Journal of the NACAA
Volume 9, Issue 2 - December, 2016
Beef Basics: An online short course for beef cattle farmers
- Mullenix, M.K., Extension Beef Cattle Systems Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Tucker, J.J., Assistant Professor - Animal and Dairy Science, University of Georgia
Anderson, L.K., Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Rodning, S.P., Extension Veterinarian, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Tigue, A., Regional Extension Agent - Animal Science and Forages, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Marks, L., Regional Extension Agent - Animal Science and Forages, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
A free online beef cattle management course was launched by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in January 2016 in response to increased interest in web-based educational resources, and a need for targeted programming for beginning farmers. The eight-week, eight-module online course provides video lectures, quizzes, and additional links to resources useful for clientele beginning a beef operation in the Southeast USA. Six months after release, an early assessment of course effectiveness indicated increased knowledge in various subject-matter areas impacting beef cattle operations from forages to consumer perceptions of the industry. Online coursework may be an effective method for future Extension program delivery alternatives.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System Animal Science and Forage Team provides educational programming to stakeholders on topics related to forage and livestock management. Historically, these on-site training opportunities have been offered through local Extension offices, state land-grant agricultural experiment stations, or in collaboration with state commodity groups and industry partners. Extension educators across the country now use a combination of online decision tools and on-site trainings to deliver scholarly information to end users (Rusche and Renelt, 2014).
Diversifying the delivery of educational content to stakeholders through both live and online training platforms may improve the reach of Extension information to clientele. The need for revised livestock programming coincides with a changing consumer base in Alabama. The number of beginning farmers and ranchers (those with less than 10 years of experience in the business; USDA, 2015) interested in livestock-based production systems has increased significantly in the last two years as indicated by the demand for educational programming in this area (more than 20 Extension programs in the past two years), and continued participation in these events. A two-year summary of survey data from a hands-on beef cattle management workshop targeted towards new producers in Alabama indicated that 80% of the survey respondents (average 50 respondents per workshop) desire to attend additional Extension programs of this nature in the future and would like online access to educational resources related to beef cattle management, illustrating an area of continuing need. The use of online training content may provide an additional outlet for the distribution of educational Extension materials to stakeholders, and reach clients who otherwise may be unable to attend live, on-site programs.
The online course consists of eight modules delivered through the Canvas Catalog platform. Canvas Catalog is an e-learning platform used by Auburn University, and the license was expanded for use by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in 2015. Course participants can enroll by visiting the Canvas Catalog course library through the Alabama Cooperative Extension website. Enrollment requires a valid email address and Internet access. Following enrollment, participants have eight weeks to finish all modules in order to receive a certificate of completion at the end. To successfully graduate the course, participants must complete a series of follow-up quizzes after each video within each module and participate in an end-of-course survey. The certificate generated by the course indicates that graduates have received eight hours of basic training in beef cattle management strategies. These certificate programs may be useful for new and beginning farmers seeking agricultural loans to show background knowledge and training in this specific area.
Modules were designed to provide an introduction to basic beef cattle management strategies including:
- An overview of the US beef industry and goal setting
- Forage adaptation and establishment
- Grazing management
- Stored forages and feeds
- Breeding and genetics
- Consumer perceptions
Each module contains a series of short videos (n= 4 to 8 videos per module) that consist of narrated, PowerPoint lectures. Video lectures were recorded using Camtasia software. Videos begin with a common introduction slide and a brief overview of what will be covered in the lecture. After each video, students are prompted to participate in a quiz to review the information presented. While videos and quizzes do not have to be viewed sequentially, all quizzes must be completed to receive the program certificate. Additionally, modules provide a list of resources where users can find more detailed information on the topics presented within the lectures. This resource list consists of external supporting links to Extension publications, decision tools, and industry links. An end-of-course survey was included in this training to gather feedback from student participants.
Figure 1. Example of course dashboard layout for navigating modules.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Course Release, Enrollment, and Participation
The Beef Basics online course was first offered in January 2016. Advertisement of this free resource occurred through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System news platform, statewide Extension programs and commodity group meetings, social media, and Extension agent newsletters beginning two months prior to the course release. Number of course enrollees, graduates, and percent course completion rate are presented in Table 1 for the time period from course release through the first six months. Overall, early-use metrics from the Beef Basics course indicate that enrollment and the percent completion rate have increased over time. This completion rate currently reflects the number of participants willing to fully finish a self-paced, online course on a voluntary, individual basis.
Table 1. Number of Beef Basics participants and percentage completion rate of program enrollees from February through June 2016.
Date of Assessment
# of Enrollees
Completion Rate, %
Feb 29, 2016
April 25, 2016
June 25, 2016
Of the 72 participants completing the course by the end of June, survey data indicate:
- When asked to describe the goals for their operation, 35% were part-time farmers, 38% categorized themselves as part-time cattle owners for business and recreational purposes, 19% full time, and 8% recreational.
- 67% of participants had less than 5 years of experience in the cattle business, whereas 7% had 5 to 10 years, and 25% had more than 10 years of experience.
- 72% of participants owned or managed 0 to 30 head of cattle, 15% had 30 to 60 head, and only 13% had more than 60 head.
- 90% of course graduates indicated that this course met their expectations. Overall, 8% indicated ‘maybe’ and 1% reported ‘no’ for this question. These participants also had more than 10 years of experience in the industry, which may partially explain course dissatisfaction as content was primarily focused towards beginning farmers.
- 82% of participants were highly likely to adopt some of the presented information in the next 12 months.
- Participants were asked to rank which topic areas would help them become more profitable in their operation (Table 2). Overall, topics related to forage management, nutrition, and health were ranked highest by course graduates.
- Course graduates were from 35 counties in Alabama (n=67 counties total), Georgia, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
- 36% of survey respondents estimated that they would save between $0 to 50 per head of cattle in their operation based on the information presented in this course. 26% indicated $50 to 100, 24% indicated $101 to 200, and for 14% more than $200 per head in savings was estimated.
Table 2. Ranking of most helpful topic areas presented in Beef Basics course content (1, most helpful; 7, least helpful).
Costs and Returns
Conclusions and Future Directions
This program provides a novel approach to training stakeholders in the area of beef cattle management through an interactive, certificate-based online course. Strong initial participation in the Beef Basics online course indicates that using online programming may provide an outlet for improving the reach of Extension information to clientele outside of in-person meetings and hands-on trainings. Initial survey results indicate that the appropriate target audience is using this platform, which may build further interest in continuing education opportunities offered through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for this clientele group. Long-term assessment of the effectiveness of online coursework will be monitored on an annual basis from participant feedback surveys. Continued use of online coursework will require periodic subject-matter updates, along with publicizing the use of this program through on-site Extension events. Course completion rates may be improved by coupling the online course with on-site Extension program series’ as a pre-requisite for program participation or as a requirement for program completion. Future course efforts may focus on building next-step educational programs for clientele to continue to study more in-depth within given areas.
Rusche, W. C. and Renelt, T. E. (2014). Mobile and web-based application to determine the most economical feedstuffs for livestock. Journal of Extension. Vol. 52:2. Retreived from http://www.joe.org/joe/2014april/tt3.php.
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (2016). Retreived from http://www.nass.usda.gov/. Accessed June 30, 2016.