The Mason County Farm, deeded to the Mason County Board of Education through the West Virginia Board of Education from the United States of America for agricultural research and experimentation on April 23,1962, has for over 40 years been primarily managed by agriculture teachers who have hired students in the past to perform farm labor. The experience also provides a hands-on experience for classes.
The school farm borders the Lakin Correctional Facility on its Northern border. It is approximately 114 acres, with 63 of those acres being gently sloping grassland, while the remaining is forest land.
In more recent history, high tensile electric fencing was constructed by students in the late 1980s. A herd of exceptional Angus cattle with prime genetics was purchased by the farm following the construction of the fence. These cattle were grazed; demonstrating an intensive grazing system. Along with the herd, came the technology of artificial insemination. And soon thereafter, the Heifer Ring was born.
The Heifer Ring is a program offered through the Mason County Career Center to expand the student’s Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE). Those heifers born to the school farm were then given to students through a selection process. The student would sign a contract to show the heifer at the Mason County Fair and take the heifer back to the school farm were it could be artificially bred to a top Angus bull for the rest of the its life. Finally, the first born heifer calf would be returned to the Heifer Ring, fulfilling the contract and continually adding to the size of the herd.
Sam Nibert and Tim Kidwell, advisors of the Mason County Vocational Center Future Farmers of America (FFA) and instructors at the MCCC, both recall their experience working on the farm.
“I got my first job by working on the school farm,” Nibert said. “We would plant, harvest and study programs with livestock.”
Kidwell remembers instructors plowing fields and allowing students like him to have areas to plant crops.
Both instructors are very passionate about continuing this hands-on instruction for students now enrolled at the career center. In a presentation to the Mason County Board of Education on Tuesday, May 25, Nibert along with FFA officers, gave literature to Board members about the current condition of the school farm that is in dire need of upgrades and a new student program.
Students also provided an overview and history of the farm, discussed current conditions, and spoke about potential growth and projects, as well as presented challenges that may slow the progress.
“We are trying to find a way in which the school will benefit the most students,” Kidwell said. “Options include getting animals for educational purposes and renting parts of the farm for interested members to raise animals.”
In order to complete their tasks, the hopeful students and advisors first need the approval from the Board of Education.
As of today, the primary herd at the school farm was sold in the fall. There are currently 43 heifers spread throughout Mason County that are in care of students through the SAE Program. Through a series of meetings held by the farm’s advisory committee and interested persons from the Agriculture Education program, options have been discussed for enhancements to the education program at the farm.
Revitalization of the Heifer Ring came out as a primary objective for the group. A survey gathered information about the heifers that are still under contractual obligation with the students. A resolution was made to form a Heifer Ring committee to make important management decisions and to revise guidelines for the program.
Other students have expressed interest in utilizing parts of the farm to expand their SAE’s. The group also wanted to be able to provide more farm education on-site for the students, but common concerns have arose including management, labor, liability, and making the venture for a financial assets. All of which were presented to Board members recently.