Small-Scale Poultry Production: Sustainability Training

Final Report for ES05-080

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2005: $129,530.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Steven Muntz
Heifer International
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Project Information


Small-scale commercial poultry production with outdoor access or “pasture-based” is an emerging alternative farm enterprise in many southern states. Traditionally, most poultry information has been aimed at either large-scale production or backyard production. Information geared for operations “in the middle”--small commercial flock production--has been scarce. In addition, material is needed on a natural or organic approach. Through this project, key leaders in sustainable poultry production, including Heifer International, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and key producers carried out train-the-trainer events in the southern region covering the many facets of sustainable poultry production, processing and marketing. These groups partnered with the University of Arkansas, a landgrant with a history of poultry information, on the training. Trainings were conducted for extension personnel, nonprofit educators, and other agricultural educators. Facilitators used materials developed through previous SSARE Research and Education projects as well as materials developed in this project. After attending trainings, educators had the opportunity to set up their own local trainings for producers. In addition, web-based educational materials, including written materials, video clips, and visual information on small-scale, sustainable poultry production were developed and posted on the internet to help sustain post-project learning. Key materials were translated to Spanish.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Design a training program in sustainable poultry production for use in training educators in small commercial poultry production.

Objective 2: Increase agricultural educator knowledge and skills to train small-scale poultry producers by providing sustainable poultry production training and encourage supportive attitudes towards small poultry growers.

Objective 3: Develop web-based sustainable poultry production education modules as an ongoing resource for educators in order to add small-scale poultry to their programs.


A growing movement of independent poultry producers raise “pastured poultry.” The birds are raised in small houses with outdoor access or in shelters that are moved daily to fresh pasture. They are fed a natural diet with no animal by-products or routine medication. Production is often seasonal, only raising birds in the warm months. Producers process on-farm or in small plants, many under exemptions to federal inspection, which allows only small numbers of birds to be sold. Most also raise layers for egg production. Many sell directly to consumers in local markets such as on-farm sales, farmers markets, or buying clubs. Customers pay a premium price for the products and support small farmers. Many poultry products are marketed locally, keeping money in the community.

Pastured poultry can boost farm incomes, especially on diversified farms, where poultry can be integrated into other farm activities such as livestock and crop production.
Pastured poultry adds fertility on diversified farms and many feedstuffs from the farm are used, helping to close the nutrient cycle and contributing to sustainability. Birds are raised in small flocks with outdoor access, which provides ample space, natural sunlight, fresh air, and permits the expression of natural bird behaviors such as dustbathing and scratching.

Many small producers use natural and organic methods and reduce the use of routine medication, animal slaughter by-products and produce a natural product. This addresses consumer concerns such as welfare, antibiotic resistance, chemicals in the environment, etc. and bases production on biological methods that work in concert with nature.

Information on small-scale poultry production is also useful for working with youth through 4-H.

Traditionally, most poultry information has been aimed at either large-scale production or backyard production. Information geared for operations in the “middle”--small commercial flock production--has been less available, as well as information on natural/organic approaches. This information is needed not only for producers but also for the agricultural educators who assist them. Extension agents in particular get questions on pastured poultry and natural and organic poultry production. An increasingly important area of interest is biosecurity. There is concern that birds with access to the outdoors may contract avian influenza from wild waterfowl and spread it to other domestic poultry.

On a larger scale, consumer interest in specialty poultry production is growing. Organic is the fastest growing part of the food sector with double digit growth.

Nonprofit organizations such as Heifer International and the National Center for Appropriate Technology have developed farmer-friendly materials on small commercial pasture-based poultry production. Heifer International (Heifer) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to community development in low wealth regions through sustainable livestock production and has been a leader in pastured poultry development and training. Heifer has partnered with the nonprofit organization, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). NCAT operates the ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Since 1994, Heifer and NCAT have developed cutting-edge materials for sustainable poultry production, largely from SARE-funded projects. Heifer and NCAT work with a large network of collaborators, including 1890 landgrants and farmer educators that offer planning, delivery, and evaluation of training of educators in small-scale, sustainable poultry production.

Heifer partnered with the University of Arkansas (UA) to assist in material development and training in this project. Landgrants historically are one of the main sources of agricultural information. The UA has one of the highest-ranked poultry science departments in the country and can apply its expertise and resources not only conventional production but also to small-scale and alternative poultry production..

Pastured poultry is a good operation for the southern region because birds can have outdoor access all year round in many places. However, in some places it is too hot in the summer for outdoor access unless cooling mechanisms or alternative genetics are used that are adapted to heat.

Small-scale poultry production is a politically sensitive issue in the Southern region where the broiler industry is very important economically. Many large-scale conventional companies fear that birds with outdoor access will be exposed to pathogens carried by wildlife and transfer pathogenic diseases to the large-scale industry, causing large economic repercussions. Conversely small-scale commercial growers have concerns that the large-scale industry has more political clout and that the voice of the small scale growers is often left out of sensitive industry issues.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Michael Ashanti
  • Holly Born
  • Ginger Deason
  • Tom Dierolf
  • Jeff Dombroskas
  • Mike Everett
  • Rhonda Everman
  • Anne Fanatico
  • Gus Heard-Hughes
  • Craig Hertel
  • Matt John
  • Frank Jones
  • Steve Schrock
  • Jesse Strassburg
  • Mike Walters

Education & Outreach Initiatives



This SARE PDP project was a two-year project that was operated efficiently, so that it was extended for an additional year of activities with no additional cost to SARE. It was funded from April 2005-April 2007 but was extended to April 2008, with four additional trainings than were proposed in the original proposal and the development of additional materials, including video clips and other visual materials

This final report covers activities from April 2007 to April 2008. Please see Annual reports 2005 and 2006 in the SARE database for trainings and results in previous years.

The project team met regularly via telephone (at least every quarter). Subgroups met more frequently by telephone to plan individual trainings.

Heifer, NCAT, and partners developed materials that are listed in the Publication/Outreach section.

The team used evaluation forms developed by Holly Born at NCAT to evaluate trainings, with the exception of the Spanish language training, for which a modified form was used.

Eastern North Carolina Training
Heifer sponsored a one-day pastured poultry workshop called “Pastured Poultry Production and Rare Breeds “at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in Goldsboro, NC, on June 19, 2007. Organizers/instructors included Steve Moore (CEFS), Ginger Deason (Heifer), Jeanette Beranger and Don Schrider (ALBC), Andrew Gunther (Whole Foods), Willie Willis (NCA&TSU), and producers Mary James, Genell Pridgen, and Ann and Harold Wright. Topics included using and selecting heritage breeds and maintaining heritage breeds, integration of poultry onto the farm, organic poultry production, economics, health, wholesale marketing: selling to Whole Foods, cost-share programs and SARE producer grants. A hands-on session included selection of breeding stock. Announcements of the training went to Extension listservers, CEFS, NC Choices, and NC Environmental Education). Materials provided to attendees included materials from American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization that has also received SARE funding to develop information on heritage poultry breeds. A donation/fee of $10 was charged.

Attendees were asked to complete both pre- and post- evaluations, which were collected at the end of the workshop. Questions asked about the usefulness of topics and materials, as well as enjoyment. Attendees were asked to provide one of the following scores (1=poor, 2=fair, 3=average, 4=good, 5=excellent, 6=outstanding) to the questions. Attendees were also asked about topics they wished had been covered in more detail and other ways to improve. Each training topic was also evaluated individually regarding usefulness, according to the following scale: 1=little, 2=some, and 3=very much. The following materials can be provided upon request: agenda, evaluation form, and evaluation summary.

Texas Training
Heifer sponsored a 1 ½ day Spanish-language poultry training called Produccion Natural de Aves Caseras in San Juan, Texas on February 22-23, 2008. John Garland from the Child Nutrition Program of IDEA Public School hosted the training at a local church (where he is also minister) and provided facilitation as well as instruction. Other instructors included Mike Everett (Heifer); Anne Fanatico (NCAT); and producers Isaias Cervantes (president of Colonias Unidas in Hereford, TX) and Greg Edelin of Alice, TX. Barbara Storz of Texas Agrilife Extension (Hidalgo County) and Cristina Dominguez of Heifer organized the event, along with Vidal Saenz Small Farm Advisory Extension Agent from Prairie View University who also helped with translation. Angela Dement, Extension Assistant for Veterinary Medicine, Texas Agrilife Extension Service in College Station, Texas came to give a talk on Foreign Animal Diseases pertaining to poultry. There was no registration fee. The program was announced via a community group Familias Productores del Valle.

Most presentations were entirely in Spanish; others were in English with Spanish translation. Topics presented included producer profiles, overview of alternative production systems, housing, and equipment, nutrition, preventative practices to maintain health, foreign animal diseases and biosecurity, breeds, processing, economics, and farmer panel. There was also a field visit to the church’s pastured poultry operation where layers are housed in an eggmobile and have access to a yard fenced with a portable fence. Spanish-language materials were provided, including poultry materials from ATTRA (developed as part of this project) and USDA backyard poultry biosecurity and health.

Attendees were asked to complete an evaluation which was collected at the end. Questions asked about the usefulness of topics and materials, as well as enjoyment. Attendees were asked to provide one of the following scores (1=poor, 2=fair, 3=good, and 4=excellent) to the questions. Attendees were also asked open-ended questions about what they liked about the training, what they did not like and any suggestions to improve, topics they wished had been covered in more detail and interest in follow-up events. Each training topic also had its own section to score. The following materials can be provided upon request: agenda, evaluation form, and evaluation summary.

Arkansas Training
Heifer sponsored a 2 ½ day poultry training called “Small Scale Poultry Training” at the Heifer International ranch near Perryville, Arkansas on March 10-12, 2008.
Instructors included Anne Fanatico (NCAT), Univ. of Arkansas Extension Poultry Specialists (Frank Jones, Dustin Clark, Keith Bramwell, and Jerry Wooley), and producers Rosa Shareef, Clay Colbert, and Frank Reese and Jeff May (Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch). Heifer International ranch staff Paul Casey, Michael Ashanti, Betsy Conner, and Chris Trice hosted and instructed field sessions. Instructors and extension agents attended at no cost and the public attended for the cost of meals/lodging for three days ($230). An additional staff member from Heifer Int. headquarters attended. The training took place at the Heifer ranch, which includes on-site pastured poultry production for meat, eggs, hatching, brooding, as well as an on-farm processing facility (legal in Arkansas). Additional birds were brought for a posting (necropsy) section. Tours were also provided of the Heifer ranch, as well as the Global Village, which teaches how people in other parts of the world live, particularly in developing countries.

A comprehensive agenda included overview of alternative poultry production systems/housing/equipment; breeds; nutrition; managing breeders/layers and incubation/hatching; health, small-scale processing, table eggs, food safety, market/economics, and case studies (presentations by producers). In addition a detailed case study of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch was presented, along with a discussion of various poultry species including turkeys. Hands-on sessions included field visits to free-range poultry production sites, posting various species, hands-on processing.
SARE-developed poultry materials available from ATTRA were provided.

Attendees were asked to complete an evaluation which was collected at the end. Questions asked about the usefulness of topics and materials, as well as enjoyment. Attendees were asked to provide one of the following scores (0=none, 1=a little, 2=some, and 3 = a lot) to the questions. Attendees were also asked about topics they wished had been covered in more detail and other ways to improve. Each training topic also had its own section to score. The following materials can be provided upon request: agenda, evaluation form and evaluation summary.

Western North Carolina Training
Heifer helped sponsor a one-day poultry training in NC on March 29, 2008 called “Independent Poultry and Rabbit Meat Producers Workshop.” It was hosted by the Independent Small Animal Meat Processor Association, a group which is developing a small meat processing plant in the area, and was held at MacDowell Technical Commuity College in Marion, NC. Topics included overviews of the status of small animal meat production and the regulatory environment, market opportunities in supermarkets, restaurants, and direct retail, insurance and meat handling licenses, breakout sessions of best practices in specialty poultry and rabbit production, processing overview, and a review of the small plant planned for the area. Presenters included Smithson Mills, producer Walter Harrill, Peter Marks (ASAP), Mark Hibbs (Ratcliffe’s on the Green), Don Delozier and Melanie Pollard (NCDA&CS Meat and Poultry Inspection), Marsh Dark (Morrow Insurance), Bob Grooms (NCDA&CS Agribusiness Dev.), Kathy Bunton and Mario DeLuca (NC Cooperative Extension), producers Natalie Veres, Stephen McMurray, Bill Lelekacs (NCDA&CS Engineer). Jim McNitt (Southern University) was to keynote but became ill and could not attend. He sent his powerpoint. A donation was requested for lunch. Pre- and post-evaluations were given to extension agents. Materials were provided on small-scale poultry and rabbit production and processing.

Heifer International was invited to present a poster at the National SARE meeting in Kansas City, Missouri on March 25-27, 2008. The poster focus was the mobile processing unit (MPU) for poultry that is now housed at Kentucky State University. Anne Fanatico of NCAT created the poster and presented it for Heifer.

Outreach and Publications

Please see previous Annual Reports for additional materials (including Small Poultry Processing Plants and Services database; updated from a print publication that was originally SARE-funded).

Material development:
Poultry House Management for Alternative Production was translated into Spanish (Manejo de Gallineros para la Produccion Alternativa). ATTRA formatted this Spanish publication.
The following publications were also translated to Spanish
Poultry Equipment for Alternative Production (Equipo para la Produccion Avicola Alternativa)
Pastured Poultry Nutrition (Nutricion para Aves de Pastura)
Small Scale Poultry Processing (Procesamiento Para Aves en Escala Pequeña)

Heifer sponsored additional work on poultry materials by Anne Fanatico, NCAT. Fanatico updated PowerPoint presentations and developed video clips, which are posted on the Sustainable Poultry website. Fanatico edited Spanish translations of ATTRA poultry publications and translated selected PowerPoint presentations into Spanish.

Video Clips
The following video clips listed below are available at The footage was taken during an NCAT USDA Scientific Cooperation Research Program-funded trips to France to fact find about alternative poultry production, during the 2005 pastured poultry training held at the Heifer Int. ranch (see Annual Report 2005 for more details), and during interviews with Frank Reese at Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch, during SARE On-Farm Research (a project of the University of Arkansas).

Field pen: Portable floorless poultry shelters at the Heifer Int. ranch
Eggmobile: Portable house or “eggmobile” at the Heifer Int. ranch
Free Range: Semi-portable houses with extensive outdoor access in France
House Fixed: Fixed house with outdoor access in France

Process on Farm: Processing at the Heifer Int. ranch
MPU: Discussion of mobile processing unit built by Heifer Int. (in part from a previous SARE grant) and housed at Kentucky State University

Trace: Frank Reese traces the ancestry of his Bronze and Naragansett turkeys
Bronzeselection: Frank Reese discusses how Bronze is the foundation of domestic turkey lines and moved to selection for a heavily muscled breast
Domestication: Frank Reese discusses how the turkey became domesticated by Native Americans and was taken to Europe by explorers
Industrialization: Frank Reese discusses how turkey production moved from small farm flocks to large-scale industry
History Talk: Frank Reese discusses history of turkey breeding and industrialization, the role of women in breeding
History Book: Frank Reese discusses historical turkey reference books

Expansion of Small-Scale, Pasture-Based Poultry Businesses: Improving Feasibility and Access to Processing: Discusses how a state-of-the-art mobile processing unit improved access to process by small independent poultry producers in Kentucky

Powerpoints updated
Alternative Poultry Production Systems and Outdoor Access
Alternative Poultry House Management (Housing and Equipment)
Table Eggs

PowerPoint presentations in Spanish
Produccion Avicola Alternativa
Gallineros y su Manejo y Equipo en Produccion Avicola Alternativa

Outcomes and impacts:

Eastern North Carolina Training Outcome
Forty-five people attended, including 5 agricultural educators. One of the speakers arrived late and the agenda had to be rearranged and the program ended up running late, which was inconvenient but most attendees stayed.

Evaluation scores for overall questions were from 2.32 – 4.72 (on a scale of 1-6). Overall questions asked about quality of the workshop, whether the information was useful, knowledge gained, how much money would be gained or saved annually from the training, how many ideas will be used in the next year. While few participants were able to estimate potential monetary gains from attending, of those who did, the most frequent answer was $300 with the average amount being $750. Most participants were able to estimate how many ideas they planned to implement in their farming operation and the most frequent answer was 3 ideas, close to the average of 2.87 ideas.

Topics that attendees wished had been covered included egg production, economics, financing and help with marketing, sustainable land management, designs for pens, processing, turkeys, organic production, feeds, more field sessions, overview of production systems and integration into other farm activities, meat quality and sensory attributes, urban poultry production. Suggestions for improvement included a sound system and using break-out sessions because there was too much material and it lasted too long. Comments for using the information in addition to passing information on to producer-clients included that the attendee can better their housing, better selection of birds, and market to wider groups.

The effectiveness of the training was evident from before and after scores. The training increased interest of small-scale and alternative poultry production and marketing; score increased from 1.68 to 2.30 (on a scale of 1 to 3). However, interest in follow-up events actually decreased from 2.70 to 2.38. Knowledge of specific topics increased after the training (average scores were higher for every topic after the training). When topics were evaluated individually for usefulness, the low was 1.85 for Cost Share Programs/SARE Producer grants and the high was 2.51 for Selection of Breeding Stock. Educator trainees evaluated the usefulness of the workshop topics for their producer-clients. Educators evaluated the topics of hands-on breeding stock selection, maintaining a breeding flock, and using/selecting rare breeds as more useful to their producer-clients after the training.
The organizers reported that the training was very positive. The Heifer organizer had hoped to reach limited-resource farmers (producers or educators who work with them) but did not.

Texas Training Outcome
Approximately 20 people attended, many were Spanish-only speakers while others spoke both English and Spanish. One attendee spoke only English. The attendees scored the training well. The post-evaluation indicated an increase in understanding in all topics areas presented compared to the pre-evaluation scores. All responders indicated that they continued to be interested in pastured poultry post-training. Responders specifically mentioned liking the information and materials provided as well as the instructors. A responder responded that he/she would have liked some producer organizing to be done especially to cooperate on equipment purchase; another wanted information on how to get additional help, and how to raise poultry as a large business. Scores were from 2-2.75 for pre-training and 2.9-3.7 for post-training (on a 1-4 scale). One of the organizers from Texas Agrilife commented that there are few agricultural programs in Spanish and she appreciated this one. One of the instructors had a method of very interactive discussion in his presentations that was very effective at involving the group in discussion.

Arkansas Training Outcome
Fourteen Arkansas Extension agents attended and 20 members of the public (including 14 from Guinea Fowl International). The training was evaluated well--average scores for overall questions were from 2.1-2.5 (on a 0-3 scale). For the individual topics, production scored higher (range of 1.8 to 2.3) than processing/food safety (range of 1.4 to 1.8). One person said they didn’t know how it could be better—the facilities were great as well as the instruction. One attendee commented that it is good that only one way of poultry production was not presented as “the right way.” Instruction by producers was rated high because they have a real-world perspective. Many extension agents said the training would help them answer questions from consumers, youth, and producers. One agent said they realized that pastured poultry could be a viable enterprise. There were many comments in person and on the evaluation form appreciating the knowledgeable, professional instruction and the warm, helpful staff at the Heifer ranch.

Problems/concerns included that the processors who killed the chickens were not experienced, had poor handling practices, and did not seem caring of the birds. There was a complaint that the agenda scheduling was too tight. One comment was that the focus was confusing because information was presented with several foci (small flocks, pastured poultry, and commercial production). One person said they did not need to learn to post birds. There was a comment that more practical instruction was needed instead of lecture. More training was requested on: poultry judging to help at country fairs, gamebirds, alternative/natural management for disease, more detail on economics, more on Arkansas regulations for on-farm processing and sale of eggs (because clients often ask extension agents about regulations).

Western North Carolina Training Outcome
Of the 66 people who attended, there were 12 agricultural educators, 50 producers, and 4 agricultural business representatives. Only a few evaluations were returned and it was not possible to match the post-evaluations with the pre-evaluation because no names or codes were on them. Only two were matched and these indicated good ratings. The organizers reported that the comments were universally positive. Attendee comments in person mentioned specifically a great sense of encouragement and community of like-minded farms in the region. According to one organizer, the workshop served as a catalyst to 1) organize growers into a functioning advocacy organization; and 2) helping service providers recognize that a legitimate constituency exists that expects services for independent producers of poultry and rabbit in the state.

Poster Outcome
A poster was developed about the Kentucky State University mobile processing unit (MPU), which was used as a poster for National SARE. Over 800 people attended the 3-day SARE event and posters were available for viewing for almost 2 days in addition to the presentation period. Posters are posted to a SARE website. The poster has also been posted to the Sustainable Poultry website (under Processing) and provides concise information on mobile processing for poultry.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

In this PDP project, Heifer and partners trained many educators and producers with material developed in previous SARE-funded poultry projects and helped to make the information available to the public on websites. Training content and format as well as materials were rated highly. Hands-on sessions and field sessions were also rated highly. Interactive methods were demonstrated to be important.

The project team witnessed changes in attitudes on the part of extension. According to an Arkansas extension agent following the March 2008 training:
“I have to admit that although I am very interested in pasture poultry production and organic farming, I was a little skeptical at first. Now I see a real need for these types of training and foresee a major shift in production practices in the US in the years to come.”

Heifer demonstrated the importance of partnering with the land grant system, one of the largest repositories of agricultural information in the U.S., even on nonconventional topics such as pastured poultry. There is much information that, although developed for conventional large-scale poultry production, is useful for specialty small-scale poultry production. Heifer demonstrated that diverse groups can work together. There is no one “right” way of producing poultry. The focus on natural and organic poultry production is important as these markets, particularly organic and cage-free, continue to grow.

The impact will be on-going and long-lasting. The project has contributed extensive material to the Sustainable Poultry website (, which is available to the public and is visited about 2000 times per month. The publications are also on the ATTRA website (, which gets 3 million unique visitors per year (hundreds of millions of hits). As an example, during the time period 1/1/2003 to 3/1/2008, the following poultry publications (developed from SARE projects) were accessed thousands of times:
Genetics for Pastured Poultry Production (accessed 16,941 times)
Small-Scale Poultry Processing (accessed 59,606 times)
Growing Your Range Poultry Business: An Entrepreneur’s Toolbox (accessed 21,306 times)
The materials developed in Spanish will help reach an even wider group. Materials on the ATTRA website will continue to be updated past the life of the project.


Potential Contributions

This project has contributed to sustainability. Many agricultural educators in the South learned about alternative poultry production practices and how to help their clients with this issue.

By training extension agents on small-scale poultry production: 1) Extension agents may be better equipped to help local producers; 2) If agents promote small scale poultry production, more people will participate and strengthen local food production and increase local economy when sold at farmers markets or other local markets; and 3) Knowledgeable agents working with producers may be able to help introduce other methods of poultry production besides the large-scale model.

There is value for agricultural educators and the producers they serve to participate in some trainings jointly so they can work with each other for greater benefit. This was evident in several of the trainings that took place over the life of this project. The SARE PDP program might wish to continue to encourage this in future work.

Providing training to immigrant farmers in their own language is an excellent way to reach these farmers. In this PDP project, this was demonstrated in Spanish but could also be true for other language groups including Hmong, Burnese, Bantu, and Navajo. The Hispanic agricultural sector in particular is growing. Not only can these groups help supply the demand for natural, local food but for rural development, it is important to train people to feed themselves.

Future Recommendations

Because many small poultry producers are also interested in rabbits, SARE may want to consider projects that develop information on rabbit production with enriched cages, access to the outdoors, and processing.

It is important to have more livestock and poultry project that help to improve access to processing, which continues to be a problem for independent producers.

Attention must be paid to concerns that haven arisen about avian influenza in recent years, especially about possible transmission from wild birds to domestic poultry with outdoor access. NCAT developed an ATTRA publication on this topic that is available to the public.

The importance of having producers assist in planning trainings and to help with instruction was evident. Trainees appreciate the real-world perspective that producer educators bring. The combination of experts and producers is useful, and good partnerships have been established in the Southern Region for future trainings.

Information Products

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.