Livestock Production Farm Has Much to Offer

Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm Offers Experience, Education, and Connections to Students Countywide
Posted on 04/14/2023
Farm Team and Program Student Baylah Pettit
Education, hands-on experience, and direct instruction and guidance from experts in the field of agriculture – it’s all available to students on the Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm.

Open to high school students at every school, students this semester welcomed Baylah Pettit, their first student peer in almost two decades from Westview High School.

A Junior at Westview High School, Pettit travels from Westview High to Dresden High every weekday for Ag Classes under the instruction of Mr. Jason Kemp.  Pettit said that she’s always known that she wants to pursue a career as a veterinarian for large farm animals. Gaining hands-on experience has always been a big goal, and she believes that the average person probably doesn’t realize what working on a farm requires.

a pig enjoys the sunshine as students work nearby on the school farms

“This is a real farm. There’s a lot of work to be done and every student who works out here is a part of it. It’s amazing getting to work with the animals out here. It’s exactly what I expected and I’m really enjoying it,” she mentioned.  

The farm is made up of 115 total acres of fully functioning row crop, livestock, and hay production land. Nine livestock and equipment buildings include a farrowing house, swine nursery, swine gestation barn, swine finishing floor, and livestock working facility. Dresden High’s Agriculture Education program offers two programs of study and an agriculture elective course for ag students. Agriscience is the introduction to agriculture, and the DHS pathways are Agriculture Mechanics and Animal Science.

Pettit said that she’s always had an interest in veterinary services for larger animals on the farm, such as cows and swine. Working directly with the animals is a highlight for Pettit.

“For me, the most incredible thing to be a part of as students is the hands-on work with the animals. This year, we’ve palpated cows, seen heartbeats and ultrasounds of calves, recorded and monitored progress, and more. And, of course, we work beside veterinarians from UT Martin who are endlessly knowledgeable. There are many advantages to being a part of this for someone who wants to work in this field,” Pettit said.

Managing a farm operation that doubles as an educational entity is a tall order. Moreover, farming requires a 365 day per year commitment.  

The Schools’ Livestock Production Farm is a team of two consisting of Farm Manager and Ag Teacher Jason Kemp and Farm Assistant Manager Jonathan Smartt. They attend to livestock and farm needs every single day of the year without exception - including weekends, school breaks, and holidays. Even in harsh weather that results in perilous traveling conditions such as snow and ice, one or both members of the team are on the farm every day to attend to the livestock and other farm necessities.

Farm Manager Kemp believes that it’s important for students to gain the understanding of the work required to feed the world and the origin of our food.

“Because this is specifically a Livestock Production Farm, it’s important for me to ensure that we are teaching students every aspect of running the farm – and how that all relates to farming as a business,” Kemp explained. “Students who work on the farm learn how to properly care for animals, health and wellness, growth and life cycle, finishing, and product development. Nearly all of the process is hands-on in some way, so we know students are getting more of a full picture of how food gets from the farm to the plate,” Kemp acknowledged.

The district is fortunate to have several community partners who offer knowledge and support. Dual enrollment classes with the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Department of Agriculture, Geosciences, & Natural Resources and the Weakley County Schools Livestock Production Farm expand the range of opportunities open to ag students. Experts from Nutrien Ag Solutions, Weakley County Farmers Co-op, and Syngenta work with students to help them analyze data, moisture content, yield data, stand counts, pollination rates, crop stressors, profitability, annual processes, and methodology. Tosh Farms provides the farm with essential protocols and hands-on, side-by-side training and education on vaccinations and hog health, ultrasounds, swine artificial insemination, care of newborn pigs, feed mixing and grinding, care for growing and finishing hogs, and more.  

Pettit’s work on the farm is helping prepare her to attend a college that’s celebrated for having one of the best agriculture programs in the Southeast: the University of Tennessee at Martin.

“My plan for college is to study Ag Science at UT Martin, and I’m actually getting to work with educators from that department on the farm,” Pettit continued. “Having this opportunity to actually work alongside who I hope will be my future professors is really special. It makes me feel more certain and comfortable that UT Martin is the school for me,” said Pettit.

The farm is also set to receive a facelift. With funds allocated through Tennessee’s Innovative School Models Grant, several upgrades are scheduled in the coming months. Renovations to expand structures on the farm will better align the facility with the animal production industry. The funds will also provide for the purchase of up-to-date farming equipment with the goal of increasing productivity on the farm in the areas of grain and forage production.  

Career and Technical Education Director Lindsey Parham is excited for the program’s future.

“We are thrilled that the farm is getting some facility upgrades. Weakley County Schools is already proud to say that we own and operate the only county-owned diversified crop and multispecies large animal farm in the State. We know the upgrades to the farm will enhance students’ experience on the farm. We look forward to continuing to build partnerships and expanding opportunities for Early Postsecondary Credit, Industry Certifications, and hands-on learning with industry leaders in Agriculture.  We look forward to showcasing the additions for students who tour the facility as well as visitors. It’s certainly something to be proud of and we’re so fortunate to have Mr. Kemp, Mr. Smartt, and the support of our district’s administration,” said Parham.  

There are meaningful benefits for students who work on the farm, according to Pettit.

“There’s a big advantage to working with experts from our local industry partner organizations. These people are brilliant. There’s also an opportunity to take classes with some awesome people who care about the same things that I do. If you are a student who wants the chance to get real farm experience doing some hard work that’s also rewarding, learning on this farm might be a great fit for you,” said Pettit.  

Assistant Farm Director Jonathan Smartt, once a student who worked on the farm at DHS, believes that time on the farm is special.

“The farm is so unique because there's a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to be a part of it while they are still in high school. I worked on this farm myself all through high school. I loved it then, and I love it now. If you’re wondering about it, come on out and take a tour. We’re happy to show you all that the farm has to offer,” Smartt said.

To find out more about Dresden High School's ag pathway, agriculture related classes, or to schedule a tour of the farm, contact Dresden High School.  
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