Spring 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA3

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It's a Challenge


Douglas F. Parrett
Extension Specialist, Beef
University of Illinois-Urbana

Dan B. Faulkner
Extension Specialist, Beef
University of Illinois-Urbana

Gary R. Varner
Area Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri-Springfield

Extension educators are under pressure as they develop programs for their changing rural clientele. State specialists and county advisers are being asked to evaluate programs and set priorities for their clientele's needs. In Illinois, a 16% staff reduction and a diminishing budget forced us to evaluate most programs, but resulted in our developing new effective learning situations.

Identifying Characteristics

Production agriculture in Illinois centers around intensive grain farming enterprises. The majority of beef cow/calf operations are small and supplementary to grain enterprises. Traditionally, state specialists have cooperated with regional and county advisers in holding 40-50 single county beef meetings each year. However, budget restraints and less staff made an evaluation of the program thrust for beef production necessary.

Fifteen counties in east central Illinois were selected as test counties for sampling to identify: (1) beef producers characteristics, (2) beef production practices, and (3) sources of educational information for the beef producer. The producers in each county were surveyed in cooperation with each county adviser (see Table 1).1

To establish educational program priorities, it was important to identify the level of technology currently being used by producers. The results indicated that producers were using only part of the management technology available to them. Although less than half of producers were pregnancy checking cows, semen evaluating bulls, using short calving seasons, implanting calves with growth promotants, or using performance testing, each of these practices is considered basic to a successful beef management program.

On a positive note, producers did use crossbreeding and some artificial insemination. They also used hay as the primary feed source for their cow herds. The most disappointing result was that over half of the producers had no contact with their county Extension adviser in the past five years about beef production.

Table 1. Beef producer characteristics.

Beef producer more than 20 years 61
Why raise cattle:
    Use nontillable land 42
    Farm diversification 17
Herd size less than 50 cows
    (average herd size = 25)
Strictly purebred 30
Use performance testing 25
Use crossbreeding 72
Use artificial insemination 58
Pregnancy check cows 30
Semen examination of bulls 29
Use growth promoting implants 43
Calving season less than 90 days 60
Use hay as major feed source 84
No contact with Extension adviser about
beef in past five years


Establishing Program Priorities

As a result of the survey, meetings were held with county and area Extension advisers to establish objectives for beef cow/calf programs. The objectives were to: (1) promote intensified management practices at all beef cow/calf operator levels, (2) concentrate on improving reproductive management for the greatest economic return, (3) educate producers on methods to enhance forage feeding programs, and (4) develop alternative methods to educate producers.

Although the specific producer management needs were easy to identify, it was a challenge to motivate producers to funnel resources into a low-priority enterprise. The lack of producer and Extension contacts related to beef only served to compound the problem. Thus, we decided to identify educational methods that could reach producers in their homes.

Program Changes

Beef Report

The current quarterly Beef Report (over 300 subscribers) is being divided into a feedlot report and a cow/calf report, allowing the specific needs of each segment of the beef industry to be better served. These reports contain current research findings and new management techniques.

Management Calendar

Also, a monthly management calendar, a checklist, is being developed for county Extension advisers to provide in newsletter form to their producers. The county newsletter approach will hopefully personalize valuable management information and increase producer awareness and involvement in intensified management practices. New fact sheets are also being developed to show the economic benefits of using the management technology available, even if beef production is a secondary farm enterprise.

Videotape Lessons

Another new resource tool being developed is management lessons taught by videotape. The lessons will include a videotape and written lessons the producer can use at home. Potential lesson topics to be produced are: implanting beef cattle, selecting a herd sire, sorting feeder cattle, evaluating replacement heifers by performance records, and type and bunk management in a feedlot.

Adviser Training

Increased Extension adviser training in the use of the Illinois Beef Handbook will be another program goal. The 1984 handbook sold over 350 copies in its first two years of publication. It contains removable fact sheets and is a valuable resource advisers can use to help producers. Improving adviser familiarity with the handbook should increase Extension involvement in beef production.


The county beef meeting format was changed to an area or multicounty meeting combining animal sciences, agronomy, agricultural engineering, veterinary medicine, and agricultural economics. This program provides producers with information for a total beef production program. These programs will be offered at two different times and locations.

The winter meetings will be condensed to six to eight meetings throughout the state, designed to go in-depth about current beef production topics. The summer meetings will be four cow/calf field days held in late August at a top producer's farm. These will include speakers, facility demonstrations, and actual performance of animal management techniques. Three successful cow/calf field days held in 1985 had an average attendance of 150 producers.2


Extension programs have successfully increased outputs of production agriculture. However, current educational efforts are restricted by decreasing financial and staff resources. Producer needs can be determined and teaching methods necessary to achieve goals can be adjusted and adapted to current demands by evaluating programs and involving producers, county Extension advisers, and state specialists. A survey and communication with Extension co-workers resulted in changing the program thrust to expand the effectiveness of our beef production program.


1. Doug F. Parrett and Gary R. Varner, "Beef Production Practices in an Intensive Grain Farming Region," American Society of Animal Science-Midwest Section, Abstract 44;103 (Des Moines, Iowa: American Society of Animal Science, 1986).

2. Robert R. Peters, Joe E. Manspeaker, and Estelle Russek-Cohen, "Bringing the Classroom to the Farm," Journal of Extension, XXIV (Spring 1986), 8-10.