|Retiring MSU Professor's Significant Impact on Sheep Industry
By AMY TRINIDAD
Sheep Industry News Editor
(January 1, 2008) There are many individuals within the sheep industry that are considered experts in their field; however, there are very few individuals that can be considered experts in a diversity of topics within the industry. One such individual is Joe Rook, DVM, professor and sheep extension veterinarian at Michigan State University (MSU).
From shearing feeder lambs to rotational grazing to sheep abortions and internal parasites, Rook has not only studied a majority of the issues affecting Midwest sheep producers but has written a number of articles designed to educate sheep producers about his findings.
Rook became interested in agriculture during his youth while growing up on a small farm in northeast Ohio. After earning his doctorate of veterinary medicine degree at The Ohio State University (OSU) in 1975, he joined the staff at MSU in 1978. During his almost 30 years at MSU, Rook has been recognized numerous times including receiving the Flock Guardian Award from the American Sheep Industry Association in 2004. However, his career at OSU has come to an end as he retired at the end of 2007.
Max Benne, president of the Michigan Sheep Breeders Association, gives a great deal of credit to Rook for the expansion of commercial sheep production in Michigan.
Working with commercial sheep producers was a highlight for Rook during his career.
“I enjoyed working with commercial sheep producers because they do things for a reason. They are in the industry to make a buck which I can relate to,” Rook explains, who also says that working with the people in the industry was a highlight of his job. “In general, people in the sheep industry are friendly and always welcoming.”
A true passion of Rook’s was studying and developing production systems that integrate the entire farm’s resources. Some of those resources being feed sources, farm labor issues, type of sheep and a marketplace to sell the sheep.
“I like to discover ways to cheapen up basic production costs,” he says. “A major part of that is reducing feed costs by better utilization of pastures and extending the grazing season.”
This interest was evident in many article topics that he wrote about, some of those include, “Pasture Lambing – A Viable Alternative?” When is it Cost Effective to Limit Feed Hay?” “Grazing Corn Stalks with the Ewe Flock” and “Extending the Grazing Season – Looking to Brassicas.”
“Not only have I enjoyed working with producers but I also enjoy writing articles for the producers, ones that are easy to understand, not necessarily articles that are published in peer-reviewed journals,” Rook explains.
“His effective work with producers in their entire management programs has resulted in profitable operations,” relays Benne. “The reduction in costs by better utilization of pasture has been one of his thrusts along with effective parasite control programs.”
As stated by Clark BreDahl in his column, “Dispatch from Mormon Trail Farm...,” in the June 2004 issue of The Shepherd magazine, “Joe is at the same time a sheep industry throwback, and a cutting edge researcher and educator. He keeps going back to this ancient idea that grasses, forages and grazing animals can be a very profitable combination. Then to top it off, he designs flock management and grazing systems to prove it!”
Guy Flora, editor of The Shepherd magazine, says that Rook always paid attention to the questions asked by Michigan sheep producers, and that the work he did extended beyond Michigan’s borders to surrounding states.
“His research and published articles have had a tremendous affect on the industry, especially for us in the Midwest,” Flora relates. “He is more concerned with getting the information out to producers than making a profit.”
This is evident in an article Rook published more than 20 years ago called “Why Didn’t It Live?” This pamphlet contains information on reasons why newborn lambs die, including a series of autopsy pictures. Flora says they are still getting requests for this information.
Although Rook is retiring from the sheep industry, he would like to see more people become interested in sheep production.
“Money can be made with sheep and I would like to see farmers with other livestock integrate sheep into their operations. I believe sheep have more of an economical advantage than people give them credit for,” says Rook.
To read some of the many articles that Rook has published over the years, visit http://cvm.msu.edu/alumni-friends/continuing-education/extension/sheep and click on articles and bulletins.