The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in San Angelo, Texas, has been awarded a trio of grants totaling more than $136,000 to further develop research and educational outreach projects related to improving sheep and goat production in Texas.
Although it is the largest sheep- and goat-producing state in terms of numbers, Texas has not widely adopted the genetic technology shown to improve the health and productivity of small ruminants, according to AgriLife Extension specialists.
AgriLife Extension sheep and goat specialist Dr. Reid Redden and associate Jake Thorne will lead the newly implemented grant-funded programs. All research testing will be conducted on privately owned sheep and goats, which will allow for real-time industry adoption of technology, Redden said.
Redden also said it’s reasonable to assume that the state could improve its productivity by 30-50% through the implementation of key programs, which are much more accessible and affordable due to recent technological advancements.
AgriLife Extension has been awarded grants for the following projects:
1. “Genetic Selection Tools & Techniques to Benefit Texas Range Sheep Producers” — This $50,000 grant has the goal of getting seedstock producers of range Rambouillet and Dorper sheep to utilize genomic technology and enroll in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP). DNA sequencing, using the genomic sequencing chip Flock54, will be used to pedigree match 2,500 animals. These animals will come from 8-10 seedstock producers who provide breeding stock to a large percentage of the commercial sheep industry in Texas.
2. “Training Texas County Extension Agents & Mentor Ranchers to Improve Small Ruminant Health & Productivity through Natural Genetic Selection Strategies” — This two-year project, funded by a grant worth more than $76,000, will educate ranchers and AgriLife Extension agents on how to use NSIP to develop estimated breeding values and how to then use those to market seedstock. After training, mentored ranchers and agents will host field days and workshops in their local communities to share their knowledge with other producers to help improve the health and productivity of area herds.
3. “Implementation of Genetic Selection Technologies on Texas Sheep Ranches” — This grant for just less than $10,000 allows for DNA sampling and testing of progeny studs using high-density genomics chips. Thorne said this will allow for in-depth investigation of these rams’ genomes, providing 660 times more genetic data than what the Flock54 panel reveals. He said analysis of the data will also provide important research opportunities, since the validation of gene markers is still necessary for many important polygenic traits associated with sheep.