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Alice Hallink shows a healthy and well-cared-for Boer goat with the Master Meat Goat Producer sign she received after completing a UT Extension class. The knowledge she learned from that class has helped her to raise, manage and profit from the meat goats on her farm.

Agriculture is a big part of Middle Tennessee. Whether you are a gardener, a row cropper or a livestock producer, many hours of labor and love go into agriculture endeavors regardless if they are a hobby or a way of making a living.

Because of the agricultural importance in the state of Tennessee, there are several programs in place to help individuals become the best at what they do. A few of these classes to be on the lookout for are that are offered by the University of Tennessee Extension Office are the Master Beef Producer, Master Meat Goat Producer, Master Gardener and several other programs that offer agricultural education to the general public.

Local meat goat farmer Alice Hallink said her experience with the Master Meat Goat Program offered by a local extension office was full of valuable education that has stuck with her since she took the class approximately 10 years ago.

“A huge benefit of taking the class is the wealth of knowledge you obtain,” Hallink said. “You learn just about every topic there is regarding goats. From housing structures to vaccines and animal behavior, you learn a lot about the animal and how to beneficially care for it from a profitable but humane standpoint.”

Hallink has been raising Boer meat goats on her farm for roughly 12 years. After taking the class, she was able to pinpoint several components that helped her understand breeding seasons, illnesses and nutrition of the ruminant digestive system to raise her goats to yield more profit at the auction.

She attended the class as an amateur goat farmer and learned not only from the accredited teachers but also from her peers who had years of experience in the meat goat farming industry.

“The class participants contained newcomers to the goat business and the old pros,” Hallink said. “The class was very interactive. You met other local goat producers, and you could listen to the problems or solutions they had encountered with raising goats within this region.”

Goats in Tennessee are used for meat, milk or show. While the goat industry in Tennessee is a large one, there are also several other master programs offered by UT’s extension office aimed at other agricultural endeavors. One of the newest programs to be added is the Master Horse Program.

According to the University of Tennessee Extension website, the Tennessee Master Horse Program is an educational program designed to provide a foundation of science-based equine nutrition, management and environmental information applicable to all horse owners and those interested in equine well-being.

The classes use a combination of classroom discussion and hands-on teaching. The program covers a variety of topics related to equines to implement into businesses or everyday practices of improving the well-being of the horse.

“The Master Horse Program is as good as you can get,” said Bedford Country Extension Agent John Teague. “All of our master programs have something for everyone. Whether you are just interested in learning more about a subject or making your living off it, there’s something in it for everyone.”

Bedford Country held the first Master Horse program in October 2016, and approximately 16 people gathered to learn about equine nutrition, wellness, farm management and several other horse related topics. Topics include ownership, nutrition, pasture, environment, waste, economic and health.

Last year’s class was held in January, and it taught roughly 20 people the logistics of horse farm management. While this year’s class is still in the making, it’s set to take place before the beginning of April. Master classes are for amateurs, experts and everyone in between. There’s something to learn for everyone.

“When someone finishes one of the master programs that an extension office offers, they take away a better understanding from the care of animals to the business aspect of the industry,” Teague said. “Throughout my years of coordinating the programs, I’ve seen people enter the program with just an interest in something to those people who are managing 1,000 head of cattle out West. They all take something different out of the program, and I think that has been extremely beneficial no matter who you are.”

All master classes are education courses that increase knowledge on agricultural hobbies or lifestyles. They are taught by experts in the area who also expand their knowledge and correspond with other agriculture schools in the United States. By learning from research from other accredited agriculture schools, the master programs offer their students top-notch knowledge from all over the country.

Experts touch on diseases, illnesses, prevention, treatment, horsemanship, pasture management, breeding, genetics, business management and how to work with taxes and exemptions. All these topics can be applied to the different master programs offered by the county extension office.

The classes take about four weeks to complete. With eight topics to discuss, the class will meet once a week and normally cover one to two topics per night. Once the class is completed, participants take away a certificate, a manual and the occasional award. For the Master Beef, Master Horse and Master Meat Goat Producers, a sign is provided to put in front of the farm.

“I was given a large reference book that I could keep after I completed my class,” Hallink said. “It has over 400 pages of information on goats that I can refer back to any time I have a question or concern. I would highly recommend anyone interested in raising goats or any sort of livestock to partake in the classes.”

While classes vary from extension to extension, not all classes are offered in each county. Available funds limit classes to each county’s prominent needs. At this time, Coffee County offers classes on beef production, beekeeping and gardening along with several other agricultural education classes. But Teague said the classes in each county are not restricted to students only from those counties.

“There are so many great programs around Middle Tennessee,” said Teague. “In Coffee County, there are several class and program options from Moore County, Lincoln County, Franklin County, Bedford County and even Rutherford County. If people call and ask about a class that my county isn’t offering, I direct them to county with the best program for their needs.”

Currently Bedford County and Rutherford County are the only nearby counties offering the Master Horse Program. All classes have a registration fee of approximately $150-$175 depending on the materials used during the program. Classes can be found under each county’s website, or by calling their extension agent’s office.

For more information on master programs and agriculture classes offered in Coffee County, visit www.extension.tennessee.edu/Coffee, or call 931-723-5141. For more information on master programs, agriculture classes and the upcoming Master Horse Program in Bedford County, visit www.extension.tennessee.edu/Bedford, or call 931-684-5971.

Any extension office can assist inquirers with any questions or concerns.  

Faith Few can be reached at ffew@tullahomanews.com.