small ruminant operations; thus, leading to sustainability challenges. To increase animal productivity, sustainability, and profitability, this program will be developed to aid and equip producers with necessary resources and educational materials for small ruminant production. Through the utilization of low-cost production management practices and enhanced animal productivity, producers will achieve optimum production while producing a quality product. The Small Ruminant Producers Program (SRPP) will target to educate producers on total enterprise management, nutrition and feeding, herd health, breeding practices, facility design, and economics and marketing. The program will be designed as a holistic management education program. As the herd progresses through a production cycle, specific management areas will be considered and taught representative of production stage. Introducing producers to year-round production cycles will help their understanding of how production cycles influence and impact their animals and operation’s profitability. As the herd/flock progress through a production cycle, needs and requirements change; therefore, the course will be taught to match the production stage of the animals. The program will incorporate best management practices, novel marketing approaches, and cost-effective management solutions. Developing a program that will allow producers to emphasize nutrition will allow for the utilization of forages, strategize concentration supplementation, decrease production costs, and feed animals to their genetic potential. Overall, the program will emphasize best management practices that will lead to enhanced animal productivity, while incorporating low-cost management practices leading to increased producer viability.   

    A statewide small ruminant producer’s curriculum, Small Ruminant Producer, will be developed to aid both producers and county agents in making informed management decisions. Additionally, the program will encourage confidence through education and knowledge gained for producers and county agents. Though the curriculum is being developed for North Carolina small ruminant producers, the manual would have the potential to be used by neighboring states for education and outreach.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. To further define the needs of small-scale, minority small ruminant producers in North Carolina.
      1. For this objective, a survey instrument will be developed for producers to complete a pre-program survey. The survey will ask producers to detail their current enterprise or operation. Producers will provide information regarding needs, challenges and obstacles, and current successes. The survey will not be limited to animal production assessments but rather open-ended for producers to include feedback such as securing finances and market access. Based on the responses, our group will be better able to understand our participants and prioritize aspects of the program.
      2. Our target audience will be geared towards producers that have had small ruminants less than 5 years, making them a novice in many regards. Because of this, it necessitates the need to poll and survey producers beyond our participant group. Surveys will be mailed or emailed to small ruminant producers across the state to get a better understanding of the needs and challenges facing NC small ruminant producers.
    2. To assist small ruminant producers for long-term, sustainable practices through low-cost management decisions that will lead to enhanced animal well-being.
      1. Increasing producer efficiency will be vital to the success of farm profitability and sustainability. Implementing low-cost solutions that are both practical and effective will allow producers to make subtle, but impactful changes. Emphasis will be given towards producers utilizing forage-based systems for grazing and browsing. Utilization of forage, through grazing and forage management practices, will be advantageous for producers because forage-based nutrition programs are often the most economic decisions (Chaudhry, 2008). However, more information (research) is needed to support nutrient requirements and economical grazing systems for goats (Luginbuhl et al., 1996). For example, but not limited to the following:
        1. Pasture improvements
        2. Mineral incorporation
    • Selective genetics and culling criteria
    1. To develop educational materials for small ruminant producers and county agents that will discuss small ruminant production through improved animal well-being, profitability, and sustainability.
      1. Development of lectures, presentations, and demonstrations that can be used by producers for self-study or by county agents for trainings and workshops.
      2. Development of Small Ruminant Producers Curriculum for North Carolina will be developed. The program team will produce a well-rounded, comprehensive curriculum that will give emphasis to holistic, systems-approach small ruminant production. Narrated lectures and instructional videos will further enhance producer education. Each educational item will be intentional and be able to be read or viewed by the participants.
    2. To determine the impact of the program, project leaders will conduct follow-up farm visits and consultations.

    Surveys will be mailed and/or emailed to first-year participants. Follow-up visits to assess program incorporation will be conducted on program participant’s farms. The leaders of this group acknowledge that not all participants will want to participate in follow-up visits; however, we will strongly encourage this activity. 

    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.