Biology Department Receives Grant to Study Sheep and Solar Grazing
Campus News

Franklin College recently received a grant from the Indiana Sheep and Wool Market Development Program. The funding allows ten Franklin College undergraduate students to begin an applied research effort aimed at educating future veterinary professionals and expanding the science of solar grazing.

The project is designed to grow the collective expertise and interest in sheep care among future veterinary practitioners in Indiana through an immersive long-term research partnership between Franklin College and Sunovis Ranch, located in Franklin, Ind. The goal is to increase the body of science related to the grazing ecology of sheep in pastures managed for native vegetation. The information gathered will support the emerging needs of the solar energy sector for grazing-based management plans. Students are analyzing the sheep’s health, parasite loads and forage consumption.

Ben O’Neal, Ph.D., professor of biology at the college, serves as the principal investigator for the new study, with assistance from ranch owner and solar energy professional, Paul Cummings. Cummings and the research team is currently managing a flock of 25 Katahdin sheep, with new lambs being added throughout the spring.

“The grant is enabling our pre-veterinary students to experience immersive, mentored sheep research in the context of a working farm,” O’Neal said. “They’re gaining working knowledge of sheep husbandry and science and building important skills related to critical thinking, quantitative analysis, data management, team dynamics and science communications.”

O’Neal said he is grateful for the opportunity the grant is providing to his students. “Our pre-vet students not only can talk about their undergrad classes and internships during interviews, but now they can say they helped develop a study where they investigated the health of sheep as part of a system that is addressing a global energy need. It is a unique, engaged learning experience with results that could impact farming and alternative energy for decades to come. ”

About the Indiana Sheep and Wool Market Development Program

The Indiana Sheep and Wool Market Development Program was created to support educational, promotional and research efforts involving sheep in Indiana. The checkoff program is supported through collecting one-half of one percent of the net market price of all sheep and wool sold in Indiana. A Sheep and Wool Market Development Council makes recommendations to the director of agricultural research at Purdue University on spending. Funds can be spent in the areas of sheep and wool research, education, market development and promotion. The council is made up of sheep and wool producers who are elected to represent the nine county-based districts in the state.

 For more information, contact the Franklin College Office of Communications at (317) 738-8185.

POSTED May 4, 2022