The USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center in Beaver, WV held a planning workshop on small ruminant research on April 6 and 7, 2006. The meeting was co-chaired by Dr. David Belesky, Research Agronomist and Research Leader, and Dr. Ken Turner, Research Animal Scientist and Lead Scientist at the Center. In attendance were sheep and goat producers, research experts and extension staff from West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and as far as way as Arkansas and the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. West Virginia was represented by Paul Rodgers, Deputy Director American Sheep Industry Association, Dr. Paul Lewis and Dr. Keith Inskeep, West Virginia University, Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences, and West Virginia Shepherds Federation officer and director, Joe Aucremanne.
The first day’s evening session was highlighted by a lamb and chevon dinner prepared by the talented Chef Michele Stalnaker and her students in the Culinary Arts Program at Mountain State University in Beckley, West Virginia. The West Virginia Shepherds provided the lamb meat for the occasion. The tasty lamb loin roast and saddle of chevon prepared by Chef Stalnaker and her students for workshop participants reinforced the message that sheep and goat producers in West Virginia and the Eastern U.S. have a highly palatable and attractive product to sell. Those in attendance that evening were energized and stimulated by this tasty repast in exchanging ideas for further resources, imaginative marketing and hopes for continued growth and prosperity of the sheep and goat industries in our region.
During the two-day meeting, research scientists and extension representatives, as well as leading producers, presented current research on pasture management, forage production, gastrointestinal parasite control and processing the meat product in ways to optimize product quality. A wide variety of ideas advancing research and collaboration among institutions and research facilities was discussed enthusiastically. Time and again the speakers addressed the need for research to benefit the sheep and goat industries by providing information on selection for gastrointestinal parasite resistance, alternative deworming methods, forage nutrition, the efficient use of woodland pasture, reproductive management, and effective processing for consistent product quality for marketing.
Dr. Henry Zerby, Associate Professor of Meat Science at the Ohio State University, gave an exciting presentation on lamb meat quality. His very frank presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of our meat products underscored the need for a consistent quality product to meet the requirements of the commodity and the niche markets open to the industry. Unless you have experienced Dr. Zerby’s presentation, it would be difficult to convey how energetic, even passionate, he can be in taking what would otherwise be dry science and bringing it alive to his audience. He would be an excellent choice for a speaker at a future Sheep Management Project/Shepherds Federation short course.
Each of the participants left the meeting buoyed with anticipation that the small ruminant production in Appalachia has an exciting future. The industry faces challenges for research funding and education. Every producer is challenged to develop a forage-based production system that takes advantage of the grass and other forages on his or her particular site, the breed characteristics of the sheep or goats on his farm, and the need to identify how gain can be maximized and the product put into the market stream at the optimal time to realize a profit.
Some topics that excited considerable discussion were the notion of the “easy care sheep”, that is not to say a “no care sheep” but a sheep that the producer put his hands on only when he wants to, and the integration of sheep and goats into beef cattle operations typical of West Virginia and neighboring states. It was observed more than once that sheep had developed a reputation as being too much work, leading many stock producers to turn to beef cattle. It was observed that the development of an easy care sheep, that is a healthy ewe who could deliver and raise her own lambs with minimum producer involvement, maximize the nutrients found in available forage, and wean fast-gaining, meaty lambs to be placed in the market stream would be most likely to turn our sheep industry around.
Reported by Joe Aucremanne, Ken Turner and Keith Inskeep