Ohio sheep industry proposes restoring Extension position

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Sheep in a barn.

Ohio’s sheep industry is looking for more Extension and research support — and it’s willing to put money behind it.

The Ohio Sheep and Wool Program announced a proposal to reinstate the small ruminant specialist position with Ohio State University Extension, at the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association annual meeting, Dec. 4. The check off program also offered $25,000 in funding to help pay for the position, should the proposal go through.

Ohio State Extension used to have a sheep specialist, but that position has been vacant for about four years.

The proposed position would cover both sheep and goats. It would be a combined extension and research position with the university.

“We feel really good about it. We’re going to fight for it,” said Gary Wilson, who is wrapping up his final term as chair of the check off program’s board of directors. “We feel that we deserve this.”

Sheep and goats

In a letter to John Foltz, chair of the Department of Animal Sciences at Ohio State, the check off program said Ohio is the largest sheep, lamb and wool producing state east of the Mississippi River. It also ranks third in state association membership within the American Sheep Industry.

“Along with the growth and profitability of the sheep and lamb industry, add on the Ohio meat and dairy goat industry,” the letter adds. “We collectively have the two small ruminant livestock industries that have a bright future ahead of them in the next several years.”

The letter also suggested that sheep and goats are a good “gateway” animal for Ohio State students — especially students who do not come from an animal agriculture background — who can use them to learn about animal handling without the physical dangers that can come from working with larger livestock.

Funding

The $25,000 is a yearly amount that could be renewed, Wilson said, but would have to be re-approved each year.

The letter says the funding could be used to help fill the extension and research position, and to partially fund a small ruminant graduate research associate position.

If the extension and research position is filled, the specialist would also serve as an adviser on the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program, and as an ex-officio member of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association Board of Trustees, the letter says.

New proposal

The check off program has proposed a small ruminant position for the last several years, and has had meetings with various Ohio State leaders about it in past years, Wilson said. But this is the first time that proposal has come with money attached.

“That’s what makes this a little bit more special,” he said. “We feel it’s time, and past time, to get this position filled … it’s hard, but we think that we paid our dues in waiting and it’s time to go.”

That doesn’t mean that it will be a quick process.

“We don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse,” Wilson said.

There are a lot of people and departments involved in the decision, especially since it is a combined position, he said. A first meeting with Ohio State’s department of animal sciences is planned for Dec. 10.

Rebecca Miller, editor-in-chief of Farm and Dairy, is on the board of directors for the Ohio Sheep and Wool Program.

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