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Ontario Develops
Goat Research Center

By Alan Harman

A Center of Excellence for Goat Research and Innovation has begun work in Ontario, Canada, aimed at fostering new opportunities for growth and development in the sector. The center is backed by the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster, Ontario Goat Breeders Association (Ontario Goat), the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative, Trent University, and the University of Guelph. It will use input from researchers and industry stakeholders to identify key issues to focus on. So far these include industry sustainability, market responsiveness, animal health, product development, basic research and genetics.

Ontario Goat executive director Jennifer Haley.

According to a printed statement from the innovation cluster, the vision of the center is to promote the growth and competitiveness of the goat and small ruminant sectors by servicing consumer demands for consistent, quality products in the market place. The center will facilitate the co-ordination of research activities in the goat sector and will enable economics research to support the industry’s competitiveness and sustainability.

Research will be undertaken by Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, and the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, while activities will be coordinated at the innovation cluster.

It is anticipated that, as partnerships are established, additional research locations will become involved.

Ontario Goat executive director Jennifer Haley said the center doesn’t have a physical location and is more a collaboration between the partners.

"The industry has grown to the point where it needs these types of resources," she said. "We need to get ourselves together, unite and come together with common goals."

Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster president & CEO Andy Mitchell said creation of the center, which will be coordinated between the two universities, made it an exciting day for the goat industry.

"The impacts of the research that will be conducted through the centre are expected to have global implications," Mitchell said. "Through leading edge research in key areas of activity the center will support the industry’s competitiveness and sustainability."

Haley said the Canadian goat industry views the incorporation of the center as a huge step in the right direction.

"There is so much potential for all involved in the goat industry and this type of initiative is another important milestone in building a solid foundation towards realizing the full potential of goat milk, meat and other related products," she said.

The center will launch the Ontario and Canadian industry into several very significant opportunities.

Production-driven research will help producers and processors to become more competitive in home and export markets.

Canadian goat farms will be supported by new research and profitability studies, made feasible by the new center. Photos by Kendra Keels

The market for milk, meat and food products is becoming better served through raw material quality and finished product positioning. As the special properties of goat milk and meat are exploited for positive human health benefits, the contributions made by genetics to these breakthroughs will provide the foundation for a worldwide export market for breeding stock and genetic materials.

Trent University manager of corporate research partnerships John Knight said he was surprised by how little formal study was being done on the goat in Canada.

"The raising of these animals is all by art as opposed to science and there’s very little research being done on the products that goats produce," he said.

Knight told reporters the university would use its DNA and genetics laboratories to analyze goat milk and a new masters program in sustainability studies to assist the goat center.

"There are a lot of issues that require some research on how to create better farming practices," he said. "Goat milk has a lot of health benefits."

Trent and the University of Guelph are developing a research collaboration agreement.

Haley said the center would take advantage of the different laboratories and researchers at the two universities.

"It’s using existing resources and it’s focusing them into the research priorities," she said. "They’re already looking at the properties of goat milk, they’re already looking at the different animal diseases that impact goats."

There are about 2,000 goat farmers in Ontario that produce milk, meat and fiber.

Chantelle Held of the Centre of Excellence said the aim is to promote the growth and competitiveness of the goat and small ruminant sectors by servicing consumer demands for consistent, quality products in the marketplace.

She said with the industry growing significantly in Ontario, the time was right to launch a center.

"We need that research to stand behind," she said.

Lloyd Wicks of Ontario Goat called creation of the center a great first step for the industry.

"With more than 800 million goats worldwide, that’s 800 million reasons for us to get on with the business of research in this industry," he said.

New opportunities for national and international collaboration will only move that industry forward.

"We have a great product and we’re going to make it a lot greater," he said.

That’s where Trent and Guelph can play a valuable role, he said.

Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative official Lisa Thompson said the center would help drive the dairy, meat and fiber industry forward in Ontario.

"We need this in terms of the research and the news that will garner more awareness and profile for Ontario’s goat industry and throughout Canada," she said.

Creation of the center follows a report released in 2009 that said such an initiative was both timely and feasible.

The report said there are an estimated 270 dairy herds in Ontario with farm gate sales of C$25 million annually. Central Ontario accounts for about 25 percent of the milk produced.

It said opportunities to develop the industry are growing as Ontario’s population expands with recent immigrants who are predisposed to consuming goat products, such as milk and meat.

Owen Roberts, who teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph, wrote in the local newspaper there is no doubt in Ontario agriculture, 2010 was the Year of the Goat.

"Ontario farmers are catching up with the rest of the world by discovering the virtues of goats as livestock," he said.

"Goats don’t require as much land, feed or water. They can produce meat and milk; the latter makes superb high-protein, low-fat chévre cheese that’s become trendy and highly sought by well-heeled North Americans. In fact, some of the best goat milk cheese is made locally."

Meantime, in another announcement during Ontario Goat’s 5th annual international goat symposium in Stratford, Ont., federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz approved about C$700,000 (US$676,375) in program funding to get an integrated dairy goat genetic improvement program under way.

The GoGen pilot project, to be overseen by Guelph-based Ontario Goat, will help the industry make genetic improvements to increase milk production and improve meat quality through superior genetics.

The funds will also be used to update, modify and bring efficiencies to goat genetic tools that are already provided to the dairy cattle industry.

The three-year program will involve 15 pilot goat farms. They’ll work on developing superior genetics, production and management activities that can be adopted by goat milk producers.

Member of Parliament Gary Schellenberger said the goat industry represents one of the largest growth opportunities in Ontario agriculture today.

"This project has great potential to help goat producers become more profitable, increase sales and access new milk and meat markets," he said.

The pilot project will help determine the value and benefits of a domestic genetic improvement program specifically geared to the goat industry.

"By implementing an integrated pilot program, the Ontario goat industry can demonstrate the value that these combined programs and services can have to the entire goat industry and to the individual goat producer," Haley said.

"The GoGen project will provide a toolbox full of production management tools that will ultimately help producers become more efficient and return more dollars to their operations."

Agricultural Adaptation Council chairman Jim Rickard said the project would allow producers to learn the value of implementing goat genetic improvement programs from their peers through the use of pilot herds.

"These programs can help position the Ontario goat industry to capture future growth opportunities, both domestic and export, and remain competitive."

Haley said the project would work with several existing programs, including CanWest DHI for milk testing, www.goatgenetics.ca for goat evaluations, and Genetic Corp. (Gencor), a leader in the cow genetics industry, on genetic evaluation and assessment of artificial insemination tools.

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