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Ep. 076: Raising Sheep and Goats – How They’re the Same and How They’re Different

On this episode, co-host Katy Starr and guest expert Dr. Reid Redden explore the intricacies of raising sheep and goats.

Episode Notes

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On this episode, co-host Katy Starr and guest expert Dr. Reid Redden explore the intricacies of raising sheep and goats, including:

  • Differences and similarities between raising ruminant and non-ruminant species, particularly sheep and goats
  • Why some sheep are actually deficient in copper because of the fear of “copper toxicity”
  • The most common struggles sheep and goat owners face

Their discussion covers everything from the common myth that “goats will eat anything” to essential advice, making it a must-listen for anyone interested in entering the world of small-scale livestock ranching or even backyard sheep or goat ownership.

Have a topic idea or feedback to share? We want to connect with you! Email


Scientific References:

~ 33:55 – Prairie Project go-pro video showing what plant species goats prefer to consume -


Connect with Dr. Reid Redden and AgriLife Extension and Research on:

Katy Starr (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


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Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn. Our next guest grew up on a sheep, goat, and cattle ranch in Utopia, Texas. From raising and showing club lambs, his passion inspired him to pursue a bachelor's degree in animal science from Texas A & M, a master's degree in reproductive physiology from New Mexico State University, and a PhD in ruminant nutrition from Montana State University. He is currently a sheep and goat specialist for Texas A & M AgriLife Extension, the Center Director for the Texas AgriLife Research and Associate Professor at Texas A & M. I'd like to welcome Dr. Reid Redden to the Beyond the Barn podcast. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Redden.


Dr. Reid Redden (01:52):

My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.


Katy Starr (01:55):

And so before we get started on today's topic, any of the topics we cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast are more generalized and not specific to any individual animal or specific situation. So be sure to always work with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your animal's feed program. Or you can reach out to talk directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on any specifics that you'd like to know. And then we'll also be giving a way to connect with Dr. Redden at the end of this episode. So just to kind of get us started on our interview today, can you tell us a little bit about your background with sheep and goats and how your early experiences have influenced your education and career path?


Dr. Reid Redden (02:42):

Sure. You know, as you stated before, I grew up on a smaller ranch in Texas. You know, my dad had leased a ranch that we moved out on. I think I was about five years old. And, so for most of my life that I can remember, we've been involved in some level of ranching. And so, you know, we started with angora goats. There was a lot of money in mohair at that time. We've swapped over to sheep and cattle and meat goats and you know, it really just, was living in it. I love animals. I like being around animals and you know, whenever I got a little bit older we started showing lambs and it was something that me and my dad did together. And of course, you know, ranching is a family affair. So, you know, it was just something I loved doing and I wanted to make a career.


Dr. Reid Redden (03:34):

You know, I really admire my father and the dedication that he put into that and the love of it. You know, now in my profession, you know, we do a lot of work around, you know, economics and sustainability of operations. And so now looking back as a kid, he was doing that because he loved it and he wanted to teach his kids that lifestyle and that background. It was not something that we made a lot of money off of. My parents also ran a meat processing plant and a restaurant in a small town. And so those other ventures was really what funded it so that we could maintain that lifestyle. And so that just embedded in me and it's what I built a career around.


Katy Starr (04:15):

That's really great. Yeah. I saw in your bio about you guys were pretty vertically integrated there with going throughout the whole process, which is not a lot of people can say because it's probably a hard task to do, but like you said, really give you the opportunity to live that lifestyle because you know, many of the folks that do the ranching venture part of it, it's definitely not for the money , it's for the experiences that it kind of gives you and the lifestyle that you get to live. And so when we were initially prepping for this interview, you had mentioned that you've lived in five states throughout your professional career and traveled to five countries to learn and grow your knowledge of sheep and goat production. Tell us a little bit about those experiences and where they took you. 


Dr. Reid Redden (05:05):

Sure, so I grew up on a small place and Texas A&M was, you know, kind of an obvious choice for me. It was, you know, the leading animal science program in the state, nation and maybe internationally. And so, I went there like a lot of people, I, you know, kind of thought I was going to be a veterinarian. As I got into the science, I found that, you know, the science side of it intrigued me more. And so I went down that path. Texans are pretty proud of Texas. It's hard to get Texans out of the state. And so I was kind of like that. You know, we moved over to New Mexico, you know, one state over, literally lived about five miles from the border and that's where I got my master's degree at New Mexico and got involved with that there, and got to experience a little bit of the western sheep industry in New Mexico.


Dr. Reid Redden (05:54):

And then as I finished up my master's degree, I kind of saw that I wanted to get a PhD and there was an opportunity to go to Montana and be a part of that program. And I just couldn't pass that up. So my wife and I moved to Montana and that was probably the biggest life change for me in understanding that ranching operates very different by your climate and what you would think is impossible in Texas, you know, animals living and thriving in much more extreme environments that we're used to. But you know, a lot of the principles were the same, you know, good nutrition, good management, you know, in Texas we’re a private land state, so most of the ranches is owned by the people that run the animals on it, it’s fenced. You have a hundred percent control over that. In Montana, a lot of the bigger operations run on public lands, national forest, you know, bureau land management, state land, and they're herded, you know, so it's almost like an old world philosophy of because that country's not fenced for sheep and goats, that they'd have bands of sheep, you know, somewhere 600 to a thousand that would go into the mountains and someone with a couple guard dogs and a border colleague would go with them in some of the most beautiful scenic areas in the world, in my opinion.


Dr. Reid Redden (07:07):

And so that was life changing for me just because it was in such a different environment. After I finished my PhD at Montana, a job opportunity came in at North Dakota State. So I moved over to Fargo, was there for five years. We lived in Fargo for a while and then lived over in Minnesota. Very different style of sheep production. It's much more based around, you know, row crop farming. So most of the sheep folks were either corn or soybean farmers themselves or they were near that. And so they used a lot of those commodities. Very bitterly, cold winters and so the animals are being fed for a good part of the year. And so there's still some grazing that went involved, but you learn a lot more about, you know, nutritional management because you're supplying that nutrition to them versus them naturally grazing what's out there.


Dr. Reid Redden (08:02):

And so, you know, opportunity then came for me to move back to Texas. And so, you know, I did a kind of a big semicircle path across the western part of the U.S. and I'm back in Texas now. And those changes probably helped me be a better scientist, a better educator in Texas because you're not as closed into what you think has to be done, you see other opportunities around and taking those technologies and mindsets from different places. It was huge for me just to live in it and be immersed in it for quite a long time. Internationally, I had some opportunities to go overseas to Australia, New Zealand, and United Kingdom and parts of Africa and see how their sheep operations are done and even more different. So all of that is just you learn, I think people that are really good in the ranching community are good observers of animals of the lands of what's going on. And so those are key things in my life that that really helped me be a better person both professionally and personally.


Katy Starr (09:03):

Yeah, that's a lot of travel experience and kind of just understanding how things work in different parts of just the United States but then internationally as well. What was one of the most interesting things or takeaways that you had from some of your international visits that were different from, you know, your experience and things here in the states?


Dr. Reid Redden (09:23):

Australia and New Zealand are really big sheep producing countries or especially exporting countries because they produce way more than their population can consume. And so you hear about it, you read about it, how efficient they are, how big the operations are on not a near the size of footprint up here. And so learning to see that their environment is mostly temperate so it's not real high rainfall. We would have higher rainfall areas in the United States, but it's a temperate environment. Most of that rain comes in the winter and sheep and goats do great on cool season forages. So you know, rye grass and clovers, they're dominant native or improved grasses. And so that allows them to, you know, run 3, 4, 5 ewes to the acre and you know, have 10, 20,000 head sheep operations on ranches that are about the same size here that would have, you know, a 10th of that.


Dr. Reid Redden (10:19):

And so really interesting to see that, learn from it, see how we can use some of those technologies here. And we've definitely have some things but some things are just, you have to deal with what mother nature gives you and theirs is different from ours. United Kingdom's kind of the same way temperate environment. Africa, what was so interesting there is how their industries have not, or at least Ethiopia and Kenya where I visited, most of the sheep and goats were produced by small groups, 10, 20 head and families kept them in their yard at night, led them down the road out to different places that they grazed and just to see semis going down the road and a herd of sheep walking down the same road. And those sheep have trained not to go onto the road and go out into the fields. And so very, very interesting to see how things were done there.


Katy Starr (11:10):

Yeah. I'm curious to know the predator situation, not knowing exactly where, like in Ethiopia and in places that you were at, how was that situation handled for them considering some of the predator species that live there?


Dr. Reid Redden (11:26):

You know, the Ethiopia and Kenya were a little different. Maybe South Africa, Zimbabwe, some of those others would operate more like we do where the animals have free reign to go, you know, wherever on a ranch. And predators was definitely big issue that they would have there. We did go to one research ranch, and those animals were herded so someone walked with them out to the day and they grazed and at night took them back into the pens or kept them close by or something like that because if not, yeah the predators would just demolish them.


Katy Starr (11:55):

Yeah, I'm sure that's so interesting. Your experience, I think it has helped you become very well-rounded in what you teach and even research now because you've not only visited different places in the U.S., but you know some different countries and how everything is ran. So it's really, really fascinating. In all your time working with sheep and goats, what are some of the things that you most like about working with each of them and then what are some of your least favorite things about working with each of the species?


Dr. Reid Redden (12:26):

You know, most people that are small ruminant specialists are going to prefer one or the other. And I'm a sheep guy, I like sheep, it's kind of we grew up around both of them, but I like sheep. They're gregarious so they really want to be with each other. And if you understand that, they become very easy to manage. But if you try to, you know, think that they're going to think like a human or think like a cow or think like a horse, it becomes very difficult, and you beat your head against the wall. So I've always enjoyed them. I love dogs too. So I train herding dogs. We bond, it's not really training but you could call it training, I guess bond guardian dogs. So I like sheep and goats because dogs are so much a culture of that. My brother liked the cows more, he liked horses and so, you know, horses are a big component to beef cattle ranching and I like dogs. And so it was just a good fit for me. I enjoy them. I enjoy the diversity that they provide in range management because you know, goats eat what goats like to eat. Sheep are different from cows and so cattle's king in Texas and so most people have that mindset of cattle. And I love teaching people, look, if you use these small ruminants in combination with them, we can be better stewards of the land. We can, you know, we optimize the resources that we have to be able to feed and clothe the world.


Katy Starr (13:47):

What do you feel like, because you've spent, you know, outside of your time getting your education, you then went into the field of extension work and research and everything. What do you feel you have learned the most about your time working in extension and research?


Dr. Reid Redden (14:05):

I guess the biggest thing that I've learned working in this is, you know, how we have to work with mother nature, how we have to work with these natural systems. I think coming out of either undergraduate or graduate school, you're doing research projects so you're, you know, trying to prove that if you do something you're going to improve it. Often if that's not, you know, in, in hand in lockstep with the way mother nature is operating, you're unlikely to find anything, you know, just life changing. But if you're working with those, studying the past, you know, and sometimes we're correcting problems that we made into the past, you know we tried to make improvements and we did make an improvement in one area, but down the road we find out we probably did harm in another area. So how do we fix that and get the best of both worlds?


Dr. Reid Redden (15:02):

You know, parasite resistance would be kind of one of those. We had pharmaceutical products that could handle parasites and so we bred sheep and goats that would grow fast and produce a lot of meat or high-quality wool and we just drenched them if parasites were a problem. Well the drenches are no longer effective and so that's not a tool that's a hundred percent effective. So we have got to start going, well gosh, how did they do that before they had dewormers? And is there animals that are better at this? And so, and then learning the biological processes that control that so that we can manage it to optimize sheep's health and performance.


Katy Starr (15:42):

That's super interesting. What is the purpose or vision, I guess, of the Texas A&M AgriLife extension and research and how do your responsibilities kind of tie into that?


Dr. Reid Redden (15:56):

So our mission statement here is simple, it's ranching solutions. So our job is to try to conduct research and outreach programs that provide solutions to existing problems within the ranching community here. So, you know, I moved back to Texas in 2015, one of the biggest issues that was facing the industry was predation. We had to start thinking and looking at it a little bit differently. Historically, this region of the state had eradicated the coyote. With fewer sheep producers than there were in the past, coyotes have made their way back in feral pigs have made their way back in. So we really had paradigm shift in the way we looked at things because lethal control alone was not going to keep people in business. So, you know, we established a livestock guardian dog program where we research and put data behind how guardian dogs work and what we do and the environment that we put them in can set them up for better success and try to avoid some of the problem.


Dr. Reid Redden (16:57):

That’s not new, guardian dogs have been in the United States since the seventies. There really hadn't been a research program around it. So it was a lot of opinions and some of those were spot on and some of them were wrong. And so we kind of worked towards that. You know, range ecology is another big thing that we do here. Managing it so that we're using prescribed fire, we're using the appropriate stocking rates, rest rotation, the appropriate species in these rangelands so that the animals are healthy but the animals won't be healthy in a range setting if the range isn't healthy. And so that's a big part of it. And then I have a master's in reproductive physiology, a PhD in ruminant nutrition and the majority of research that I oversee is around predation and genetics.


Katy Starr (17:45):

That is so interesting. Not even quite really what you were studying.


Dr. Reid Redden (17:49):

No, not at all. But that was the need. And so, you know, we started seeing that there's genetic resistance within these breeds for parasites, specifically haemunchus contortus, which is the biggest problem for us in a warm environment. And our research program has proven that we can find that within breeds that weren't historically known for great at parasite management, but they are very adaptive to our environment. And so in the future we're going towards that and I'm really, really optimistic that it's going to help the ranchers, it's going to help the animals and we're not so reliant on pharmaceutical product to bail us out when we get into a parasite problem.


Katy Starr (18:28):

When you first came to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Research, was that something that already kind of was in place? Was the predator aspect the issue and then the parasite issue, things like that? Or how do you normally go about determining what specifically you're looking to research? Are you putting out surveys to different ranchers or how are you determining what you guys are going to be working on next?


Dr. Reid Redden (18:57):

It's a great question. We work a lot with the ranching community and we've built really good relationships with them. So they're constantly feeding us information as what problems and what solutions are working for them. But I also have an advisory council that's been put together that's very strategic about ranchers within different communities and different regions that we kind of serve. And then we go through sessions where they lay out what are the challenges that they see and prioritize those challenges. And then we build a strategic plan at the research center to try to work towards those challenges and how we prioritize time, labor, and money to get that done.


Katy Starr (19:35):

Right. You've been talking about how this hasn't, you haven't even been working and what your main education background is in, but what has been your favorite research project that you have been involved with or worked on so far in your career?


Dr. Reid Redden (19:58):

For me it's definitely the guardian dogs and the genetics for parasite resistance. I mean those predators, parasites and proper nutrition are the things that keep people in business. And so, you know, we have some really good people here that do most of the rangeland things and so I'm aware of it because they're scientists that we work with. But you know, the guard dog program was something that myself and some other members here got started whenever I moved here. The research center was using guardian dogs, but we didn't have a research program built around it. We had implemented guardian dogs because some of the researchers had experience with them and they needed them to do other genetics research and the ranching community was appreciative of the genetics research, but they really wanted to know about the guard dogs because that's what were their challenge was. And then Dr. Jake Thorne was a PhD student of mine, just graduated. His primary focus that we worked towards was increasing that parasite resistance and some of the publications that are coming out of that are extremely exciting because we're breeding the rambouillet sheep and the dorper, which are the two most common breeds here that have two to three times the resistance level than the average of others prior to doing this. And those genetics were out there, we just hadn't identified them. And now we're quantitatively identifying those animals and the predictions for that.


Katy Starr (21:26):

That's really, really cool. I love that. We talked a little bit about, you know, Texas kind of being a cattle state, but how has the population of sheep and goats changed over the last 10, 15 years and then even over the past few decades? Because while in Texas, cattle is king, you guys have a lot of sheep and goats there more than anywhere else.


Dr. Reid Redden (21:51):

We're the top sheep producing state with about three quarters of a million sheep in the state. California would be second behind us. And then we're the number one goat state. And then if you look at the metrics, we have more goats than the next top 10 states combined. So Texas is a dominant, and it's based off our environment. We have a lot of brush and goats do well on brush. And so, this environment keeps our goat population up, but it's not near where it was in the fifties, you know, going way back, that was probably the high point. And they're 10 million sheep and probably 10 million goats at that time. And those were, you know, fine wool sheep and Angora goats. Angora goats produced mohair. And so we are a fiber-oriented state, now we're, you know, probably 10th of that.


Dr. Reid Redden (22:43):

But things have changed. And in recent years there's a lot of excitement, especially around the hair sheep industry. Dorpers started coming in here about 20 years ago and now maybe 90% of our sheep industry is based around dorper influence. We call them hair sheep. Really they shed whatever wool they grow or they just grow straight hair so they don't need shearing. They're a smaller animal, you know, they come from Africa, a very similar environment. So they thrive in it. They do quite well and there's a whole lot less labor in it. And that's one of the biggest challenges in ranching in these desert environments is labor. And sheep and goats are higher labor than cattle are. So you want to try to find that breed that has the least amount in it because people love it, but they just can't, you know, be everywhere all the time.


Katy Starr (23:34):

And so kind of going into I guess, ruminant species, we've talked, you know, a little bit about sheep and goats, but maybe a little bit about what makes them different and unique. So what are some of the differences between ruminants and non-ruminants and then even more so the differences between the smaller ruminant species like sheep and goats and you know, this can be their digestive makeup, the way they're managed, anything like that?


Dr. Reid Redden (24:00):

Well, I mean the biggest thing is around their digestive makeup because that dictates how they're managed. Sheep, goats, cattle, any of their ruminants, they have a different digestive system. They have four stomachs. Their last stomach is kind of like our stomach, the first stomach, you know, you say first, second, but they have a rumen and that's the biggest stomach. Within that rumen, there's billions of microbes that live in there. And those microbes digest fiber sources. So the grass that they eat, the hay that you provide to them. And so they take energy and a carbohydrate that humans or most monogastrics cannot use as a feed resource. And those microbes, you know, break that down into volatile fatty acids and that's what they live off of. That's where their energy comes from. They take something that's inedible and turn it into an edible product, you know, the end product of whether that's, you know, lamb or goat or a fiber source, wool or mohair.


Dr. Reid Redden (24:58):

And then, you know, one of the other beautiful parts of that is those microbes do pass through that rumen and then move into the small intestine and then the animals take advantage of that and that's where a lot of their protein source comes from. And so that digestive makeup then allows them to run on these semi-arid rangelands that we're in, in this time of year. They're eating a lot of cool season grasses and weeds. And in the summer it's going to be more of a grass-based diet. That's ruminants. Small ruminants, the way their body digests these dictates their preference. So a cow is going to eat, you know, let's just roughly say a cow's going to eat, 80% of its diet is grass, maybe more, a sheep is going to eat 60% of its diet in grass and then probably 30% of its diet in weeds, which technically that's the wrong thing.


Dr. Reid Redden (25:52):

Weed is a plant out of place. They're really broad leaf plants. And so they're going to seek those out and they have the ability to either digest them that a cow doesn't because it's got something in there or they can pick with their mouth, small parts of that plant that are digestible and avoid the things that aren't as good for them. And so that allows them to eat and they can get a little closer to the ground because their mouth's smaller, they're real selective about it. And then a 10% of a sheep’s diet is going to be browsing, whereas a goat is going to eat closer to 40% of its diet and browse. So browse being the leaves, fruits or shoots from a woody plant. And we have plenty of brush around here, which are woody plants. And so goats are going to really be selective about that. You know, there's the misnomer that a goat will eat anything. No, that's not true. They need a really high-quality diet and they're always investigating different things to find that high-quality browse. And then they're going to eat probably 40% grass and maybe 20% forbs like sheep do. So they have some dietary overlap, but then there are some dietary things that a sheep eat that neither a goat or cow will or a goat will eat that neither a sheep or a cow will.


Katy Starr (27:08):

Yeah, I think if we could just have a closeup of any of these species’ mouths, right? Horses, cattle, sheep, goats and just watching how they physically actually grasp whatever they're trying to consume. And then again the differences right between grasses, broadleaf plants and the more woody shrubs and stuff like that. It's very interesting to see how they all kind of have their place in what they do and what they like to consume.


Dr. Reid Redden (27:36):

People think I'm weird, I just go sit outside and watch animals eat. It gives me a peace of mind, but I'm also learning, I'm watching what they're eating at different times of the year.


Katy Starr (27:44):

That's another aspect of it rather than just the, yeah, enjoyment. I don't know. I know a lot of horse people like, I mean you go out there and you just hear them like munching on hay or I saw this, I don't remember if it was a meme or a post or something one time where it talks about how sometimes to some people like when people chew with their mouth open, how annoying it can be, but they have their horse chewing their hay and it's the best sound in the world to them. And I thought that was really funny. I was like, you know, there's something to that really. But I think that just goes, you know, along with the, the people that just have the passion for the animals and usually people that love animals so much maybe don't like humans as much. You talked a little bit about how each of them, you know, graze and what they choose to, you know, consume and things like that. But from kind of an ecological standpoint, you know, we're constantly looking at ways to do a better job with the land to improve sustainability. And you've talked a little bit about sustainability previously, but how can we use different species to improve the health of our private and public lands?


Dr. Reid Redden (28:52):

It's going to be really important that if you have a really diverse environment generally requires more diverse animals within that environment to sustain it at one level. And so, you know, in our region we grow some grass, but then we grow weeds and we grow browse. And so for just running any one species, let's just say beef cattle, they're going to graze that grass and to protect that grass, it thrives from some grazing. But if it is not allowed rest, you know, we need rain and then we need rest, a period for that grass to regrow, put carbohydrates back into its roots, you know, create solar panels. Essentially a leaf is a solar panel that's taking that energy and putting it into it, go to seed at some point in time so it can reproduce. If you don't allow that to happen, those grasses that the cows are going to prefer are going to go away.


Dr. Reid Redden (29:49):

And so we, whereas if you had sheep, goats and cows, cows are going to eat some of the grass, so are the sheep and the goats, but those sheep are going to hit the weeds that the cows avoid and the goats are going to graze the browse that the sheep and the cows avoid. And so it sustains that ecosystem and there's diversity in that ecosystem because of whatever soil types, you know, some of our soils are just rocks and so we need plants that grow within those rocks and learn to thrive through it. And so it's just important to understand what they're eating, you know, that take half, leave half philosophy of what you have. And then, you know, rest rotation. Our research center is really big on prescribed fire. Some people, they're here big in it. Some of the founders of prescribed fire in this region worked here and have retired.


Dr. Reid Redden (30:40):

And so, you know, that's even another aspect of we can graze it, but then we need to grow a certain amount of it that stays there, that becomes fuel to carry a fire and that fire is going to help us control things that even the sheep, goats or cows wouldn’t consume and then restart that system so that it cycles nutrients and puts it back in. And so it's a complex thing. I did not come from a range background. I wish I had spent more time as a kid studying range and took some more collegiate classes for it because it is the most important component to sustainable ranching is managing those rangelands.


Katy Starr (31:17):

Well sometimes it's almost like once you get into something to kind of like your career path, you don't always know what you're going to need to get there. And so kind of learning how to work those things in and get a better understanding of how it benefits, you know, the species that you're raising and then the land that you're, you know, trying to sustain and make sure that it's there for you the next year and the next year. And even for future generations that are going to be utilizing that as well. One thing that I find really interesting is how popular it's become to utilize goats in different like grazing methods I guess, in putting them places that you know, other species can't go or to help with, I don't know if you want to say weed management or weed control in things like that. How much of that do you see there in Texas?


Dr. Reid Redden (32:11):

We're seeing more of, you know, what we call kind of targeted grazing or prescribed grazing within urban spaces where they're coming in and reducing fire mitigation in an area where it's very difficult to mow it or people just want animals there versus mowers. So we're seeing some of that, but that's nothing new. I mean meat goats and Angoras to some degree were a part of the ranching culture in the late 1800s whenever people started, you know, establishing ranches, of course a diverse amount of livestock were coming in with the missionaries and stuff. But for our region, the late 1800s is whenever most of these ranches were settled and they had meat goats even though they weren't very valuable at the time, they saw their value in managing the brush and keeping the brush knocked back. Because that's the biggest problem we have with our rangelands.


Dr. Reid Redden (33:02):

They're converting from a grassland savannah into a woody a brush woods and you know, that's due to, you know, several things. It's, you know, overgrazing of livestock and running too many of those, it's, you know, new brush species have come in, lack of fire. A lot of things have led to that. And so, you know, proper management can sustain where we're at now and maybe even change it to where it was before. But these rangelands are ever changing. I don't think there's ever a static time. So that's an important thing to put into the concepts as well.


Katy Starr (33:40):

Yeah, for sure. And I don't know how much you've personally worked on it, but I know Texas A and M is involved with a program called “The Prairie Project” and I saw a video that they had put out the other day, which I, maybe the other day, I think it was a few months ago. But I thought it was really interesting and I was hoping that you could share a little bit about the GOAT Pro, but then also what is the Prairie Project and kind of what are their goals with that?


Dr. Reid Redden (34:07):

So “The Prairie Project” is a grant funded project that is multi-state. So it's Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and there's research and there's outreach components to that. And most of it in Texas is taking place here at our research center. So we operate four different ranches in this region and three of those have research projects that are funded by “The Prairie Project.” The main thing is they're really to kind of simplify it down is it's a research project to look at prescribed fire and multi-species grazing’s effect on rangeland habitat. They look at it in different ways at different parts of the ranch and it's kind of different research studies that are all around that. And then there's an outreach component. The video you saw was, was produced by Oklahoma State and so they did, they put a GoPro on a goat, so they had the GOAT pro and it's a great educational tool.


Dr. Reid Redden (35:05):

So because they identify each species of plant as they're eating it. And so a lot of those plants, and Oklahoma's a big beef cattle state as well, you know, so you can just see the plants that are concerning. Whether that’s sericea lespedeza or some other weeds, those goats are targetively going after those plants and picking them out and eating them. And so that's much more sustainable way of managing those because you have an animal doing a job for you that you're going to market a product from versus it spending money on, you know, herbicide or chemical or mechanical control. And then, you know, also looking at how fire and goats helps in that tool or in that management process.


Katy Starr (35:51):

Yeah, that was such an interesting viewpoint to see because they had put the GoPro on the goat's horns and so every time it went to take a bite of a plant you could actually see which plant that they were choosing to eat. And I don't know that anybody else has done something like that with other species or anything. I don't know if how easily you could, especially like how you would strap it on, but it teaches you so much about that species and what they choose, when they have opportunity, when they have different, you know, plants and availability and things like that, what they're actually choosing to consume and then how you use that to your advantage in different situations. That was one of the coolest things I've seen in a while. So I really liked that. And then getting into more of the nutrition side, you know, taking you back to your education there. I know this depends on, you know, life stage and how they're being used, but can you share feeding requirements and some examples of like a nutrition program for sheep and then also how they can kind of vary. Just a few examples.


Dr. Reid Redden (36:59):

Teaching nutrition in a 10 minute part of a podcast is near impossible. But you know, to me it really it boils down to they need the same nutrients that we do, maybe at different quantities, but it's energy, protein, minerals, water. The beauty of them as being ruminants, if they're in a grazing system most of the time, they're designed, their nutrient requirements are designed to match what grazing plants they have out there and they're going to select those plants to try to meet those requirements. And so there's going to be times of the year whenever, you know, say it's in the winter time or for us when it gets really hot and dry that those plants, whatever plants that they're consuming don't meet their nutritional requirements. And so at that point we would provide some level of supplementation, a concentrate, maybe a hay. They may need additional protein than what's available to them.


Dr. Reid Redden (38:00):

And so that's the true art of ranching is identifying when they have deficiencies and economically meeting those nutritional deficiencies. Most people, even the ranch community don't know exactly what it is. So they're going to consult a nutritionist who's then going to make a best guess because unless that's a hay that you can test and determine, you don't know exactly what it is. When we have, you know, confinement based operations, that's a little bit more straightforward because we can sample the hay, send it to a lab, they can tell you what, you know, the fiber component, the energy protein minerals are, and then balance a diet to that. Most people are purchasing supplemental feeds, whether they're pelletized or texture feeds, that is a best guess for that region. From a, if they're supplementing energy and protein and then, you know, at the same time minerals for doing supplemental minerals, some regions are known to be, you know, short on phosphorus.


Dr. Reid Redden (39:04):

So you know, phosphorus dealers or mineral dealers in that area are going to have more phosphorus, less calcium. We put animals into a confinement operation, it's total opposite. Generally, we're feeding a lot of grains to them or grain byproducts which are really high in phosphorus and low in calcium. And then if we feed them a mineral with high phosphorus, we can run into urinary calculi problems. And so you have to balance those out. Copper is another one. You know, sheep can be a little sensitive to too much copper and so the amount of copper in a goat diet or a cattle diet can lead to toxicity effects in sheep diets. And so it's important that people understand those as they do it. I will say that I think people are too afraid to feed a little bit of copper to sheep. And so we have some copper deficiencies in sheep.


Dr. Reid Redden (39:53):

And so where we see copper problems is generally in a total diet that's made for a goat or a cow, not supplemental feed or minerals that are fed to sheep that were designed for a goat or a cow. There's just not enough copper in there. And we actually do research using copper oxide wire particle boluses as a treatment to sheep to manage parasites and it's very effective. And so a lot of people just like, oh my god, you're giving sheep copper, you're going to kill them all. I'm like, no, we're giving them an amount that's about 20% of what we know is a toxicity level and it kills 99% of the parasites. So we definitely need to do that. So I've rambled here a little bit.


Katy Starr (40:36):

This was really good and actually I'm glad you brought up the part about the boluses that you guys were working with because when I was prepping for this interview, I saw that and I was like, I had to do a double take because I was like, wait, that said copper on there. And I was like, that doesn't seem right. But then when I read through what you were talking about, it made a whole lot more sense. But that just kind of goes to show just how much sometimes when you can, you know, be wary of something or have a concern about something, it can almost go so much in the opposite, like the further direction that it creates a fear in people that they're like, oh you know, we can't even touch that now. But then it's just more of a, I think of a misunderstanding of how all of that works. And so I was glad when I read that and then when you brought that up I was like, it's funny that you mentioned that because that was my initial, I was like really .


Dr. Reid Redden (41:24):

It was very interesting. I had a rancher bring me some old materials from his dad. There was an extension publication on parasites and sheep and goats that was produced in the 1930s at our research center in Sonora that was established in 1919. It's one of the best publications that I've ever read. And the treatment at that time for sheep and goats for parasites was copper sulfate. Like that's all they had at that time. And so, you know, that was in the heyday. So there was millions of sheep that were getting this. They weren't all dying or we would've known about it.


Katy Starr (42:00):

Right. And I don't know that most people are really feeding sheep in that way, but then when you accidentally like get the wrong type of feed where there's a significant more amount of copper in it than you would ever see in anything for sheep and then it ends kind of in a really bad way that, that catches fire really quickly around I think communities that are involved with that and makes it fly really fast. So that is interesting, very interesting. And I'm sure a lot of the stuff you initially spoke about with the nutrition and diet similar for goats, but how can that be different with the nutrient requirements for them or how you would need to, you know, feed goats in maybe some different situations?


Dr. Reid Redden (42:43):

You know, the minerals is a part of it but most of the time when we're providing feed stuff, especially if it's coming out of a feed bag or it's been manufactured so it's concentrate, it's going to be a highly digestible, so sheep, goats, cows, horses, you know, humans to that degree can process some of these grains. Of course we cook ours because we can't process them in a raw state. But so that's not the biggest one for me when I'm talking about people having sheep and goats, it's more on the hay side. So they need at least 30% of their diet to come from a roughage source to maintain normal rumen function. And so it kind of comes to a cost comparison. How do we keep our animals healthy? Do we feed them more concentrate or more hay? And if we're feeding hay, you have to think of it the same thing that cows can digest low quality hay, a sheep can do an okay job of it but not great and then a goat's really bad at it.


Dr. Reid Redden (43:38):

So if we're feeding hay, we need things that are highly digestible for goats. So one of the popular types of hay in our region would be hay grazer or wheat hay. Everything loves alfalfa. But when we get into like bermuda grass hay or bahia grass or orchard grass, some of these native or improved grasses or even native grasses, if they get real mature before they're cut harvested and baled, that's not a good feed resource for sheep and goats. They just don't have the rumen mechanics to digest low quality feed like a cow does. And so I think that's one of the important things that people need to put into mind. But you can't just say don't feed sheep and goats bermuda grass hay because if it's cut before 30 days of growth and it's well taken care of, it can be great feed but most people are going to let it get 45 or 60 days of maturity because they get a lot more tons out of it. And that's just not good for sheer goats.


Katy Starr (44:36):

Yeah, I guess it just depends on what your end goal is there with the product, right?


Dr. Reid Redden (44:41):

And so you can have it tested and try to educate yourself or work with a nutritionist to figure out is this NDF level, ADF level going to be good for sheep or goats or you can buy a little bit of it and put it out there and if they readily consume it and they look good and they're healthy, it's probably good for them.


Katy Starr (44:59):

So from your personal experience with raising sheep and goats and then also in your professional career and we talked about, you know, a couple issues that you guys see there in Texas, so this might be the same, maybe it's different when you're kind of thinking about all your experiences, but what are some of the most common things that sheep and goat owners struggle with?


Dr. Reid Redden (45:21):

I kind of said it before, parasites, predator and proper nutrition. So you know, predators pretty straightforward. You know, an animal killing your animal's a bad thing. We have to prevent that. Parasites becomes a little bit more challenging because it's seasonal, it affects lactating females and young growing lambs or kids fairly heavily. And so we have to manage those. But from a nutrition standpoint, I think the biggest thing that people struggle with sheep and goats is they are a boom or bust nutrition management because their gestation is only five months and their lactation is really only about heavy lactation for about two months. And most of the growth of gestation happens in the last month. Three months of the year, they're going to need probably 50% more calories than they do the other nine months. And if they're lactating or gestating twins, we might need twice the protein during those three months than the rest of the year.


Dr. Reid Redden (46:27):

And so understanding when you're trying to get your nutrition right, you have to start with what age class of animal am I working with? You know, is it a late pregnant female who's growing 30 pounds of lamb in her belly and she's also trying to eat low-quality feed and it's all, you know, competing for space or is she lactating where she can eat more but I've got really high energy and protein requirements because she's trying to, you know, lactate for two lambs and fight parasites at the same time, which is an immunological response that requires protein. And so getting that nutrition right during late gestation and lactation is imperative to getting good sheep and goat management. Now that doesn't mean to say that your feed has to change completely or you just feed twice as much during that season. That might be it. You know, you can feed excess to animals and get them in better body condition going into those critical stages, I highly recommend that. Not too much body condition but really good body condition going into that. And then you’ve got a little bit more flexibility and they can maybe be slightly above or below their nutrient plane and they'll be okay. But if they come in thin and you feed them poorly, it is a train wreck.


Katy Starr (47:46):

Yeah, it's like a major uphill battle from there trying to recover. Yeah, for sure. That makes a lot of sense. If you were to give some advice to someone wanting to get into raising sheep or goats, you know, especially with goats, it seems over the last few years has been a growing trend on smaller scale maybe backyard type of situations. But what would you share with them to kind of give them some confidence to have a good start?


Dr. Reid Redden (48:14):

I’m an extension specialist so I’m going to say it always depends and it depends on what your goals are, but I think it's really important to understand that. And so first, like how much land do you have? If you have two acres and you want to run a hundred sheep or goats, they're going to be stacked over the top of each other and nothing's going to grow. So let's make sure that we have the land space to either grow the forage for them and then also, you know, it's enough space that they can exhibit their normal behaviors and be healthy. And so you see a lot where there's just too many animals in an area and then it becomes where we're just buying feed all the time and then you're losing money because you're not going to be able to market an animal at the same value of what the feed is if it's all in confinement for the most part, there's some people that can pull that off and that's detailed and then it's still a volume business, but do you have enough land?


Dr. Reid Redden (49:05):

And then what are your goals? You know, I have sheep and goats on a small place because I love it and I, that's all I can afford to buy. You know, we also manage big country for the research side, but it's a part of my lifestyle and I recognize that if I get back what I put into it independent of my labor and the overhead, that's a win. And so if that's your goals, then we can come up with a plan and it can be very successful. If your goal is to make a lot of money at it, you need a lot of assets to get started. So you need to buy a lot of land, you have to have infrastructure and trucks and trailers and the livestock themselves are expensive and so let's make sure we're realistic whenever we step into this and we're getting them.


Dr. Reid Redden (49:47):

And then can we keep them healthy based on what we know, the people that we have, the feed resources that we can get to because you know, it's not going to be pretty if we can't keep them healthy with that. So that's the kind of the place that I start with most people asking that question. And then we start figuring out, okay, this is how many animals I should have. Especially if they want to run them on a ranch, you know, in our region you might need five acres for every ewe so that she's getting, you know, 80, 90% of her feed resources from the land. And that's a huge investment in East Texas where it's high rainfall, it might be three acres to the sheep. So you can't tell people this is how many acres you need because environment's totally different.


Dr. Reid Redden (50:35):

But getting your stocking rate right, getting a management plan, you know, who's going to be there to help you. If you didn't grow up in this, it's not easy and you have to really understand the animals and the environment. And so, you know, having some mentors that are in the business that have successfully raised sheep for quite a while, some support with a veterinarian, a nutritionist, you know, the extension office can be very helpful if that's, you know, a commodity region. So you are probably looking for a more specific answer, but I don't want to mislead your audience and give something that makes people lead to bad decisions.


Katy Starr (51:11):

I think it's a great answer. I mean that's why we have this right? We want to be real and before you get into any of this kind of stuff you can have an interest in it and everything, but you kind of have to do your due diligence with it as well and make sure that you're prepared and set up and you know, and I think the mentor thing is really key though to it as well because my other co-host Dr. Cubitt who's on here frequently talking about equine nutrition, she talks all the time about how important it is to have a team and your team is going to be made up of your veterinarian, a nutritionist, you know, possibly a trainer, farrier, and extension. Like extension works into that as well because that's the whole goal of extension, right? Is just looking to be able to be a resource for those out there that are out there living this lifestyle and doing this and trying to make ends meet because it is the lifestyle but you guys look for the problems and try to, you know, put that research to work to see how, you know, you can be solution driven there for you know, the livestock owners.


Katy Starr (52:17):

And so I think that team aspect is really critical in making sure that you can, not fall flat on your face if you're wanting to go into an endeavor like this, because it is a big undertaking, especially when you talk about how it is a little bit more labor intensive to do sheep and goats than it would be to do cattle or you know, horses or anything like that. So yeah, I think it was great. And then kind of as we wrap this episode up based off of you know, what we discussed today, are there any, so do you have a few takeaways that you would like to leave our listeners with today?


Dr. Reid Redden (52:51):

If the listeners are really interested in getting into sheep and goats, I think it's important that, again, a lot of the nutrition stuff we talked about, but it's also very important to get the right animal. Not all sheep are the same. Some sheep love the desert and they grow one of the most wonderful fibers in the world. But if you put that sheep in a high rainfall environment, the wool's going to rot, it's going to turn yellow, they're going to have hoof problems and parasites are going to wear them out. And so you have to get that right animal. I see so many people, they find a breed they like and then they buy them, regardless if that's the right environment they need to be in or not. Now you know, if you can barn them and keep everything control that environment, yes you can make that happen. But if you want them to live in their natural habitat and their natural landscape, it's important to find that right animal for the environment. Let them be the animal that they were designed to be. The more you try to control everything, the more problems that you'll have to work through because not everything's going to be in balance.


Katy Starr (53:54):

Yeah, it creates more work. The more naturally I think you can do things in what you know there intended to be, how they're intended to work and do the things that they do, I think is better for them. Makes your life a little bit easier than creating more problems. But that's a great piece of advice though, making sure that you take that into consideration, because sometimes I think people get really excited about how cute something can look sometimes and so we just have to make sure we're realistic about it. But yeah, that was fantastic.


Dr. Reid Redden (54:26):

Kind as I'm thinking on this, I'm like, I might be sounding pessimistic and running people out of getting into the sheep industry. I wanted to be realistic about it, but there is a lot of opportunity. I mean America imports almost twice as much lamb as we consume in the United States. And you know, as an American I, you know, in Texan you kind of want to be proud that you're self-reliant and so we need more people to get into this business to meet the demands that we have domestically. And so I'm really optimistic about that. I mean, in the last 15 years, I think lamb consumption in the United States went from 0.8 pounds per person to year to like 1.6. So it's demand is doubled in the last 15 years. And so there's real opportunity for people to get in it for lamb, and goats even higher to sail barn goats always are king because there's a lack of supply for that demand. And so I do encourage people they're interested in it. There's, there's real opportunity to be sustainable at it and to meet demands for an agricultural product that we're not hitting the mark on right now.


Katy Starr (55:37):

Excellent. Dr. Redden, how can our listeners stay connected with you after this episode?


Dr. Reid Redden (55:42):

Sure. We have social media channels. Facebook is our probably our biggest channel that we put content on. It's Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Sheep and Goats. We have a YouTube channel, it's Sheep and Goats at Texas A&M AgriLife where we've put up a lot of videos about sheep and goat management. My colleague Jake Thorne has a podcast ASI Research Update. It's a monthly podcast on sheep. And then if you really want to engage one-on-one, the absolute best thing is to come to the Texas Sheep and Goat Expo. It is August 16th, 17th here in San Angelo. It's our signature event for the year. We'll have three, four dozen speakers, day and a half of education. So you not only learn stuff, but you can also interact with others and build that network that we talked about earlier.


Katy Starr (56:30):

That's excellent. And we'll be sure to include all of that in our show notes just so it's easy for our listeners to be able to do that and find that information. Dr. Redden, thank you so much for being here today. And to our listeners, if you have any topic ideas that you would like us to talk about more throughout this year, please feel free to reach out to us at And thanks for being here today, Dr. Redden. We appreciate your time.


Dr. Reid Redden (56:57):

My pleasure.


Katy Starr (56:59):

Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.


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