Hands-on learning focus of Livestock AdvisorsSep 3rd, 2016 | Category: Features
Program graduates volunteer, expand community network
by Carol Frey
Many people have livestock dreams. Some dream small, maybe getting a few chickens in order to have high quality eggs. Some have bigger dreams, like opening a sheep dairy. Others may considering raising a different type of livestock. The WSU Livestock Advisor program is a unique resource, offering the means to learn more about specific aspects of farming in our northwest corner and to connect with others working in the same field.
Allen Miller grew up farming but he’d never even considered raising rabbits when he signed up for the Livestock Advisor program in 2014. Prospective livestock advisors attend classes on a wide range of farming subjects. The instructor for the rabbit session, Bill Ludwig, inspired Allen with his great passion for the animals, and shortly afterwards several New Zealand meat rabbits joined the Boer goats, cattle, and Berkshire-cross hogs he’d recently acquired. Now Ludwig visits often to assist and mentor Allen as he builds his rabbitry up to a viable size. Connecting with people like Ludwig was one of his most valuable outcomes from the LA program, Allen said.
A WSU extension agent created the program in the 1980s, when he began fielding ever increasing numbers of livestock questions from the public. He recruited and trained volunteers to provide up-to-date information on request. Most of those first volunteers were retired full-time farmers. Nowadays, advisors run the gamut from third-generation cattle farmers to city transplants on their first acreage to suburban permaculturists with full-time commuter jobs.
Veterinarians, farmers and other professionals teach the sessions, covering a wide range of farming-related subjects like pasture rotation, mud management, secure fencing, and parasite management, as well as classes on raising most common types of livestock, including rabbits and specialty low-line cattle. Graduates then volunteer at least 50 hours of service to the program or to the public over the next two years. The goal is to provide education to people who own or are considering obtaining livestock, helping them make better financial decisions and connecting them with other folks in related operations, said Joan DeVries, the program coordinator. Each program graduate who volunteers expands the network of information and the community of livestock owners who link up and support one another.
Speaking of linking up, I’ve been hoping to visit John Nelson’s place for several years. John is not just a pastured poultry-raising Livestock Advisor but also President of the Livestock Masters Foundation, the nonprofit board whose fund raising activities help keep the program alive and produce the Country Living Expo each winter. He went through the program after he retired and soon found himself knee-deep in chickens. He put his program education to use building chicken tractors and raising and selling layer pullets and pastured eggs for several years. These days, he’s keeping New Hampshire Reds and Buckeyes for pleasure, along with a small mixed herd of cattle raised cooperatively with his neighbor. The cattle are rotated through the pastures on both properties – another practice he picked up from the program. His enormous, fluffy Anatolian Shepherd, Bear, watches over all, guarding the flocks and greeting visitors with a friendly wag and a heavy lean. Hopefully, John’s service to the Livestock Advisor program and to the community, which already goes far beyond the required minimum, will continue long into the future.
Advisors join the program for many reasons, each bringing his or her own experience, knowledge and interests to the mix. When I was getting ready to leave Allen Miller’s place and giving his goats a final scratch on the head, I asked him what drove an experienced farmer to join the program. “Education,” was his immediate answer. He finished, “There’s no reason for anyone to stop learning as long as you’re living.”
The WSU Livestock Advisor training begins a new 11-week series of classes Sept. 20. From fencing, feeding, housing, breeding to pasture management, learn how to raise high-quality poultry, sheep, beef, swine, or goats sustainably. Participants receive help developing a strategic plan to incorporate livestock, and hear from several WSU Livestock Advisors who share their experiences. Several local farm tours are also included in the training. Participants are asked to return 50 hours of volunteer time over a two year period, crafting the experience to match their availability and interests. The cost of the 10-week course is $125 with a second person from the farm or family free. The course meets Tuesday evenings from Sept. 20 through Nov. 29, 6 – 9 p.m. at Stanwood High School. For more information, or an application, see http://skagit.wsu.edu or contact Joan DeVries at (360) 428-4270 ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the September 2016 issue of Grow Northwest