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Program Impact

Hobby Flock Seminar Series,

February 2020

Thank you to all participants of the 2020 Hobby Flock Seminar Series!

Results & Impact

Summary

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 and management. The Lincoln County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent developed curriculum and coordinated a four class series on the basics of keeping a hobby flock with a guest presentation by UGA Poultry Specialist Dr. Casey Ritz.

Situation

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. 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). The state of Georgia is well known for its prominence in the commercial poultry industry, which contributes over $24.6 billion to the Georgia economy each year. A major concern for commercial poultry producers is the growing popularity of backyard or hobby flocks. 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 opportunity for expanded Extension education. A 2014 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. When asked what their preferred communication methods were, 75% of respondents wanted a website, 63% wanted a newsletter or email, and 38% wanted hands-on workshops. These findings are consistent with a 2019 Agriculture needs assessment survey performed in Lincoln County. The survey asked residents what UGA Extension programming they would attend, and 33% of returned surveys indicated interest in a hobby or backyard flock program.

Response & Demographics

The Lincoln County Agriculture and Natural Resource (ANR) agent developed curriculum for a four-week seminar series about hobby flock husbandry and management. Topics covered included but were not limited to breed selection, anatomy, behavior, predator management, coop design, nutrition, incubation and brooding, and meat and egg production. A pre-survey was conducted prior to the start of the first session and a post survey was conducted at the conclusion of the fourth session. Each program was also evaluated individually with a post survey.

Results & Impact

The program had 17 participants ranging in age from 8 years old to 79 years old. The majority of participants were considering starting a flock (58%) and new flock owners (14%), with only 23% identifying themselves as experienced owners (>1-year experience). Participants primarily intended to keep laying hens (88%) with only 12% interested in meat birds. Small flocks of 5-10 birds (76%) were preferred over larger flocks of 15-20 birds (24%).  Participants identified several sources of backyard flock education, including personal contacts (47%), the internet (41%), and education professionals (11%). Participants stated housing and predator management as their top priority followed by nutrition, egg/meat production, bird health, and lastly, breed selection, anatomy, and behavior.

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. Participants were asked to evaluate their change in knowledge across eight areas of backyard flock production. All participants indicated an increase in knowledge across all topics. The most impactful sessions were predators and predator management, flock housing, and brooding and incubation, with 67% of students indicating they learned over 10 new things in these sessions. The least impactful topics were flock behavior and meat and egg production, with 50% of participants indicating they learned over 10 new things in these sessions. Program participants were also asked to identify behaviors they intended to change as a result of the class. 100% of participants stated they would select different breeds or species for their flock. Participants also unanimously agreed they would use best practices to construct their coop or alter their existing coop for ease of access, predator control, and bird health and comfort. Students also agreed (100%) to select proper feed for their birds based on their age and role in the hobby flock. Program participants agreed (92%) to implement best practices for incubating and brooding chicks, and also agreed (83.5%) to use the most humane method of processing chickens on their farm. Finally, participants agreed (92%) that they would follow all USDA and Georgia Department of Agriculture guidelines for egg and meat sales. On a whole, program participants ranked the program excellent (75%) and good (25%). Final comments included “Great class. Covered all topics I was interested in,” and “This class has been very informative, we are looking forward to this adventure.”