As of January 2014, there were 5.21 million sheep and 2.28 million goats in the U.S., with 54,000 meat goats and 83,000 sheep being raised in Virginia alone, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. The Small Ruminant Program was initiated at VSU in 1992 as a meat goat research site; the program later expanded to include hair sheep in response to producers’ needs for information about goat and sheep breeds suitable to the region and about management practices that would help them access a growing ethnic market.
The goal of the program is to develop sustainable, forage-based systems for small ruminant production to meet the demand of alternative and niche markets. With an emphasis on meat breeds that are adapted to the mild winters and the hot, humid summers of Southside Virginia, the program maintains a research herd made up of two breeds of Caribbean hair sheep (Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix) and three breeds of goats (Boer, Myotonic, and Spanish). Because sheep and goats are a good fit for small-scale production, the overall focus of the program is to conduct research that will benefit small producers in Virginia. With research concentrations in reproduction, health, nutrition, and pasture management, the VSU Small Ruminant Program offers a well-rounded approach to conducting practical research on small ruminant production.