Poultry ASA Margaret Ross Contributes to USDA Grant: Pastured Poultry Videos Now Online

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Imagine that you want to start a backyard flock of chickens. You see the perfect workshop from Extension, but it’s during work or four hours away in another county.

Now, imagine you’re the Extension Agent working to help the folks who want to get started with chickens. You know there aren’t enough workshops to help everyone who wants it.

Either way, you might get frustrated. Maybe you’d give up on your goal of having your own chickens or feel you’ve let your community down. Now, though, you have another option. A new series of online videos is available to help you, whether you’re the aspiring farmer or want to help aspiring farmers get started.

The videos are one part of a cluster of resources designed by NC Choices, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in collaboration with N.C. Cooperative Extension that promotes local, niche and pasture-based meats in North Carolina.

The Niche Meat Teaching Resources are meant to help trainers working with beginning farmers across the state. They cover many topics, including business and marketing, and production training for pasture-based poultry, small ruminants and swine, with cattle resources coming soon.

The Pastured Poultry series covers five areas important to beginning (and continuing) farmers: management, nutrition, infrastructure, processing and health. Each area includes a video presentation along with the option to download the presentation slides. Transcripts will be added.

Beginning farmers and farmer-trainers have access to the presentations and can use them whenever and wherever they want. All they need is an internet connection.

The ability to reach new farmers directly is one focus of the project and Margaret Ross, Area Specialized Agent (ASA) for poultry, sees it as a win. An even bigger win is the way the resources will support Extension agents around North Carolina.

Margaret Ross
Margaret Ross, Area Specialized Agent for poultry

The way it works now is that a system of county agents, livestock agents and ASAs collaborate to offer support and workshops. An Extension Agent in livestock, for example, might request an Area Specialized Agent in poultry, like Margaret, come to their county center to teach a class on poultry management.

Sometimes, that system works well and the ASA can give the requested workshop. Sometimes, though, the poultry ASAs might not be available since there are only four ASAs with 100% of their focus on poultry. In those cases, a livestock agent, who might not have poultry training, might not be able to meet the needs of their county.

This new project provides a solution.

Now, livestock and other Extension Agents around the state can use the Pastured Poultry materials to offer workshops even when a poultry ASA isn’t available.

The video materials give them a sense of how the ASA teaches the class. The slide presentations are available to agents to use, adapt and customize. The original project team will push needed updates to the content, making sure that everyone is getting timely material.

The NC Choices 3-year grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. NC Choices Program Director Sarah Blacklin, manages the grant and NC Choices Technical Service Coordinator Lee Menius, does the on-the-ground work coordinating, reviewing and working with partners to produce the project outcomes.

The federal program funds projects that meet the need for education, mentorship and training for younger farmers. Data shows that the number of young people going into farming is declining. The same data shows rising numbers of new farmers over 35 and new small farmers. Since 2008, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the USDA, has had money just to fund projects addressing the needs of those new farmers.

Collaboration and partnership are central to the success of this project. Eleven co-PIs worked on the project; they represent CEFS, N.C. Cooperative Extension (from NC State and N.C. A&T), Cornell Cooperative Extension, Mount Olive University and others who assisted with grant outputs such as the Teaching Tools, provided technical assistance and shared their expertise with the project.

“NC Choices was fortunate to pull together a strong team of ASAs, specialists and agents through this USDA-NIFA grant,” Lee Menius said. He added, “These tools will help agents efficiently train beginning livestock farmers in a variety of areas – and with the diversity of farming operations across the state, these tools are designed to be easily adaptable according to farmer needs.”

Co-PI Margaret Ross described the process of gathering materials, getting feedback and working with partners to create finished materials.

One of her goals was to make materials that agents really wanted. “That’s really why we did it,” she said. With that goal in mind, she asked for feedback from as many people as she could.

She gathered existing slides, publications and information to create the project presentations. In between grant team meetings, she got comments from the other poultry ASAs (Richard Goforth, Lauren Greene and Dan Campeau) and Prestage Department of Poultry Science faculty with Extension roles (Ken Anderson and Donna Carver). Ross also asked agents to look at draft presentations so she could be sure that they were going to benefit from the work she was putting in.

“They [agents] can use whatever they want – mix and match which parts they need help on,” Ross explained, echoing Menius’ point about adaptable tools.

This is why we do research.

Another important part of the project for Ross is at the heart of extension activities and NC State’s think and do philosophy.

“We want this information to be helpful…and right,” she said, adding, “This is why we do research.” Having “good, solid information” that translates research to practical information is what a land-grant institution is all about. Ross was excited to share how this project contributed to that outreach mission.

In the grant team meetings, the focus was on creating consistency across all the videos, no matter what animal they covered. NC Choices developed templates to make sure all the videos were on the same level. The target audience is beginning farmers, so there wasn’t too much advanced material included.

Finally, the videos were recorded. Ross worked with CEFS Communication for that part. “It wasn’t any different than doing it in person,” she said – she just pretended there was an audience in the studio with her.

Ross added that having audio and video was important for anyone who might use the videos to run their own workshops. Agents get to “see me teach it,” she said. With that example, it’ll be easier for them to know more than if they only had pre-set slides.

So, how will NC Choices, Ross and the team know if they have a success on their hands? Data. Lots of data.

According to Blacklin, a grant evaluation specialist will track views and shares from the materials. The team will do pre- and post-checks when they share the tools. Finally, some attendees will be contacted to help the team figure out whether their materials are being adopted.

Even with the videos online, the team isn’t finished yet. All of that evaluation will keep them busy, but you can use the webinar series now to get your backyard poultry flock started.

Get started with pastured poultry See the whole series