- Stewart, Robyn Leigh
Hobby and backyard flocks have grown in popularity significantly over the last decade, yet small flock owners often lack essential knowledge and experience in flock husbandry. The Lincoln County Agriculture and Natural Resource (ANR) Agent developed curriculum and coordinated both an in-person program as well as a webinar series with guest presentations by UGA Poultry Science Department Specialists and the Banks County ANR Agent.
The United States Department of Agriculture performs an agriculture census every five years in which they publish the number of farms with between 1-49 laying hens. This value is one of the most accurate data points used in tracking backyard flock populations. In the United States from 2012 to 2017, there was a 16% increase in number of backyard flocks and 20% increase in number of backyard flock laying hens, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Georgia is known for its prominence in the commercial poultry industry, which contributes over $5.7 billion to the economy each year according to the 2018 Georgia Farm Gate Value Report. A major concern for commercial poultry producers is the growing popularity of hobby flocks due to potential for disease transmission. In 2018, a California outbreak of Newcastle disease that originated in a backyard flock spread to commercial operations. The outbreak resulted in the depopulation of over 1.2 million birds at a cost of over $72 million. Increased numbers of hobby or backyard flocks present the opportunity for expanded Extension education. A 2014 national study surveyed backyard flock owners on their history with flocks, knowledge of husbandry and welfare, and other relevant topics. When respondents were asked where they get their information, 87% used the internet, 62% used books or magazines, 40% used feed stores, but only 28% used university specialists or publications. A 2019 agriculture needs assessment survey performed in Lincoln County asked residents what UGA Extension programming they would be interested in, and 33% of survey respondents indicated interest in a hobby or backyard flock program. The Lincoln County ANR agent developed curriculum for a four-week Hobby Flock Seminar Series hosted in February of 2020 and a five-week online webinar series in July of 2020.
The in-person Hobby Flock Seminar Series had 17 participants ranging in age from 8 to 79 years of age. Of the participants, 58% were considering starting a flock, 14% were new flock owners, and 23% were experienced owners (>1-year of experience). Eighty-eight percent of participants intended to keep laying hens, with the remainder interested in meat birds. Participants identified several sources of backyard flock education, 48% indicated using personal contacts, 41% used the internet, and 11% used education professionals. Participants prioritized housing and predator management as their top concerns followed by nutrition, egg/meat production, bird health, and lastly, breed selection, anatomy, and behavior. The Hobby Flock Virtual Webinar Series was held weekly with a total of 141 registrants from 10 states and 2 countries. Weekly attendance averaged 40 participants per class. A post assessment was required to access the webinar recordings, handouts, and other materials from the class.
For the in-person program, participants were asked to complete a post-survey to assess their knowledge over different topics, behavioral changes they intended to make, and an overall rating of the program as a whole. All participants indicated an increase in knowledge across all topics. The most impactful sessions were “Coop Design and Predator Management”, and “Brooding and Incubation”, with 67% of students indicating they learned new things in these sessions. Virtual webinar participants were asked to complete a similar post survey at the end of each webinar to assess their experience with the program and change in knowledge on presented topics. The instructors, presentations, and information for this program were ranked excellent 70% of the time and 67% of participants ranked their overall satisfaction as excellent. Across the 16 topics that were covered in the series, participants indicated learning something new 95% of the time. Both in-person and webinar participants were asked to identify behaviors they intended to change as a result of the class. Eighty-nine percent of participants stated they would definitely use best practices to construct their coop or alter their existing coop for ease of access, predator control, and bird health and comfort and 94% indicated they would definitely select appropriate breeds for their flock given their goals. Ninety-four percent of students also decided to select proper feed for their birds based on their age and role in the hobby flock. Of the participants, 96% stated that they would implement best practices for incubating and brooding chicks, and 89% agreed to use the most humane method of processing chickens on their farm. Final comments included “Great class. Covered all topics I was interested in,” and “Very informative as I was looking for information on how to get started with chickens. Easy to follow and understand!”
- Year: 2020
- Geographic Scope: National
- County: Lincoln
- Location: College Station, Athens
- Agriculture & Natural Resources