Female county agents with agricultural program responsibilities consist of only about 11.4% of the Cooperative Extension Service’s population of employees. That number is increasing as fields and professions in the realm of agriculture, traditionally held by men, are now opening to educated and enthusiastic young women. Always one of Georgia’s top agricultural producers, Bulloch County is one of the first counties to have two fulltime county agents: Bill Tyson, who handles row crops, and Carole Hicks Knight, who handles livestock and horticulture. Knight is the first female Ag agent for Bulloch County.
Ms. Knight works for the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service which provides resources for area citizens and farmers through a special partnership between the University, the State of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The UGA County Extension Service has been serving Georgia’s farmers since it was founded in 1914, offering educational programs and expert support in the areas of horticulture, animal husbandry and agriculture.
Knight was attracted to animals at an early age. She moved to Bulloch County in 1988 when her father, Ray Hicks, a county agent in Jefferson County, began working with Southern States Cooperative (formerly Gold Kist). Knight grew up on a small farm, and recalled, “I always had some livestock. I grew up in 4-H showing Herefords and bringing home ribbons.”
Knight attended public schools in Bulloch County and graduated from Statesboro High School. She then attended the University of Georgia obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture, with a major in Animal Science in 2001, followed by a Master of Science in Animal Science in 2003.
Research for her masters centered on use of ultrasound on live animal carcasses to look at the composition changes in mature cows. As the cattle grew, Knight mapped changes in fat cover and how it changed over a productive year.
She started her own company, Visionary Cattle Services, LLC, after graduation, traveling the Southeastern United States as a certified live animal carcass ultrasound technician. She worked with cattle producers evaluating and collecting ultrasound data on livestock. In a year she would scan approximately 3,000 head of cattle, testing bulls and running some reproductive tests on breed cows.
In August of 2006, Knight began work with the UGA Animal and Dairy Science Department as an Extension Animal Scientist and Beef Cattle Specialist.
“My office was located in Statesboro, but my responsibilities were statewide,” she said.
As Beef Cattle Specialist, Knight provided support to all Georgia cattle producers organizing and presenting educational programs on topics ranging from basic production practices to technological advances to cattle marketing. She also provided assistance to 4-H and FFA Junior Livestock programs at various shows and events throughout the State serving as superintendent at the Jr. National Livestock Show, the Georgia National Fair, and the Georgia Junior Beef Futurity Show.
In 2011, Knight’s department was being moved from Bulloch County to the UGA Agricultural Center in Tifton, Georgia. Not wanting to leave the area, Knight sought and was approved for a move to the position of Bulloch County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, previously held by Pat Todd who was retiring. Knight has been a Bulloch County Ag Agent since then.
She loves the diversity her job brings. “You never know what might happen. For example, I went to a producer running sheep and ended up having to show him how to shear sheep,” she said.
She also serves on the Tree Board, the Georgia Club Calf Producers Association, Georgia Young Farmers, and the Georgia Farm Bureau.
Along with husband, Kyle, she is owner of Sandbriar Farms in Cooperville, Georgia, a family-run farming operation that maintains a herd of 75 cows, two bulls, six goats, one donkey and one sheep. There are no chickens, but the farm is home to two dogs, Sparky and Bella, and three calico cats, Jungle Cat, Pumpkin, and Mr. Yellow, that keep the rodent population under control. The Knights handle feeding, breeding, and maintaining the health and nutritional needs of all the animals in addition to general farm upkeep.
The couple met in of all places – a cow sale. “He’s from Indiana and he was working a cattle sale in Georgia, and that’s where we met,” she said. Indiana winters were something Knight didn’t care to experience, so the couple married and made their home in Screven County. They have one son, four-year-old Beau.
“We enjoy having a small summer garden each year, too.” said Knight.
Carole and Kyle can pickles, tomatoes, salsa, relishes, and green beans for the family to enjoy year round.
“Kyle and I have similar backgrounds,” Knight said. “Cows are the glue that holds us together. We hope that Beau will follow in that.”
Working in agriculture is definitely a family matter. Knight’s father, Ray Hicks, who resides in Bulloch County, left Southern States in 2001 to become Screven County’s Extension Agent.
“It’s a running joke in our family,” Knight said, “I’m my dad’s county agent, and he’s mine! I’m glad I managed to follow in his footsteps. He’s been a great Dad and mentor.”
“I’m also fortunate to be working in Bulloch County. We have a really great team that’s one of the largest in the state as far as staffing. We work so well together to get it all accomplished,” she said.
“It’s becoming more prevalent in the State to have women in agriculture positions,” she said. “We’re still in the minority, but we’re becoming more and more accepted. Some folks still think I’m the secretary when I answer the phone, but they soon learn I really am the agent.”
“I’m here to consult with area livestock breeders and producers,” Knight said. “Fortunately, our county’s big enough that we attract a lot of commercial consultants as well. In smaller counties, the Cooperative Extension Service is the only support office. We welcome the other consultants. We want to do the most for our farmers. We’re here to cover the need.”