The past year has been a busy one on the Livestock front! This update isn’t an exhaustive list, but it captures the highlights.
Work continues on our Beef x Dairy crossbreeding project, which is a 3-year collaboration between UConn and Penn State, funded by a Northeast SARE grant. The last calf has been born on campus, and the first two groups of cattle are harvested. 30 of 40 left to go! We continue to compile and analyze all the growth and meat quality data, and I will bring that to you via extension programming as soon as the project is complete. Meanwhile, we also conducted a large regional survey of beef x dairy practices for the Northeast. A manuscript of those survey results was submitted for peer-reviewed publication in Translational Animal Science in January. Again, as soon as the data are published, they will be made available to you! We’re already making national news - check out Progressive Cattle magazine from September 2022 for a neat feature article on my use of ultrasound technology for the beef x dairy project.
I continue to partner with UConn Extension colleagues on the Tri-State SARE, Solid Ground, and 4-H teams, as well as the newly formed Farm Viability team. The Tri-State SARE group offered another great webinar series on pasture management and soil quality last year, and an outstanding soil health clinic and pasture walk this past summer. I enjoyed the opportunities to address the livestock component of the many important soil, plant, and animal interactions. Solid Ground consultations got me out on farms around the state, working with many different livestock species, products, and markets. What I especially enjoy about these new producers is their innovative approaches to building systems from the ground up. Too often with livestock production, we fall into the trap of looking for ways to keep doing what we’ve been doing, even if fundamentally it’s not a good fit.
The 4-H Beef / Dairy Day held last March was a great success, and this year’s is just around the corner as I write this! The new Farm Viability program is yet another exciting team of Extension specialists combining their various expertise to help historically underserved farmers. I also traveled with Extension colleagues to the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation to visit about developing a meat processing facility on site. In addition to these Extension collaborations, I have also teamed up with other organizations like The Livestock Institute of Southern New England and the New England Grazing Network to put on programs and conferences on a wide range of livestock topics. I am a firm believer in collaborative approaches and the synergy they create.
On the funding front, I am pleased to report some great steps forward, both internally and extramurally. In the CAHNR equipment grant competition, I was co-PI on two winning grants that will help to purchase ultrasound and meat chemistry equipment. I have been working to raise funds for ultrasound equipment since my arrival, because I believe that this technology has more power than anything else to raise the bar for meat quality in our state and region. By collaborating with researchers in the Animal Science department, I can bring better data to you from both on-campus and on-farm research. Better equipment also means better educational demonstrations at Extension events. Whether it results in more farmers adopting the technology, or simply better understanding livestock and meats evaluation, these demos lead to industry development and meat quality improvement. In addition to the research grants, I also was co-PI with colleagues in Animal Science on a teaching enhancement grant from the new CAHNR competition. One of the exciting new teaching aids we will be able to purchase is a 3-D model beef carcass. With the challenges of sourcing actual meat products at UConn, this model will greatly improve my ability to teach Livestock Production and Management and Livestock and Carcass Evaluation. And, once again, what is good for CAHNR is good for Extension, as that carcass model will be quite valuable in field and video outreach as well. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, a collaborative 3-year grant proposal entitled, “Got Worms? Breeding for parasite resistance to ensure the sustainability and resilience of small ruminant operations” was recently funded by Northeast SARE. Along with colleagues at URI, VA Tech and VSU, Penn State, USMARC, and NSIP, I will be delivering programming on sheep parasites and genetic selection. Part of my work on this grant also includes working closely with the sheep flocks at UConn and URI.
One final effort that I have been closely involved with is the renovation of the meats facility and meat sensory lab at UConn. Since a new meat chemist joined the Animal Science department last fall, I have been helping to plan renovations and organize fundraising so that our meats facilities can once again function to benefit Extension programming. The possibilities are endless, from offering training for meat industry workforce development, to conducting unbiased taste panels and lab analysis to validate my meat quality improvement efforts.
It is not lost on me that a large part of the livestock industry development I am charged with is contingent on overcoming bottlenecks with meat processing. While increased demand for local meats after the pandemic provides a real opportunity for CT livestock producers, it also reveals infrastructure and logistical challenges when producers are booking appointments a year or more in advance. This of course is a large, complex problem, and not one that can be solved by any one individual working alone. But to the extent that I can, I have focused on bringing awareness to the issue, in multiple directions. While the barriers facing producers get the most press, the barriers facing processors and government agencies also need to be understood across the board. Rally your producer groups, processors, and legislators - let us continue to work together to find innovative solutions.
-Joe Emenheiser, PhD