June 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB2

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Partnering with the Local Livestock Market in Educational Programs

This descriptive study evaluated Extension's program delivery methods used to partner with the educational efforts of the local livestock market in Fayette County, Tennessee. The teaching methods included: timely tips printed on the check stub, cards enclosed with the sale check, monthly educational programs, programs conducted on sale day, and Second Saturday cattle working program. The population for the study consisted of cattle producers who sold livestock at the local livestock center or who attended the educational programs. The sample of the 62 respondents surveyed revealed that the combination of programs offered influenced them to make changes in their production practices.

Jamie H. Jenkins
Extension Agent
University of Tennessee
Somerville, Tennessee
Internet address: Jamiej@ext.msstate.edu

Michael E. Newman
Planning and Evaluation Specialist
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi

Jimmy C. Castellaw
Extension Area Specialist
University of Tennessee
Somerville, Tennessee

Clyde D. Lane, Jr.
Professor, Animal Science
University of Tennessee
Jackson, Tennessee


When the Smith-Lever Act was passed on May 8, 1914, establishing the Extension Service, its purpose was clearly stated: "to aid in diffusion among the people of the U.S. use and practical information on subjects related to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage the application of the same" (Rasmussen, 1989). County Extension agents are expected to reach more people and even more diverse groups, in more ways than ever before. In addition to the traditional audiences, more contacts are made with part-time farmers, suburban dwellers, and city people.

The historical clientele base of users of the Cooperative Extension Service is changing (Laughlin & Schmidt, 1995). With more of the population consisting of city dwellers moving to the rural areas, the number of rural residents continues to increase, while the number of farmers continues to decrease. Major decisions have to be made on how best to offer programs to the various groups that need the Extension service. Simultaneously, Extension agents are being asked to do more with fewer resources.

The effective communicators of the future will adopt technologies and methodologies that will assist them in getting their messages across and understood by the clientele (Patterson, 1991). Meeting the needs of this new audience has become a major challenge for Extension personnel (Cobourn & Donaldson, 1997). The best way to meet these needs is to provide an array of approaches, including a variety of teaching methods, to get clients to "buy in." The necessity of using an array of teaching methods is further reinforced by a study of beef farmers in Southwestern Virginia that found that part-time farmers prefer different teaching methods from that of full-time farmers (Obahayujie & Hillison, 1988).

Laughlin and Schmidt (1995) refer to a leadership workshop, held in Arizona, where the pros and cons of various Extension delivery methods were considered. One of the four delivery methods that they studied was partnerships. It is believed that Extension will need to form partnerships just to stay in the education business. Already, many of the grantors or foundations require that grant recipients work together with other agencies. This may also be the best approach to making wise use of limited resources for education. Partnerships have the potential to:

  • Generate new resources,
  • Increase visibility,
  • Leverage funds,
  • Increase networking,
  • Generate synergism, and
  • Improve communications.

In short, partnerships can expand Extension's programs with limited resources to a greater number.

Teaching Methods Evaluated

University of Tennessee Extension maintained a smorgasbord of educational opportunities at the local livestock market throughout the year to enable cattle producers to be better informed about making decisions that will help maintain the viability of their herds and the cattle industry. Following is a brief description of the teaching methods used at the sale barn.

Timely "Cattle Tips" were printed on the check stubs of those producers who sold livestock at the local auction. Tips were brief, usually no more than three short sentences, and contained current information. The tips were to be used for that week only.

Monthly Tennessee Value Added Cattle (TENN-VAC) cards were developed by the UT Extension Animal Science Department and were enclosed in the envelopes containing the producers' check. These were also brief but were more detailed than the tips printed on the check stubs. These colorful "factoids" were written monthly and were included each week of the sale during that month.

Local cattle producers who gather around the sale barn on the day of a sale to discuss current topics created an opportunity to provide additional educational information.

  • Throughout the year, demonstrations were held in the sale ring using live animals to show proper techniques for various activities, such as castrating, branding, and vaccinating.

  • A grading demonstration was held where producers were given score cards to evaluate their grading skills.

  • A bull fertility clinic was conducted where producers could bring their bull(s) to be tested and evaluated.

  • Other educational seminars included hay quality and pasture renovation.

  • On other days, a video would be continuously played with programs of interest to cattle producers.

  • Representatives of the herd health industry were invited to make presentations about their products.

    The "First Thursday" of each month was devoted to having an educational meeting and dinner. The barn manager and the Extension agents initiated these programs, and the program responsibility has gradually been shifted to the county livestock association directors. This created "new life" in the directors. The association also held its educational seminars at the sale barn prior to the business session of its annual meeting.

    Most of the cattle producers have herds of less than 30 brood cows, and many do not have adequate facilities to implement the recommended herd health practices. The morning of the "Second Saturday" of each month was set aside to make available the facilities and equipment of the barn for the producers' use. This included the use of the hydraulic squeeze chute and head gate, as well as the pens. Someone was available to assist in using the equipment and to instruct the producers in recommended techniques, health practices, and procedures.

    Purpose and Objectives

    The purpose of this descriptive study was to evaluate UT Extension's program delivery methods used in partnering efforts with those of the local livestock market in Fayette County, Tennessee. The new and modern livestock market serves as a focal point where cattle producers come together to share ideas, as well as market their livestock. It is the only livestock market in Fayette County, and, because not all of the adjoining counties have a livestock market, it also serves as a multi-county market. To guide this study, the following objectives were formulated.

  • To determine if the teaching methods being used to provide educational information were effective in changing production practices used by producers.

  • To determine if the teaching methods being used were instrumental in reaching new audiences for Extension.

  • To determine the quality of the educational programs that were presented.

  • To determine from what sources cattle producers use to secure educational information.

  • To determine what effect the educational programs had upon producers joining the local livestock association.

  • To determine what effect the educational programs have had upon producers marketing their livestock through the local livestock market.


    Population and Sampling

    The population for this study consisted of all of the cattle producers who visited and/or sold livestock at the local livestock market and all of the cattle producers on the cattle mailing list kept at the Fayette County Extension Service (CES) office. The CES mailing list was merged with the livestock market list in 1997 to formulate a comprehensive list. Because some cattle producers from other counties sell livestock at this market, the list contained names of cattle producers from other counties. Currently the list has 504 names.

    The convenience sample for this study consisted of 96 names from the list. This sample consisted of those cattle producers who had requested notices of the First Thursday program or who attended one of the sessions. Four of the names were removed because they were commercial industries and did not represent an individual. Thus the final sample consisted of 92 cattle producers.

    A cattle producer for this study was defined as any person who had requested information about cattle and whose name had been added to the mailing list. A limitation of this sample was that it was not necessary to own or sell cattle to participate in Extension's educational programs. Permission to use human subjects in this study was granted by the Institutional Review Board, Mississippi State University.

    Assurances were made that any information that could identify participants would be kept strictly confidential. Code numbers were used to identify participants and a master list matching code numbers and names were used only for correspondence purposes during the study.


    In planning the evaluation, the divergent and convergent phases were used to arrive at the critical questions. The process began with the divergent phase as Worthen, Sanders, and Fitzpatrick (1997) suggest, and the initial step was to define the stakeholders. The stakeholders were divided into the policymakers, managers, specialists, practitioners, and clients, and from these, 12 individuals were identified to be interviewed.

    Each person was contacted and told "We are trying to determine if this program is beneficial and would like to know what you would ask the participants to determine if it has been a success." The word "evaluation" was avoided whenever possible. The individuals were very open and interested in the evaluation and were eager to be an involved stakeholder. The evaluation easily became a mutual project, and their enthusiasm generated 19 possible questions.

    During the convergent phase, the question matrix by Worthen et al. was used to condense the number of questions determined by the divergent phase into six critical questions, which became the six objectives of the study. Using this method, each of the original 19 critical question was evaluated by the evaluator for duplication, importance of the information, interest to the stakeholders, feasibility of being evaluated, and legality. The evaluator and the key stakeholders cooperatively reviewed the list and mutually agreed on the final list. For these remaining questions, a questionnaire was developed. Students in AEE 8703 Evaluation of Agricultural and Extension Education class at Mississippi State University checked face validity. Corrections were made to the survey.

    Data Collection and Analysis

    On April 16, 1999, the survey was mailed to the 92 program participants. A cover letter was included with instructions for completing the survey. Also enclosed was a self-addressed stamped envelope for returning the survey and a requested return date of April 26, 1999. By May 5, 1999, 50 surveys had been returned and analyzed. A follow-up letter was sent on May 6, 1999, to the 42 cattle producers who had not returned the survey. Also, personal contacts were made whenever the opportunity was available to give encouragement and explain the purpose for returning the survey. By May 18, 1999, 62 surveys were returned and were analyzed for the study. Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 9 was used to analyze the data. Valid Percentages were used for computation of questions 1-8, 10, and 12-13. For questions 8, 9, and 10, the mean scores were used for reporting.


    The smorgasbord of educational programs conducted at the sale barn has been effective in changing production practices used by cattle producers in the local livestock market area of Fayette County, Tennessee. Of the eight educational programs listed in the survey that were conducted during the past 18 months, a low of 47.9% to a high of 72.5% of the participants indicated that they had made changes based on what they had learned.

    Some of the teaching methods were more effective than others. The First Thursday meetings were well received and influenced cattle producers to seek more information from other sources, including Extension. The check stub tips were effective in that 67.8% indicated that they read the information and 37.5% indicated that it also influenced them to seek additional information. The educational programs held on sale day influenced 28.3% to seek additional information.

    The Second Saturday cattle working program and the Tennessee Value Added Calf (TENN-VAC) cards were less effective in influencing cattle producers to seek additional information. Few (4.9% and 7.7%, respectively) producers have participated in the Second Saturday and may not have seen a need for these services. The TENN-VAC cards were unfamiliar to the cattle producers. They received this card with their checks but may not have been associating the name with the card.

    Extension agents' and the sale barn manager's observations have clearly indicated that contacts were made with producers who did not normally participate in the traditional educational meetings. The First Thursday meeting consistently had 20 to 30 participants at each meeting, and only 10 of those could be found on the Extension Service's mailing list, which made new audience participation quite evident.

    Overall, the quality of the programs presented at the First Thursday meetings judged to be good. On a scale of 1 = poor to 5 = excellent, the range of the means was 3.59 to 4.42. Remarks made at the end of the survey revealed that producers liked this type of program, believed that it was productive for the cattle producers and to the economy of the county, and would like to see it continued.

    The survey revealed that the First Thursday program and the check stub tips were the most effective of the teaching methods used. It was also revealed that cattle producers seek information at close to the same level from other cattle producers, Extension agents, veterinarians, local farm supply/coop, and the livestock market operator.

    The smorgasbord of programs at the sale barn generated enthusiasm and created a sense of cohesion among the cattle producers. This interest provided an opportunity for members of the board of directors and the state cattle producers' association to solicit new members. As the education program evolved, the membership in the Livestock Association increased from 31 in 1997 to 113 in 1998. Although the data do not show a direct relationship, it appeared that the leadership developed a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm. Producers appeared to be getting something useful from the program and wanted to be a member of the association.


    This survey reveals that cattle producers receive a lot of information from other cattle producers on sale day, from veterinarians, from local farm supply/coops, and from the livestock market operator, as well as from Extension. Because Extension is the educational arm for adult agricultural instruction of the university, it is suggested that Extension consider these other sources as major clientele. Extension was recognized as a partner with the sale barn and values the cooperative efforts. Other implications derived include the following.

  • The Cattle Tips on check stubs were an effective way to direct attention to a specific management practice.

  • First Thursday meetings were one of the best ways to provide educational information to producers.

  • Educational information must be provided to producers so they can share with other producers.

  • Sale day educational programs reached only a limited percentage of the potential audiences. With almost one-fourth of producers not being aware of the programs and nearly one third of producers never using the information, this method of teaching should be critically evaluated.

  • The TENN-VAC cards, as distributed, were not used by producers as a major source of information. Producers used veterinarians, farm supply stores, and livestock market operators as major sources of information.

  • The Second Saturday program was not an effective teaching tool. It appeared to be more of a service to the producers, and lack of participation caused it to be discontinued.

  • TENN-VAC cards and Second Saturday cattle working programs did not effectively stimulate producers to seek additional information. Person-to-person contacts at the First Thursday meeting were the most effective method of getting producers to seek additional information.

  • Extension contacts for additional information were tied directly to the meetings. Educational programs on management practices that can be readily adopted resulted in more producers using these practices.

  • Producers participating in meetings with live animal demonstrations were more likely to adopt practices.

  • Producers rated programs presented by "unbiased professionals" higher than programs presented by individuals selling a product.

  • Telephone calls to the Extension office were effective ways to answer specific questions for producers, and

  • Extension circulars and newsletters were effective ways to communicate with producers.


    Check stub tips should be continued as a method of getting information to producers. Information about where additional information can be obtained should be included with the tips. Extension agents should be more creative with the cattle tips and use some method(s) to give credit to Extension for writing them. Producer meetings and the check stub teaching methods seem to create interaction with Extension.

    Emphasis should be placed on educational meetings that are held at a time when producers can attend (e.g., First Thursday). Speakers for these sessions should be "unbiased professionals" as often as possible.

    TENN-VAC cards provide quality information to producers. Innovative and creative efforts need to be made to promote their use by producers. These cards are secondary to the check that comes in the mail and appear to have been discarded. Maybe a reference to the card should be placed on the check stub.

    Because the data show that producers use veterinarians, local supply stores, and sale barn operators as major sources of information, more effort should be made to keep them updated and to provide them with information to share with producers. This emphasizes the importance of networking. More collaboration could be accomplished by making personal contacts to ensure that potential partners know what is happening and to offer them a chance to be a part of it. Potential partners could also be asked to participate in the programs or asked to provide displays. They could also be made aware that when producers adopt a practice, they, too, will receive the benefits. This awareness might cause them to be more inclined to buy in on the educational efforts. Historically, Extension agents have had longstanding relationship with many agribusiness groups and have provided assistance and guidance to them.

    The telephone is an effective means for producers to get specific information about a practice. However, it may not be feasible or practical to use the telephone as an educational teaching method to get information to producers.

    Non-contact educational materials (publications, newsletters, etc.) should be used to supplement educational programs. Direct contact with producers through meetings will continue to be required to get information to producers.

    Educational programs must be presented at times that are convenient to the producers. With the high percentage of beef producers being part-time, conventional meetings held during the day should be limited.

    Many opportunities exist for implementing effective Extension programs at the weekly auction markets in conjunction with marketing activities.

    In a time of limited resources, when Extension staff must nevertheless reach more people and more diverse groups in more ways than ever before, partnerships such as the ones evaluated in this study can help them meet that challenge.


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