Sheep and goat production is popular with many beginning farmers and is a new enterprise for some experienced farmers. Extension agents working with these farmers need tools to support them. This project, the Toolbox for Small Ruminant Educators: Building on the Small Ruminant Resource Manual, involved producing, collecting, and expanding materials to assist agents. Two complete manuals, a PowerPoint library, workshop plans and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list were loaded onto 1 GB jump drives, labeled “Small Ruminant Toolbox 2010”.The jump drives were distributed to agents at training workshops in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The overall purpose of this project is to increase the ability of educators to assist sheep and goat producers, thereby encouraging diversification of agricultural enterprises and increasing sustainability. This project will create new materials, improve on existing materials, and offer training workshops for educators. All activities will be done with input from sheep and goat producers. The products created during this project and used during the training workshops are described as “tools;” they are listed below along with the evaluation method for each project objective. The following are the desired results of this project:
1. At least 100 educators (Extension agents, NRCS field staff, Young Farmer advisors, Heifer International field representatives) will be better equipped to serve the needs of sheep and goat producers, especially limited-resource producers. At least 40 of the educators will actually use the materials within three months of receiving the training.
• Tools—PowerPoint library, tutorial, manual, FAQ list, and Checksheet
• Evaluation method—list of participants and questionnaire three months after the training
2. At least 100 educators will know how to obtain further information about sheep and goat production and marketing.
• Tool—Small Ruminant Resource List and Small Ruminant Manual
• Evaluation method—list of participants and questionnaire three months after the training
3. At least 100 educators will gain knowledge of organic sheep and goat production and will have tools in their possession to help farmers interested in this option.
• Tools—organic information within the Checksheet and organic chapter of the manual
• Evaluation method—questionnaire after the training to determine the use of the organic information
4. Educators will understand the value of whole-farm planning and will be equipped to present the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet (a tool for whole-farm planning created during the previous project, ES02-060) to sheep and goat farmers in their area. At least 40 of the educators will use the materials within three months of receiving training.
• Tools—Checksheet and workshops
• Evaluation method—questionnaire after three months; records of the number of educators trained, the number of producers who use the Checksheet with an educator, and the number of workshops hosted by educators to present the Checksheet to producers
5. Educators will be prepared to plan and deliver workshops for sheep and goat producers, and at least 15 will host a workshop in their region within three months of receiving training.
• Tools—PowerPoint library and workshops
• Evaluation method—questionnaire three months after training; records of the number of educators trained and the number of workshops hosted by trainees; feedback collected about the usefulness of all materials (PowerPoint library, Small Ruminant Resource List, Small Ruminant Resource Manual, Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet, training workshops)
The project leader will be responsible for compiling the data and information from each state and incorporating the feedback to improve materials.
Sheep and goat production offers many advantages for farmers. Because they are small, prolific and productive ruminants, they are well-suited to grass-based and small-scale agriculture. Sheep and goats are relatively inexpensive animals to purchase and feed compared to larger animals, a critical advantage for limited-resource farmers. Sheep and goats can be raised with very little grain, which is advantageous at a time when grain prices are on the rise. Return on investment (ROI) is quick for sheep and goats because they reproduce at a young age and have a high incidence of twinning, are marketed within 6 to 10 months of birth, and can be raised with little cost on pasture. Due to their smaller size, they are not intimidating or dangerous animals and are good enterprises for women, youth, and aging farmers. As excellent weed and brush controllers, sheep and goats improve pastures and often work synergistically with cattle and other livestock and cropping operations. Recent increases in the ethnic populations in the United States have improved demand for sheep and goat meat, and artisan cheese makers and fiber businesses have also seen increased enthusiasm for their products, so there are several options for using sheep and goats in profitable businesses.
However, there are many challenges in raising and marketing sheep and goats. Fencing, predation, and parasites are three of the main challenges. For those with little or no experience, basic production and grazing information are also needed. Many sheep and goat producers are new to the business, and there is a scarcity of mentors and of trained educators and veterinarians experienced with sheep and goats. Fortunately, there are many excellent resources available to help producers learn more about sheep and goat enterprises. Many of those resources are accessible online. However, in many rural areas, internet access is limited to dial-up. This makes the use of electronic resources very difficult. Historically, the Cooperative Extension Service has provided information and support to these farmers, but recent budget cuts have reduced the number of Extension agents in the region and have greatly increased the difficulty of the remaining agents’ jobs. The remaining agents may not have experience or knowledge of sheep and goat production and marketing, and may also not be aware of available resources. Those agents who do have experience with sheep and goats will still be strapped for time due to many other responsibilities. Therefore, this project was undertaken to collect helpful educational resources for sheep and goat producers in a format that could be easily stored and customized and shared by educators with their clients, even farmers with limited internet access. These resources were organized around topics identified by producers and agents as important, and were planned to be useful in workshop settings as well as home study. This collection, called the Toolbox, was intended to save time and effort for educators while providing good support for inexperienced producers of sheep and goats.
The centerpiece of the Toolbox is the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet. The Checksheet is a whole farm planning tool, patterned after previous SARE-funded checksheets for beef cattle and dairy enterprises. All the checksheets are designed to help farmers assess their farm and find the areas to work on to improve profitability and sustainability. Working through the Checksheet annually will help farmers adjust to changing realities of the marketplace and of their homes, and aid them in planning with their families to increase satisfaction and progress. This process could help retain sheep and goat producers in the region, so that more mentors are available for the next round of new producers and so the infrastructure for farming will be sustained.
As stated in the March 2007 issue of the Missouri Alternative Center’s Ag Beginnings newsletter, a study by Pro Farmer found some common traits in successful farmers. The Ten Habits of Highly Profitable Farmers include the ability of the operators to:
1) Look at their farming operation with a total systems approach. They focus on a) vision, b) mission, c) values, d) goals
2) Manage risk (through farm insurance or marketing tools, for example)
3) Learn from “what-if” scenarios; thinking through impacts of changing management before actually doing it
4) Establish a peer group (farm organization or family, friends, neighbors)
5) Develop alliances that might be mutually beneficial (trading ideas, labor, or machinery, for example)
6) Actively manage the resources available to the business (labor, $, or land, for example)
7) Continuously assess personal performance (use of time, farm financial state, progress toward goals)
8) Move quickly in implementing new ideas to capture opportunities
9) Capitalize on market opportunities that will assure a profit
10) Work continually toward improving personal and business performance
(See http://agebb.missouri.edu/mac/agopp/arc/agopp082.txt for the article; it was gleaned from Pro Farmer originally.)
The Checksheet is designed to help farmers accomplish habits 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 10; attending a workshop for sheep and goat producers might encourage habits 4, 5, and 9. Although whole farm planning is important for success, the topic is not typically covered in sheep and goat production workshops. One of the goals of the Toolbox project is to encourage educators to present information about whole farm planning and support farmers in using the Checksheet as a tool to improve their farms. Another goal is to make it easier for educators to offer programming for sheep and goat producers so they have more opportunities to meet others in their area and share knowledge and experience.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The first step in this project was to develop the content for the Toolbox. We did this by first gathering input from Extension agents and producers about needs; what are the major issues for sheep and goat producers? What resources do producers need and want? We collected this information by listening to our clients on the ATTRA 800 line, handing out surveys at a few events, and sending out questions on the CUD list serv (created during our previous SARE project, ES02-060). We asked agents to rank the needs and then we worked to find materials to help serve those needs.
The centerpiece of the Toolbox and of the workshops is the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet, developed through a previous SARE project (ES02-060) and updated and expanded during this project. This tool is meant to be used by producers and educators to help assess the whole farm, with the aim of improving the sheep or goat enterprises on the farm. It includes text for information, and “yes” or “no” questions and open-ended questions to help producers think through specific aspects of their farm and its enterprises. The Checksheet is packaged with a “QuickStart” that can give a short-cut way to find the weakest areas of the farm, and with a Resource List to help in finding more information on a particular topic. Each of these pieces is also available as a stand-alone handout, so agents can use them with producers and producer groups. We created a PowerPoint presentation (annotated) to help teach agents about the Checksheet and its companion pieces.
Another component of the Toolbox is the NCAT Small Ruminant Resources Manual. This is an 897 page PDF, “clickable” from a table of contents. Organized to support the sections of the Checksheet, each chapter contains publications from ATTRA and other sources to provide more information on a topic. At the end of each chapter is a list of more information—weblinks or book references—for further exploration. The Manual is in a folder with a Word document that lists every publication in the PDF, with page numbers so that agents or producers can select a particular document and print only the pages they want. This table of contents list also helps direct a reader to the precise section they want to explore.
Next, we assembled useful PowerPoint presentations that an agent can use for self-study or to present to a group. We got a great help in this effort when our collaborator, Dr. An Peischel, gave permission to include the Tennessee Master Meat Goat Producer Program in its entirety; all the PowerPoints and the companion manual. There was one stipulation; those presentations must be used in their entirety (don’t pull one or two slides out for use, and don’t alter the presentations). The PowerPoint library also got a boost when Susan Schoenian (Maryland Cooperative Extension) gave permission to use her presentations. We included seven of those and then noted how agents could find others on SlideShare, because Ms. Schoenian is continually adding content and updating materials. We also collected presentations that we had created previously, added annotations to the “notes” field so that they would be more useful for self-study or to help others understand our intention on a particular slide, and created additional presentations. Next, we listed all the presentations and gave information about each one in a Word document. We then placed the table of contents and annotations and three folders inside the PowerPoint Library folder. All told, there are 43 PowerPoint presentations in the library. The Word document that describes all of them is helpful in determining which presentation might be best for a particular use. The document is attached to this report.
The point of the presentations is to make it easy for educators to present a topic, or to ask a producer to present a topic. (Farmers enjoy learning from other farmers, and this might make it easier to find a speaker to handle a topic.) The presentations could also be used by sharing with a farmer for self-learning, using them just as an in-home tutorial—not requiring internet access. Many excellent resources are available on-line but are not very useful for those with dial-up internet access.
The PowerPoint Library folder is also useful for educators to have a handy place to file their own presentations. The reason we selected jump drives as the mechanism to hold the Toolbox is that it allows the user to customize and to organize helpful materials in the future. Folders can be added or deleted with ease so that agents have just what they need.
Another feature of the jump drive is a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) document. Educators get some questions over and over and it may be handy to have some good “go to” places listed for resources, and brief answers where possible. Educators are encouraged to use this folder and add their own useful documents; local markets, contact information for veterinarians or shearers or processing plants, or any other details they need to know often.
With the main part of the content in place, we put some thought into the workshops, and created a folder with a suggested workshop plan. That folder contains a PDF of the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet, a Word document with the Workshop Plan explained, PowerPoint presentations covering Whole Farm Planning and the Checksheet, Using the Toolbox, and Building a Workshop. These are to be used by agents to prepare for teaching, or used in the workshop to trigger discussion. Finally, we included a Jeopardy game. This is a PowerPoint that can be customized for any set of topics and questions. We set it up with some easy questions about sheep and goat production, and included a Word document with instructions on using this game.
Not every user could attend a training workshop. Therefore, we assembled another folder labeled “Overview and Instructions”. This one contains the table of contents for the whole Toolbox, the descriptions of all the PowerPoints, short annotated presentations explaining the toolbox and the process of building a workshop, the table of contents (with page numbers) for the NCAT manual, and a document explaining the use of the Toolbox. This one is most helpful for quick reference by agents in finding the document or PowerPoint needed on a subject, and for agents who were not able to attend the training to get a feel for the Toolbox and its contents.
With the materials assembled, we contracted with a company to print and put content on the jumpdrives. We were able to purchase these (loaded) for about $7 each; there are more than 660 MB of data, so we selected 1 GB models to allow agents to expand. See attached photo of the jumpdrive. We have used SARE funds to purchase and distribute 1300 of them into AR, KY, TN, OK, GA, and NC. The last 700 were sent out in September 2011 and will be used by our cooperators to assist with their work.
Workshops were held to present the materials, explain the contents of the manual, the checksheet, and the powerpoint library, and provide opportunities to practice using the Toolbox. Our plan was to have each educator come with a laptop computer and a local producer to serve as their partner for the training. After introducing the materials, the program would include an open discussion of workshops; what has worked, and what hasn’t, from the perspective of educators and producers. The agents discussed their ideas of how to plan a program; when and where to hold it, how to choose topics and find speakers, how and where to publicize to get better attendance, and other strategies for successful programs. Once the Toolbox was explained and the discussion held, participants were given a group assignment. Each team of 2 to 3 persons was to use the Toolbox and take 30 minutes or so to plan a program for their area. They were told to describe the location, the day of the week and time of the day, how and where they would publicize, select topics and identify speakers, decide whether or not to provide lunch, and if so, how to do that, and how much to charge. They were to make a very specific game plan for a program.
Finally, the leaders were to select three or four of the teams to present their plan to the whole group, including their thought process. (In Arkansas, we had time for each team to report back.) Because each team had a different approach, it was interesting to hear the reports, and it generated further discussion. The interaction between groups of agents and producers was energizing and fun.
Another interactive session of the workshop was to help agents explore the Toolbox materials. We gave them some questions to answer from a hypothetical producer, and asked them to explain how they found the answer in the Toolbox. Agents had different thought processes and different ways to find the answer; some looked for a presentation, others checked one of the manuals. In describing what they found they helped each other think of more approaches and increased their familiarity with the Toolbox.
We also took time to play the Jeopardy game with the group. The questions currently on the game are simple, but the game was fun and the participants enjoyed the activity. Several commented that they looked forward to using the game as a review after a presentation, or to play with 4-H groups.
Our vision was that after exploring the Toolbox, playing the game, and doing the workshop planning exercise, each team would go home and actually give the workshop they had planned. Having producers present at the trainings would offer needed perspective in what producers do or do not find helpful, and provide insight on why sometimes programs are not well-attended. Giving support to educators to help them in reaching small ruminant producers will help producers continue learning and networking with each other, as the programs offered by Extension are an important time producers get to be with other producers in a larger group. Therefore, programs are extremely valuable, both in the education offered and in the opportunity for farmers to be together and talk.
Each of the state collaborators (in AR, OK, KY, TN, and GA) was initially given 50 jumpdrives and the workshop plan; each was also given permission to run the workshop in a way that best suited them. Project leaders Linda Coffey and Margo Hale were present in AR and OK and assisted with the workshops. Collaborators handled all the arrangements and administered and taught the workshops and sent evaluations back to the project leaders. We were not able to collect all the evaluations but did get back a total of 80.
Details about the dates and locations of workshops and other outreach are included in a document attached to this report.
Due to formatting difficulties, workshop location information is included as a separate file attached to this report. Included are the locations and dates and numbers of agents trained, as well as a list of producer trainings where information was shared about the Checksheet and the manual. A total of 104 agents were formally trained, and 98 more in Tennessee alone received the Toolbox. In all the other states some agents who were not able to attend the training were provided with the Toolbox.
Each state collaborator used the same workshop evaluation form and returned the completed forms to the project leaders to be compiled. The summary of the workshop evaluations is attached. A follow-up survey was designed to find out whether the agents were using the jumpdrive, and what parts they were finding useful. We used Survey Monkey as the vehicle for this, sending the link to the email addresses collected at the workshops. The materials survey was sent several times near the end of the project. We got responses from 62 agents. A summary of the survey is attached.
- Arkansas Toolbox workshop, Dr. Steve Jones instructing
- Oklahoma Toolbox workshop
- Oklahoma Toolbox workshop using the Toolbox
- Oklahoma Toolbox workshop
- Locations and dates of workshop and other outreach
- Description of Toolbox Powerpoints
- Workshop plan
- Toolbox Table of Contents
- Arkansas Toolbox workshop, workshop planning exercise
- Manual Table of Contents
- Toolbox workshops evaluation summary
- Toolbox Materials Survey summary
- Small Ruminant Toolbox 2010 photo
- Jeopardy Game
- blank copy of Survey Monkey materials survey
- Georgia Toolbox workshop
- Arkansas Toolbox workshop agenda
Outreach and Publications
See the Table of Contents list for the Toolbox. The publications that were created or updated for the Toolbox include:
• (updated) Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet
• (updated) Quickstart (handy for agents to assess needs of an audience)
• (updated) Small Ruminant Resource Manual (PDF, 897 pages) (currently available on the Toolbox jump drive)
• (updated) Small Ruminant Resource List
• notations on 22 NCAT PowerPoint presentations (some new, some updated)
• list of the contents of the Tennessee Master Goat Producers Program manual
• list (with page numbers to facilitate copying articles) of the contents of the NCAT Small Ruminant Resource Manual
• annotated list of all PowerPoint presentations included in the PowerPoint library
o 22 NCAT presentations
o seven from Susan Schoenian
o 18 presentations and a 415-page manual, the Tennessee Master Goat Producers Program collection
• simple version of a PowerPoint “Jeopardy” game (questions and answers can be changed to suit the subject and audience, making it useful for review or to assess audience knowledge)
• FAQ list
• training-workshop plan
ATTRA sheep and goat publications, including the materials updated through this project, are found at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/livestock/livestock.html#sheep_goat.
Outreach was described above in the Methods section.
To date, 104 agents have been formally trained using the Toolbox and the workshop plan designed for this project. Many other agents and producers have received the Toolbox. We collected email addresses at the workshops, and Dr. Peischel sent us sign-in sheets so we could survey those who got the Toolbox through the agent mailing in Tennessee. From those persons surveyed, we got 62 responses about the Toolbox. Evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, and it is clear the Toolboxes are helpful to the agents and are being used. We asked, “How many producers have you helped using the Toolbox?” and got a reply from about half of those who returned the survey; the number of producers helped by that small group of agents was 798. Other agents stated in the comments that they have workshops scheduled for the fall of 2011, or have upcoming events where they will be using the Toolbox. We expect that agents will continue to use their Toolbox as they have questions from sheep and goat producers, and that many will copy the Toolbox and hand out to producers. Also, many agents indicated they are using the Toolbox for self-study; this will make them more prepared to assist producers and to speak at programs.
It is very exciting to learn about the ways agents are using the Checksheet and the rest of the Toolbox to assist producers. In Arkansas, agent Jennifer Hawkins requested 40 Toolboxes and copies of the Quickstart, and took them to a producer workshop at Ester and Garry Clements’ farm. At that workshop, producers were taught about the Checksheet, and all present filled out the Quickstart to give their agent an idea of the problem areas the producers were having. This enabled her to plan programming to meet their needs. See attached Quickstart, and the results compiled from this workshop.
Following that workshop and using the results gleaned there, the agent planned a Small Ruminant Short Course, where participants got a Toolbox, a copy of the Checksheet, and 3 weekly sessions to focus on the issues they have and identify the main problems to work on for their farm. The agent who planned the short course unfortunately took a new job, and was not there to carry out the course (though other agents did). Evaluations are not available.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Ester Clement, who is an influential producers, has extended the information gathered for this project to many other producers and is planning another on-farm workshop for the fall of 2012. She has encouraged others to work through the Checksheet and to use the Toolbox to educate themselves.
Another participant at the Arkansas training, Mr. Jack Boles, used the Checksheet and Quickstart in his county. See attached the results from his Quickstart survey; note how he identified the areas where his producers most needed assistance by simply counting the number of “yes” and “no” answers. He worked with producers to help them complete the Checksheet and identify for their own farm what three problems they wanted to focus on, and what action steps they would take to address those problems. He is following up now to find how their practices have changed and what the impact has been for them. See attached the flyer, workshop evaluation, and Quickstart survey.
Dr. Steve Jones, our cooperator in Arkansas, has also used the Toolbox to good effect in Arkansas since the training workshop. He reports that it is very popular with producers and agents. One of the comments from Arkansas: “Earlier this week at a drought meeting, I had a producer comment that the information I had provided him (from the workshop) had enabled his goats to enter this harsh summer in better condition than ever before and that he would have had to cull a larger proportion of them without that assistance.” Another response from an Arkansas agent: “I had a couple that are very experienced meat goat producers attend the initial training with me and they were very impressed and have used the information extensively and passed it on to other producers!” And another AR agent commented, “The best put together package for a one stop resource I’ve seen in my 15 years with Extension.”
Dr. Jones plans to extend knowledge of the Checksheet through a presentation at the Sheep and Goat Field Day in Booneville, October 8, 2011. He also will submit an abstract to present about the Checksheet and the Toolbox at the American Society of Animal Science Southern Section meeting in Birmingham, Alabama in February, 2012.
In Kentucky, in addition to the agent training conducted by Dr. Ken Andries, Dr. Dianne Hellwig taught a session at the 2011 Kentucky Goat Summit at the Center for Sustainability of Farms and Families, reaching 50 producers and agents. This linked the current project with ES07-087 (Kentucky Sheep and Goat Herder Curriculum). The collaborators in Kentucky also plan to extend the project further through distance learning sessions with agents, because schedules prevented training many agents. We produced extra Toolboxes to allow for more work beyond the end of this project.
Our Oklahoma cooperator, Dr. Steve Hart, has been helpful in reaching out to tribal agents and NRCS agents in addition to local vo-ag teachers and Extension agents. Recognizing that many youth are beginning with sheep and goats and need more information, Dr. Hart is planning to offer further training and Toolboxes to vo-ag teachers.
Dr. Will R. Getz and Mr. Steve Morgan worked together in Georgia to carry out this project. Both were involved in developing the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet during the previous SARE project, ES02-060. Dr. Getz is a member of the American Goat Federation and of the American Sheep Institute and is influential with industry and producer groups. One of the agents they trained in Georgia wrote: “We were able to plan and hold a clinic. We expected 25 and got 60. We are planning another round.”
In Tennessee, Dr. An Peischel has extended the reach of this project by copying materials on CDs at her own expense, and distributing at many producer and agent trainings. She also mailed the jumpdrive to agents in 2011, and has plans to distribute materials at events in the fall of 2011. She reports that producers and agents are very pleased to receive the information. One of her students wrote to us: “Thanks for jogging my memory about this thumb-drive. I remember opening it and finding it to be a great, and HUGE, resource. This is just after spending three days with An. So much information was on it where one can take it all in, but one where the answers are there when needed… Thanks for developing this.” Another student is a county agent in Decatur County and wrote to request another jumpdrive, as he needs it to teach a Master Goat class in Tennessee. Dr. Peischel wrote, “The program is definitely a “hot” item, I have copied—as of now—over 350 CD’s and given them out and discussed them at lots of meetings. I’ve even sent some paper copies to folks (Amish, Mennonite) that don’t use computers.”
Full responses from the materials evaluation may be read in the attached report. To date, more than 600 Toolboxes have been given to educators and producers. Another 700 will be distributed as requests come in.
- Flyer for Newton County goat producers whole farm planning meeting (AR)
- Evaluation from producer workshop presenting checksheet (AR)
- News release for Newton County AR goat producers meeting
- QuickStart totals to guide agent programming for producers. Used the QuickStart as a survey tool. (Damascus, AR)
- QuickStart for Checksheet
- A summary from producer workshop showing assessment of group needs using QuickStart.
The objectives and performance targets of this project have been exceeded in most areas. We planned to train at least 100 educators, and we gave formal training to 104. We also provided materials to many more agents; 100 in Tennessee alone. To date, we have verified by our survey that 46 agents used the Toolbox for their own self-study after the training. Also, 10 agents said they have hosted a workshop for producers using the Toolbox, and 34 assisted clients with information from the Toolbox. When asked if they have used Toolbox materials to plan or conduct a workshop, 26 agents responded that they had. This may indicate that agents have workshops scheduled but not yet held, or it could be that the smaller figure identifies workshops that are focused on the Toolbox, while the larger number shows agents who are using parts of the Toolbox. This seems likely based on the comments received through the survey; four agents noted that they have plans to use the materials. As mentioned earlier, agents who responded to the survey have helped 798 producers as of September, 2011. Others mentioned that they have plans to hold workshops later in the fall or in 2012.
One of the goals was to provide knowledge of organic sheep and goat production to agents so that they could help farmers interested in that option. We produced new text in the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet to serve that purpose, and also added a chapter about organics to the Small Ruminant Resource Manual. We called attention to these features during the trainings, so we know that at least 104 agents are aware of those sections and can find them if needed. However, results from the survey show that the organic materials are not being heavily used, perhaps reflecting a lack of demand from producers. Nearly half the agents who responded to the survey have not used the organic section of the manual. However, thought of another way, nearly half have used it at least once or twice; a total of 27 agents indicated they have used it at least that often, and 4 agents have used it at least once per month. Also, the 47 agents who have used the Checksheet at least once or twice since receiving it will have seen the organic information within that document. Therefore, this goal has been met.
Another goal was to present information about whole-farm planning and the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet to agents, and to have at least 40 educators use the materials within three months of receiving training. One hour of the training was dedicated to this topic, and again at least 104 agents are now aware of the availability of this tool. Our survey showed that to date only 5 agents have presented information on whole farm planning to producers. However, 42 agents responded that they had used the Checksheet since attending the training. In Arkansas alone, we know of two workshops focused on the Checksheet. Mr. Jack Boles wrote: “I conducted a workshop covering the check sheet, using it as an educational tool and as a needs assessment. I am currently using the quick start as a 4 month evaluation to determine what practices have changed since the meeting.” In Tennessee, Dr. An Peischel has used the Checksheet with producers extensively. When asked about their favorite parts of the Toolbox, several agents responded that the Checksheet or the Quick Start to the Checksheet were most useful to them.
We asked agents how often they have used the Toolbox parts. The responses indicate the favorite sections are: Small Ruminant Resource Manual (51 users), FAQ (43), PowerPoint Library and Checksheet (42 each), and the QuickStart (29). The comments given by the users reflect an enthusiasm for the Toolbox as a resource for their own use and for producers to use.
When asked if they would recommend the Toolbox to other small ruminant educators, 46 replied that they “Strongly agree”, while the other 11 said they “Somewhat agree”. No one disagreed.
The evaluations for this project are attached above (at the end of the Methods section).
The collected resources will help agents in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee to assist sheep and goat producers with questions and to provide targeted programming more easily and with more confidence than before. By copying the materials, agents can provide producers with an easily accessible library of resources, which can help the producers after hours, even if they do not have good internet access. Agents can use the QuickStart as a way to assess the needs of their clientele and make informed decisions about the topics to cover in educational programs. They could also use it as a yearly assessment to track trends of their producers. Agents will have more time to develop effective programs as they share accessible resources with clients, eliminating the need to answer many routine questions.
Producers will get needed support and education to help them have more successful businesses. If they take the time to use the Small Ruminant Sustainability Checksheet, producers will be able to find the areas of their farm that need improvement and be able to target their energy, money, and time to do the most good for their farm profitability and sustainability. This will improve satisfaction and allow more sheep and goat producers to remain in business, rather than exiting. By remaining in business, sheep and goat producers will improve the availability of locally produced meat, provide grazing services and fertility for land, strengthen farm and local economies, and help preserve farmland. Successful, experienced sheep and goat producers provide inspiration and mentoring to new farmers and help keep related businesses going (hay growers, feedstores, hardware and farm supply stores, veterinarians, meat processors, etc). A stronger, more robust community with better access to local food will be the long-term result as these materials are applied.
The feedback from agents and producers is useful in planning future work. While evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, the addition of an index would make the Toolbox even more useful as the information would be easier and quicker to find.
The Toolbox idea would translate easily to other types of enterprises. Agents and producers have asked about the availability of a Pastured Pork Toolbox or a Pastured Poultry Toolbox. “Master” courses of many types could use this format successfully if their clients had a computer, even if there is not good internet access in the area.
The Checksheet is a great tool, but is intimidating when looked at in one sitting. Breaking up the Checksheet into more manageable modules or units and working at it in a group setting, with agent support, would be highly beneficial. Planning a 3-week session to allow producers time to work on the Checksheet at home and in class, and then discussing in class, would allow agents to assist producers in a more efficient manner. Many producers will have the same questions, but will come up with different, innovative solutions. A course would encourage them to form alliances and share resources with each other, building a community of sheep and goat producers in the region.
It has also been suggested that the Checksheet could be converted to an on-line version that would automatically tabulate results from the “yes” and “no” questions and could be saved and worked on in several sessions. The electronic version could be archived and available for comparison next year.
Although there are many resources included or referred to in this Toolbox, there is a need for more comprehensive business planning and economic information. User-friendly business tools and record-keeping software would be very helpful to sheep and goat producers and to all farmers.
The project leaders and collaborators are grateful to SARE for the opportunity to work on this project. Thank you very much for providing the funding to allow creation of the Small Ruminant Toolbox and training workshops.