Responding to Expressed Needs: SARE/ACE Regional Training with the Sustainable Dairy Systems Manual and Software

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $48,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $37,500.00
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Clark Garland
University of Tennessee
Steve Isaacs
University of Kentucky


  • Agronomic: corn, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: housing, grazing - continuous, feed additives, feed formulation, feed rations, manure management, mineral supplements, pasture fertility, grazing - rotational, vaccines, watering systems, winter forage, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, display, extension
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities


    This regional training project was a direct outgrowth of the SARE supported Sustainable Dairy Systems project (SARE/ACE Southern Region Subaward Number RE353-091/8553373). In that project a group of twenty-five Extension specialists and agents from the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky developed an integrated systems manual for evaluating changes in dairy farm management systems. Participants from agricultural economics, animal science, agronomy, and agricultural engineering assembled a twelve chapter, 600 page manual and accompanying software.

    The Sustainable Dairy Systems Manual and Software (SDS) has been field tested on more than 350 Tennessee and Kentucky dairy farms. Prior to this regional training effort, one hundred thirty (130) agricultural agents, area specialists, and NRCS personnel from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia were trained to use the manual and software in three multi-state, three-day training sessions in March 1996, December 1996, and May 1997. Two Tennessee and one Kentucky dairy farmer also participated in the development stages and training workshops.

    In addition to direct training for agents, the SDS was featured at the Southern Region Deans and Directors meeting (1996) and in four international, nine national, and seven regional presentations and papers including the meetings of the American Forage and Grasslands Council (1996), the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (1996), American Farm Bureau Federation (1997), and the American Dairy Science Association (1997 and 1998). Audience response from presentations with SDS suggested that interest in training beyond Kentucky and Tennessee was strong. Thus the proposal for regional training with SDS was indeed “responding to expressed needs.”

    Regional Training

    The initial proposal for Southern Region SARE training was for a single three-day workshop limited to forty participants. Strong regional demand led to expanding the format to two, multi-day workshops at two locations, North Redington Beach, FL and Charlotte, NC. Registrants were offered a full set of materials including the SDS manual, software, and problem set, two days of hands-on training, and a $225 travel scholarship. Registration was limited to thirty participants at each location, and both workshops filled. There was some attrition due to unforseen travel, scheduling, and medical reasons so final participation was fifty-two.

    Seventeen members of the original SDS development team planned and conducted the regional training. Building on experience gained in the first three TN/KY trainings, the team developed a hands-on problem solving exercise involving a major expansion plan for a hypothetical mid-south dairy farm family. The family is planning for a married son to return to the farm. To assure economic and envirionmental sustainability, the herd size will increase from 100 to 200 cows and the dairy facilities will be relocated away from a creek with installation of new feeding, housing, milking, and manure management facilities.

    Regional training participants used the SDS manual, software, and a portable laptop computer lab to evaluate the cost changes associated with this scenario. Registrants were preassigned to two-member teams and SDS project coordinators introduced them to the manual, software, and the systems development process. SDS team members led the participants through the various subsystem changes. A trainee to trainer ratio of less than two to one insured that participants had plenty of help with questions or difficulties associated with the manual and software. The software was projected continuously on a screen at the front of the room and flow charts were provided in hard copy and projected on a separate screen to assist participants progress through what could, at times, be complicated processes.


    Geographic and disciplinary coverage of the SDS training was excellent. Every state and territory in the SARE Southern Region was represented at the regional training (see attached registration list). The audience consisted of state specialists from 1862 and 1890 schools, area specialists, and county extension staff. Dairy and nutrition specialists from Animal Science worked along side Agricultural Economists, Forage specialists, Agricultural Engineers, and Veterinarians. About half the audience were county or area Extension agents with assignments or interests in dairy.

    The disciplinary diversity of the SDS training is a strong endorsement of the systems nature of the manual and software. As was the case in the development of SDS, not every specialist or agent agreed with every concept or coefficient in the manual; however, they all did agree that SDS is an integrated systems tool which forces users and decision makers to be aware of the system impacts of management activities on a dairy farm.

    Sustainable Dairy Systems was developed initially for Kentucky and Tennessee climate, crops, and conditions. The SDS team had some concern about the aplicability of the product across a region that ranged from Puerto Rico to West Texas. However, participants rated the problem as realistic (4.2 on a 5.0 scale) and numerous written comments indicated they planned to take SDS home and use it right away.


    Based on geographic and disciplinary diversity and the responses of the participants the SARE Southern Region Training with the Sustainable Dairy Systems Manual and Software was a success. Every state and territory in the region sent participants. State and area specialists along with county agents attended the training. All the disciplines associated with dairying sent participants. Eighty-four percent of participants indicated that they would be able to train others in their states to use SDS. When asked on the training evaluation form to indicate the number of dairy farms they would expect to use SDS with in the next year, twenty-nine participants reported an estimate of 516.

    Since the workshops, participants from two states, Georgia and Louisiana, have enquired about availability of materials and software to conduct their own training workshops. The Louisiana participants are working on a set of default herds to supplement the five default herds included in the original SDS software. They plan to modify the defaults to more closely represent Louisiana conditions. This answers the concerns about the regional applicability of SDS.

    The overall evaluation of the workshop averaged 4.5 on a 5.0 scale. Effectiveness of the problem rated 4.2 and increase in knowledge and interest rated 4.3 and 4.5 respectively. Complete evaluations from both workshops are included in the appendix.

    Participants left a total of two and a half type written pages of comments on their evaluation forms. Some very good constructive suggestions from the first workshop were incorporated in the second training and subsequent software revisions. Most of the comments were very supportive. We close with this one: “I am really impressed by the detail of this software and the simplicity of its use. The ability to combine the costs of production with both the biological needs of the herd and engineering specifications of the farm is a great improvement. I strongly encourage that you expand your efforts to make the materials and software available to extension agents.”

    Project objectives:

    1. To introduce interested professionals in the Southern Region to the Sustainable Dairy Systems Manual and Software.

    2. To train participants in the use of the manual and software to address specific management problems within particular dairy subsystems or in the integrated dairy system as a whole.

    3. To demonstrate that the successful application of an integrated systems approach to dairy management problems can serve as a model for other commodities or enterprises on Southern farms.

    4. To make participants aware of the processes used to assemble and manage a successful multi state, multi disciplinary Extension educational effort and to demonstrate the professional development potential of such projects.

    5. To demonstrate that users can modify key variables in the software component of the SDS to make the materials and resulting analyses appropriate for their state rather than reinventing the SDS process. This objective alone has the potential to multiply the efforts of the SDS team many fold.

    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.