Working with a staff of technicians, farm workers, temporary employees, and fellow scientists, Dr. Joan Burke leads the small ruminant livestock research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in the Ozarks region of Arkansas. The research center is approved to supply Animal Welfare Approved sheep and goat breeding and feeder stock.
The farm consists of approximately 2,200 acres, and about 100 of those acres are devoted to sheep and goats. Since the area is hilly and unsuitable for crop farming, small ruminants make an efficient addition to the system. Predominant forages are Bermuda grass and tall fescue, and pastures may include hairy vetch, clovers, sericea lespedeza, chicory, sun hemp, soybeans, or cowpea. Agroforestry – where livestock or cropping is cleverly combined with forestry management – is a component of the center’s livestock research, especially for goats which require browse in their diet. The knowledge and technology gained from the range of research carried out at Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center is transferred to the agricultural community.
A Research Animal Scientist for the Agricultural Research Service, Joan has worked with small ruminants for many years, conducting research to examine approaches to improve livestock health, productivity in terms of reproductive efficiency or number of young born and weaned, and weight gains on a forage-based system. “The overall goal of the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center is to integrate multiple, within-farm livestock and agroforestry-based enterprises, while improving nutrient efficiency of forages,” she explains. “This will be accomplished through diversified and integrated production, increased production efficiency, and reduced reliance on purchased inputs.”
Joan says that at any given time the farm may have as many as 200 Katahdin ewes and 40 Spanish or Kiko meat goats, specifically chosen for their ability to thrive in the Ozark environment: “The sheep have been selected for parasite resistance, shed their hair, and have low maintenance requirements and produce twins and sometimes triplets. The goats have similarly been selected for our grass pastures, good feet, and parasite tolerance. Our small ruminants perform well in our harsh southern environment.” She adds, “The most important aspect of our animal husbandry practices is the ability to resist or tolerate nematode worm infections.” Joan also explains that the relationship between forage management, product quality, and animal health is also important: “While small ruminant producers may sell meat, milk, or wool, these products are ultimately derived from nutritious forages grown on pastures. Without good forage management, animal productivity and health will suffer.”
Joan says the farm sought AWA certification because “we were following AWA regulations while conducting important research for small farms. Our research contributes to sustainability of small farms and we want our stakeholders to know that animal welfare is extremely important for our research animals.”
For more information on the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center visit http://ars.usda.gov/spa/dbsfrc