Virginia Cooperative Extension goes digital, explores new pathways for content delivery

Bull auctions have moved online and over the phone. Exercise courses are being offered virtually. Baby chicks are hatching on Facebook Live events during embryology classes. Though COVID-19 has halted many of the in-person events that Virginia Cooperative Extension has historically held, it hasn’t slowed Extension agents, specialists, and administrators who have brought many of the in-person experiences online, which has resulted in some unique and impactful educational opportunities.

“Extension is here to serve the commonwealth at all times and we strive to address the new challenges in our communities by providing convenient and powerful resources for them, wherever they may be,” said Ed Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Our agents are incredible resources who continually work to be beacons of light for communities across the commonwealth.”

One example is the Southwest Virginia Bull Test Program, which required a new method of delivery for the annual sale to continue.

A collaborative effort between Extension and the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association, the bull development program culminates with an annual sale held the fourth Saturday in March. The annual sale typically brings more than 350 beef cattle producers together each year.

Staying at the same date and time, a mechanism was established for producers to buy bulls without gathering for the traditional auction. The sale was moved to an internet auction format with CowBuyer.com, which allowed producers to bid online while the sale was broadcast using an auctioneer and recorded videos of the animals. A teleauction was utilized, which is an established system that enables buyers to listen to the sale and bid over the telephone.

Finally, knowing that many buyers had limited experience with internet sales and also given the fact that internet connectivity is not consistent across the region, Extension agents in 12 counties throughout Southwest Virginia established remote bidding sites. The agents hosted interested beef producers at local offices, where the sale was broadcast as it took place and served as a conduit for these producers to purchase bulls. Producers were able to view the bulls in person by stopping by the test station located outside Wytheville during the week leading up to the sale. Videos, sales catalog, and additional information on the bulls were available on the website before the sale.

The sale was a tremendous success, with 115 bulls and seven heifers sold for a total of $381,950 and an average of $3,520 per bull and $1,500 per heifer.

“Moving the entire sale took the dedicated efforts of many and the willingness to flexible and innovative by everyone involved,” said Scott Greiner, an Extension beef and sheep specialist. “The challenges of moving an inherently in-person show were great, but so was the reward of hosting a successful bull sale online. The success enjoyed would not have been possible without the buy-in of everyone involved with the annual event.”



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