Sept. 30, 2003 – A University of the Virgin Islands researcher believes that using scientific methods to increase the stock and quality of the hair sheep traditionally raised by local farmers will lead to increased earnings, thanks to an emerging market for the end product — the meat.
Robert Godfrey is assistant director of the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station and leader of its Animal Science Program. He recently co-authored the publication "Hair Sheep Production in the Virgin Islands" with G. D'Suza, a professor of agriculture and resource management at West Virginia University.
Godfrey believes that scientifically farming 350 head of sheep could be "profitable on an annual basis as well as feasible in the long run" for a local farmer.
Chickens, horses, cows and goat sheep have all been part of the rural scenery of the Virgin Islands. Back when St. Croix was the "breadbasket" of the Danish West Indies, farmers and livestock breeders were envied for their capability to produce food for the population as well as products to trade.
Today, a relatively small number of individuals are engaged in agriculture and livestock breeding in the territory. The Agricultural Experiment Station's Animal Science Program researchers are committed to assisting these small entrepreneurs in managing their produce and livestock.
An open house held recently at the ag station on St. Croix showcased the program's research and achievements in livestock management. "I wanted to allow the general public to see what research and services we have to help local livestock farmers," Godfrey said. He said there have been a lot of requests from local farmers for information about the program. "We also give services on a limited basis," he said.
According to Godfrey, hair sheep are ideally adapted to the Virgin Islands, with the St. Croix White the predominant breed. The sheep thrive on tropical grasses, have a tolerance for internal parasites and can be bred at all times of the year. They graze mainly on guinea grass (Panicum maximum) and tan-tan (Lucaena leucocephala); they don't like casha (Acacia) because of its many large thorns.
Godfrey and his team are experimenting with various breeding methods to improve the hair sheep stock. "Improving the genetics of animals through various methods including crossbreeding helps produce a better quality of animal," he said.
Hair sheep can be bred at all times of the year because of the lack of significant changes in daylight patterns, Godfrey said, and with a breeding pattern established, the farmer can control the supply of lambs. Controlled breeding also allows for the production of offspring with predetermined traits such as weaning weight, growth and muscling, thus improving the quality of the livestock, he said.
In the publication, Godfrey outlines methods for weaning and offers tips on flock health and record keeping.
For more information about local livestock farming, call the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station at 692-4042.
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