NORFOLK, Neb. – Agriculture students at Northeast Community College are getting real-world, hands-on training as they help plan the workflow and other tasks at the new Acklie Family College Farm livestock facilities.

Farm Manager Jason Hansen teaches a farm experience class.

“We still have to build some perimeter fencing and a barbed wire fence around a hay meadow/pasture near the lagoon,” he said. “I will be using students in the farm experience class to help get that built.”
“Jason’s students will gain valuable real-world experience,” said Tara Smydra, dean of science, technology, agriculture and math. “They could also learn about some new fencing styles.”

Ag Program Director Jill Heemstra teaches the cow-calf class.

“I have given the students a map of the College farm and I want them to weigh in on what they think would be the best sequence to graze these pastures,” she said. “In the past we calved in the pasture next to the old facility, and I want them to help decide if that is still the best way to do that.”

Heemstra said Dr. Kassie Wessendorf, veterinary technology instructor, has a special topics class that will develop a herd health plan for the Northeast cow-calf herd. And Vet Tech Director Dr. Michael Cooper is working on a plan to have students help respond to emergency calls on the farm.

Smydra said all her staff are excited to be using the new facility.

“People are thinking outside the box now, and we couldn’t do that before,” she said.

Hansen said livestock was moved to the new site at the start of the academic year in August.

“The move was pretty stress-free,” Hansen said. “We moved all 45 of the feeder calves over there. We trailered them, and it took four trips. The calves are all in one pen at the very north. We still have our feed at the old facility and we are driving down every day with the tractor and feed wagon to feed them.”

“I think when the replacement heifers come over, they will be kept in a different pen,” Heemstra said. “Maybe down the road we will look at projects where we might buy some animals and bring them in to feed out or use for class projects and then we would start looking at feeding trials.”

Hansen said the College horses are also at the new site, as are about 20 sheep that students use for animal science labs and livestock judging. The swine are still at the old facility.

“The Nebraska Pork Board visited campus this fall,” Heemstra said. “A representative of the ag and vet tech department spoke with them to get some ideas on how we can house the pigs we have. We also wanted to talk about opportunities we have, maybe not on campus but other ways we can collaborate with producers to get students more hands-on experience with pigs.”

Heemstra said that biosecurity needed to raise swine presents some special challenges for Northeast.

“If someone actually has pigs at home, and you tend to think of those as the students who would be especially interested in these classes, it’s just not feasible for them to be at home and enter the facilities we would have here. Making sure we don’t get in a situation where we would cause a disease outbreak will be key. Again, it might just take some creative thinking to get our students some opportunities.”

Students and staff have been using the new vet tech clinic and classroom building since January. Dr. Cooper has already hosted a continuing education opportunity for area vet techs and plans to expand that type of offering.

Heemstra said more workforce trainings are planned in the other new facilities now that they are complete.

“We spoke with the Pork Board on opportunities for swine classes,” she said. “We are talking with some feeder groups on opportunities for workforce training, like skills for pen riding. In the facility we had before, we couldn’t seriously talk about it because we couldn’t offer any hands-on training. Now we have opportunities not just for our degree seeking students but for workforce education and to be a direct service to the industries that donated to the facilities.”