This three-year project developed a checksheet to help farmers and educators assess and improve the sustainability of a sheep or goat farm. The checksheet was written and tested by a group of farmers, educators, and researchers, presented to Extension agents in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina during on-farm workshops, and distributed along with a resource manual to help agents in their work with sheep and goat farmers. The materials developed during this project are available from the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA service, by calling 800-346-9140 or by accessing the Web site, www.attra.ncat.org.
Producers and educators cooperatively designed a sheep and goat checksheet and used it as a tool to assess the sustainability of sheep or goat enterprises.
Through workshops, demonstrations, and farm visits, educators’ knowledge increased, and they improved their ability to work with small ruminants.
Through the establishment of a listserv, educators and producers in the Southern region engaged in communication about research needs, educational opportunities, and practical methods of overcoming challenges to small ruminant production.
There has been increasing interest in sheep and goat production in the Southern Region in recent years. Cooperative Extension agents and other educators are in many cases not knowledgeable about small ruminants, however, and there is a need to train them to better serve the farmers. Information resources are needed, especially resources that encourage sustainable production of sheep and goats. Better communication among researchers, agents, and farmers is also useful in spreading knowledge of sheep and goat production. Project participants worked to meet these needs during a 3-year period, 2002-2005.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To aid in communication among groups interested in small ruminant production in the Southern region, we created a listserv (“CUD”) that allows participants to announce events, ask questions, or present information that is helpful to farmers.
A group of farmers, researchers, and NRCS and CES agents met in August 2002 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to brainstorm a list of topics important to sustainable sheep and goat production. This list was organized and condensed and used to construct a Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet to help farmers evaluate and improve the sustainability of their sheep or goat enterprises within their whole farm plans.
In March 2004, a group of cooperators met in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to discuss revisions to the Checksheet, materials for an agents’ training manual, and a schedule for workshops to be held in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Arkansas. In the year following this meeting, the group worked to complete the Checksheet and the training manuals, planned and taught workshops in all the states involved, produced a CD that contains the contents of the training manual, presented information at the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, and engaged in several complementary activities.
The Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet and related materials are available free to the public by calling 800-346-9140 (toll-free number for the ATTRA project), or on-line at www.attra.ncat.org (look in the “Livestock” section and then under “Hogs, Sheep, and Goats.”)
Outreach and Publications
Publications developed through this project are available free of charge through the ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer to Rural Areas: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) project and can be obtained by calling 800-346-9140 or by accessing the Web site at www.attra.ncat.org.
Materials developed include the following.
Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet
Small Ruminant Resource List
Small Ruminant Resource Manual (CD form)
As a result of this project, communication about sustainable sheep and goat production has increased among researchers, farmers, and educators in the Southern region. Opportunities for further cooperation are great, and other collaborative efforts are being planned.
The Checksheet will be used as a basis for educational efforts in the Southern region and beyond, and the Small Ruminant Resource Manual will help agents to answer producers’ questions. This manual, coupled with the hands-on training the agents received at workshops, will increase the confidence of the agents and expand their willingness to get involved with sheep and goat producers.
A Small Ruminant Resource List has been compiled as an appendix to the Checksheet. This list provides agents with help in finding Web sites, books, publications, suppliers, and organizations to help farmers. This list is also useful as a resource handout agents can give to farmers.
The QuickStart will serve the needs of farmers who do not have the time or interest to work the full Checksheet. Agents have pointed out that the QuickStart will be a useful tool for them to use with groups of farmers as well. They anticipate handing out the QuickStart forms during meetings, asking the farmers to take a few minutes to fill it out, and then collecting them. The summary of responses will help agents plan programming for the year, as they can tailor speakers and workshops and other educational efforts to the areas that are the biggest problems for the group. Agents are excited about using this document as a quick and easy screening tool.
The interest and confidence gained by inexperienced agents as a result of this project and the training and resources offered will help producers in the Southern region. They will find agents better equipped to help them with their sheep or goat production questions, and this support will be important to producers as the sheep and goat industries continue to grow.
The Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet was written and tested by farmers and Extension agents in at least six states (Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas). Feedback has been generally positive, though several agents are concerned that the length of the document will make it less likely to be used. The farmers who have tested the Checksheet think that it is a helpful tool, and note that it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to read and answer the questions. Following are quotes from two of the farmer testers.
“If your goal in providing the checksheet is to help the farmer identify areas he needs to improve, I think it works. I ended up with five or six things on the farm action plan that would enhance my operation, and be worthwhile doing.”
“I thought the small ruminant checksheet was excellent. It will really start people thinking in a holistic manner . . . I particularly enjoyed the ideas you brought up about the family aspect.”
In March 2004, a group of cooperators met in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to work on revisions to the Checksheet and to discuss the manual and workshops. This group included the following:
Farmers—Jack Black, Arkansas goat producer; Delane Wright, Arkansas goat and cattle producer; Jim Morgan, Arkansas hair sheep producer; Ken Hargis, Arkansas wool producer; Linda and Ken Coffey, Arkansas wool sheep and dairy goat producers (Ken is also a researcher, Linda an NCAT specialist); Steve Morgan, Georgia sheep producer (also Extension agent); Ron Morrow, Arkansas cattle producer (also listed below, NRCS agent), and Dianne Hellwig, Kentucky wool sheep producer, (also veterinarian, researcher, and Extension agent).
Extension agents—Dr. Jodie Pennington, Arkansas State Livestock Specialist; Steve Morgan, Georgia CES agent; Johnny Gunsaulis, Arkansas CES agent
NRCS agents—Dr. Ron Morrow, Arkansas State Grasslands Specialist and author of checksheets for beef and for dairy production; Rhonda Foster, Arkansas NRCS
Researchers—Dr. Jean-Marie Luginbuhl, North Carolina State University; Dr. Steve Hart, Langston University; Dr. Ken Coffey, University of Arkansas; Dr. Dianne Hellwig, D.V.M., Berea College
NCAT staff—Dr. Ann Wells, D.V.M., author of checksheets for beef and dairy and member of the Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners; Tim Johnson, Linda Coffey, and Margo Hale.
The group had a lively and thorough discussion, the changes they suggested were made, and the finished Checksheet was published in July 2004. It has been distributed in print and through the ATTRA Web site since that time.
The Checksheet includes a brief “QuickStart” version, several appendices, and the Small Ruminant Resource List. The resource list and the QuickStart (a two-page summary of the Checksheet questions, designed to help steer farmers to the areas they most need to improve) are offered as individual documents, because we believe they will make useful handouts for educators to use with producer groups and at conferences. These pieces offer a quick way to help farmers, and we hope they will lead to use of the full Checksheet.
In addition to the documents offered on the ATTRA Web site and through the ATTRA toll-free phone line, we produced a trainer’s manual that has been very well-received. This manual is organized to match the sections of the Checksheet, and it includes ATTRA publications pertinent to the subject, as well as publications from other sources. Each section also includes a list of further resources. The manual comes in a sturdy 3-inch binder and includes a pocket with a CD copy of the materials. This makes it possible for an agent to use the materials in the form that is most convenient for them. The CDs are inexpensive to produce, and we can offer agents the option of requesting copies of the CD for producers. For those with computers but slow Internet access, the CD saves a great deal of time, because the publications can be downloaded easily. We have produced 235 binders and more than 800 CDs. One agent wrote the following comment.
“This resource is nothing short of exceptional. I have already exposed it to my Livestock Advisory Committee and in three livestock seminars. It is well organized, up to date and very applicable to real world situations we face daily.”
The main objective of the workshops was to give the trainers an understanding and appreciation of Whole Farm Planning and sustainability, especially in the context of small ruminant production. The main goals of the workshops were to show the trainers how to use the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet, how to teach it, where to get more help, and to give the trainers hands-on experience with sheep and goats.
To meet these goals, we planned to hold the workshops on sheep and goat farms and use them as visible examples. Dr. Ron Morrow (NRCS) and Dr. Ann Wells (Springpond Holistic Animal Health), cooperators on this project, have successfully used this strategy to teach agents about sustainable livestock production during previous SARE-funded projects.
The workshops to train the trainers about sheep and goat production and the use of the Checksheet were held in Kentucky (two sessions), Arkansas (two sessions), North Carolina, and Georgia (two sessions). Feedback was very positive, and several of the agents attending have asked whether we could help them offer producer workshops using the materials from this project.
Evaluations were collected at the Arkansas workshops. Twenty-five participants attended on March 9, and another twenty-five on March 10. On a scale of 5 (“very ”) to 1 (“not at all”), all of the respondents rated the workshop a 5 or a 4 for effectiveness, most of the respondents rated the manual a 5, and most of the respondents rated the Checksheet a 5 or a 4 when asked, “Is the Checksheet an effective tool?” The comments captured positive responses for the most part, with some criticism of a cold meeting room and of presenters not staying on time the first day. Those problems were solved in the following workshop, and all the comments from that day’s training were positive and encouraging.
In addition to the workshops held using this funding, we presented information about the Checksheet and resource materials to a group of Extension agents and farmers as part of the workshop for another SSARE PDP project, “Putting it all Together,” held May 23-26, 2005, at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. As a result of that workshop, resource manuals in CD form were distributed to a group of hair sheep producers in the South, and the project coordinator was invited to teach a workshop in Oklahoma for the Cherokee Nation.
In addition to the planned activities, the project leader and cooperators took advantage of an opportunity to extend this project to other states and regions. In February 2005, the annual meeting of the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists (SAAS) was held in Little Rock, Arkansas, a convenient location for several of the project participants. Many researchers who work in the area of small ruminants attended sessions specific to small ruminant research and extension, and we used this opportunity to give a presentation about this project and to distribute CD copies of the Small Ruminant Resource Manual. Dr. Will R. Getz of Fort Valley State University gave a PowerPoint presentation, and Dr. Jean-Marie Luginbuhl and Dr. Jim Morgan were present during the session and also helped acquaint others with the project. During that session, there was some discussion about possible uses of the QuickStart, and much interest was shown in the project.
At the same meeting but in a different room, NCAT intern and University of Arkansas graduate student Margo Hale gave a poster presentation about the project. This was in the Agricultural Education session, and reached a different audience from the above-mentioned presentation. Margo (co-author of the Checksheet) fielded questions from several interested persons and gave out several CDs.
Cooperator Dr. Jodie Pennington extended this project further by applying for and receiving a SARE Enhancement Grant. He used these funds to offer a three-day tour of Missouri meat goat farms and a graded goat and sheep buying station. This tour was available to Arkansas CES agents and to grant cooperators, and it was a great way for agents to gain information and see the whole- farm planning principles in action. The farmers who allowed us to come to their farms were very gracious and informative. The agents who attended were unanimous about the value of this tour, and we are grateful to Dr. Pennington and to Mark Kennedy, Missouri NRCS, who made all the arrangements, and to SARE, which provided the funds.
One of our consultants on this project, Dr. Terry Gipson, of Langston University, has suggested that an on-line, interactive version of the Checksheet would be useful to some farmers and agents. This version would simplify the work involved in completing the Checksheet by tabulating results in each section, entering the totals in a summary page, and offering another method of filling out the Checksheet. The on-line format would allow for streamlining the text and providing links to further information as needed.
Another step that might be taken with this project is to consult with farmers and educators in the Northeast, North Central, and Western SARE Regions. Because ATTRA is a national sustainable agriculture information service, farmers and educators from all over the country have access to the Checksheet and resource materials. It would be useful to find out whether these materials, written for the Southern Region, will also be pertinent for other parts of the country. Perhaps another version will need to be created for those other environments.
Also, as more information becomes available, the Small Ruminant Resource List will need to be updated. Since the publication date (Summer 2004) we have learned about several important new resources. For example, the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control has an excellent Web site full of information that is vital to small ruminant producers, but the site debuted after the resource list was completed. This Web site, and others that have come to our attention in the past year, needs to be added to the list. In addition, we acknowledge that several topics that are briefly addressed in this version could be expanded on in future versions. For example, dairy sheep and fiber-producing goats and sheep are not given much attention. The economic and marketing resources section could also be expanded. So, while much has been done, there is opportunity and need for further work.
As project coordinator, I would like to thank SARE for allowing us the opportunity and the financial support to produce the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet, QuickStart, Small Ruminant Resource List, Small Ruminant Resource Manual (binder form or CD format), and the workshops and CUD listserv. The cooperators on this project were outstanding, and I enjoyed working with them. The workshops afforded me the chance to meet Extension agents and farmers in Arkansas, and we continue to have invitations to present this tool to groups. It is my hope that using the Checksheet will enable sheep and goat farmers to assess, plan, and improve the sustainability of their farms, and thereby enhance the lives, environment, and economic situations of their families and their communities.