Sustainable Dairy Systems Manual and Training

1994 Annual Report for LST94-004

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1994: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $277,920.00
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Clark Garland
University of Tennessee

Sustainable Dairy Systems Manual and Training


Dairy farming is a significant and dramatically changing part of agriculture. This change is occurring in production systems, investment requirements, environmental concerns and the need for enhanced overall business management. Extension services in Tennessee and Kentucky are cooperating in preparing, pilot teaching and evaluating an interdisciplinary dairy systems costs, returns and production requirements manual and computerized data base. Farmers, agricultural organizations and rural leaders in Tennessee and Kentucky are actively involved in the development, evaluation and use of the training materials. The SARE/ACE program has invested in this project to enhance the sustainability of dairy farms.

1) Prepare, pilot teach and evaluate a dairy systems manual and computerized whole farm planning data base for the Southern region.
2) Develop and prepare teaching materials on technical production relationships and costs and returns for appropriate crop and livestock enterprises including facilities, machinery investment and labor requirements for alternative technologies.
3) Train Extension agents in Kentucky and Tennessee to use and teach from the manual and conduct educational programs with at least 500 farm families with dairies.
4) Use the systems manual and computerized data base to develop intensive farm and financial plans with at least 110 Kentucky and Tennessee farm families.
5) Use the dairy systems manual to teach SCS and ASCS personnel, agricultural lenders and other professional agricultural workers, environmental groups and rural people about sustainable dairy systems.
6) Use the dairy systems manual to demonstrate to others the importance of a systems approach to management.

Farmers and Extension agents in Tennessee and Kentucky identified relevant issues addressed in this project. From the beginning, project output was driven by perceived needs expressed by agents and farmers. Over a two-year period, a 25-member work team of agronomists, economists, Extension agents, engineers, and dairy specialists, along with farmer advisors from Kentucky and Tennessee, are preparing, pilot teaching, and evaluating a dairy systems manual and user-friendly computerized spreadsheets.

The project started in August 1994. The seventeenth and final copy of the manual was released in February 1997. Systems have been developed for dairy herd sizes ranging from 50 to 800 cows. The systems approach is being used directly in developing actual farm plans with Tennessee and Kentucky dairy farmers.

The approach systems manual proposal included six chapters on forage systems, feeding systems, manure management systems, milking centers, and a chapter on combining all phases of the dairy farm into a system. Environmental and sustainability concerns are being incorporated into the systems process. As the project progressed, the work team added six additional chapters. The manual addresses management information and decision support, dry cow housing, feeding and management, replacement heifer housing, feeding and management, milking herd feeding and housing facilities, and additional inputs. Extension personnel in Tennessee and Kentucky have used the manual in conducting educational programs with at least 500 Tennessee and Kentucky farm families. Intensive training was conducted with extension agents in March and December 1996. Their evaluations and recommendations are being incorporated into the final manual.

Written evaluations by Tennessee and Kentucky Extension personnel and farmers participating in intensive three-day dairy systems training workshops revealed the following level of achievement:

Ninety-two percent (92%) of the participants indicated the level of detail in the manual was about right.

One hundred percent (100%) of the participants stated the manual was very well or adequately organized. Fifty-three (53%) percent indicated the manual was very well organized. Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the participants stated their knowledge level was improved by either a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale.

Evaluations of training sessions indicate likely effectiveness of the manual and software in working with dairy farm families. This innovative educational tool promises to make a major difference in the lives of dairy farm families.

Impact of results
Educational materials developed in this project are a critical component in the overall management educational program. Properly combining the expertise of appropriate subject matter specialists, researchers, and farmers to identify interrelationships and results of various decisions will dramatically affect the future of dairy farm families. Plans are to continue to aggressively use the finalized dairy systems manual and spreadsheets with additional dairy farm families.

Potential contribution
The dairy systems program has demonstrated to others the importance of a systems approach to management. This should encourage leaders in other commodity areas to consider using this approach. Lessons learned and portions of the teaching material developed in the dairy systems manual will be useful in future work directed at other types of farms. A major benefit of this program is the professional growth experienced by the 25-member team of economists, engineers, agronomists, animal scientists, agents, and area specialists. Working together as a team in putting together a total interactive system has improved the ability of each "specialist" to look at the often complex total picture instead of focusing only on as small part of the issue.