International Goat Research Center

We conduct research projects on value-added processing, food safety, and nutrition for the Cooperative Agriculture Research Center focusing on physio-chemical characterization of goat meat and milk products and fruits and vegetables, product development, sensory and rheological modeling, dairy technology and chemistry, food flavors, post-harvest storage and preservation, and functional food properties and structure-functionality relationships in food proteins and lipid complexes.

The mission of the International Goat Research Center (IGRC) is to advance the science of dairy and meat goat production and use this information to improve the livelihoods of the people in Texas, the Gulf Coast region and developing countries abroad. Texas leads the nation with approximately 850,000 meat goats and ranks fourth with approximately 18,000 dairy goats.  The goal of the Animal Systems Group is to strengthen and integrate research programs at the IGRC while simultaneously advancing the quality of education, extension and international programs in the CAHS. Our efforts are contained within three main research focus areas:

Enhancing genetic merit through selection for Residual Feed Intake (RFI)

 Growth in world population is driving an increasing in demand for animal proteins, even though less land is available for livestock production. Therefore, efficiency of production is very important. Residual feed intake is a measure of feed efficiency, and is defined as the difference between the actual feed intake and the predicted feed intake based on the animal’s gain, weight and composition. Our long-term goals are to develop standards to measure growth efficiency, using RFI, in dairy and meat goats by conducting feeding trails with the GrowSafe feed intake and behavior monitoring system.

Increasing the efficiency of artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer (ET)

 We are focusing our efforts in the areas of breeding and reproductive management. Technologies in these areas are moving rapidly and hold great promise to reduce production costs and increase genetic merit and farm profits. Our main areas of research in the male are defining factors that influence fertility and cryopreservation of semen for use in AI. In the female, our focus is the mechanisms that define the window of uterine receptivity for early embryonic development and subsequent improvements in ET efficiency.  Propagation of specific genetic lines of dairy and meat goats, identified using RFI selection criterion, will be facilitated utilizing improved AI and ET techniques.

Characterization of microbial community relationships in reproductive tract tissues

A new interdisciplinary research project focuses on characterizing microbial community relationships in reproductive tract tissues. We anticipate this new area of research will provide the foundation and rational to expanded microbiome research to other organ systems in the goat. For eample, using the GrowSafe system, we can monitor and calculate real-time dietary intake of probiotics by lactating dairy goats, monitor the effects on mammary gland microbiome community relationships and evaluate potential changes in the biochemical composition of milk. This could lead to a collaborative research project with nutrition and food science faculty to study the effects of maternal nutrition on microbiome community relationships in the mammary gland and related effects on neonatal nutrition, health and wellbeing.

We anticipate this line of investigation in microbiome research could lead to an expansion of our international research and training programs, especially after renovations to our animal care facilities and the CAHS meats lab and creamery are completed.  Ideally, milk produced by our dairy herd will be processed by students/visiting scholars and sold as cheese, ice cream and bottled milk.  This practical experience in production, management and product development will benefit students and visiting faculty interested in agribusiness and related careers.  Excess production will be used for making powdered milk. Powdered milk is a component in peanut butter based ready-to-eat therapeutic foods that are used to address severe acute malnutrition in children from six months to five years of age[1].  Interestingly, compositions of the stool microbiota of infants fed goat milk formula, cow milk based formula or breast milk indicated that there are more similarities in breast milk/goat milk comparisons than in breast milk/cow milk comparisons[2].  Therefore, the potential for another collaborative research project with nutrition and food science faculty in the area of microbiome research; the effects of maternal nutrition on microbiome community relationships in the mammary gland and related effects on neonatal nutrition, health and wellbeing.

The combined capabilities and expertise of the CAHS Food Systems and Animal Systems research groups can be utilized to attract additional resources to expand our international focus on the role of goats in sustainable agriculture, food security and maternal health and child nutrition.  This will provide PVAMU students with opportunities for a service learning experience and stimulate international exchange programs.  For example, we have engaged in discussions with two established organizations in the Thomazeau area east of Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Live Beyond (www.LiveBeyond.org; a 5019c03 nonprofit) and IDEA Ops (www.IdeaOps.org; a LLC consulting and implementing company).  Our goal is to attract funds that will assist with their efforts to promote health and well being through agricultural development.  Particular emphasis will be to improve the genetic diversity of goats throughout the Thomazeau area through artificial insemination with semen processed and frozen at PVAMU and promoting and strengthening the goat dairy industry.

Our research currently provides 12 undergraduate students from the CAHS, and other colleges, experiential learning and hands-on technical training in nutrition, reproductive biology, genomics, and computational science and statistics. We have established co-curricular activities and interactions with area research-intensive institutions, including the Interdisciplinary Faculty of Reproductive Biology (IFRB) at Texas A&M University and members of the Texas Forum for Reproductive Sciences (TFRS).  The annual IFRB retreat and R.O. Berry Lecture in Reproductive Immunology in Navasota and the TFRS annual meeting in the Texas Medical Center provide key linkages and a strong foundation for student matriculation into advanced degree programs at research-intensive institutions.

[1] Schoones A, Lombard M, Musekiwa A, Volmink J.  2013. Ready-to-use therapeutic food for home-based treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children from six months to five years of age (Review).  The Cochrane Foundation, John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

[2] Tannock GW, Lawley B, Munro K, Pathmanathan SG, Zhou SJ, Makrides M, Gibson RA, Sullivan T, Prosser CG, Lowry D, Hodgkinson AJ.  2013.  Comparison of the compositions of the stool microbiota of infants fed goat milk formula, cow milk based formula or breast milk.  Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79:3040-3048.