NCERA214: Increased Efficiency of Sheep Production
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe U.S. sheep industry has more than 70,000 producers who market approximately $600 million worth of raw products annually from 6.1 million animals (USDA, NASS, 2008). There was approximately 188 million pounds of lamb and mutton produced in the U.S. in 2007 (USDA, NASS, 2008) and more than 200 million pounds was imported, while just over 9 million pounds was exported (USDA, ERS, 2008). Per capita consumption is low relative to beef and pork, but niche markets are promising. The sheep industry is an important part of American agriculture struggling with economic issues, global competitiveness and consumer trends. These issues are far greater in scope than can be addressed by individual research stations; collaborative efforts are needed to generate new knowledge for a more sustainable industry. New technology can be applied to improve efficiency and to compete more effectively in a world-wide market. Research results benefit the sheep industry and consumers by increasing profitability and improving product quality. A viable sheep industry can contribute to sustainable agricultural practices and provide economic stability to rural communities.
The NCERA-190 committee is uniquely suited to address these issues. The committee is national in scope, with members representing the U. S. from New York to Utah and North Dakota to Texas and the Virgin Islands. NCERA-190 continues to grow, with the most recent members from Louisiana State University and Oklahoma State University. Members are trained in genetics, reproduction, nutrition, meats, and management. The diversity of training is a strength of the committee and brings depth and perspective to investigations of complex issues. NCERA-190 is one of three multi-state research committees in the U.S. that focuses on sheep, and is unique due to its emphasis on reproduction, carcass leanness, meat quality, and milk production in wool and hair sheep. The other committees are WERA039 whose complementary emphases are on wool production and the use of sheep to manage and sustain native plants in range and pasture ecosystems and SCC81 whose focus is on sheep and goat production issues of the southeastern U.S.
Objectives of NCERA-190 are well aligned with research priorities identified by the American Sheep Industry Association and the Agricultural Research Service of USDA. A research goal is to develop integrated food-animal management and animal health systems that support efficient, competitive, and sustainable production of safe and wholesome food consistent with animal and environmental well being. This includes improving reproduction efficiency; quantifying basic nutritional requirements and interactions in sheep including nutrient composition effects on product quality; breed evaluation; and controlling disease and parasitism. Planned research of NCERA-190 is consistent with the components of National Program 101 (Food Animal Production) of ARS (Understanding, improving and effectively using animal genetic and genomic resources; Enhancing animal adaptation, well-being and efficiency in diverse production systems; Measuring and enhancing product quality) and National Program 103 (Animal Health; Component 7, Prevent and control parasitic diseases).
The sheep industry is fortunate to have significant adaptability to market conditions, which is possible because of a wide array of breed resources. A common approach will be evaluation of breeds. In many experiments, two or more common breeds will be compared at different institutions. For example, researchers at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) and the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) will each evaluate effects of Dorset, Suffolk, Rambouillet, Texel, and Composite (a composite population created at MARC) breeds on growth, carcass, and meat quality traits (objective 2). Composite rams from MARC will be provided to the USSES. Also, research to evaluate one or more hair breeds of sheep (Dorper, Katahdin, St. Croix, and Barbados Blackbelly) will be done at several institutions, including Kentucky, MARC, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Virginia State (objective 4). A breed with high milk production, the East Friesian, will be evaluated at Wisconsin (objective 3). Use of common breeds will create linkages across experiments, effectively allowing comparison of more breeds than evaluated in any single experiment. This information will help the industry systematically use the most appropriate breeds in crossbreeding programs that produce market lambs. Overall impact is expected to improve competitiveness of the US Sheep Industry with other major sheep producing countries.
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