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Westmoreland: Helping the small farm owners

Call it help for the little guy — and a few big animals.

The Penn State Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County this month launched a Small Acre Management Program to provide information and educational aid to small agricultural operations.

It’s not only new for the county office — it’s also the first program of its kind in the state, said Amy Bossart, the extension’s new small acre management assistant. She’s looking to help small farm and boarding facility operators with questions on topics from animal health and nutrition to facility plans.

“What was happening was, the office was being inundated with all kinds of questions, like what kind of feed they should use, or how much pasture they should have,” Bossart said. “And there simply wasn’t enough staff to get out to all the farms and address them.”

According to the latest available Census of Agriculture, compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, Westmoreland County is home to about 1,035 farms, with an average size of 143 acres.

Smaller farms are the most common, however, Bossart said. Those targeted by the program measure 5 to 10 acres or less.

“Some may be a little larger,” she said.

Bossart, who “grew up” in the county’s 4-H horse program, said the small-acre program specializes in farms with horses but will branch out to include sheep, goats and other animals as needed.

It also will feature seminars and classes. Participants can earn certificates of completion in topics such as fire safety, pasture management and animal nutrition. An equine sciences newsletter also is expected.

“I think this has been long needed,” said Sara Chelen, of Stonehouse Stables in Salem Township.

She said her family switched from raising beef cattle to boarding horses after a storm destroyed their barn about four years ago.

“There are a lot of people getting into riding, and this can help provide everything they need to know from A to Z as far as taking care of a horse,” Chelen said. “There is a real need for it, and we want to try to make it educational and informative.”

Extension officials “would like to get the word out,” Bossart said.

“There are a lot of people who want to do the best they can with what they have,” she said. “They can call me here at the extension office and schedule a farm visit to express concerns or ideas on how they can provide the best care.”

*To reach Bossart and the small Acre Management Program, call the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office, on Donohoe Road, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The phone number is 724-837-1402, Ext. 167.


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