Opportunities for Improvement of Small Ruminant Production
- Ron Hoover, On-Farm Research Coordinator
- David Wolfgang, Penn State Dept. Veterinary Sciences
- Michele Gauger, On-Farm Research Assistant/PASA
- David Hartman, Penn State Extension Educator
- Melanie Barkley, Penn State Extension Educator
- Linda Spahr, Penn State Extension Educator
- Craig Williams, Penn State Extension Educator
- Various small ruminant farms across Pennsylvania
This project was funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
This project was developed during 2004 as small ruminant farmers and health care providers reported reduced performance from commercially available worming medications. These anthelminthics (wormers), effective at removing many internal parasites just years prior, are becoming less effective because of selection for resistant parasite populations. The problem is expected to remain for some time as few new medications with potential to control resistant populations are being developed.
Project coordinators seek to identify the extent of the problem and to educate small ruminant producers about how to reduce the impact of internal parasites on their animals. This may be possible with more judicious use of existing medicines and by becoming better informed about other farm management practices that can reduce the impact of this problem.
More than 40 farmers responded to a call to participate in the risk assessment and analyses of soil, forage, and fecal samples. Through December 2005, sampling was conducted on nearly 20 of those farms. Summaries of some of those data are presented here. Additional sampling will occur during 2006.
Map of Pennsylvania showing locations of farms responding with interest in this project.
To consider a whole farm systems approach to improve productivity, profitability, and sustainability of small ruminant farms. A “graduated risk assessment tool” that focuses on five specific areas of farm activity will be used to objectively aid in the evaluations of farms. Identification of specific areas of need will enable farmers to focus time and resources in those areas to result in a more rapid improvement of the whole farm.
Looking at the Whole Farm
Small ruminant (sheep and goats) farms are comprised of many integrated systems. Overall success of the farm is dependent on the efficiency and productivity of the individual systems. If optimizing the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of the entire farm is a goal of the farmer, the evaluation can be made more manageable by first evaluating the individual systems.
Instead of only addressing internal parasite problems, the coordinators decided to “dig deeper” and evaluate multiple components of the farming operation. This led to the development of a RISK ASSESSMENT.
We believe a strategic overall farm management plan has the potential to reduce parasite burdens, improve animal performance, promote animal health and increase producer profitability. Instead of only addressing internal parasite problems, researchers are aiming to “dig deeper” and evaluate multiple components of the farming operation. This led to the development of a risk assessment survey tool.
The risk assessment process begins by collecting information about the farm’s history, current practices, and future plans.
The management focus areas include:
- Flock or herd parasite management; an example of high-risk management practices in this area would include having animals of different ages & production stages on the same pasture at the same time.
- Pasture/forage management; an example of high-risk management practices in this area would include unknown soil properties for optimum forage/pasture species.
- Environmental quality; an example of high-risk management practices in this area would include spreading of manure near streams, ponds, runoff areas.
- Overall farm management; an example of high-risk management practices in this area would include not reaching satisfactory lambing/kidding %.
- Farm marketing; an example of high-risk management practices in this area would include not timing production to obtain the best price for products.
Components within an area are scored for the amount of risk associated with each. A high score indicates that there is much risk involved in that part of the operation, and that improvements should be made to reduce the risk of poor or inconsistent performance.
Thus far, the assessments have shown pasture management to be the highest risk focus area for many farms. Several farms had never tested soil in their pastures, so soil mineral properties and pH were unknown. As well as many farms were unaware of potential poisonous plant species and the advantages of grazing forages to the appropriate height. Those interested in a copy of the complete risk assessment questions may contact Michele Gauger at PASA or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Risk Assessment Summary Results
|Risk Category||Flock or herd mgt.||Pasture/forage mgt.||Environmental Quality||Farm Mgt.||Farm marketing|
|-------percentage of farms surveyed-------|
- Only 13% of farms at high risk of problems with parasites
- 2/3 of farms at high risk regarding their pasture management
- Levels of risk associated with farm management & marketing are varied
Soil Fertility Analyses
Low soil pH is the greatest need to be addressed. As energy costs climb, so will the cost of N fertilizer. Including a legume is a very cost effective means to supply the pasture system with N. However, legumes will not establish or grow well in a low pH soil. Although all nutrients are essential for good crop growth, soil pH and adequate use of lime is key to making them.
|Soil Test Results||Surveyed Farms
% of total
|> 7.0||5%||Too alkaline|
|6.3 to 7.0||15%||Good for legumes & grasses|
|5.8 to 6.2||41%||Low for legumes, fair for grasses|
|Below 5.8||38%||Too acidic for good plant growth|
|Soil P levels|
|> 50 ppm||15%||Above optimum|
|< 25 ppm||51%||Below optimum|
|Soil K levels|
|> 190 ppm||38%||Above optimum|
|< 95 ppm||18%||Below optimum|
|Soil Mg levels|
|Below optimum levels||10%|
|"out of balance" with K||18%||Need Mg to avoid grass tetany|
Forage Quality Analyses
Adequate levels of crude protein and energy are necessary to support milk production and growth. Inclusion of legumes in the pasture sward provides an inexpensive source of nitrogen to the system. Legumes also improve the quality of a pasture or hay due to inherently higher protein and greater digestibility than most grasses. Inclusion of legumes and attention to proper grazing management can result in higher quality forage that will improve animal performance, reduce the need for grain supplements or both.
|Forage Quality Report||Surveyed Farms||Comments|
|A few keys to successful pasture management for small ruminants, courtesy of Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA),|
|>16%||(% of total)||Good for lactating & growing animals|
|12-16%||32%||Adequate for good health|
|10-12%||36%||Marginally adequate; some supplements may be necessary|
|<10%||5%||Will need supplementation|
|Relative Feed Value|
|>100||45%||Good for lactating/rapidly growing animals|
|80-100||36%||Adequate for good growth|
|<80||18%||Will likely need supplementation|
Remember that for sheep and goats, having enough quality forage is important. Over-grazing forces animals to consume more parasite larvae. Goats will do well on browse, whereas sheep are better at using grasses, clovers, and weeds. The feed resources available on your farm will help determine, which animal you can raise most profitably, because an ample supply of forage will greatly reduce the cost of raising ruminant livestock. Sheep and goats can be raised entirely on forage in many areas, though their performance will be improved by offering some supplemental feed at certain times of the year—just before and during breeding season (flushing), during the last month of pregnancy, and during the first weeks of lactation for sheep or meat goats. Dairy goats require more supplemental feed to sustain a long, high-yielding lactation. The need will be greatly reduced if excellent pasture and browse are available. Supplemental mineral needs will vary by location.
Fecal Analyses: Internal Parasites
Composite (pooled) fecal samples were taken from 20 farms located across PA and analyzed for internal parasites. Composite samples can be a good indicator of the total parasite load in a group of animals. Proper interpretation of the results along with animal observations such as the FAMACHA system allows producers to use control strategies in an effective, judicious manner.
Fecal Strongyle Counts
- Pooled samples >300 eggs/gm indicate a fairly high parasite load & high risk for the entire flock.
- To be most effective, strategic therapies should be instituted with knowledge of parasite life cycle & persistence in environment
- Pooled sample counts with 1 to 300 eggs/gm indicate a low parasite burden & select animals may be at risk.
- Use FAMACHA, body condition or other animal indicators to target therapy and animal needs
- Negative pooled samples are welcome news but may be influenced by time of year and age of animals; should confirm with additional samples.
- No parasite exposure is wonderful, but flock will have no immunity. If new animals introduce parasites, major problems can arise quickly.
Fecal Coccidia Counts
- Pooled samples >1000 oocysts/gm indicate young animals are exposed to a large number of protozoa
- Young animals exposed to this level are likely to suffer weight loss & be more prone to other infections. Therapy likely to be cost effective.
- Pooled samples between 1 and 1000 oocysts/gm indicated a low level of infection. Select animals may be less thrifty but most may appear normal.
- Good environmental control measures to limit fecal oral contamination will help. Oral supplements are likely sufficient.
- Negative pooled samples are good, but may be strongly influenced by age of animals. Older animals are very resistant and may not shed any oocyts.
- Negative samples during cold months and from older animals may be misleading; with warm weather and newborns, high exposure may return.