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You Don't Have to Look Far for Agricultural Diversity

Chelcie Cremer~Central MT Regional Manager

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tag along on a field trip.  The Wheatland/Golden Valley County Farm Bureau hosted a field trip to the Springwater Hutterite Colony for third graders from Lavina, Ryegate, Shawmut, and Harlowton schools.  While Hutterite Colonies are common fixtures across Montana, few people realize the diversity of agriculture found within one.  The county Farm Bureau wanted to host an event that provided kids a firsthand look at types of agriculture they are not exposed to everyday and has been working hard all spring to organize the trip.   County President, Jim Taber, and County Director, Craig Jensen, participated in the day’s events as well. 

John Hofer, our tour guide, led the kids through a thorough explanation and depiction of life on the colony.  The tour began with a peek inside the wood shop where the colony does most of their own carpentry and furniture building.  The next stop was the poultry barn.  Housing nearly 10,000 birds, the poultry barn is a very technologically sophisticated environment complete with an electronic egg sorter.  The Hutterites produce eggs for their own consumption and are able to sell the rest to retail outlets throughout the state.  The laying hens are kept in crates to for their health and safety.  Chickens tend to peck one another and can cause serious bodily injury and death.  The crates provide plenty of space for the hens, but protect them against the threat of injury.  Laying crates help create a clean, healthy environment for the hens by controlling the spread of waste materials.

The next stop was lunch.  The women of Springwater Colony were kind enough to cook our group a delicious and hearty meal during our visit.  In traditional Hutterite fashion, our entire group sat at a very long table set with delicious homemade dinner rolls, fresh and canned vegetables, fresh milk, mashed potatoes, chicken, and duck.  All of our wonderful lunch was grown and harvested within the colony.

After lunch, we saw more of the poultry operation.  The colony raises their own chicks as well, and John led our group through the temperature-controlled barns that house the young birds. The kids had the opportunity to see and hold some young chickens and learn about how they are raised.


Once through the poultry barns, we moved over to learn more about the colony’s dairy herd.  Raising Holstein dairy cows, the colony is able to meet their own consumption needs and sell milk to Meadow Gold.  The kids had the opportunity to get up close and personal with some very curious cows and calves.  The Springwater Colony still uses Holstein bulls in their breeding program.  Most dairy farms today use artificial insemination (A.I.) to breed their cows.  Dairy bulls have reputations as aggressive and unpredictable animals and most farms view them as a safety hazard.  The colony still keeps a few bulls and they breed their cows naturally.  John admits they are dangerous animals, but he explained to the kids that, if handled properly, they are very easy to work with and don’t often become aggressive until they are much older. John showed our group through the pens and barns that house the colony’s calf crop.  The colony raises the dairy calves and keeps all the heifers, as they will someday join the milking herd.  Along with the few beef cattle the colony raises, the steers are raised to market weight and then sold.  In most people’s minds, a dairy farm means very high concentrations of manure and we often wonder, ‘what happens to all that poo?’  John showed the group the lagoon system installed with the help of the NRCS.  Manure flushes out of the dairy barn via a series of pipes and pumps and the liquids and solids are separated.  The water is stored in the lagoons, which are lined to prevent any leaching.  The dry matter is stored on a sheltered cement pad and is used as a fertilizer for the colony’s crops.  John explained how they haul water from the lagoons to the fields and use it when they irrigate crops. 

Six years ago, the colony experienced a huge tragedy when their hog barn burned to the ground.  The destruction of the barn forced the colony to invest in building a new structure.  Fortunately, they are now equipped with a state of the art hog facility.  Due to the risk of contamination and sickness, we weren’t allowed to tour the hog barns; however, the kids did get an opportunity to meet one of the newest additions to the colony’s pig barn.  When the colony brings new hogs in, they quarantine the new arrivals in a separate barn for six weeks.  This is to ensure they are healthy enough to join the current population and to protect the other hogs from any new disease a foreign pig might expose them too.  If they aren’t properly cared for pigs become ill very easily and sickness spreads rapidly, so the colony takes all the necessary precautions to ensure their hogs have a clean and healthy environment.

The colony also boasts an impressive garden where the women and younger children grow vegetables throughout the summer months.  Just outside the garden sits a trailer containing several beehives.  The colony collects and sells the honey and last year they collected over one ton of honey from just eleven hives!  While the honey is an additional source of income, the bees also provide pollination for the colony’s crops.

As our tour ended, Wheatland/Golden Valley County Farm Bureau leaders Jim Taber and Craig Jensen addressed the group.  They discussed the importance of being familiar with all types of agriculture and how we depend on farmers and ranchers for food, clothing, and much more.  The county Farm Bureau provided goodie bags for all the kids, which included lots of interactive information about agriculture from the “Ag Mag” newspaper to the ABC’s of Farm Safety and much more.  With the kids and teachers loaded back up on their buses and on the way back to school, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful trip this was for those kids.  Many children today will never receive this kind of hands-on exposure with the people who feed us every day.  Not only did they learn a lot about our diverse industry, but they also had a chance to meet new people and have a cross-cultural experience many people never do.

 

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