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National sheep study to document disease, biosecurity


USDA to conduct extensive survey of producers in 22 states


By DAVE WILKINS


Capital Press


Randomly selected sheep producers in 22 states, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California, will be asked to participate in a national study beginning in January.


The Sheep 2011 study marks the first time in 10 years that the USDA has taken an in-depth look at the U.S. sheep industry.


The USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System will conduct the study with the intent of identifying and documenting trends in management practices, disease prevention and biosecurity.


Among other things, the study has the potential to identify emerging new disease threats and establish research priorities.


Participation in the non-regulatory study is voluntary and all information collected will be confidential, Mary Tinker, of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Veterinarian Services, told producers at the recent Idaho-Wyoming Wool Growers Association meeting in Sun Valley.


The 22 states participating in the study represent 70 percent of U.S. sheep flocks and 85 percent of U.S. sheep.


One of the study's primary goals is to document practices used to control infectious sheep diseases, including scrapie, ovine progressive pneumonia and Johne's disease.


Representatives from USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service will contact selected producers in January and February to complete a questionnaire, Tinker said.


Eligible producers will also be asked to participate in a second phase of the study from March through May.


During the second phase, veterinary medical officers and animal health technicians will visit participating operations to complete an additional questionnaire and discuss the collection of biological samples. Test results will be provided to participants at the end of the study, APHIS officials said.


The U.S. sheep industry has under gone significant change. Sheep numbers peaked in 1884 at 51 million head, according to USDA. Since then, numbers have declined to about 6 million head.


The number of sheep operations has declined as well. Since the 1990s, U.S. sheep operations have dropped from more than 105,000 to about 80,000, as producers experienced shrinking revenues and low rates of return.



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