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Organic Sheep and Goats: Herd Health and Nutrition Planning Proposal for the Northeast US 2010


We plan to develop a proposal for coordinated research into the single most important limiting factor in organic sheep and goat production: intestinal parasites. <P>Research objectives that will be considered are to: 1) Evaluate herd health and economic outcomes of pasture mixes with high-tannin lespedezas and protein supplementation for suppression of intestinal parasites; 2) Measure nitrogen utilization and rumen dynamics, ewe milk production, and lamb weight gain; 3) Assess benefits of multi-species stacking and intensive rotational grazing of pastures; 4) Analyze databases of organic certifiers for herd health trends; 5) Determine significance of immune suppression versus avoidance of infection in disease outcomes; and 6) Assess milk and blood proteins to measure immune response to nutritional management practices.<P> Outreach and Extension activities would include: 1) Enroll growers to characterize and track herd profiles and develop herd histories. 2) Include microscopes for growers to do their own fecal egg counts. 3) Develop instant feedback opportunities for growers via on-line databases. 4) Develop risk assessment tools for growers comparing livestock versus cash crop operations. 5) Provide workshops for hands-on training in FAMACHA scores, fecal egg counts, and rotational grazing practices. 6) Field test forages with demonstrated potential to reduce parasite burden in small ruminants. 7) Outreach to farmers via on-farm demonstrations, twilight meetings, and presentations at grower organizations. 8) Use eXtension and eOrganic to develop Communities of Practice with growers, crop advisors, Extension agents, and others. 9) Develop 1-page fact sheets. 10) Develop contacts and publish articles in agriculture and livestock publications of interest to growers. 11) Blog, Twitter, Facebook for grower communication!

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Non-Technical Summary: Intestinal roundworm species infect small ruminants in the Northeast and throughout the world. Haemonchus contortus is generally considered the most important. The nematodes feed by ingesting blood from the lining of the digestive tract. Symptoms of infection are associated with blood loss, and include anemia, pale color of mucous membrane, edema or bottle-jaw, severe loss of condition, diarrhea and poor growth. In severe infections, death may occur within a few days of the appearance of initial symptoms. Young lambs tend to be most susceptible, as adults tend to develop resistance as they mature. Variation in levels of susceptibility are associated with genetic resistance as well as an acquired immune response which varies with breed, age, and diet, as well as dose of the nematodes. Producers can manage parasites through nutritional approaches designed to enhance immunity to the nematode, or through "safe" pasture strategies in which animals are rotated among pastures to avoid grazing when infective nematode levels are high. While some success has been achieved at West Virginia University in managing intestinal parasites by intensive rotational grazing with 3-day occupancy periods, the methods are labor intensive and managing pastures optimally for forage quality or production is difficult. Enhanced protein supplementation has been associated with reduced symptom severity, lower egg production and reduced worm burden at slaughter, as well as enhanced weight gain, especially in the more susceptible breeds and similar results have been observed in recent trials at West Virginia University. Sheep fed forages with high tannin content also demonstrated improved resistance to nematodes and decreased fecal egg counts, egg hatch, and larval development have been documented. Condensed tannin containing forages, by themselves, have the potential to provide adequate control of gastrointestinal parasites. Fecal egg counts from dosed lambs were reduced after feeding chicory, sainfoin, and birdsfoot trefoil as fresh forage and similar results have been found for the forage as hay or silage. Sericea lespedeza also suppressed fecal egg counts and worm burden in both sheep and goats. The planning process will propose a project that would build on previous research in organic sheep production at West Virginia University by Kotcon and Bryan, where replicated trials on a fully certified organic research farm have been on-going since 2001. Recent results from IPM-funded research demonstrate great success in limiting losses to gastro-intestinal nematodes in a fully organic, whole-farming systems context. These research results will be expanded and integrated with the new work being proposed on high-tannin forage nutrition, using replicated flocks under controlled, research-farm conditions. Best practices developed at WVU will be melded with nutritional analyses, on-farm research, and outreach efforts by Petersson, Keilty and Stanton in small ruminants in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. <P> Approach: A planning process will be initiated in 2010-11 to prepare a detailed proposal to conduct research and outreach activities to improve organic management of intestinal parasites in sheep, using improved nutritional management as the primary approach. Activities will include a series of farm visits to solicit input, hosting up to three producer meetings (preferably in conjunction with other events) to clarify research priorities and identify optimal outreach activities for the proposal, and travel by investigators to planning meetings for proposal preparation. The solicitation of grower participation in this planning proposal will be facilitated by access to existing databases, upcoming producer meetings and workshops, state extension personnel contacts and organic producer organizations such as the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). Kotcon and Bryan will coordinate a stakeholder meeting at the West Virginia University Organic Research Farm. Stakeholders, including producers, veterinarians, certifiers, and agriculture advisors, from West Virginia, Ohio, western Pennsylvania and western Maryland will be invited to participate. Kotcon will also serve as Principle grant-writer for the 2011 proposal. Peterssen and Keilty will hold one meeting in the central New England Region targeting stakeholders in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. They will also assist with the grant writing for the 2011 proposal. Stanton will coordinate a stakeholder meeting at Cornell University to which stakeholders from New York and eastern Pennsylvania will be invited to participate. She will also assist with the grant writing for the 2011 proposal. After initial contacts and meetings in summer and fall of 2010, a planning workshop will be held in November, 2010, to clarify research plans, identify proposed outreach priorities, and organize grant-writing activities. Stakeholders will form a Grower Advisory Committee. Certification organizations will be solicited to aid in identifying organic growers, and to use certification databases to collect herd health information. We also plan to solicit input and collaborators from veterinarians who would be able to provide information on herd health and identify herd health and nutrition research priorities. We will use on-line databases including Farmers Market lists,, and university and state agriculture specialists to do outreach to producers, extension specialists, and agricultural advisors. Initial grower contacts will be made using outreach via mailings, as well as via one-on-one contacts with identified opinion leaders in the small ruminant production community. A short questionnaire will be used to identify interested growers, as well as to solicit feedback on production problems and research needs. Outreach and extension practices will be discussed to identify those practices that growers are most receptive to. We will use eXtenstion and eOrganic to extend the capacity to provide content for sheep producers throughout the Northeast as well as the rest of the US.

Kotcon, James
West Virginia University
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