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Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center sheep farm profile

Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center – Booneville, AR

Working with a staff of technicians, farm workers, students, 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 manages Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) sheep breeding and feeder stock.

The farm consists of approximately 2,200 acres, with about 170 acres devoted to sheep. 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, sunn hemp, soybeans or cowpea. Agroforestry—where livestock or cropping is cleverly combined with forestry management—is a component of the center’s research activities. The knowledge and technology gained from the range of research at Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center is transferred to the agricultural and scientific community.

As 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 develop tools and practices to improve small scale farms. Multiple tools have been developed to control internal parasites in small ruminants including the use of copper oxide wire particles, feeding or grazing condensed tannin rich forages, and importantly, genetic selection for parasite resistance. Current research focuses on combining genomics and genetics to improve selection for parasite resistance and other economically important traits; trials are ongoing on practical use of a nematode-trapping fungus, the only method of control that focuses on minimizing pasture contamination.”

Dr. Burke says that at any given time the farm may have more than 200 Katahdin ewes, specifically chosen for their ability to thrive in the Ozark and Southeast environment: “The sheep have been selected for parasite resistance, shed their hair and have low maintenance requirements, and produce twins and sometimes triplets. 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 parasitic nematode worm infections.” Dr. Burke also explains that the relationship between nutrient 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.”

Dr. Burke says the farm sought Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW status because, “We were utilizing AWA standards while conducting important research that contributes to agricultural sustainability. 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 their website.

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