An online course encompassing basic production practices within the small ruminant enterprise for the state of Kentucky was developed and launched for public access. Stakeholder involvement in the design, development and delivery of this information was robust. Additionally, a field delivery of the content evaluated effectiveness of the training materials, and acquainted farmer-instructors with the process of training other producers. Development of a producer manual and slide presentations to accompany the online course will facilitate future field deliveries by Extension personnel and/or farmer-instructors.
Recent estimates indicate Kentucky has 1,800 sheep producers and 32,000 sheep, and 2,500 meat goat producers and 70,000 meat goats. Three full-time state extension personnel (one KSU specialist, two UK associates) are working to serve the needs of the meat goat industry; no extension personnel have full-time sheep responsibilities.
This project aims to expand this capacity by developing state-specific, updatable educational resources, then training field staff and farmer-instructors to deliver the information to producers. We anticipate the following results:
Trainees (UK extension agents, KSU small farm assistants, farmer-instructors) increase their knowledge base of sheep and meat goat enterprises.
Trainees develop skills and competence/confidence to teach KSGH to producers across Kentucky.
Trainees increase their ability to serve a new clientele base – producers and consumers who may have non-farm and diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Trainees will embrace sheep and goat enterprises as commercial, rather than pet or hobby, ventures.
Extension field personnel will accept producers and consumers as effective trainers.
UK extension agents aspire to complete web-based KSGH modules. Financial incentive provided by module inclusion in career ladder system, wherein professional development results in salary increases. Distance learning products are convenient,
cost-effective components of the career ladder.
Marketing of web-based course builds capacity among other agricultural professionalss (for example, high school agriculture teachers, adult vocational agriculture teachers, agricultural professionals at regional universities).
Web-based modules also allow independent study by producers, the ultimate end-user audience.
All participants (trainers/producers) should promote/adopt KSGH best management practices to enhance profitability, environmental stewardship, and overall sustainability within Kentucky sheep and meat goat enterprises.
Public perception of these enterprises will improve through:
-Association of KSGH with other high-profile programs such as Master Gardener, Master
Cattleman, Master Grazer in Kentucky
-Project media efforts to highlight sheep and meat goat enterprises as environmentally sound, economically sustainable, and the source of wholesome, healthy consumer food products
Producers and producer associations will build capacity to assist the industries through involvement in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the KSGH project.
The Kentucky Sheep and Goat Summits, attended by representatives of the producer associations, farmers, and personnel from UK, KSU, KDA, and Kentucky’s regional universities, will provide the framework for cooperative action. A valid role model exists in the cooperation of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association with UK, and formation of
the Kentucky Beef Network since the mid-1990s. Resulting advances in the Kentucky beef industry include expanded certified pre-conditioned feeder calf sales, beef production/marketing facilitators located throughout the state, a robust Master
Cattleman educational program, and a head start on the National Animal Identification System. We expect state and local goat associations to pursue additional funding during this project to support sustained field delivery of the curriculum.
Kentucky Sheep and Goat Herder Curriculum – Phase I
Kentucky is experiencing explosive growth in the meat goat industry, and significant growth in the sheep industry. Producers need
objective, research-based information to ensure sustainability of their enterprises. There are few extension personnel in the
state with full-time meat goat responsibilities, and none working with sheep.
This project creates a collaborative effort among UK, KSU, farmers, and producer associations to expand the state’s outreach capabilities. We will develop modules for a web-based and field-deliverable Kentucky Sheep and Goat Herder (KSGH) curriculum.
Updatable curriculum modules will address Kentucky-specific production and marketing issues. The project team will train extension agents, small farm assistants, and farmer instructors
to deliver KSGH locally, through a web-based Facilitators’ Guide and inservice trainings.
Producer participation in Kentucky Sheep and Goat Summits, advisory panel membership, service as farmer-instructors, or attendance at two pilot KSGH offerings involve end-users in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the project.
-increased knowledge base of trainees
-development of skills, confidence, and competence to teach KSGH
-adoption of best management practices in Kentucky sheep and meat goat operations
-improved public perception of the industries
-increased capacity of associations to assist their industry
-expanded capacity of state sheep and goat outreach efforts
Pre-/post-training surveys will be used to measure progress. Follow-up surveys will document actual producer practice changes. Tracking of web-based course participation and test scores will indicate capacity building among producers and other agricultural professionals. The ability of associations to secure funding for KSGH
continuation will measure capacity building within those groups.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Information shared at three sheep and goat summit meetings was gathered to design, develop, and implement the curriculum based upon stakeholder input and University resources. A six-member advisory panel was established with representatives of the industry and producers (including three groups of farmer-instructors from diverse geographic regions of the state). Content was extensively peer-reviewed by volunteer faculty from both land-grant institutions (University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University). Investigators and three additional student employees established an online course through eXtension at campus.extension.org (enrollment key = smrum). Additionally, slide sets and participant manuals were developed for field delivery of the curriculum. Two in-service training opportunities were offered for Extension personnel in central and western Kentucky. A field delivery was presented in Frankfort Kentucky in April 2010.
Outreach and Publications
Kentucky Sheep and Goat Herder Curriculum is at campus.extension.org (enrollment key = smrum). Producer Manual, attendance roster, and evaluations are to be mailed as appendix to written report.
As the evaluations indicate, producer sentiments about the project are very positive. Follow-up questionnaires will document practice changes.
Perhaps the most encouraging qualitative measure of the impact of the project was the request by one of the farmer-instructors that the course be delivered face-to-face throughout the state. Investigators intend to accommodate demand to the extent practically feasible; the availability of farmer-instructors to augment limited personnel at the state level will be a tremendous resource. Efforts will continue to enhance field personnel acceptance of the resource for local delivery.
A copy of the Producer Manual will be mailed with hardcopies of the final report. Evaluations of the field delivery, an attendance roster and press release will also be submitted.
The investigators deemed it unnecessary to develop an Instructor Manual, as the evolution of the electronic platform for course delivery (from the Southern Region Cooperative Extension Curriculum Project (CECP) to eXtension (MOODLE)) resulted in the capacity for instructors to download the online course content in toto for teaching preparation. Additionally, the capacity to incorporate downloadable slide sets into the course shell improves the ability to deliver the content in a “ready-to-go” format for ease of field delivery.
The energy and enthusiasm of the advisory panel, and especially the farmer-instructors, for this project cannot be overstated. Their contributions were invaluable, and investigators anticipate continued involvement from the group as further field deliveries are scheduled for the future.
A more significant challenge was encountered regarding participation among field personnel. Insufficient enrollment resulted in cancellation of the two in-service face-to-face trainings scheduled for April 2009. Investigators have discussed this with Extension administrators, and will evaluate the use of targeted required attendance in critical production areas of the state, as well as the possibility of using online meeting technology (Centra server) to facilitate agent training. We feel the very positive evaluation results of field delivery will convince the trainee population of the worthiness of this resource to their overall programs.
While the basic nature of the content is most applicable to those considering small ruminants as a new enterprise, the investigators believe the material to be beneficial to anyone in the industry, established or not. Many of the production challenges addressed by the course are playing out in reality – many producers have exited production, and those who choose to remain can evaluate their practices using the information provided by the curriculum. Follow-up questionnaires will be sent to all participants to gauge adoption of recommended best management practices in forages, herd health, and nutrition.
While at least a couple dozen farmers have been involved in the project through summit participation, content review/revision, etc., as the attendance roster indicates seven producers have attended field delivery of the course. At least one more pilot will be offered in western Kentucky.
Since public release of the online course, scores of requests for access and more information have been received from Kentucky as well as Florida and Montana. Some excerpts from those requests include:
“I am very interested in learning how I can take this online course. We have just bought 25 acres of land in Taylor Co, Kentucky and are considering raising goats. This would really be a huge asset to me. Please give me any information on this course that you may have including the fees.
Thank you in advance for your assistance.”
I have just learned about the University of Kentucky’s online sheep course. Is it possible for those of us outside of Kentucky to take this course? I would be thrilled if it were available, since we have nothing like this in Montana.”
“Dear Mr. Yeargan,
I am interested in learning more about the online course that was mentioned in the Farm World article last week. I am located in West Central Ky near a little town called Caneyville. I have a small herd of goats-just six nannies and a billy, but I want to learn more about raising good healthy goats. Please let me know about the course. Your help is appreciated.”
As reported, more effort is necessary to ensure dissemination of the course by field personnel. Furthermore, as this project title indicates, Phase I addressed only the most critical perceived needs of small ruminant producers in the state. Limited availability of the related production manual from Langston University may bridge the gap to a more comprehensive treatment of the enterprises, but additional modules on topics such as marketing, financial management, facilities, etc. with information specific to conditions in the state (and much of the Southern Region) are in order. Financial support for continued development of complementary modules will be pursued, but budget shortfalls in our state and others have led to a challenging environment for securing extramural funding.