Often when looking for resources related to the best practices and management of animal sanctuaries (particularly farmed animal sanctuaries), you may hear references to contacting or consulting with your region’s “agricultural research department”, “cooperative extension service”, or “agricultural extension office”. These are all names for similar services provided by regional and national governments that can be highly valuable for sanctuaries to take advantage of!
What Is An Agricultural Extension Service?
An agricultural extension service is a governmental department in many countries, sometimes working in partnership with local colleges or universities, created to provide education, resources, and scientific study-based guidance primarily to support agricultural endeavors in the regions they oversee. The aim of these departments includes improving farm yields, profits, record keeping best practices, and sustainability, as well as quality of life enhancement for those living in rural areas in particular. In addition, they often have resources related to farmed animals, though many of these animal resources would likely conflict with the values of a farmed animal sanctuary. In the United States, the USDA oversees and funds most agricultural or cooperative extension services.
What Can An Agricultural Extension Service Provide For Animal Sanctuaries?
Although an animal sanctuary may be outside of the typically expected audience of what an agricultural extension service provides resources for, there are a number of potential region-specific resources and services that would be highly valuable for sanctuaries, often provided free of charge or quite affordably through these departments. Depending on one’s region, an agricultural extension service may provide sanctuaries with:
- A detailed accounting of parasites, illnesses, and outbreaks that are a higher concern in the region, or that have been reported as issues in the past, including a list of reportable diseases. This can help a sanctuary work with their veterinarian to create a vaccination and worming schedule that is both effective and efficient for the known concerns of the region.
- Guidance on pasture creation, management, rotation, and the trialing of appropriate grass mixes that best suit the region in which a sanctuary is located, so that pastures grow more readily and are easier to maintain. Agricultural Extension Services also tend to maintain a list of toxic plants and wild animal concerns to domestic farmed animals prevalent in the region, which can be extremely valuable information when trying to protect one’s residents.
- Resources for soil testing services, which can be highly valuable for determining if there are any nutritional deficits or excesses that must be addressed in resident diets, or dangerous levels of toxic compounds like lead that must be mitigated for resident safety.
- Guidance on water concerns in the region, including well-digging, water quality reports, and whether there are any runoff requirements or water-collection restrictions that must be adhered to.
- A list of vendors that would be important for a sanctuary’s day-to-day management, including farriers, shearers, waste and compost haulers, utilities providers, and potential veterinarians to contact. Although every individual and service working directly with a sanctuary’s residents require a good deal of upfront communication of expectations, having a list of possible providers is highly valuable, especially if a regular vendor or veterinarian becomes no longer available.
- Structure construction guidance, including sometimes offering free or reduced cost building plans and assistance navigating building and construction permits, if such permitting is necessary in a sanctuary’s region.
- Guidance on regulatory concerns, zoning, and legal requirements of operating an organization that works with animals within the region, which can be highly valuable to new sanctuaries trying to understand what they need to plan for and be aware of.
- Education on a variety of agricultural topics, including manure management and compost design systems, food plant seeding and maintenance, training on the use of agricultural equipment, and general best practices for efficiency and safety. Running a sanctuary often requires a great deal of knowledge on topics upon which an extension would have quite a bit of practical information!
Working With Agricultural Extension Services
It’s typically fairly simple to get in contact with your local or regional agricultural extension service, either via email, in person at their office, or over the phone. When working with your local department, it’s important to keep in mind that the primary constituency that they tend to work with are organizations that are likely quite different than your animal sanctuary. Quite like working with veterinarians or maintaining friendly neighbor relations, it’s important to keep conversations cordial, even if you may not see eye-to-eye with their beliefs about animals. Although employees or volunteers at an agricultural extension service may disagree with your sanctuary’s stance on animals, they can still provide a great deal of information and resources that can help your sanctuary in a variety of ways if you’re open to working with them.
Every office may have their own focus, set of resources, and knowledge base, so it’s difficult to definitively state how your local office or agricultural department might help you out, but if you’re curious about how your local extension could help you, reach out to them! You may be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of resources available to you and your organization. And in sanctuary operation, the more knowledge and resources you have, the better!
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