Valley ag showcased at Gardnerville Elementary

Carson Valley agriculture was alive and well, literally, on the soccer field of Gardnerville Elementary School on Wednesday.

As part of the annual Ag in the Classroom program, which is organized by the Douglas County Farm Bureau, local ranchers and farmers put the "live" in livestock with plenty of cows, sheep, goats, horses, and even a llama and alpaca.

"It's important to understand where food comes from, and to understand it's something this county has always been good at," said Brian Parks of the Mack Ranch. "Viable and sustainable agriculture is the most important thing for any country - being able to feed its population."

Parks and Levi Shoda showcased a 4450 John Deere tractor, letting students climb up and look inside the cabin.

"You guys have always seen tractors in the fields here working, but have you ever seen a tractor doing a wheelie?" Shoda asked.

The answer was no. Shoda explained how the tractor's four rear tires, a whopping 400 pounds each, and the big weights attached to the front help spread the machine's weight load evenly to create what's called "the floatation of the tractor.""Carrying heavy stuff into the fields, we don't want to leave big ruts," he said.

Parks explained how the compaction of the soil in Carson Valley limits not only the size of the plow a farmer can use, but the frequency of plowing.

"In the Midwest, this tractor would be pulling a larger plow because the ground is softer," he said. "Up until the 1950s in this Valley, people were still doing stuff with a combination of horses and tractors."

"It's got big wheels," exclaimed third-grader David Richardson, 8, after stepping down from the machine. "I don't want to drive it, though, because if it gets going too fast, I don't know which pedals to push."

Although the hay harvest this year hasn't been particularly great, Parks said, there was still plenty of hay to go around on Wednesday, as evidenced by the grass hay being fed to Eric Reiman's red Angus bull, Friendly, or the alfalfa flake being nibbled on by Linda White's milk cow, Ruby.

"A dairy cow gets alfalfa because it has more protein and nutrients," White told students. "They're working hard to make milk, so we want to give them that."

White said her family sold their 200 dairy cows, formerly in production off Waterloo Lane, about a year and a half ago, effectively closing the last commercial dairy in the Valley. However, they kept a handful of cows for themselves.

"As a farmer, our job is to take care of the cow," White said, holding up a balling gun used to insert pills in an animal's throat. "And the ear tag in the cow (No. 480) has a little more use than an earring."

White explained that the tag number correlates to records of Ruby's birth, vaccinations and child-rearing history.

"We keep records on every animal," she said.

On the other side of the soccer field, Reiman was showing off his 6-year-old breeding bull named Friendly. Seemingly friendly, the bull was content to chew some hay behind the bars of a makeshift corral.

"How much does it weigh?" inquired 10-year-old fifth-grader Gavin Christy.

"About 1,500 to 1,700 pounds," Reiman answered.

Reiman said children need to be taught about agriculture in order to understand the world.

"They go into a grocery store and see eggs and meat and milk, and they don't know that farmers and ranchers produce the stuff," Reiman said.

Gavin said his family has chickens, and his grandparents have a farm with ponies.

"I think the bull is cool," he noted. "I like his color."

Michelle Gibbons and John Black were helping students pet a Boer meat goat named Brucilla, while No. 13, an alpine milk goat, waited restlessly in a nearby pin.

"We don't want fat dairy goats," Gibbons said. "Because then they're not using energy to produce milk. But meat goats, we want them big and stocky."Fifth-grader Chance Payne, 11, said he now understands the significance of agriculture.

"We need this stuff to stay alive, to have beef to eat," he said. "I like horses the best because you use them to catch the cattle."

Classmate Ella Dillwith, 11, said she's fond of goats, especially since her cousins raise goats in Arkansas.

"I really like the alpaca, too," she said. "The alpaca is different and has softer fur."

Summing up the day, Dillwith said, "Agriculture is important. You need it for life, just to live."


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