- Animals: sheep
- Animal Production: animal protection and health, grazing management, grazing - rotational, preventive practices, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management
- Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, workshop, youth education
- Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
- Production Systems: holistic management
- Sustainable Communities: social networks, sustainability measures
Producers manage their stock within unique constraints that limit the sustainability of their operation. Constraints include time, skilled labor, land, adequate facilities and fencing. Physical limitations and lack of understanding of livestock movement and behavior also limits producers’ success.
Off-farm employment and caring for young children limits producers’ time to devote to livestock care. Producers with grown children exit livestock production because they don’t have the available labor to care for stock. The physically stressful and demanding nature of livestock production can discourage women, physically challenged and older producers causing them to exit the industry or not enter.
In the Midwest thousands of acres that could support livestock are not grazed. Crop fields are not grazed after harvest. Hilly or wooded land is regarded as unusable. Well-managed livestock can concurrently improve land health (targeted grazing has been shown to reduce weeds, increase soil fertility, and allow managers to meet specific biodiversity and production goals) and improve the sustainability of operations by diversifying enterprises and improving profitability.
Sheep and goat production requires relatively little initial investment for infrastructure and can be maintained with little added input thus providing an entry point into agriculture. The trade-off is small ruminants require more hands-on management than other livestock. Stockdogs can be key to profitability by enabling timely, humane and safe handling of sheep and goats. A dog replaces several people, saves thousands of steps a day, and reduces fuel, equipment repair and maintenance costs. Stress is a major concern among producers. Working alone for hours takes a toll, but a well-trained dog provides a silent, willing, skilled, dependable ‘working partner’ that adds emotional support to the tangible benefits they provide. Having the skill to use well-trained stockdogs addresses many constraints opening up possibilities for each operation to participate in sustainable agriculture.
This is a personalized three-part educational program to introduce livestock producers to the benefits of stockdogs through demonstration, enable skill building through hands-on learning during workshops and provide continued learning and support through discussion and video instruction after the workshop.
I will use experienced stockdogs to demonstrate ways stockdogs are used to assist in the care of stock. Participants will see how the individual skills of gathering, driving and holding stock work together in an operation. Young dogs will demonstrate instinct, the progression in learning and the handlers’ role in training. Each participant with a dog will work with the clinician twice a day on the skills they need to perfect. They will then work alone building their understanding of and confidence in the skills learned.
I will offer continued support for one year after workshops. I will design an internet discussion forum where videos can be posted that I will critique. I will post videos taped to personally address questions asked, demonstrate needed skills and suggest ways to achieve success. I anticipate spending 12 hours a month throughout the year providing this on-going support.
I anticipate 100 people attending the on-farm demonstrations (one will be focused on youth), 8-20 producers participating in each workshop with 10-25 additional producers participating on-line.
Participants wanting to figure out if a herding dog will be a good addition to their operation will able to work my dogs on stock enabling them to get a feel for doing chores with the assistance of a dog and learning basic dog-handling skills. They will leave knowing if they want to obtain a stockdog and have assistance finding one that suits them and their operation.
My farm will serve as a hub for educating producers about all aspects of incorporating stockdogs successfully into livestock operations.
The workshops provide the most beneficial method of learning enabling both the handler/producer and the dog gain practical skills through hands-on practice. The more training opportunities offered and taken advantage of the more thoroughly skills are understood and learned to allow producers to benefit from their dogs. The advanced skills of having a dog hold stock away from feed bunks, sorting individual animals while on pasture for medication/deworming/ moving to barn…, pasture lambing etc require foundational skills and understanding to be in place. The workshop format allows each producer and dog to advance at their own pace. It also enables everyone to learn as they watch the instruction for others.
Project objectives:div style="margin-left:1em;">
1. Improve land health and sustainability of operations in livestock management practices by using stock dogs.
2. Educate livestock producers on the benefits and training of stock dogs through demonstration, hands-on workshops, and online materials.
3. Enable more sustainable practices in livestock management using stock dogs including rotational grazing and less need for gas-powered equipment.
4. Help farmers improve their livestock management practices using stock dogs to increase time efficiency and reduce stress to people.