A Classroom filled with Sheep and Goats

By Jan Jackson –

Mary Smallman tending her sheep.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Located on 600 acres of hillside pastures west of the main campus of Oregon State University, students majoring in animal sciences are learning about small ruminants. The Sheep and Goat Center of note is run by dedicated OSU instructor, researcher and half-time Center manager Mary Smallman, 50 student volunteers who help with winter lambing and eight paid students a term. The animals they produce and care for are used for education and research purposes.

“When students leave here with a degree, they are going to have hands on experience how to operate a farm,” Smallman said of the students involved in the program. “Our mission is to introduce as many kids as many kids as possible to the sheep industry both as producers and consumers. I’ve had kids come into program saying they really didn’t like sheep and leave with a desire to raise them on their farm.

“Our students work around the clock doing everything from helping on a research project and shoveling out the pens. We operate the facility much like a club which means they vote on a secretary, feeding crew lead, project coordinator, and a crew boss. If a student has a term in which they can’t be a crew boss, they may be able to be a feeder. We work like a family and the animals are treated well.”

The Center, which generates its own income through grants and research projects, has to see that the animals somehow earn their keep.

“We have 164 maternal ewes which produce lambs for research projects,” Smallman said. “The goat club just won Grand Champion for their Nigerian dairy goat and next year they plan on adding Boer meat goats as well. We are working on a goat rental business model where we could rent them out on weed control when we are not using them at the Center.


Juanita the guard donkey.

“We hope to be getting a tractor soon which will not only help us maintain our pastures but conduct more forage trials. Another investigator in our department has applied for a grant to allow us to experiment with feeding the animals hemp and I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out. The funding to put a new roof on an old barn is allowing us space in the pasture the animals and our wonderful new guard donkey named Juanita. We’ve not lost one animal to coyotes since we got her so Juanita is definitely paying her way.”

Smallman, who raises a few Baby Doll Southdown sheep of her own, earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and a master’s degree in animal sciences with a minor in biochemistry and biophysics at OSU. Now, she is learning how to spin and plans on teaching students how to do that as well.

“To help save the industry, these kids need to become involved in the complete cycle of the animals,” Smallman said. “They need to know about forages, lambing, nutrition and disease, about the composition of the meat as well how to cook it and how to process their wool and fiber. I’m excited about the diversity within the sheep industry and hope to expose students to all of the many ways they can get involved.”

For more information on the OSU Sheep Center, visit https://anrs.oregonstate.edu/anrs/facilities/sheep-center or contact Mary Smallman directly at mary.smallman@oregonstate.edu.


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