Putting it all together: using livestock to manage natural resources

Final Report for ES04-076

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $80,187.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


Two successful regional training workshops were organized by NCAT and hosted by the Heifer Ranch at Perryville, Arkansas in May 2005 and May 2006. Workshops emphasized grassfed beef production, small ruminant management, transition to organic livestock production and fine-tuning grazing management for beef, sheep and goats. Presentations and field demonstrations allowed participants to benefit from diverse trainers including ranchers, university faculty (including 1890s) and nonprofit organization staff with extensive experience in production, marketing, extension, and/or research. A total of eighty-six participants (56 educators and 30 farmers) received scholarships from grant funds which covered all training expenses (including lodging and use of Heifer Ranch learning site) for the 3 day workshops. During the workshop, each participant also received CDs and printed materials related to training topics.

Project Objectives:

1. To teach educators, through attendance at a training conference and receiving learning modules, about using livestock to manage natural resources with a particular emphasis in the subject areas of small ruminants, grass-fed beef production, pasture-based dairy production, transitioning to organics, and fine tuning of grazing management.
• Ten educators from each of the states in the Southern region will participate in one of the two training conferences.
• Educators will have the opportunity for individual follow-up to help them develop their own programs in working with local producers.
• Workshop attendees will learn to use and interpret monitoring tools that producers can use to make changes in their operations.
• Learning modules will provide review materials and visuals to reinforce skills after the training conferences.
2. To provide producers with the help they need to utilize and sustain their natural resources.
• Educators will identify producers in their areas to work with using current information in the checksheets and other SARE-funded work as well as providing practical monitoring tools.
• Thirty producers will benefit from this project by either being part of the advisory panel, attending and teaching at the workshops, and/or working with educators on their own operations
3. To allow producers the opportunity of teaching educators what they have learned when applying the information in the checksheets to their own farms.
• Educators and farmers will learn how producers can set up monitoring tools on their own farms, and what they look for in determining how they work and, more importantly, what decisions they make as a result of the monitoring.
4. To help 1890s schools disseminate their research results to more educators and farmers in the Southern region.
• Educators and farmers in the Southern region will receive excellent practical research results to achieve the goal of managing their resources more effectively.
• Networking between these universities and other educators and farmers in the Southern region will result in better understanding of what these universities offer.
• Educators from 1890s schools will have the opportunity to learn techniques they can use with their farmer groups.


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  • Shelly Davis

Education & Outreach Initiatives



The approach adopted was to organize and deliver two multi-day training conferences entitled “Using livestock to manage natural resources” in the southern region.

Educators and farmers/ranchers in leadership positions within organizations from all states in the Southern region were invited to attend. The training conference focused on environmental stewardship of natural resources on farms where livestock production is a primary component of the use of the farm acreage.

The conferences had three livestock emphasis areas: 1) small ruminants, 2) grass-fed beef, and 3) pasture-based dairy. The program featured production emphasis on 1) fine-tuning grazing management, 2) transitioning to organic livestock production, and 3) farm assessment for natural resource stewardship.

The conference originally was planned for two locations to allow greater access within the southern region. However, the Middle Tennessee Experiment Station and Profitability Center at Spring Hill, Tennessee formally withdrew as a host due to budget and time constraints,

Therefor events in both 2005 and 2006 were held at the Heifer International Ranch and Learning Center at Perryville, Arkansas (Heifer Ranch). Heifer Ranch was selected as one site because of an international reputation and connection with limited resource farmers and communities in the U.S., especially in the Southern region. Staff have a strong interest in designing educational activities for integration of natural resource management into animal production systems, especially small ruminants and grass-fed beef.

Heifer Ranch has sustainable livestock enterprises onsite and participated in previous SARE grants. Heifer Ranch also was able to provide reasonably priced housing and meals that featured ranch-produced and local food, and allowed for maximal interaction among participants and presenters.

Our original goal was to set aside up to 5 scholarships for each state in the southern region from project funds to cover conference and lodging costs. All educator attendees were encouraged to have a producer attend with them. The ideal producer was to be a community leader, someone who is or can be developed into a farmer educator or whose farm could be used to develop demonstrations/on-farm research for educational activities.

Those invited to attend the conferences represented the following groups and nominated producers to attend:
Cooperative extension specialists and agents
NRCS personnel
1890’s universities faculty
Heifer International field coordinators

Though we set aside 5 scholarships per state per year, if invitees from a state didn’t respond, we shifted the funds to bring more people from those states that did respond. About 25% of the total participants were farmers, which was less than we hoped. This partially due to the timing (May) which was necessary for the hands on demonstrations and was also the window when the Heifer Ranch facilities were available. However, many of those who attended as educators were involved personally in production themselves.

CDs for continuing education were developed to support the conference. They included reference materials, powerpoint presentations and other materials from the conference. They will remain available on CD’s for educators to request from NCAT/ATTRA and use in other programs.

Participants in the training conference were given the opportunity to arrange for individual assistance from project staff and collaborators in following up on the training. This assistance included help in setting up local workshops or seminars, help in using the information for their own educational events, or receiving additional information.

In addition to organizing and providing the two training conferences, the primary efforts involved in this proposal related to assembling information for the CDs. We felt it was imperative to use both the best, most recent information from scientific studies as well as experiences from farmers for learning materials.

A concern often expressed is the lack of local and regional research and farmer-collected data to others. SARE-funded projects allow specifically for this type of information to be transferred to users. Therefore, we used the following approaches to expand the information base for the module preparation and conference program:

a) Developed an initial outreach alliance of staff at 1890 land grant universities, ARS units and CES personnel who are conducting research/outreach activities with small ruminants. The objective was to better disseminate research and extension results important to sustainable livestock production with particular application to organic production, grazing systems or management of natural resources. The results were integrated into the modules/conference materials defined in the proposal.

b) Screened SARE-funded projects relating to sustainable livestock production and chose speakers and results from relevant projects to incorporate into the training.

c) Captured farmer presentations through pictures and powerpoints that documented farm production practices demonstrating concepts related to the three subject matter areas 1) fine-tuning grazing management 2) transitioning to organic livestock production, and 3) monitoring management of natural resources) or the three animal production systems 1) grass-fed beef, 2) pasture-based dairy, or 3) small ruminants).

We originally planned to use video clips to show educators how farmers develop their own methods of solving problems and how they make decisions.
However, when personnel originally connected with the project changed, capacity for video production was lost. We decided instead to invest time and resources originally proposed for that function into additional scholarships.

We prepared monitoring activities and intensive hands-on exercises for both conferences. The emphasis at Heifer Ranch was small ruminants, and grass-fed beef and lamb with practices that might be considered more applicable to limited resource farmers.

Farmer involvement:

Farmers from SARE funded projects were active participants in shaping and presenting conference topics and provided materials for the CDs.

Outcomes and impacts:

Outcomes and Impacts/Accomplishments

In preparation for the PDP training workshops, Heifer Ranch staff and interns conducted monitoring and management work on fine-tuning grazing with stocker cattle and worked with transitioning a sheep flock to organics during summer, 2004. In summer, 2005 work at Heifer continued with a special focus on management of intestinal parasites. A summary of this work was presented by Paul Casey (Heifer Ranch) at the Southern SAWG annual meeting in January 2005 and by Paul and his interns during the training workshops in May 2005 and May 2006. Based on the Heifer work, a special presentation on organic livestock production was also made to Arkansas cooperative extension staff in April 2006.

Workshop participants were able to see and use the Heifer Ranch stockers, sheep flocks and goats as part of field exercises in both years. They also really benefited from the prior management information about these animals collected on the ranch (summer 2004 and 2005) and presented in the workshops as part of this project. At least 6 student interns at Heifer also benefited from this PDP work, who all indicated strong interest in livestock careers and education.

Workshops were completed on May 23-26, 2005 and May 8-10, 2006 at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. Trainers included educators and ranchers, most of whom who were previous SARE grant participants: Jim Gerrish, Peggy Sechrist, Walt Davis, Richard Sechrist, Martha Mewbourne and Jerry Fry. NCAT staff members who served as organizers, speakers, contributors to technical materials and planning team members included: Tim Johnson, Linda Coffey , George Kuepper, Margo Hale and Teresa Maurer who all have been involved in previous SARE grants regionally and nationally. Steve Hart from Langston University and Will Getz from Fort Valley State provided good cross-regional exposure for excellent technical information from those 1890 institutions.

Eighty five educators and farmers participated in the 2 workshops from 11 states. 20 additional people signed up for the 2006 workshop but were unable to attend when they could not get funds to travel out of state, especially after the increase in fuel costs.

At both workshops, pasture-raised beef and lamb meat were featured as part of the ranch meals so that participants could taste the products from pasture-based systems. All lodging provided was on the ranch, cutting down on transport needs for field exercises. The gathering spaces in the lodging, opportunities to explore the ranch on foot outside of class and the rural location of the ranch also provided more chances for attendees to interact and trade experiences across the region with each other and with the trainers.

Because Middle Tennessee Experiment Station ultimately was unable to host a workshop or provide trainers, it was not possible to include the pasture-raised dairy component, which was part of our original proposal. However, the 3-day format as it evolved probably could not have done justice to another livestock topic area.

One modification made in 2006 was to present more information early in the workshop on goal-setting and planning. Reference back to need for farm or ranch goals was reinforced throughout the workshop as different sustainable production and marketing practices were explored. Participants especially appreciated learning about goals from real ranches that described how the landscape should look and function to indefinitely sustain production, which in turns sustains the values of those managing the ranch or farm (paraphrased from workshop materials).

Phone, listserves and mail were used to make personal contact and encourage participation from educator/farmer pairs whenever possible. Heifer staff, Heifer interns and Heifer farmer affiliates also received training at the workshops, and will multiply the impacts of these workshops through their own educational work.

In both years, Dr. James Hill assisted with communications to 1890s institutions, resulting in 50% participation from extensionists and farmers connected with those institutions. Cherokee Nation extensionists from Oklahoma participated in the 2005 workshop.

Written evaluations ratings and verbal feedback indicated extremely high satisfaction with topics and presenters in both workshops and high practicality and likelihood of using what they learned in the training. 75% of the participants expressed high interest in followup workshops. Heifer Ranch as a training site was highly rated by the participants.

Project Outcomes


Future Recommendations

Both Heifer and NCAT received immediate requests for additional sustainable and organic livestock workshops, both from attendees and from those who were unable to attend but really wanted to. The Ranch offers unique opportunities for combining hands on training with classroom learning and we believe the results of many livestock oriented Southern SARE-funded projects could be extended using this unique workshop approach.

In the future, we would try to build in more participant travel funds and also contact PDP coordinators much further in advance so that it might be possible to facilitate use of state PDP funds to help educators attend future regional out of state workshops.

Potential Contributions

CDs of materials from each workshop (including many of the Powerpoint presentations) were given to all participants right at the workshop, so that educators could make their own copies of the materials or otherwise use materials that they felt were especially useful. A total of 200 copies (including those given to participants) of the CDs have been distributed. Some of these went to educators who wanted to attend the workshops but had trouble securing travel funds to travel out of state, even when all costs were paid once they reached the site.

Each attendee received CDs as well as printed copies of information and publication from ATTRA, SARE and AFSIC (National Ag Library). At each workshop we provided a participants list with contact information for attendees and presenters, since there was great enthusiasm to try to continue sharing information across states about the topics covered. The ATTRA technical assistance 800 number was also provided as a way to request followup information or assistance on workshop topics.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.