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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 9 (2020 Deadline)


Assessment of the resilience of local Baladi goat in Lebanon: a viable sustainable solution to a changing climate in a transhumant system

PI: Pauline Aad (paad@ndu.edu.lb), Notre Dame University-Louaize
U.S. Partner: Joan Burke, U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service
Project Dates: May 2021 - January 2024

Project Overview:
 
 9-331 Aad conference flyer
The local Baladi goat, an alpine-type, highly resilient animal, is managed in a pastoral transhumant system, travelling long distances in cold, wet winters or hot, dry summers. Some rangeland could harbor pathological parasites that infect goats, while other rangeland environments may have plants with secondary compounds to mitigate parasite infection. However, these plants could have detrimental effects on the animal, reducing feed intake, inducing nutritional deficiencies, and triggering neurologic effects. Thus, the Lebanese rangeland needs to be further assessed for the presence of such compounds and their impacts on the grazing patterns of the Baladi goat. Because there is little to no literature assessing the available pastures in Lebanon and the occurrence and medication resistance of parasites in Baladi goats, this research has several aims. The first is to analyze the resilience of Baladi goats to environmental changes, food stress, and challenges by using meta analysis of unpublished reports from various agriculture colleges in Lebanon. As part of this effort, the project team will evaluate the availability of pasture and its quality and further correlate that with climatological data. The second project aim is to assess the transhumant system epigenome in Baladi goats by analyzing milk production depression under the transhumant conditions of hand milking and the presence or absence of supplementation and other environmental challenges. In addition, for the first time in Lebanon, the researchers will analyze the prevalence and threats of internal parasites of small ruminants by collecting goat fecal samples from various flocks and determining their association with specific pasture grasses typically known to act as natural anti-parasites. The U.S. partner Dr. Joan Burke will contribute her expertise on this point. Another project aim involves analyzing blood samples from targeted flocks to genotype them for parasite resistance and milk production using the SNP chip array, which will be done with U.S. co-partner Dr. Brenda Murdoch (University of Idaho), an expert geneticist and molecular biologist. At the same time, project co-PI Dr. Khaled Houchaymi (Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute) will screen genes for heat resilience to further validate the climate resilience of the local Baladi goat.The overarching research outcome will be to determine the best management strategies for optimal milk production, natural treatment of parasites, and improved reproductive efficiency. Furthermore, the project aims to identify possible markers for marker-assisted selection of resilient goats in the transhumant system.

To help extend the benefits of the research to struggling local farming communities, the project team will establish extension services in collaboration with their local governmental collaborator, the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI), as well as local transhumant communities and the private agro-farming sector. The team is also partnering with a privately owned, family-managed Baladi goat milk processing factory in order to provide technical knowledge to the transhumant farmers they deal with. The pastoral community’s livelihood is highly vulnerable, struggling with pasture scarcity and disparity, lack of fresh water sources, and threats from the influx of foreign flocks from Syria. Unfortunately, most of the research on the Baladi goat focuses on changing the managerial system to an intensive, supplemented, heavily managed one, which makes it an unsustainable model in the Lebanese market. Many private investors are trying to integrate the Baladi goat into their milk processing industry, but they are faced with major threats, including the consistency of milk production and quality, variable undesired aromatic and acidic residues in the milk, and the high cost of supplementation. In this light, the project’s development goals are to (1) analyze economic sustainability of the transhumant system by assessing milk production, supplementation effects, and parasite control; (2) develop an extension support system for farmers in order to disseminate accurate and proper management practices and maximize animal wellness; and (3) support women farmers in producing artisanal goat products. This sustainable farming system will allow private partners to develop solid partnerships with transhumant farmers and invest in the agro-farming industry, which supports the livelihood of this very vulnerable community of goat farmers. Collaboration with the public sector, via LARI, will allow the project to reach a larger population of transhumant farmers and provide better chances for sustainable operations.

July - September 2023 project updates
 
During July 3-6, 2023, a Genomic analysis workshop was held at NDU, led by Dr. Khaleel Jawasreh from JUST and attended by 15 participants, including researchers from Lebanese University, Lebanese League of Veterinarians, NDU, LARI, and LibanVet, as well as an attendee from Jordan. During the workshop, Dr. Jawasreh's work and data were reviewed, and field visits to farmers in the Shouf and Bekaa areas were conducted in collaboration with Dr. Khaled Houchaymi from LARI.
 
During the reporting period, Dr. Aad also attended  LibanVet-organized conference on the utility of genomic data in large dairy farms. Dr. Aad briefly discussed SNP analysis, presented the PEER project, and shared preliminary results. This research, which simultaneously evaluates parasites and conducts SNP analysis, sparked considerable interest within the audience.
 
Milk fatty acid analysis, carried out using GC-MS, has been completed, with the remaining samples to be processed on GC-FID to obtain short-chain fatty acid profiles. The analysis faced a slight delay due to reagent shortages, extending from late June to mid-September.

A new undergraduate student joined the project to complete her biochemistry research using the fatty acid analysis from both GC-MS and GC-FID. Furthermore, two research papers are in progress, one focusing on meta-analysis of milk fatty acid analysis methods in collaboration with Dr. Simona Sawan and Dr. Nathalie Hayeck, and the other led by Dr. Samer El Murr, who was promoted to the director of animal testing at LARI labs in Bekaa, as he works on his first paper related to the PEER project.
 
9-331_Aad_team 
´╗┐Recruited flocks for the study and PEER team (photo credit: P. Aad)