Ohio sheep producers target nutrition to meet world demand

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(Scroll down for more photos from the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association’s annual shepherd’s symposium. See our print edition for award winners.)


WOOSTER, Ohio — In response to international demand for lamb and wool, the American Sheep Industry Association is asking producers to increase their herd size by two ewes, increase birthrate to two lambs per ewe, and increase the harvested lamb crop rate by 2 percent.

But on Dec. 10, Francis Fluharty, a ruminant nutritionist with Ohio State University, challenged producers to go even further. He estimated about .6 percent of the world’s lamb comes from the United States, with 50 percent of the lamb eaten within the United States coming from Australia and New Zealand.

“We have such a huge need for lamb,” said Fluharty, who gave the keynote address during the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association’s annual symposium, held at OSU’s Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster.

Rising population

Fluharty said more countries are developing and the Muslim population is rising — two things that contribute to increased demand for sheep. Also, world population is growing exponentially, along with an increase in urban areas and megacities. There were only two megacities in 1950, New York City and Los Angeles, with populations of 10 million or more. Today, there are at least 18 such cities, and by 2050, Fluharty said there could be several hundred.

As countries become wealthier, they demand more meat protein, he said, and that means more sheep, as well.
“Two plus two plus two isn’t going to cut it,” he said, referring to the ASIA program. “We need to be doing a lot (more) to increase numbers.”

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One way producers can rise to the challenge is by mastering the concepts of small animal nutrition. That was the theme of this year’s gathering, which for the first time included a nutrition class for youth.

About 25 students ranging from 7 to 18 studied a sheep’s requirements for protein, energy and fiber, under the direction of Carrie Pickworth, a research assistant in animal nutrition at North Carolina State University.

“I was excited when I saw the number of students,” said Pickworth, who recently was a professor at ATI.

Hands-on learning

Students mixed various rations in plastic bags then placed them inside a roaster to cook, simulating the digestion process. The contents and their weight were analyzed afterward, to determine how much was digested.

Later, Pickworth guided students through the dissection of a sheep stomach and gave a hands-on demonstration of the digestive functions of each part.

In the taste

Around noon, attendees gave the final quality test as they ate a lunch prepared with lamb meat. Fluharty said tasting the product is an important part of lamb production, and knowing whether production practices are working.

“I’ve never met a producer who didn’t think that the way they were (producing sheep) was the way everyone should do it,” he said. “But if you don’t eat your product and you don’t know the palatability and the flavor characteristics, you don’t really know what you’re producing.”

Fluharty closed his speech by addressing the increase in consumer expectations for quality, safe food. He encouraged producers to continue using the Internet and social media to communicate their message, including Facebook and YouTube.

He challenged producers to respect sheep farmers of all production sizes and said there is plenty opportunity for “differentiated products” without “shooting each other down.”

Other sessions included Utilizing Dried Distiller Grains by Steve Loerch, OSU animal sciences professor; Balancing Practical Small Ruminant Diets by Andy Korb of Kalmbach Feeds; and The Basics of Small Ruminant Nutrition by Fluharty.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

One Comment

  1. Kathy says:

    I have increased my flock by 10 every year for the last 3 years. But now do they say to who or where to sell the lambs too to get a good price? And what is considered a good price?

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