June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW5

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Developing Leadership Skills with Grazing Councils

A monthly grazing council program was initiated in Athens County, Ohio in 1994 to address issues related to grazing management; and leadership skills have been developed by many of the participants. This program is held at local farms, and involves learning and sharing with the entire group. Many become interested in hosting meetings and sharing successful management techniques and improving skills from participant suggestions. With the help of this program, many have become recognized leaders, sharing their experiences and helping others throughout the country. Objectives of a long-term program may focus on identified issues, but other favorable results such as developing leadership skills can emerge.

Christopher D. Penrose
Assistant Professor and Extension Agent
Agriculture/ Natural Resources and 4-H Youth Development
Ohio State University Extension, Morgan County
McConnelsville, Ohio
Internet Address: penrose1@postoffice.ag.ohio-state.edu

The primary role of an agriculture agent in many counties throughout the U.S. is to educate and communicate information that would lead farmers to increase production and incomes, improve standards of living, and improve the environment. Agricultural Extension educators help identify needs, problems, and constraints of farmers and rural people, and design Extension programs that will contribute to solutions. One such program is a grazing council initiated in Athens County, Ohio in 1994. It was developed because interest among clientele was growing in the area of sustainable agriculture, especially grazing livestock.

This article describes how the grazing council program achieved its anticipated goals and reaped some unexpected benefits, as well.

Grazing Council Planning

Grazing councils are programs held at a host farm where "group method" meetings are offered based on advice from the participants at an annual planning meeting.

During this planning meeting, suggestions are provided for locations, topics, and speakers. As a result, goals are set, such as identifying a tentative schedule for the year and providing a balance of beef, dairy, sheep, and poultry grazing operations. Each program has a theme, and appropriate guest speakers are identified and invited.

In addition to "pasture walks" at each meeting, topics such as niche marketing, forage options, extending the grazing season, dairy parlor design, and nutrient management are discussed. Grazing council members, industry experts, government representatives, and Extension specialists are identified to discuss these topics.

Grazing Councils Teaching Methods

Grazing council meetings have major differences from a traditional field day. One is that grazing councils meet on a regular basis, usually each month except during the winter. This program is now in its seventh year. New grazing councils have formed, and existing ones have grown and thrived throughout Ohio and many other states.

Another difference is the teaching methods. Teaching methods for field days are generally through lecture and demonstration by teachers, while the teaching method for grazing councils relies primarily on interaction among all the participants, with the teacher's role being that of a facilitator.

More specifically, participants learn and share during pasture walks so they can help themselves on their own farms and help their colleagues, too. Discussions are facilitated during the pasture walks by asking leading questions to the group, emphasizing the theme for the program and keeping the pasture walk moving. During this learning activity, virtually everyone becomes involved through discussions, observations, and relating personal experiences.

This demonstration and provision of "real problem solving" is one of the important aspects of the experience. This teaching style gives the participants the confidence that their ideas and experiences are valued. As a result of the learning activity, most participants become interested in hosting a meeting, and, in the process, develop leadership skills to help teach their peers.

One early observation that aided in the success of this grazing council was the need to let the producers have time to socialize and meet one-on-one. This has allowed the participants to open up and share their successes and failures with the entire group. Participants who attend these meetings learn that they are not in competition with each other but are in it together, and, by sharing experiences, they help each other succeed. With this success, they develop the confidence and conviction to share with other people.

Grazing Councils and Leadership

As this program has matured, many of the participants have hosted a program, noting if goals and plans have been realized, changed, or failed. During an annual planning meeting in 1997, several of the experienced graziers suggested that a meeting or two each year should be held at a farm of someone new to grazing. The participants would have a pasture walk and then provide suggestions and guidance for the host to help avoid problems and implement the successes of the experienced graziers. This type of program has proved to be very successful for everyone involved.

With the help of these grazing councils, many of the participants have become leaders in the area of grazing.

  • Two participants have participated in on-farm research, and the results have been shared at national and international conferences.
  • Five participants have been speakers at national conferences.
  • Five participants went on an advanced grazing study tour to Argentina to help teach advanced grazing schools throughout a 12-state region.
  • Several have been written up in national magazines and highlighted on a regional television network.

In most situations, the participants share their management skills and the resources they have used to achieve the goals they have identified, and the new goals and aspirations that they plan.

Many of the clientele who have attended these programs on a regular basis for the past 6 years were very quiet and skeptical when these programs were started. As they learned from the successes and failures of their peers, many "opened up" and became interested in hosting a meeting sharing their successes. As people became involved in the program, they understood that everyone learns and shares, improving the chances of success for everyone. The successes of the participants have encouraged them to share with others and build leadership skills.

As this program has matured over the past 6 years, the program has experienced unexpected but beneficial results. The original objectives of this program were to improve profitability, quality of life, and the environment, and these goals are being achieved. However, the unexpected benefit from an educator's perspective has been the emergence of leaders in the field of grazing livestock, leaders who now share the art and science of grazing with people all across the country.