Using Videos as a Teaching Tool: Improving Profits and Rangelands Through Application of Behavioral Principles

Final Report for EW06-019

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $80,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Beth Burritt
Utah State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

We created a DVD/CD multimedia project entitled: Saving money and Improving Landscapes: The Economics of Behavior. The project includes four video segments on the economics of behavior. They are: 1) Improve Rangeland Use and Profitability: Using Low Moisture Block to Extend the Grazing Season, 2) Reduce Feed Costs and Improve Feed Efficiency: Let Animals Mix their Own Diets, 3) Improve Rangeland Use and Profitability: Herding and Low Stress Handling, and 4) Cost Effective Weed Management: Training Cows to Eat Them.

We also created a companion CD that provides more information on each topic listed above and will help ag professionals create workshops around each topic. Materials on the CD were either created for this project or downloaded from the web and included on the CD. Web materials were in the public domain and given proper credit. For each video materials include: 1) discussion questions; 2) fact sheets 3) references 4) worksheets and tables.

We printed 1000 DVD/CD projects. Eight hundred of them were NRCS and extension personnel throughout the West. We gave another 150 video to NRCS personnel who attended our summer short course or individuals who requested more copies of the video after reviewing it.

We conducted a survey about the usefulness of the videos and supporting materials. Overall, respondents were very positive about both the subject matter or the video and its quality.

Project Objectives:
  1. To raise awareness that understanding and applying behavioral principles can improve ranch profits and ecological sustainability.

    To create 3-5 video segments to demonstrate how behavioral principles can be used to improve ranch profits and ecological sustainability.

    To create support materials (workbook, fact sheets and spreadsheets) to increase understanding and implementation of certain behavioral principles.

    To distribute the video to about 200 extension and NRCS personnel throughout the West who have had training in behavioral principles.

Introduction:

Many people believe that livestock degrade rangelands and riparian ecosystems, and that the only solution is to protect waterways with fencing or to remove livestock from rangelands altogether. Livestock have also been blamed for decreased biodiversity, and an increase in invasive species. Meanwhile economic pressures combine with these societal and environmental concerns, make it increasingly difficult for agricultural-based businesses to survive and thrive.

Two and a half decades of research demonstrate that the solution to these problems may be the animals themselves. By understanding principles of behavior, we can modify our livestock practices to change the behavior of animals. The foundation is simple: Behavior depends on consequences. Positive consequences increase and negative consequences decrease the likelihood of a behavior recurring. Understanding animal behavior will in many cases allow managers to shape our animals to fit our landscapes rather than using expensive machinery and herbicides to alter rangelands to fit animals. This project sought to highlight four behavioral modification practices for improving rangeland health and reducing the cost of production.

We created a DVD/CD multimedia project entitled: Saving money and Improving Landscapes: The Economics of Behavior. The project includes four video segments on the economics of behavior. They are: 1) Improve Rangeland Use and Profitability: Using Low Moisture Block to Extend the Grazing Season, 2) Reduce Feed Costs and Improve Feed Efficiency: Let Animals Mix their Own Diets, 3) Improve Rangeland Use and Profitability: Herding and Low Stress Handling, and 4) Cost Effective Weed Management: Training Cows to Eat Them.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nicole McCoy
  • Kathy Voth

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Burritt, E.A. and K. Voth. 2010. Saving Money and Improving Landscapes: The Economics of Animal Behavior. Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), Logan, UT. DVD/CD Multimedia Project.

Outcomes and impacts:

Raise awareness about the benefits of understanding livestock behavior to change problematic distribution patterns of livestock, reduce invasive species and reduce the cost of finishing livestock.

More than 950 NRCS and extension professionals from the West have the information they need to share the economic benefits of using behavior principles with other extension professionals and producers.

We survey recipients of the DVD/CD. Half the surveys were sent out by email and the other half were included with the DVD/CD materials. Two weeks after mailing the surveys, recipients received either a postcard reminder or an email reminder. Response rates to the survey were low (154 surveys or about 20% were returned). We expected a low response because the survey asked recipients to review four 20-minute videos and the materials on the CD and then complete the survey. We received 83 web responses and 72 paper responses. No differences were observed in the responses received by web or mail.

If survey respondents did not have time to review the materials, we them asked why? Thirty-eight of the 154 respondents choose to answer this question. None of the respondents checked 1) lack of interest or 2) that the materials were not useful. 80% answered lack of time as the main reason they did not review the materials and 20% said they just didn’t need the materials right now. Including this question did increase surveys returned but not significantly.

Summarized below is the data from the 117 respondents that completed the survey.
The information presented on the DVD/CD was new to me. 3 of 5
The information on the DVD/CD increased my awareness of livestock behavior. 3.9 of 5
The information on the DVD/CD changed my opinion about the benefits of understanding livestock behavior when managing animals. 3.4 of 5
The DVD/CD will help me teach others about livestock behavior. 4.2 of 5
The information will help livestock producers be more economically viable. 4 of 5
The videos helped me quickly learn the information. 4 of 5
The information on the DVD/CD will help me put into practice the techniques presented in the videos. 3.8 of 5
The spreadsheets located on the CD are easy to use. 3.7 of 5
The information will change advice I give to others. 3.6 of 5
The DVD/CD packet was high quality. 4.2 of 5

In the next section of the survey respondents could check multiple response to each question. According to the survey, The main reason respondents opened the DVD was interest in the topics (76%) and familiarity with the BEHAVE project (53%). We also asked which topics on the DVD were of interest to them. 78% of respondents were interested in cows eating weeds while around 50% of them were interested in the each of the remaining topics. Most respondents were planning on using the DVD as a resource for producers (74%) and 49% planned on using as part of an educational program and 34% planned on sharing it with their peers.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

1. Created 4 video segments on the economics of behavior. They are: 1) Improve Rangeland Use and Profitability: Using Low Moisture Block to Extend the Grazing Season, 2) Reduce Feed Costs and Improve Feed Efficiency: Let Animals Mix their Own Diets, 3) Improve Rangeland Use and Profitability: Herding and Low Stress Handling, and 4) Cost Effective Weed Management: Training Cows to Eat Them.

2. Created a companion CD that overviews the principles of behavior using three facts sheets: 1) Behavior depends on consequences; 2) How animals learn about foods and locations; and 3) How experience changes the structure and function of the body.

Also on the CD are print materials relating to each video segment. The materials give more information on each topic and will help ag professionals create workshops around each topic. Materials on the CD were either created for this project or downloaded from the web and included on the CD. Web materials were in the public domain and given proper credit. Materials on the CD include:

a. The benefits of choice section focuses on bison and the advantages of offering food choice when feeding livestock contains: 1) discussion questions; 2) two fact sheets: a) Does variety matter and b) Ignoring variation; 3) references on the benefits of choice and feeding bison; 4) worksheets and tables including: a) feed cost calculator that compares the cost of nutrients in feed from University of Nebraska, b) nutritional value of feeds, c) understanding feed analysis, and d) a worksheet that compares the cost of nutrients in different feeds.

b. The section on extending the grazing season with low-moisture molasses block (LMB) includes: 1) discussion questions; 2) information to help producers decide if they need to supplement including: a) body condition scoring, b) estimating forage production, and c) nutrient requirements of beef cattle; 3) a fact sheet on supplementing with LMB; 4) a section on the nutrient quality of range forage including: a) nutrients in range forage and hay; b) nutrients in straw, and c) understanding feed analysis; 5) references about LMB and supplementation; 6) worksheets that help compare the cost of: a) LMB vs. feeding hay, b) nutrients from different LMB and determines the level of a specific nutrient LMB must provide to meet cattle nutritional needs on rangeland, c) nutrients in different LMB.

c. In the herding and handling section, ag professionals are provided with: 1) discussion questions; 2) examples of herding (good and bad); 3) cattle handling information including: a) cattle handling tips, b) how animal-human interactions affect productivity, c) how herding changes cattle behavior, and d) what make a good cattle handler, 4) a fact sheet on moving cattle out of riparian areas and onto uplands, 5) a publication on riparian grazing; and a pdf version of Steve Cote’s book entitled stockmanship.

d. Lastly, the economics of training cows to eat weeds section contains: 1) discussion questions; 2) several fact sheets: a) how animals mix diets, b) why animals eat plants that contain toxins, c) why animals eat poisonous plants, d) introducing animals to new foods, e) using livestock to improve biodiversity, and f) Mother knows best; 3) references on the effect of grazing on weeds, nutritional value of weeds, and several that question the value of herbicides to fight weeds.

3. Distributed 950 copies of the project to ag professionals throughout the country. 800 copies were directly mailed to ag extension agents, district conservationists and rangeland grazing management specialists who work for the NRCS, members of the BEHAVE Facilitators Network, former participants of out NRCS short course who work in the West, and people who requested the DVD via the BEHAVE newsletter.

4. Surveyed individuals receiving the DVD.

5. Posted DVDs and CD materials online at www.behave.net and at eXtension.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Understanding and using animal behavior to meet management goals with grazing livestock is a relative new field of study. Much of the behavioral research on understanding and modifying livestock behavior was begun in the early 1980s. Though hundreds of studies have be conducted since then, it takes time to integrate results and get the information to producers. This DVD/CD set is one of the tools agricultural professional can use to help educate themselves, their peers and producers about the benefits of understanding livestock behavior.

Future Recommendations

Most of the research conducted on livestock foraging behavior has been basic research conducted in pen or small paddocks. We need more applied research conducted on a larger scale to show how understanding livestock behavior can improve livestock grazing, health and sustainability. More large scale applied research projects will help adoption of these practices. As one recipient of the DVD wrote “I keep telling producers about this information and they all look at me like I’m nuts.”

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.