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FFA farm allows students to work with livestock

By By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 04/11/2013 9:07 AM

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ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa — Before beginning their school day at Central Lyon, junior students Brady Spykerboer and Nedd Knobloch do chores first on their Rock Rapids families' farms and the FFA farm.

Work on the Central Lyon FFA farm is intensifying with calving just days away. The farm, located a few miles north of town, is owned by the Central Lyon FFA. A cooperative, it's managed by 50 members.

FFA advisor Dwayne Postma had the vision of developing a farm close to town that would give students the opportunity to work with livestock.

"There has been a transition in FFA of fewer farm kids to more town kids, ours is about 50/50," said Postma. "I wanted to give the town kids a taste of production agriculture as well as teach practical things the students can take back to the farm."

He presented his case to the superintendent and school board.

He put the word out that he was looking for a small piece of land close to town and affordable. Fifteen years ago, a student's grandmother approached him. She owned 3.1 acres that was considered a mess.

He first resisted, but she offered it at the right price because she knew the FFA would clean it up. It was an incredible amount of work, he said.

About five years into the project, Postma sensed the lack of ownership by members was a negative.

"That is when we started the co-op ownership concept where the members literally buy into ownership of the farm investments," said Postma. "Since then the successes have been amazing. Currently we have 135 memberships active involving 15 former FFA members and 22 current FFA members.'' Shares cost $150 and members can buy up to six. They own the shares throughout their high school years, said FFA member Brady Spykerboer.

"We have fifteen cows," said Nedd Knobloch. "Fourteen are Simm-Angus and one Red Angus. Right now, they are running on my family's cornstalks."

The cows were synchronized to calve beginning March 1. They chose and ordered the semen. A former FFA member involved in that business does the artificial breeding. Students also square bale hay during haying season.

Knobloch and Spykerboer check on the cows. Ag classes are often held at the farm as a time of learning and observation.

"Last year we got out there just as a cow had her calf," said Spykerboer. "It was pretty cool, she was just standing up."

Farm management is also part of the curriculum. A class period might be spent fencing, putting in a new waterer, vaccinating calves or handling manure.

Cows and calves spend summers on Knobloch's pasture. Calves are weaned in August and brought back to the FFA farm. Once they reach 600 to 700 pounds, they are sold at the Sioux Falls Regional Livestock, near Worthing, S.D.

Some years they have purchased bottle calves to make for a larger group. That hasn't always proven profitable. But then, that is part of farming.

"During their freshman years, the students do not have a driver's license," said Postma. "Their parents will often drive them to the farm. One father told me it was a pleasure to be doing chores with his son. Sometimes he watched, sometimes he helped, but often they talked. The chores taught him a responsibility that is not always possible to do in town. There just isn't that kind of work."

"We talk about how we do it on our farms," said Spykerboer. "We learn from each other, what works and what does not. We learned ultrasounding at the FFA farm, now many of us do it on our farms.''

One steer is butchered yearly at a local business. This year, it happens to be one owned by a former FFA student. It is all turned into hamburger.

"It is a pretty popular school lunch day," said Postma. "During National FFA week, one meal is hamburgers from the farm. Burgers are also served at a FFA fundraiser during Central Lyons homecoming. Another time is when our third and fourth graders have their Food Education Day visiting area farms."

Postma appoints two students to be in charge of the farm each year. He said they must have a good background in livestock. Nedd Knobloch and Brady Spykerboer met his requirements this year, serving as co-chairmen.

Two other schools, Rock Valley and George-Little Rock are in the stages of developing similar farms.