NCERA214: Increased Efficiency of Sheep Production

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

NCERA214: Increased Efficiency of Sheep Production

Duration: 10/01/2014 to 09/30/2019

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

In 2010 the U.S. sheep industry had more than 80,000 producers who marketed approximately $761 million worth of raw products from 5.6 million animals (USDA, NASS, 2011). They produced approximately 154 million pounds of lamb and mutton (USDA, NASS, 2011). At the same time the U.S. imported approximately 167 million pounds of lamb and mutton while exporting just 16 million pounds (USDA, ERS, 2013).

Per capita consumption of lamb is low relative to beef and pork, but niche markets are growing. In addition, national efforts are underway to reverse the decline in the American lamb industry (The Hale Report, American Lamb Board, 2013) through both traditional and non-traditional market channels. Meanwhile, the sheep industry continues to struggle with animal health concerns, 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. The need for collaborative work is greater than ever as research stations are losing, and not replacing, research and extension faculty with sheep expertise (U. S. Sheep Expertise Inventory, D. L. Thomas, 2013). 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-214 committee continues to be uniquely suited to address these issues. The committee is national in scope, with members representing the U.S. from New York and Rhode Island to Utah and North Dakota to Texas and the Virgin Islands. NCERA-214 continues to grow, with the most recent members coming from the University of Rhode Island and West Virginia University. Members are trained in genetics, reproduction, nutrition, meats and animal management. This diversity of training is the strength of the committee and brings depth and perspective to investigations of complex issues. NCERA-214 is one of three multi-state research committees in the U.S. that focuses on sheep, but is unique due to its emphasis on genetics, reproduction, carcass leanness, meat quality and milk production in wool and hair sheep. The other committees are WERA-039, whose complementary emphases are on wool production and the use of sheep to manage and sustain native plants in range and pasture ecosystems, and SCC081, whose focus is on sustainable goat and sheep production in the southeastern U.S.

Objectives of NCERA-214 are well aligned with research priorities identified by the American Sheep Industry Association and the Agricultural Research Service of USDA. They also are compatible with recommendations and strategies of The American Lamb Industry Roadmap Project (The Hale Group, The American Lamb Board, 2013), which was designed to strengthen the sheep sector of the U.S. that produces lambs for meat.

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 1) quantifying basic nutritional requirements and interactions in sheep including breed evaluation and nutrient composition effects on product quality, 2) improving reproductive efficiency and 3) controlling animal disease and parasitism. Planned research of NCERA-214 is consistent with the components of National Program 101 (Food Animal Production Action Plan) of ARS and National Program 103 (Animal Health Strategic Vision).

The sheep industry is fortunate to have significant adaptability to market conditions, which is possible because of a wide array of breed resources and diverse production systems. A common approach will be evaluation of breeds. In many experiments, two or more common breeds will be compared at different institutions. Also, research to evaluate one or more hair breeds of sheep (Dorper, White Dorper, Katahdin, St. Croix and Barbados Blackbelly) will be done at several institutions, including Kentucky, MARC, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Virginia State. Two breeds with high milk production, East Friesian and Lacaune, will be evaluated at Wisconsin. 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 systems that produce market lambs. Methods to improve reproductive efficiency in both hair and wool breeds will be investigated under varying systems of production at other institutions (e.g., Cornell, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia). All institutions will be involved in further developing profitable and sustainable production systems with members in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, MARC, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia continuing efforts to develop methods for more effectively managing internal parasites. Finally, all member institutions will increase efforts towards dissemination of research results and information to other universities, regulatory agencies and producers. This will help address the attrition of research and extension personnel with sheep expertise. The overall impact is expected to improve competitiveness of the U.S. sheep industry with other major sheep producing countries.


  1. Develop and evaluate methods to improve reproductive efficiency.
  2. Develop strategies to improve efficiency of lean lamb growth and meat quality.
  3. Evaluate genetic resources, nutrient requirements and production systems for lamb and milk production.
  4. Develop profitable and sustainable production systems that address grazing strategies and the health and well-being of sheep.
  5. Disseminate research results and information to the industry.

Procedures and Activities

The Committee meets annually in June at alternating locations to discuss experiment station reports and collaborative efforts. A business meeting is also held. Collaborative efforts include exchange of animals or germplasm, interactive research ideas and methods for dissemination of information to industry stakeholders. The needs for regulatory issues are acted upon.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Sharing of experiences, information and experimental results among participating members. Such interactions help researchers identify relevant questions and develop appropriate experimental plans.
  • Coordination of collaborative efforts among researchers and extension specialists. The impact of coordinated programming is more efficient use of limited sheep resources to address relevant industry constraints.
  • More effective use of breed resources by sheep producers to improve reproductive efficiency and produce qualtiy lamb products. Experimental results will provide guidelines for appropriate use of breeds.
  • Education of industry stakeholders. Experimental results will provide information that will be disemseminated through industry pubilcations and extnesion activities.
  • Publication of joint research and extension publications in order to advance technology and educate industry stakeholders.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Committee members have research, teaching and(or) extension appointments at colleges and land grant universities or are scientists with the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Members holding appointments as extension sheep specialists work directly with producers and producer groups throughout the U.S. Most members who hold research appointments or are ARS scientists also work directly with stakeholders to transfer research results and technology. Members with teaching appointments train the next generation of sheep producers, extension specialists and educators. Most members, regardless of appointment, regularly plan and participate in industry meetings and often serve on industry committees. Many members regularly contribute articles to industry publications. Several experiment stations hold field days, producer schools or other educational activities where information on current research projects is provided to producers. In addition, numerous members contribution and act as advisors to state sheep associations.

Examples of educational/extension activities (field days, symposiums, workshops)include the following: Cornell University: Annual Cornell Sheep and Goat Symposium, Annual Shearing School and sheep extension programs throughout the year. Iowa State University: Annual sheep extension program for advanced producers in NW Iowa (highlighting research results from this committee0, two to three additional state sheep symposiums throughout the year. Louisiana State University: Annual Integrated Parasite Control/FAMACHA Workshop, small ruminant field days, alternating years, Annual Integrated Parasite Control/FAMACHA Workshop at Goat Camp (Lohn, TX). Ohio State University: Annual Ohio Sheep Day (attended by approximately 900 sheep producers), Lamb 509 (opportunity for produers to learn ways of improving lamb carcasses), Annual Buckeye Shepherd's Symposium. Oregon State University: Lambing Schools. South Dakota State University: Dakota Fest, Sheep Shearing Training Program, Lamb Bonanza, Mountain States-Plains Sheep and Goat Conference, South Dakota Master Lamb Program, Dakota Performance Ram Test, Scrapie Education Program, Regional Sheep Forum. Texas A&M University: Annual Sheep and Goat Field Day. University of Kentucky: Annual Sheeprofit Day, three Eweprofit Schools, Lambing School, Shearing School. University of Wisconsin: Biennial Spooner Dairy Sheep Day, Biennial Spooner Sheep Day, Great Lakes Dairy Sheep Symposium. USDA, ARS Arkansas: USDA, ARS Biennial Sheep and Goat Field Day, Booneville, AR. Virginia State University: Biennial Hair Sheep Day, Pasture Lambing Workshop.

Examples of Teaching/Curriculum Activities: Cornell University: Animal Science 3800. Lousiana State University: Undergraduate courses, Parasite Effects on Animal Performance and Small Ruminant Production (taught every other year). South Dakota State University: AS 477 Sheep and Wool Production. Oregon State University: ANS 216 Sheep Industries, ANS 436 Sheep Production Systems, ANS 312 Feedstuffs and Ration Forumulation. University of Kentucky: ASC 102 Applications of Animal Science, ASC 406G: Sheep Science.

Examples of web pages with information on sheep research: South Dakota State University:; Texas Ram test web page:; USDA, ARS, MARC:; University of Wisconsin:; Oregon State Unviversity:; Cornell University:; Ohio State University: " Software: Cornell University (free software, examples from the 550-ewe Cornell Sheep Farm); Iowa State University (developing a Sheep Nutrition Analysis and Decision Software that will assist producers in correctly feeding their sheep flocks).


A nominating committee proposes a slate of officers consisting of chair, vice-chair, and secretary. Traditionally, the vice-chair becomes chair the following year and the secretary becomes vice-chair. Officers are elected from official representatives of participating stations. The committee then votes to accept or reject the proposed slate of officers.

Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

ARS, Fort Valley State University, NIFA, US Meat Animal Research Center, USDA-ARS Roman L. Hruska US Meat Animal Research Center
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