Sheep Teaching & Research Center

at Michigan State University

Farm Manager

Tristan Foster

Operations Supervisor

Wes Mays

Faculty Coordinator

Dr. Richard Ehrhardt

Location

3885 Hagadorn Road
Okemos, MI 48864
715-892-1079

The main headquarters is located on Bennett Rd west of Hagadorn Road. This site houses the newly constructed lambing facility.  The older barns located off of Hagadorn Road are used for feed storage, ram housing, and additional pens to house weaned lambs or replacement ewe lambs.

Visitor Information

At this time, our farm is closed to visitors.

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About the Center

Mission

The Sheep Teaching and Research Center provides students at Michigan State University with the opportunity to work with the sheep maintained on campus, for classes, livestock evaluation, undergraduate work and research and also graduate experience through research.

Facility Description

The Sheep Teaching and Research Center (MSU STRC) employees students who use this opportunity to gain experience in all aspects of sheep management and research activities ongoing at the unit.  The unit has recently adopted the accelerated lambing system which enables the farm to have 3 lambing seasons throughout the year.

The sheep unit encompasses 90 acres of land on South Campus including approximately 85 acres of pasture. The barn on Hagadorn Road houses 8 animal pens, feed storage and handling facilities. Often this is where the fertile rams are housed, weaned lambs, and potential replacement ewe lambs.

The MSU STRC is a commercial sheep-based operation utilizing mostly Dorset and Polypay sheep cross in two different flocks.  These two breeds offer genetics to support an accelerated lambing system where ewes are asked to breed out of cycle and produce lambs 3 times in two years (approximately every 8 months).  Because the unit lambs every 4 months, students have the opportunity throughout the year to learn about sheep production and lambing on a regular basis.  All lambing is conducted in the newly constructed barn off Bennett Road.

The accelerated lambing program is a more intensive production system for the ewes than most convention sheep flocks.  Because of this, more energy is required by the animals that reside at the MSU STRC to maintain their reproductive status and therefore a total mixed ration (TMR) is offered to ewes that are lambing or lactating a daily basis.  Ewes that have recently weaned their lambs and are in their breeding season may be found grazing on spring, summer, or fall pastures.  When pasture is no longer available, harvested forages (alfalfa and grass hays, alfalfa haylage) are used as the primary dietary ingredients. Ewes are continually supplied with a salt and mineral supplement to meet their remaining dietary requirements. Lambs receive a complete dietary combination of grains, forages and supplements to meet their nutritional requirements for the desired level of performance.

Sheep maintained at the Research and Teaching Center meet or exceed all guidelines for animal care as defined by national, state and university specifications.

Animals Inventory and Production

The MSU STRC is comprised of two different flocks of approximately 125 Polypay by Dorset cross ewes in each group. Our focus is on commercial meat production utilizing the accelerated lambing program.

Selection criteria within the flocks are based off structure, reproduction, and overall health or longevity.  In addition, all flocks have production goals of conception rates > 90 % and lambing rates > 180 % (per ewe exposed).

Sheep Research Activities

A variety of research projects relevant to enhancing sheep production are conducted at the Research and Teaching Unit. Projects studying milk production and the efficiency of nutrient utilization by the lactating ewe are conducted to more accurately define nutritional demands of ewes rearing multiple births. These same studies also provide valuable information on suckling lamb growth parameters. Feeding ewes to optimize milk production and lamb growth are the fundamental objectives of these trials that are immediately applicable to the industry. Feeding lambs from weaning to market weight is another area of research in which different dietary treatments are evaluated for their effect on performance and carcass composition. Monitoring feed intakes and weight changes allows for diet comparisons prior to collection of carcass data which includes information on rib eye area, carcass lean, carcass fat, fatty acid composition of depot fats, quality grade and yield grade. Applications of findings to production settings often include economic evaluations to determine feasibility in current market situations.

Personnel

The MSU Sheep Teaching and Research Center has four full time employees.  Mr. Tristan Foster is the Farm Manager. A native of Minocqua, Wisconsin; Tristan graduated from MSU in 2010 with a degree in Food Industry Management, specializing in Agricultural Business Management. Before becoming Manager, Tristan was the Assistant Farm Manager while working on his MS degree at Michigan State University. Tristan is also the Farm Manager for the MSU Beef Cow/Calf Teaching and Research Center, MSU Beef Cattle Teaching and Research Center, and the MSU Veterinary Teaching and Research Center. Tristan oversees the various day to day operations at all four farm units.  While employed at MSU, Tristan obtained his Master of Science degree in beef cattle studying traceability in the beef industry. Aside from his responsibilities at Michigan State University, he also assists in the management of approximately 18,000 acres of grazing land which can sustain up 600 cow/calf pairs, and 2,000 acres of forage/grain production on their family ranch in central Montana.

Mr. Wesley Mays is the Operational Supervisor and works closely with the Farm Manager, students, researchers and staff to coordinate and facilitate the daily functions and mission objectives.  A native of Dansville, Michigan; Wes graduated from Lansing Community College with a degree in welding and fabrication. 

The MSU Sheep Teaching and Research employees approximately 4 or more students each semester who complete much of the day-to-day animal care across the four farm units. Students interested in working at the MSU Sheep Teaching and Research Center are encouraged to contact Tristan Foster.