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Summary: Small Ruminant Symposium

By: Anne Zinn

On the afternoon of July 17, the Small Ruminant Symposium was held as part of the ASAS Annual Meeting. The focus of this session was precision sheep management and moving from research to application to better support the industry. 

To begin the session, Dr. Sarah Adcock (University of Wisconsin-Madison) presented on the application of real-time location systems for automated behavioral monitoring in sheep. Adcock shared the growing support for the use of real-time location systems as a precision livestock farming technology for on-farm animal health and welfare assessment and called for additional research to validate these systems in sheep for future commercial applications. 

To follow, Dr. Andrew Hess (University of Nevada Reno) discussed the use of precision agriculture tools to capture behavior and performance in sheep in a rangeland environment. Rangeland livestock provide a great opportunity to capture resilience traits; Hess emphasized that measurements of resilience and efficiency will be useful tools to make continued improvements in rangeland livestock through genetic selection, which has led to their current research. 

Dr. Richard Ehrhardt (Michigan State University) then presented current research regarding precision feeding of prolific sheep in highly productive management systems with the goal of addressing seasonal reproduction and flock productivity. Ehrhardt shared the results of their current study, indicating that a high rate of conception is possible without the use of exogenous hormones or photoperiod manipulation and a high plane of preconception nutrition improves litter size regardless of season.

To close out the afternoon, Dr. Whit Stewart (University of Wyoming) presented on precision trace mineral management in extensive sheep systems, and Dr. J. Bret Taylor (USDA) discussed the challenges facing the sheep production industry in the Western United States as a whole system. Taylor emphasized the need for sheep producers and land managers to optimize conservation and production outcomes in a systematic way and proposed that heritable ecologically-focused traits can be identified and used to complement the industry’s overall sheep genetic improvement goals while creating precision-based solutions for sustainable habit management.

The symposium ended with a robust conversation about the need to move from research to application and assist the sheep industry in moving forward.