Diversifying with Small Ruminants for Profitability

Final Report for LNE06-239

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $85,340.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Allison Shauger
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agricultu
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Project Information

Summary:

During the three years of this project, over 600 farmers participated in PASA small ruminant programming, including field days, intensive learning programs, pre-conference tracks, and conference workshops. 26 of these attended at least half of the technical programs offered. 37 used the trainings to successfully introduce small ruminants to diversify operations or implement a change to significantly improve profitability of existing operations.

Introduction:

This project was designed to serve commercial farmers with a demonstrated interest in expanding an existing small ruminant operation, introducing small ruminants into an existing operation, or those gathering information with the intent to start a new small ruminant operation. The purview of the project includes those raising meat goats and lambs for ethnic markets, as well as goats and sheep for milk and value-added products such as cheese and yogurt. In the planning and execution of small ruminant programming, PASA has made use of relationships with partnering organizations as well as key individuals in the small ruminant community to access and serve that community, positioning ourselves as a focal point for disseminating information and providing access to expertise relevant to small ruminant production.

From interviews and surveys conducted with farmers and agricultural professionals, PASA recognized a need for a comprehensive approach to small ruminant education addressing issues specific to small and medium size operations. We’ve responded to the needs of producers by providing farmer-to-farmer programming, hands on intensive workshops and clinical forums presented by experts and researchers. And, because producers expressed the desire for opportunities to network with other producers, PASA initiated the formation and/or revitalization of regional producers’ groups providing opportunities for networking and informal exchange.

In an effort to encourage stewardship and farm profitability. PASA has coordinated field days, intensive learning programs, conference workshops and regional group meetings for small ruminant producers. Both current and aspiring farmers and producers have attended PASA small ruminant programming over the past three years, with a result of improvements in both management practices and profitability for current producers, and the increased confidence in aspiring producers to introduce small ruminants into existing operations.

During the past three years PASA coordinated twelve farmer-to-farmer field days, six hands-on intensive learning programs, 15 conference workshops, four regional producers meetings, and one pre-conference track.

Performance Target:
  • Of 250 farmers participating in this project:
    35 will attend at least half of the technical programs
    37 attended three or more of the five intensive learning programs and
    pre-conference track. With 423 event registrations, 197 farmers attended
    more than one field day and or intensive learning program during the
    project. As registration is not required for conference workshops,
    we assume that many farmers took advantage of more than one of the
    eleven workshops offered over three conferences, inflating the total of 500
    attendees.

    25 will use the trainings to successfully introduce small ruminants to diversify operations or implement a change to significantly improve profitability of existing operations.
    As result of the trainings, nine are more profitable, while six see

    increased profitability on the horizon. Eight introduced small ruminants
    into their operation, and nine have expanded their operation. Sixteen have
    decreased dependence on chemical dewormers.

    Of participants completing exit surveys:
    80% will indicate they were satisfied with the program and learned something that they had hoped to learn at the event
    In exit surveys, end of season surveys, and follow up interviews, 89% of
    responders indicated that they learned something they had hoped to learn
    at the event/s.

    15% will indicate they intend to make a change based on something learned at the event
    75% indicated their intention to make a change.

    10% will verify in follow-up surveys that they actually implemented a change
    55% verified that change has been implemented.

Research

Materials and methods:

From interviews and surveys conducted with farmers and agricultural professionals, PASA identified a range of topics and technical training that would be of benefit to producers looking to expand or begin small ruminant production. As part of our established seasonal on-farm field day and intensive learning programs as well as workshops and pre-conference tracks as part of our renowned annual Farming for the Future conference, PASA endeavored to implement a series of events designed to allow farmers and professionals to learn from experienced producers and experts, to see theory put into practice, and to have opportunities for hands-on experience in the company of experts in the field.

Educational outreach programming offers farmers opportunities to acquire, implement, and/or augment skills and techniques vital to the improvement and ultimately the success of their farming operations. The programming also facilitates the exchange of information specific to small ruminant production practices encouraging product quality improvement, supporting transition to more environmentally sound production practices, and the honing of marketing skills

Farmer-to-farmer field days are semiformal gatherings, often hosted at PASA member farms, and give hosts a chance to display their operation, highlighting particular practices, products, plans, and/or equipment, and offering participants a behind the scenes view into established, innovative, and/or successful operations. Researchers and extension agents are often on hand to provide background and analysis, and to demonstrate the benefits of developing such relationships.

Intensive learning programs are more in depth, sometimes running for several full days. With limited enrollment (usually 12-25 registrants), intensives offer participants the opportunity to interact directly with experts, to see and take part in technical demonstrations.

Conference workshops are an effective way to reach farmers during their downtime in the winter months. These 80minute presentations feature experts from around the country and provide focused introduction, explanation, and/or discussion of a wide array of topics of interest to small ruminant producers.

Pre-conference Tracks, like intensive learning programs, offer in-depth, hands-on technical information and demonstration. As part of the conference, these tracks are a practical option for producers looking for an intensive program, but may not have been able to take time away during the field day season.

Producers’ group meetings provided an opportunity for novice and experienced producers to meet with others in their region, to share problems and solutions, compare techniques, and pose questions. Attracting lamb, dairy sheep, dairy goat, meat goat, and fiber producers, these meetings spurred conversations about pastures and grazing, parasites and animal care, fencing, watering systems, marketing options and the dearth of small ruminant veterinarians.

Small ruminant programming has had an enduring presence in PASA’s educational lineup. Through surveys conducted after the small ruminant pre-conference track held in 2004, as well as phone interviews with experienced producers throughout Pennsylvania, we determined that PASA was uniquely poised to disseminate information and conduct technical demonstrations and workshops relevant to small ruminant production. Small and medium scale producers were clamoring for information on: parasite management; ruminant nutrition, pasture species, forage quality, and grazing management; understanding and producing for ethnic markets, including out-of-season breeding; genetics, selecting for pasture-based systems and preserving heritage breeds; health care, including hoof care; reproduction and kidding training; holistic care, organic pasture, and rotational grazing; value-added products; and marketing. In addition, there was a desire for regional networking opportunities.

In collaboration with the newly formed Pennsylvania Meat Goat Producers Association and the Pennsylvania Farmstead and Artisan Cheesemakers Alliance, a series of programs targeting small ruminant producers in general, and the aforementioned topics specifically, was designed. With PASA’s then 5,000 plus strong database as a starting point, we used our connections with collaborating and likeminded organizations (Pennsylvania Certified Organic, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Penn State researchers and veterinarians, etc.) to get the word out to potential participants, distributing calendars to mailing lists, emails to listserves and email lists. Press releases were sent to agricultural newspapers (Lancaster Farming, Farmshine, Farmer’s Friend, etc.) as well as to mainstream newspapers in the areas where events were held. Full-color flyers were distributed to and posted by extension agents, sustainable agriculture departments at colleges and universities, and key players including board members and researchers. Occasional postcards were sent to members and contacts without email, or when events occurred outside of the normal event season. An effort was made to connect field day season events with conference programming, offering beginning and advanced courses. In addition, field day calendar listings and six articles covering particular events and the project as a whole were published in Passages, PASA’s bi-monthly newsletter.

The 2006 season started with Sheep Dairying and Cheesemaking, showcasing a grass-based sheep and cow dairy, including a tour of the cheese house and a discussion of marketing. Grazing School with Sarah Flack offered a thorough discussion and demonstration of grazing systems, pasture and paddock calculations, fencing and water.
Goat Dairying and Organic Vegetables included a tour of the milking parlour and slaughterhouse. Participants of Reclaiming Fallow Land with Goats for Grazing visited three sites undergoing reclamation, where Mike Wright’s 75 Spanish Cashmere meat goats were steadily clearing soft maple, multiflora rose, and goldenrod. Naturally Raised Grass-fed Lamb and Processing started with a farm tour and ended with a tour of the USDA inspected processing facility and certified kitchen, with plenty of information on lamb production free of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, or pesticides.

Small ruminant intensive learning programs in 2006 included two Hands On Small Ruminant Care events, each limited to 20 participants, and featuring four sessions: Hoof Care and Trimming, Kidding and Calving, Necropsy, and Nutrition. Small Ruminant Parasite Control and Nutrition Calculators taught participants the life cycle and biology of parasites, the basic classes of dewormers, and how resistance develops, after which they tested live animals with the FAMACHA chart, and conducted fecal egg counts.
FAMACHA Certification covered the basics of integrated parasite management, teaching proper anthelminic use, providing hands on fecal egg counts, and use of the FAMACHA Eye Anemia guide to determine the need for deworming individual animals.

At the 2007 Conference, Making the Soil, Pasture, and Animal Health Connection offered participants an overview of preliminary research results from the Penn State University/PASA on-farm research project considering whole farm management on small ruminant farms across Pennsylvania. In Can You Protect Your Livestock from Predators? participants learned about the intensity of predation, the limitations of conventional protection methods, and developments in predator protection. While
Tapping into the Ethnic Markets provided practical approaches to capturing a lucrative market, and the considerations involved, including on-farm slaughter and breeding for holiday schedules.

Field days in 2007 included Grazing, Browsing and Fencing for Small Ruminants, a chance to see two farms utilizing rotational grazing and browsing for their goats and sheep. Naturally Raised Livestock offered a view of starting small and growing steadily, feeding organic feed and grazing on chemical free pasture. Pastured Poultry and Small Ruminants on a Shoe String Budget showed how growing grass helped to transform 27 neglected acres into a profitable, diversified farm, with sheep and dairy goats. Parasite Control in Small Ruminants with Dr. David Pugh provided information on environmental and chemical parasite controls, a review of dewormers, nutrition as it relates to parasite management, disease prevention, herd health, and rotational grazing.

2007 intensive learning programs started with Goats’ Milk Cheesemaking with Linda Smith, covering the qualities of good milk, sanitation regulations, goat breeds, equipment, supplies, labeling, and sources for supplies and information. Different techniques produced four distinct chevres and two fetas. In Principles of Holistic Livestock Production with Jerry Brunetti and Hue Karreman, participants got hands-on instruction in producing healthy, productive livestock: total soil fertility, forage nutrient density, and alternative treatments. Holistic Decision Making for Farmers, held on a value-added sheep dairy, provided a framework for decision making that considers the long term ecological, economic, and social consequences of farming decisions.

Sandra Miller, a member of the PASA small ruminant advisory committee organized the all-day Small Ruminant pre-conference track at the 2008 Farming for the Future conference. 69 farmers and producers participated in presentations including Goat Nutrition from A to Z and Managing Parasites, Managing Goats on Pasture and Browse,
Sustainable Sheep: Farm Products and Ecological Services, Managing Goats for Prescribed Grazing, and From Grass to Garment: Fiber Farm Production. 186 farmers participated in four workshops. The Secret Life of Goat and Sheep Gastrointestinal Worms explained how to do fecal egg counts and why they are the only way to determine if dewormers are working. Alpacas: Profitable Livestock on a Small Farm covered the care, handling, breeding, and health requirements of these camelids, sharing the business plan behind this profitable livestock operation. Parasite Controls in Small Ruminants and
Feeding the World in Your Community: Capturing Ethnic Markets repeated two highly successful field day from the previous season for eager producers unable to attend in the summer.

In the 2008 field day season, Incorporating Value-Added Goat Dairy into a Diversified Farm Business walked participants through starting a value-added dairy venture, from training to buildings and layout, and equipment to marketing. The Ultimate Diversified Farm: Grow & Sell It all! offered participants a behind the scenes look at a successful farm vacation business on a successful, diversified livestock and vegetable farm.
Miniature Nubians & Goats’ Milk Skin Care Products shared the basics of operating a small goat dairy, with a pasture walk and soapmaking demonstration.

Although our goals did not include conference programming in 2009, we offered the following eight workshops directly related to small ruminant production. Plant Dyeing Animal Fibers: Another Use for Earth’s Bounty taught basic plant dyeing procedures like harvesting, plant preparation, and dyeing wool and mohair fiber. Clearing Pastures with Goats, Cows and More offered tips on managing livestock for maximum effect and maximum productivity, featuring video, time-lapse photos of results, and planning tools for grazers and landowners. Stop Depredation Now: How to Raise and Train the Livestock Guardian Dog discussed five steps to foil attacking predators, and the training of livestock guarding dogs. Breeding the Wool You Need: Selective Crossbreeding to Improve Fiber Characteristics offered hands on examination of various breeds’ fibers and their preparation, and a discussion of sheep selection for fleece improvement. Pasture Lambing Management: 17 Years of Lessons Lambing on Grass provided information on forage preparation, management for maximum bonding, options in inclement weather, predation and parasite management. In Steps for Starting a Goat Dairy, participants learned the details, from planning the parlour to PA Department of Agriculture regulations, and equipment. Overcoming Livestock Parasite Problems Using 100% Natural Medicine offered holistic remedies for eliminating problems from various parasites using inexpensive, easily acquired ingredients. Thyme for Goat: a Multi-Farm Marketing Collaborative shared lessons learned by this four-farm collective as they developed a successful marketing plan.

Research results and discussion:

In the first year of this project, over 2,500 farmers learned about PASA’s field days, intensive learning programs and conference. 4,000 calendars were distributed in the spring, with complete program and registration information on the 25 educational events held including the programs specific to small ruminant production. While our goal for summer 2006 was to offer at least two small ruminant programs attended by at least 100 farmers and one intensive learning program with 35 participants, we were able to offer five field days and four intensive learning programs. The field days were attended by a total of 183 farmers and the intensive learning programs, limited to 25 or 35 participants each, sold out for a total of 120 participants.

Small ruminant field days in 2006:
1. Sheep Dairying and Cheesemaking
2. Grazing School with Sarah Flack
3. Goat Dairying and Organic Vegetables
4. Reclaiming Fallow Land with Goats for Grazing
5. Naturally Raised Grass-fed Lamb and Processing

Small ruminant intensive learning programs in 2006
1. Hands On Small Ruminant Care (offered twice)
2. Small Ruminant Parasite Control and Nutrition Calculators
3. FAMACHA Certification

Our advisory committee, specifically Sandra Kay Miller and Connie Wenger, suggested that we hold off offering a pre-conference track on small ruminant production until our 2008 conference. However, we exceeded our goal and offered three instead of two conference workshops specifically addressing small ruminant production and marketing, with approximately 120 farmers attending.

Conference workshops in 2007:
1. Making the Soil, Pasture, and Animal Health Connection
2. Can You Protect Your Livestock from Predators?
3. Tapping into the Ethnic Markets

During the second year of the project, 3,000 farmers learned about PASA’s field days, intensive learning programs and conference. 4,500 calendars were distributed in the spring, with complete program and registration information on the 30 educational events held including programming specific to small ruminant production. In making use of Constant Contact email services, we were able to send detailed information on our programming to over 3,900 recipients. Our goal for the 2007 field day season was to hold three field days attracting 150 farmers, but we held four field days with a total of 134 attendees. We were able to offer three intensive learning programs rather than one, and were able to extend an in depth experience to 69 participants

Small ruminant field days in 2007:
1. Grazing, Browsing and Fencing for Small Ruminants
2. Naturally Raised Livestock
3. Pastured Poultry and Small Ruminants on a Shoe String Budget
4. Parasite Control in Small Ruminants with Dr. David Pugh

Small ruminant intensive learning programs in 2007:
1. Goats’ Milk Cheesemaking with Linda Smith
2. Principles of Holistic Livestock Production with Jerry Brunetti and Hue Karreman
3. Holistic Decision Making for Farmers

With 69 participants, our daylong Small Ruminant pre-conference track at the 2008 Farming for the Future conference was a great success. Sandra Miller, a member of our advisory committee organized the all-day Thursday program including the following presentations:
1. Goat Nutrition from A to Z and Managing Parasites with Steve Hart, Ph.D.
2. Managing Goats on Pasture and Browse with Tatiana Stanton, Ph.D.
3. Sustainable Sheep: Farm Products and Ecological Services with Karl North
4. Managing Goats for Prescribed Grazing with Kathy Voth
5. From Grass to Garment: Fiber Farm Production with Linda Singley & Phylleri Ball

Also at the 2008 conference, where we had a goal of 50 workshop participants, 186 farmers participated in the following four Small Ruminant related workshops.

1. The Secret Life of Goat and Sheep Gastrointestinal Worms
2. Alpacas: Profitable Livestock on a Small Farm
3. Parasite Controls in Small ruminants
4. Feeding the World in Your Community: Capturing Ethnic Markets

During the third year of the project, over 3,250 farmers learned about PASA’s field days, intensive learning programs and conference. 5,000 calendars were distributed in the spring, with complete program and registration information on the 21 educational events held including programming specific to small ruminant production. Our continued use of Constant Contact email services enabled us to send detailed information on our programming to over 5,000 recipients. Having offered three intensive learning programs in 2007, no further intensives were planned. While we met our goal of three field days in 2008, we were only able to attract 84 and not 175 farmers.

Small ruminant field days in 2008:
1. Incorporating Value-Added Goat Dairy into a Diversified Farm Business
2. The Ultimate Diversified Farm: Grow & Sell It all!
3. Miniature Nubians & Goats’ Milk Skin Care Products

Although our goals did not include conference programming in 2009, we offered the following eight workshops directly related to small ruminant production. Approximately 300 participants attended at least one of the following workshops:
1. Plant Dyeing Animal Fibers: Another Use for Earth’s Bounty
2. Clearing Pastures with Goats, Cows and More
3. Stop Depredation Now: How to Raise and Train the Livestock Guardian Dog
4. Breeding the Wool You Need: Selective Crossbreeding to Improve Fiber Characteristics
5. Pasture Lambing Management: 17 Years of Lessons Lambing on Grass
6. Steps for Starting a Goat Dairy
7. Overcoming Livestock Parasite Problems Using 100% Natural Medicine
8. Thyme for Goat: a Multi-Farm Marketing Collaborative

Because of personnel changes, regional producers’ meetings planned for the first and second year of the project were not successfully scheduled. In early 2009, meetings were held in the four PASA regions, bringing together between 12 and 25 producers in each region. Meetings consisted of farm tours, presentations, and potlucks. Attracting lamb, dairy sheep, dairy goat, meat goat, and fiber producers, these meetings spurred conversations about pastures and grazing, parasites and animal care, fencing, watering systems, marketing options, mandatory identification, and the dearth of small ruminant veterinarians. Contact lists were distributed, and ongoing dialogues were initiated.

We expected four farmers to begin commercial production of sheep or goats and 21 to make significant changes to existing operations that would increase revenue or decrease dependence on chemical treatments to animals or fields. As result of the SARE funded trainings, eight farmers have introduced small ruminants into their operation. Nine have expanded their operation. Nine are more profitable, while six see increased profitability on the horizon. Sixteen have decreased dependence on chemical dewormers.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

During the project, we compiled a limited directory including contact information for producers, professionals, and organizations in the small ruminant community. We plan to have the directory available in pdf form on our new website, but until then it is available in hard or electronic copy on request. Notice of this was included in the upcoming Passages newsletter.

During this project, PASA continued to engage interested small ruminant farmers, producers and those aspiring to become farmers and producers through our educational outreach programming. The first rate conference workshops, well-organized field day events and intensive learning programs detailed in this report as well as the feedback gathered in our exhaustive surveying demonstrate the efficacy of our programming, and the technical and educational needs still extant in the small ruminant community.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

In the three years of this project, PASA logged 401 registrations for field day programming, 189 registrations for intensive learning programs, approximately 600 participants in individual conference workshops, and 69 participants in the pre-conference track.

In 2006, exit surveys administered at field days showed that 96% learned what they hoped to learn at the event and 63% planned to make a change as a result of something learned at the event. End of season surveys showed that 86% made a change as a result of something learned at PASA small ruminant programming, 35% said their operation is more profitable, and 51% said their operation is more environmentally friendly.

Electronic surveys conducted in 2007, offered anonymous testimony from 16 farmers who have implemented change in animal health management, including FAMACHA, reduced worming, changes in kidding, and better hoof care. 15 farmers had implemented change in pasture management, including rotational grazing, mineral management, and frost seeding. Six noted intention to implement changes and two are planning to add value-added dairy components to their operations.

In 2007, exit surveys administered at field days showed that 97% learned what they hoped to learn at the event and 73% planned to make a change as a result of something learned at the event. End of season surveys showed that 88% made a change as a result of something learned at PASA small ruminant programming, 17% said their operation is more profitable, and 48% said their operation is more environmentally friendly. Between 25-50% of those responding have improved their ability to manage parasites, improve nutrition practices, cater to ethnic markets, manage health care (including hoof care), and manage reproduction and kidding. In addition, 79% benefited from the opportunity to learn from other farmers, while 68% benefited from the opportunity to learn from researchers and experts.

In 2007, exit surveys administered at field days showed that 82% learned what they hoped to learn at the event and 85% planned to make a change as a result of something learned at the event. End of season surveys showed that 29% expanded an existing operation as a result of something learned at PASA small ruminant programming, 53% made a change as a result of something learned at PASA small ruminant programming, 27% said their operation is more profitable, and 40% said their operation is more environmentally friendly. Between 25-50% of those responding have improved their ability to manage parasites, improve nutrition practices, cater to ethnic markets, manage health care (including hoof care), and manage reproduction and kidding. In addition, 79% benefited from the opportunity to learn from other farmers, while 68% benefited from the opportunity to learn from researchers and experts.

Participants responding to end of season surveys noted changes in their grazing program, improved fencing, nutrition practices, and health care management. Participants also noted intentions to acquire goats, expand soap-making operation, start browsing with goats, write business plan to start cheese production, and get a donkey for the goats.

Economic Analysis

End of season surveys showed nine farmers had seen increased profitability. And in follow up interviews, four discussed specific changes leading to increased profitability, including decreased mortality, more consistent product, new marketing avenues, and less dependence on chemical inputs. Six farmers related that while they see increased profitability in their future, they are just starting out and have yet to establish markets for product and make back capital investments.

Farmer Adoption

In surveys, 42 of 50 responders, have adopted one or more of the skills/practices demonstrated in programs attended. 31 have increased environmental stewardship by decreasing use of dewormers/antibiotics and/or decreasing chemical inputs to pasture. Of 44 interviews conducted, 15 farmers have or expect to see an increase in profitability.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

All participants agreed that more programming is needed, from continued beginner level information to advanced training building on the programming provided by this project. In addition, throughout the state there is a lack of small ruminant, particularly goat, specific veterinary care available. Lack of marketing skills and infrastructure is also a common concern. Both of these topics would be of great use and importance to the health and wealth of the developing small ruminant producer community.

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.