Dept Of Agricultural Research
Non Technical Summary
Limited resource small farmers can increase farm income by raising hair sheep for meat sales to direct and retail markets. Hair sheep are recognized for their 'easy-care' characteristics of disease tolerance and ability to convert low quality forage into high quality meat. Key objectives are to evaluate growth performance of purebred and terminal sire wool x hair lambs under rotational grazing, determine carcass characteristics and composition of purebred and crossbred pasture-fed lambs, and assess consumer response to local, grass-fed hair sheep lamb through test marketing at specialty food and direct market outlets. St. Croix and Barbados Blackbelly landrace hair sheep will be used to produce either purebred or Dorset-sired crossbred lambs at Virginia State University. Lambs will be raised under rotational grazing and supplemented with different levels of agro-byproducts. Fort Valley State University will process lamb carcasses into cuts suitable for consumer sampling at farmers markets and specialty food retailers. Consumer acceptance will be determined through test marketing conducted by Virginia State University. Nutritional and genetic recommendations for efficient lamb production under a low-input forage-based system and an extension guide to introduce hair sheep meat product in local markets will be developed. Producer workshops, extension fact sheets, and consumer outreach materials will be developed. Valuable experiential learning opportunities in sheep production, meat processing, and marketing will be offered to undergraduate and graduate students.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories
Goals / Objectives
(1) Evaluate the growth performance of purebred landrace and terminal sire wool x hair sheep lambs under a rotational grazing system with limited inputs except differing levels of agro- byproduct supplementation. (2) Determine the carcass characteristics and composition of purebred and crossbred pasture-fed lambs in response to supplementation. (3) Evaluate the consumer response to grass-fed hair sheep lamb through test marketing in specialty market outlets.
The experiments for Objective 1 will be conducted at the hair sheep facilities of the Small Ruminant Program at VSU using a 100 ewe flock, equally representing the Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix breeds. Ewes are mated in an accelerated breeding system (mating periods in November, July and March). Rams for purebred matings are available from the ram flock maintained at VSU. Dorset rams (n=6) providing a cross-section of the breed in the mid-Atlantic region will be used to produce crossbred lambs. Lambs for the grazing trials will be produced by randomly allocating ewes topurebred andcrossbred mating groups. Groups will be mated by single sire to either three rams of like breed or three Dorset rams, for a total of 9 single sire mating groups. Ewes will be re-allocated to breeding groups after each breeding season. Ewes will lamb on pasture with limited assistance. Lambs will be weaned at approximately 63 day of age. The lamb grazing trials will be conducted in grazing area subdivided into six paddocks (two Bermuda grass units and four Max Q fescue pastures inter-seeded with white clover) that will be rotational grazed. The grazing unit contains a shed equipped with a 24-station Calan® feeder to individually supplement lambs. Animals will be rotated to a new paddock when residual plant material has reached a predetermined height. In all grazing trials 36 weaned ram lambs, equally representing the four breed types will be used. Lambs will be allowed a 3 to 4 week post-weaning stabilization period to completely transition to an all-forage diet, and recover from weaning stress before being assigned to the grazing trials. Lambs will be grazed as one group, and used to determine the effect of supplementation and breed type on lamb growth rate and performance. Measurements will be taken of body weight (growth performance) and condition, fecal egg counts, and FAMACHA lower eye lid anemia scores in 2-week intervals throughout the grazing season. Animals treated individually with moxidectinonceFAMACHA is greater than 3. The frequency at which individual animals need to be treated will be recorded. Three grazing trials will be conducted over the duration of the project. There will be 3 diets in each grazing trial with 12 lambs per diet (3 animals/breed type). One of diets will be a grazing-only, non-supplemented control, while the others have two levels of supplementation. Lambs will remain on trial for 112 days. The first trial will be initiated in April and evaluate spring grazing conditions. Soy hull supplement will be fed to lambs at 1 and 2% body weight. The second grazing trial will be initiated in December and will evaluate performance under winter grazing using stockpiled fescue forage and overseeded winter annual (rye grass) while providing soy hull supplementation as described for the first trial. The third grazing trial will be initiated in August and evaluate lamb performance using summer and early fall grazing. Lambs will again be provided the soy hull supplementation at 0, 1 and 2% of body weight. Lambs will initially graze perennial warm season pasture (Bermuda grass) and will transition to MaxQ fescue pastures. Data from the grazing trials will be analyzed for the effect of breed type, supplement level and grazing season, and their interaction on growth performance and fitness traits. The trials are designed to determine the type of response (linear or quadratic) to increasing levels of soy hull supplementation. Under Objective 2, lambs will be transported from the VSU pasture to the FVSU slaughter facility and humanely harvested according to industry-accepted procedures. Carcasses will be chilled for 7 days at 2 degree C before carcass data collection and fabrication. Dressing percentage of each carcass will be reported as a carcass yield. After the 7-day chilling period, carcasses will be reweighed to calculate cooler shrinkage. Carcass quality grade data (fat thickness, body wall thickness, and ribeye area) will be collected. Carcasses will be then fabricated into primal cuts for lamb. Four fat depots (subcutaneous, intermuscular, intramuscular, and kidney) will be sampled from each carcass for fatty acid analysis. The intramuscular fat (Longissimus muscle; LM) depot from the fifth through seventh ribs will be excised from both sides of each carcass, subcutaneous fat will be removed, and the intermuscular fat between the LM fat and subcutaneous fat layer will be sampled. Vacuum-packed loin chops will be assessed using a TA-XT2 texture analyzer fitted with a Warner-Bratzler shear attachment. Proximate composition of LM samples will be analyzed according to AOAC (1995) methods. In each grazing trial, all data will be analyzed as a completely randomized design (CRD), with individual lambs as an experimental unit. Once all three grazing trials are completed, pooled data will be also be analyzed as a CRD with factorial (4 x 3 x 3) arrangement than includes grazing season. Under Objective 3 strategic marketing research will be conducted in year 1 to include the activities of market analysis, market selection, and marketing mix determination for the purpose of developing a strategic marketing plan for the specific product of grass-fed hair sheep lamb meat products in Virginia. In year two, market testing will take place in selected specialty food retailers, food service, and direct sale to consumer market outlets (farmers market, community supported agriculture, and on-farm sales). Market testing will be based on research findings from strategic marketing activities using the lamb products that were produced under Objectives 1 and 2. This project proposes to employ the controlled test method involving locations in the test area. Three locations will be chosen in the geographic region of Richmond, Virginia to include one specialty food retailer, one food service operation, and one direct sale to consumer market outlet launch within a test area. Within these specific market environments research control over product, promotion, placement and price will be monitored. The results in test locations will determine consumer acceptance for grass-fed hair sheep lamb meat products. After test marketing is completed and consumer awareness and demand are adequate in test area, (a) two producer education workshops will be conducted, and (b) consumer educational materials (point of purchase recipe cards, nutritional information, etc.) will be developed. Producer workshops will be held at both locations (VA and GA) involved and educational materials will be prepared for both geographic areas through the respective institutions.