High school students apply ag coursework to cattle operation

PEARISBURG—Vocational agriculture classes are growing in popularity in many public school systems. Some Virginia high school ag programs have a greenhouse or give students the opportunity to raise small farm animals like goats.

But only three in Virginia offer a chance to work with cattle on a real farm. One of those is the Giles County Land Lab.

“Why not? We’ve got the support; everybody’s real familiar with them; we definitely know how to handle them,” explained cattleman Eric Gentry, who’s a member of the Giles County School Board.

The county donated land, and members of Giles County Farm Bureau and other farmers have donated cattle, hay and their expertise to the operation. The Land Lab currently has nine heifers and a bull.

Gentry noted that the average Virginia farmer is in his or her late 50s and perhaps starting to think about retirement. “We’d like to see people come out of college, get a business degree and go into agriculture, learn how to run a farm profitably and make it work.”

The lab is “100 percent hands-on,” said farm manager Ben Woods. “The kids will be involved immensely, not only with the cattle, but with the planning, planting and harvesting of marketable crops. And the same thing with the design of agriculture building facilities, we hope to have them involved in every aspect of the operation here.”

Student Sarah Smith said she and classmates will configure fences for rotational grazing, “and then we’re going to be (building) a lot where we can easily get the cows in and out for vaccinations. And since we’ve got nine heifers, (we will have) easy access to come and help them with calving…..”

There are plans to add fruit trees and vegetable crops, as well as a forestry operation to the Land Lab. All of its vocational agriculture courses are aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning, and the lab allows students to put classroom learning to work right away.

“I’m a hands-on learner,” said student Jacob Perdue. “You sit in the classroom, and you hear all these lectures and you go, ‘OK, that’s the protocol to do that.’ Well, good, but you don’t know how well it works until you go hands-on.”

Media: Contact the Giles County Administration office at 540-921-2525 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146. 

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