Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 11, Issue 1 - June, 2018


Measuring Extension's Impact on Commercial Poultry Production

Rhodes, J. L., Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Maryland Extension
Moyle, J. R., Agent/Specialist, Poultry, University of Maryland Extension
Dill, S. P., Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Maryland Extension
McCoy, T., Assistant Director Evaluation and Assessment, University of Maryland
Tablante, N. L., Extension Poultry Veterinarian , University of Maryland Extension
Wang, C., Coordinator of Program Development and Evaluation, University of Maryland


Commercial poultry farms face a mix of challenges and must make decisions daily that affect the farm, birds and business. Delmarva poultry farmers face some of the most stringent regulations in the nation. In order to support commercial poultry farms, the University of Maryland Extension (UME) created a team of educators and specialists to teach and develop programs to help poultry farmers meet these challenges. The programs have evolved over the last ten years to include anything from traditional extension hands-on education, to addressing timely critical issues. A survey was created to measure knowledge increase, farm implementation, and educational needs. The findings and results reported from this survey show extension education for commercial poultry growers and agricultural professionals has had a positive impact on their farms and businesses.


The Delmarva Peninsula (Eastern Shore of Maryland, Virginia, and the entire state of Delaware) ranks as one of the top 10 largest poultry producing areas in the United States. Broiler production is the largest agricultural revenue generator in Maryland (USDA NASS 2012). A broiler is a chicken produced specifically for meat production. Broiler production includes small fryer to large roaster-type chickens. Approximately 41 percent of farm cash income in Maryland was from broilers (USDA NASS 2012). Maryland ranked seventh nationally in the number of meat chickens produced, and tenth in the number of pounds of meat chickens (Maryland, 2018).

Broiler production has grown dramatically in the past 32 years to $3.4 billion in 2017 compared to $1.2 billion in 1986 (DPI, 2018). There are nine poultry producing counties on the eastern shore of Maryland; five of these are among the leaders in U.S. broiler production, ranking in the top 100. Contract broiler production is concentrated in all nine counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Commercial poultry farms face a mix of challenges that affect decisions they make on the farm. In order to deliver educational programing to commercial poultry growers, the University of Maryland Extension (UME) created a team of educators and specialists to deliver newsletters, workshops, discussion groups, farm calls, one-on-one meetings and field days. The programs have evolved over the last ten years to include anything from traditional extension education to addressing timely critical issues. Extension educators at the University of Maryland have developed programs to address the educational needs of the poultry farmers on Delmarva. While not the intended audience, this education has reached private industry through professionals that work directly with poultry farms.

Farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are under strict environmental regulations. Poultry farmers are regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Therefore, commercial broiler producers on the Eastern Shore need the most up-to-date, research-based information that is available concerning biosecurity, regulations, production, management, farm safety and much more.

Within Extension, needs assessments are referred to as the foundation of successful program design, development, and delivery and, for new educators, a first priority (Caravella, 2006; and Seevers et al., 2007). Educators have used secondary data sources, particularly the Agricultural Census, to monitor trends and adjust programs accordingly (Dill et al., 2017). The Extension Service (ES) has always been in the business of getting people to apply new knowledge and make use of the information (Kawasaki, Raven, 1995). The Commercial Poultry Survey was designed to measure UME’s impact on poultry production on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Virginia, and the state of Delaware.



Education for Commercial Poultry Growers

Over the past ten years, a variety of educational opportunities have been offered to existing poultry growers, new growers and others with an interest in poultry production. 

New and Existing Grower Training and Certification. A very successful training and certification program for new and existing growers was created to address the New Sources Standard for EPA’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). The UME team of educators and specialists developed and wrote curriculum for this one-day workshop that includes the following topics: basic farm management; site management and maintenance; manure and mortality handling; vegetative environmental buffers (VEB); nutrient management (NM) and comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMP); ventilation management; financial recordkeeping; biosecurity; animal welfare; EPA, MDE & MDA inspection readiness; disaster pereparedness; and grant and cost share opportunities. The UME educators and specialists, along with a team of partners including Soil Conservation Districts, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI), Delaware Cooperative Extension, MDE, and MDA teach this workshop. To date, 23 classes educating 715 growers and agricultural professionals have been conducted across the Delmarva region.

Poultry Discussion Groups. Poultry discussion groups meet quarterly to discuss timely topics. The group indicates the topics to be covered and the UME team delivers the research based information. Discussion topics include energy efficiencies on the farm, managing labor, environmental regulation compliance, management techniques, working smarter not harder, biosecurity, increasing profit, animal welfare, new technology, electrical farm safety, and litter management. There have been 32 group discussions held in the region with an average class size of 25 participants per class since 2008.

Poultry Health Programs. A disease outbreak such as Avian Influenza (AI) in Delmarva’s poultry industry would economically impact poultry growers and processors, and in the case of H5N1 or H7N9 AI, would present potential human health risks. Although Highly Pathogenic AI H5N1 and H7N9 are not present in the U.S., the need for poultry growers to design and implement a strong biosecurity program to prevent the spread of AI and other economically important or zoonotic diseases is essential. The UME team developed the following program outputs to address this issue:

  • Maintain current information on identifying diseases on the UME poultry web site
  • Educated small flock owners on how to identify poultry diseases and biosecurity through factsheets and workshops
  • Published six factsheets on poultry diseases
  • Legal Extension Specialist authored a fact sheet on legal liability of not practicing biosecurity
  • Assist commercial poultry companies in training growers on biosecurity and disease prevention
  • Grower discussion groups are held quarterly and biosecurity is always addressed
  • Held a “Poultry Grower’s Disease Control Workshop: Keeping Disease Off of the Poultry Farm” workshop at three location in the region, with over 500 attendees
  • Created biosecurity videos to help educate commercial growers, allied industry, and backyard poultry producers about proper biosecurity protocols 


Farm Safety Programs All electrical systems have the potential to cause harm. The voltage electricity and the available electrical current in homes and farm buildings has enough power to cause death by electrocution. To address a tragedy that occurred to a fellow extension agent who was electrocuted in his own chicken houses, the UME team, in partnership with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, developed a program to increase knowledge and teach farmers and growers electrical safety on their farms. Program outputs included discussion groups, workshops, meetings, webinars, hands-on demonstrations during poultry field days, and publication of a fact sheet (Moyle et al., 2018).

Annie’s Project Women Managing Commercial Poultry. Agriculture education programs are designed to meet the needs of farmers, but have been slow to address the needs, experiences, and expertise of women in agriculture (Albright, 2006; Schultz et al. 2017). Additionally, many women feel as though they are not respected or viewed as farmers, and in many community settings women feel uncomfortable and avoid asking questions or engaging in conversations (Charatsari et al., 2013); Schultz et al. 2017). Annie's Project is a national program designed to empower farmwomen to manage information systems used in critical decision-making processes and to build local networks throughout the state (Dill et al. 2012). An Annie’s Project was developed in 2017 by the UME team for women managing commercial poultry covering the five areas of risk management. The class consists of six weekly classes totaling 18 hours of education. Two classes were held with attendance total of 51 participants.

Reaching New Audiences. New and existing poultry growers are the main target audience for educational programs however agriculture professionals, private industry, service providers and government personnel began enrolling in the education programs. These agricuture professionals included representatives from poultry companies, financial institutions, state and federal government agencies, local trade organizations, and non-profit organizations.  

Commercial Poultry Survey

The survey was created to assess knowledge increase, farm implementation, and educational needs.  There were 46 questions divided into three sections 1) Poultry Farm Operations, 2) University of Maryland Extension Educational Programs, and 3) Future Educational Needs.  

The UME team wanted the survey to reach as many clientele as possible. Sproull (1986) found that an e-mail survey produced higher response rates at a lower cost than either paper questionnaires or one-on-one interviews. Over the past 10 years, an email listserv, consisting of over 600 people, has been compiled from anyone who attended any poultry education opportunities or requested to be added to the listserv. The survey link was emailed to this listserv in late August of 2017 and open for 6 weeks. Local trade organizations and Extension agents helped increase participation in the survey. The survey is IRB (University of Maryland Institutional Review Board approval # 1089192-1) approved. Qualtrics (Qualtrics, 2017) software was the survey tool used. 


Results and Discussion

The online survey received 165 responses, representing a favorable response rate of 27%. Of those 165 responding, 55% were poultry growers and included all three states (MD, DE, VA) where educational programs are delivered. The majority of respondents (69%) have been engaged for 11 or more years and have over 50,000 chickens per flock (73%). When asked about information received during UME programs, 95% of growers found them beneficial to their farm operation. Improved biosecurity (75%), improved farm safety (61%), and compliance with concentrated animal feeding operations regulations (55%), were rated as the highest benefit. Respondents were also asked to estimate the increase in dollar value per flock as a result of UME programs. It is estimated that poultry growers who attend UME workshops increased per-flock income between $2,450 to $5,200 with the average increasing by $3,600.

The next part of the survey was to determine practices implemented on the farm as a result of attending the training. Seventy-four percent of respondents reported new management practices because of UME poultry workshops. The highest practices implemented include litter management (53%), improved biosecurity practices (42%), emergency preparedness (37%), improved composting methods (34%), and improved farm safety (34%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Highest farm practices implemented by poultry farmers.


Sixty-eight percent of poultry farmers have a written biosecurity plan. Other new management practices implemented include improved appearance of farm (29%), windrowing between flocks (29%), improved animal welfare (24%), better recordkeeping (24%), installed vegetative environmental buffers (21%), created a biosecurity plan (21%), followed guidelines for manure stockpiling in the shed (16%), installed heavy use area pads (13%), installed energy efficient equipment (11%), installed mortality freezers (5%), and followed guidelines for manure stockpiling in the field (3%) (Table 1).


Table 1. New practices implemented by growers on their farms.


Respondents indicated that as a result of attending UME poultry programs, they were able to improve compliance with environmental regulations (82%) (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Improved compliance with governmental regulations.


Thirty percent of the respondents who completed the survey were neither new nor existing poultry growers. This group of respondents were service providers, including representatives of financial institutions, poultry companies, non-profit organizations, federal and state agencies, and universities. Ninety-eight percent of this group indicated that the training and workshops were a benefit to them and their operation/business; 88% indicated they had a good to great deal of knowledge and skills in the poultry industry. These respondents were asked, has the UME poultry trainings or workshops helped you in your business/employment? The responses included: I have a better understanding of the poultry industry (67%); better understanding of the everyday challenges a poultry producer faces (63%); better able to serve my clientele (59%); better understanding of the importance of biosecurity (59%); helped poultry producers implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) (43%); helped my clientele improve their compliance with environmental regulations (41%); implemented biosecurity practices (32%); and I was able to increase profitability for my poultry producer clientele (15%).

The final part of the survey was used to discover educational needs and programming. Respondents were asked what their greatest challenge was pertaining to their poultry farm (respondents could select all that applied).  Highest responses include regulations (69%), environmentalist (55%), pest and disease (50%), and input costs (50%) (Figure 3).


Figure 3. Greatest challenges pertaining to poultry farming.


A question was also asked about additional assistance to the poultry industry by UME. The most frequent requests included sponsoring more outreach and education sessions (59%); increasing applied or on-farm research (50%); more “boots on the ground” working in the field (45%); and more web-based information (35%) (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Future educational needs of poultry farmers and agricultural professionals.



Researched-based and unbiased information is very important to poultry growers. The University of Maryland Extension Educators poultry team will continue to deliver outreach and educational programs to meet the needs of growers. The survey will be conveyed to program leaders, researchers, and administrators to share educational results and clientele requests of more “boots on the ground” and increased applied and on-farm research.

The UME poultry team will continue to deliver web-based information, webinars, newsletters and video clips. Most importantly, the team will focus on timely issues and responding to the needs of the poultry growers. Follow-up surveys to industry and commodity groups is an important way for extension educators to measure the knowledge gained and impact of programs, while also assessing future needs.

The findings and results reported from this survey show extension education for commercial poultry growers and agricultural professionals has had a positive impact on their farms and businesses. As poultry production technologies change there will always be a need for education, outreach and resources. The impacts and relationships made with growers, poultry companies and service providers has been very gratifying and motivating to the UME poultry team.


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