Integrated learning courses for sustainable livestock production
The goal of this grant is to increase the viability of livestock operations in the Northeast by providing new tools and information offered in a way that measures improvements in management and overall success of a farm operation. Recognizing that there are different styles of learning, we will develop the most effective delivery mechanism for farmers; using practical hands-on learning and written resources.
In this project, we will create a series of learning courses supporting livestock producers who wish to add or improve certain management skills to their operation. A series of 4 course topics will be offered over a 1 - year period. Each course will last 2 months, meeting every 3 weeks for practical/hands-on learning. Attendees will go back to their farms to apply these new skills, and journal their experiences and observations. Farmer mentors will work with participating farmers to establish goals and farm management plans. Pre and post assessments will be conducted to evaluate the project and identify changes in management based on participation in the course. On-farm technical workshops will take place during the second year of the grant. Three farmer participants from each of the 4 courses will host an on-farm technical workshop demonstrating the practices that they have learned.
These courses will attract a wide audience of producers, including new farmers, who have a desire to improve and develop skills in managing their land, tending to livestock health and nutrition and growing product for market. Technical workshops and farmer mentoring are important components of the project offering multiple mediums for the delivery and application of information.
1. Of the 60 farmer participants in the learning courses, 40 will develop a work plan with a mentor and will adopt 3 new practices realizing an overall improvement in the sustainability of their farm.
2. Of the 40 that develop a plan and adopt new practices, 12 will hold on-farm technical workshops for at least 240 attendees demonstrating the practices they have learned.
The updated timeline that we are using has the planning and implementation as follows:
1) Planning Teams for each course get together by phone and/or in person 3-4 months prior to the start of the respective course.
2) Courses take place March 2004 – March 2005.
3) On-Farm Technical Workshops take place August 2004 – March 2006.
4) The evaluation and post-assessment by the planning teams will happen within 6 months from the completion date of each course and again after all the on-farm demonstrations have taken place.
5) Evaluations from course participants are done at the end of each class meeting and at the conclusion of the course as a whole. Post assessments will take place March 2006 – October 2006.
We will know that we have reached out performance targets based on:
1. Work plans and new practices will be developed and monitored through the mentor relationship.
2. Technical workshops wil be held by farmers who participated in the courses and adopted the practices.
3. The completion of pre and post assessments: each participating farmer will be surveyed before the coursr including a farm visit by the coordinator and a mentor. Goals for the course will be developed, and an evaluation of whether those goals have been met will take place upon completion of hte course, 6 months and 12 months later.
4. Of the 320 farmers and agricultural professionals participating in this project, 80 will attend the learning courses and 240 will attend on-farm technical workshops.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The fourth course, ‘Marketing Your Livestock Products’, took place from January, 2005 – March, 2005. Attendance was 55 producers, 4 resource individuals, and 17 speakers and organizers. There were 6 farmer mentor matches made. Feedback from the evaluations were very positive and provided feedback on ‘where to go from here’. This feedback was used in developing a series of workshops titled ‘New England Value-Added Meat and Poultry Products Workshops’ which took place from July – November, 2005 and was sponsored by the six New England State Departments of Agriculture, in cooperation with the land Grant College’s Cooperative Extension System and the Vermont Meat & Poultry Processors Association and funded in part by the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program of the U.S Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service.
As in the previous 3 livestock courses, the ‘Marketing Your Livestock Products’ was supported in part by Risk Management Agency, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the Vermont Pasture Network and UVM Extension. With these additional funds, we were able to pull in a very dynamic speaker for our third class day (Chef Harvie Christie) and charge a very reduced registration fee. Each registrant received a notebook which included a booklet titled ‘Market Planning for Value Added Agricultural Products’ by Lynda Brushett & Gregory Franklin, plus various handouts and publications from the Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets, ATTRA, and our speakers.
With all the courses completed, we can look at Performance Target #1 and say that the total number of farmers that participated in one or more of the livestock courses was:
1) Soils (‘The Dirt on Soil’): 53 farmers, 8 Agency/Consultant = 61 attendees
2) Grazing (‘Greening the Farm’): 40 farmers, 5 Agency/Consultant = 45 attendees
3) Health (‘Livestock Nutrition and Healthcare’): 38 farmers, 7 Agency/Consultant = 45 attendees
4) Marketing (‘Marketing Your Livestock Products’): 55 producers, 4 Agency/Consultant = 61 attendees.
Total number of farmers registered for the courses came to 186. There were a few farmers registered in more than one of the courses, so a more realistic, though conservative number of farmer registrants would be 160, much higher than the 60 producers we were hoping for in performance target #1.
Total number of mentor/mentee relationships created was:
Soils: 6 mentor/mentee connections
Grazing: 12 mentor/mentee connections
Health: 6 mentor/mentee connections
Marketing: 6 mentor/mentee connections
The total number of mentor/mentee relationships created came to 30, which is lower than what we had hoped for in Performance target #1, which anticipated 40 teams. We found that some people got so much out of the courses that they pulled out of their sign-up commitment with a mentor. They said that they already had so much to do as a result of the course and they knew what they needed to do. The material and speakers gave them the kick-start that they needed. For those producers paired up with a mentor, some farms have worked tirelessly with their mentor(s) while others just could not make the time, or unexpected changes happened that made it difficult to focus on the farmer-mentoring component. Mentor-Mentee pairs have until the end of March 2006 to use up their allotted 25 hours. These relationships will be documented in 2006 and will include those relationships that worked well, those that didn’t get much done and some thoughts as to why things happened the way they did. We also plan to come up with some recommendations for setting up a successful Farmer Mentor program. Based on discussions with the producers and their mentors, it is clear that there is tremendous value in this type of outreach.
From June to October, 2005, eleven of the twelve On-Farm Demos took place. The complete summary of the workshops, attendance numbers and which livestock course they are affiliated with is listed below. A total of 205 people have come to these On-Farm Demonstrations which makes an average of 18 people per event. This is a little lower than what we anticipated in our performance target #2, but the attendance numbers fluctuated a lot and could have had as much to do with the weather, time of the year, or the topic itself. There were reporters from Coutry Folks who wrote articles on a few of the On-Farm Demos: 1) Grazing Draft Horses, 2) Managing and Reducing Somatic Cell Count (SCC) Using Organically Approved Treatments and Prevention Strategies, and 3) Wholistic Approach on a Diversified Farm; Lessons Learned and Plans for the Future . These articles brought the information shared to an even broader audience and will be included in the final NESARE report due in December, 2006 One more Marketing On-Farm Demo will be held in 2006. Four of the farms hosting an On-Farm Demo did not work with a farmer mentor, but they were accomplishing a lot on their farm as a result of the course(s) they took and were interested in sharing what they were doing.
2005 ON-FARM DEMOS
1) GRAZING - June 8, 2005, Maintaining Browse and Pasture for Dairy Goats on a Farmstead Cheese Operation, 10AM – 3PM, Twig Farm, Cornwall, VT (7 attendees)
2) SOILS - June 21, 2005, Soils & Crops at Gleason Grains, 10AM – 2PM, Ben and Theresa Gleason, Gleason Grains, Bridport, VT (9 attendee)
3) MARKETING - July 13, 2005, Multi-Species Grazing Models, 11-2pm, Maple Wind Farm, Huntington, VT (23 attendees)
4) GRAZING - July 20, 2005, Pastured Poultry Tour, 9AM – 4PM, meet in W. Brookfield, VT (33 attendees)
5) GRAZING - JULY 26, 2005, Grazing Draft Horses, 10AM-3:30PM, Fair Winds Farm, Brattleboro, VT (12 attendees)
6) SOILS - July 28, 2005, Dairy Grazing: Start-up to Value Added in One Year, 10 AM – 3 PM, Dancing Cow Dairy, Steve and Karen Getz, Bridport, VT (11 attendees)
7) HEALTH & NUTRITON - August 24th, 2005, Balancing Nutrition on a High Forage Diet for Optimum Health on an Organic Dairy Farm, 10 AM – 3 PM, Fournier Farm, Swanton, VT. (28 attendees)
8) HEALTH & NUTRITION - August 31, 2005, Maintaining Health on a Diversified Livestock Farm and Identifying Plant Species in Your Pasture, 10 AM – 3 PM, Does Leap Farm, East Fairfield, VT (22 attendees)
9) SOILS - September 8, 2005, Organic Forage and Grain Field Day, 10 AM – 3 PM, Choiniere and Rainville Farms, Swanton, VT. (30 attendees)
10) HEALTH & NUTRITION - September 28, 2005, Managing and Reducing Somatic Cell Count (SCC) Using Organically Approved Treatments and Prevention Strategies, 11 AM – 2 PM, Thurber Farm, Brattleboro, VT. (15 attendees)
11) MARKETING - October 6, 2005, Wholistic Approach on a Diversified Farm; Lessons Learned and Plans for the Future, 10:00 – 2:00 PM, Applecheek Farm, Clark Family, Hyde Park, VT. (15 attendees)
As a result of this grant, there has been at least one other group wanting to copy the format of the ‘Integrated Learning Courses for Sustainable Livestock Production’ grant to meet the needs of vegetable producers.
The Livestock Courses and the On-Farm Demos have been very successful, drawing a lot of attention from agricultural publications or on-line newsletters wanting to cover events. Country Folks has been present at many of the On-Farm Demos and New Farm (www.newfarm.org) arranged for someone to write an article about Chef Harvie Christie when he spoke to the Marketing course in March 2005.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Vermont registered the On-farm Demos as trainings for their NRCS agents, and encouraged them to attend the following 2005 events:
(quoted from NRCS bulletin)
This bulletin is to notify NRCS employees and NRCS partners of training opportunities. Session descriptions for the training are attached. This training is appropriate for maintaining standing as a Certified Conservation Planner. Sessions are recommended for conservation planners with less than three years experience.
Any NRCS employee wishing to attend the training must request the training in ICAMS/HRIS and be registered in ICAM/HRIS prior to attending. The ICAMS/HRIS course numbers are as follows:
VT0054 - Balancing Nutrition on a High Forage Diet
VT0055 - Maintaining Health in on a Diversified Livestock Farm
VT0056 - Organic Forage and Field Day
VT0057 - Pasture Walk & Plant Identification on an Organic Dairy Farm
VT0058 - Managing & Reducing Somatic Cell Count
VT0059 - Wholistic Approach on a Diversified Farm
(end quote from NRCS bulletin)