Small ruminant production in the Southeastern United States has observed increases in both animal numbers as well as market demand. Adaptability of small ruminants to small acreage farmsteads have resulted in growing interest among new farmers. Additionally, an expanding solar industry has offered grazing opportunities for sheep at reduced cost. Furthermore, aging poultry houses are now being converted to small ruminant housing facilities. These increases in small ruminant producer numbers are matched by increases in slaughter demand. Growing ethnic populations in urban centers along the east coast have resulted in a strong non-traditional (ethnic) market for sheep and goats. These markets demand a lightweight, heavy muscled animal that is readily available. Consequently, growth in small ruminant producer numbers needs additional support in terms of educational programs and resources to meet growing market demands with high quality sheep and goats that are raised in a productive, sustainable, and profitable fashion. Thus, the North Carolina Small Ruminant Improvement Program should be established to address these needs. The program will function under three objectives.
First, development of educational resources and programs to address modern production practices for different management systems and environments. Best management practices (BMP) will be written which address data-driven production practices in different production systems (Small Farms, Solar Grazing, etc.). The BMP will cover genetics, nutrition, animal health including lambing/kidding management, reproductive management, and marketing. To translate these BMP to producers, three hands-on workshops will be conducted each summer of the project. The workshops will be held in the three regions of the state (Coastal, Piedmont, and Mountains). Additionally, a five-part winter webinar series will be conducted. These workshops will be available to producers, extension agents, and NC Department of Agriculture (NCDA) staff.
Second, provide data collection services and resources to producers to encourage data-driven production practices. You can’t select for those things that you don’t measure. Producers cannot select for traits if data measurements are not collected and recorded. Metrics used to improve production and sustainability require data collection. Data collection resources such as scales, equipment and expertise to run fecal egg counts, ultrasounds to collect pregnancy and carcass data are lacking on many small ruminant operations. Many of these pieces of equipment are too costly for a single producer to afford. However, equipment shares and university resources can address these needs. County extension agents and NCDA staff will assist with data collection. Educational programs will be available to Cooperative Extension county agents, NCDA and NCRS personnel to provide additional training in record keeping and data collection technology. These skills can then be passed on to producers.
Third, provide data processing and analysis. Once data are collected, processing and analysis is necessary before implementation and data-driven decision making can take place. Many small ruminant producers lack experience with technology including computer systems and data analysis. Thus, processing at a centralized location will minimize these barriers. Additionally, a central processing lab will allow for standardization of data processing and better evaluation of industry improvement over time.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective One) Develop educational resources to improve producer understanding and utilization of data-driven production practices. These educational resources will consist of a set of Best Management Practices, associated regional field days, and winter webinars.
Objective Two) Develop a data collection program to assist producers in record collection and organization systems. Provide resources to allow for greater data collection and measurement of difficult-to-measure traits (fecal egg counts for parasite resistance and carcass ultrasound data).
Objective Three) Develop a data processing program as a centralized management system to assist in data analysis and summation for improved producer understanding and implementation. Organize data collected under objective two into standardized form to allow for selection and management decisions.