Faculty, students making plans for opening of Northeast’s new ag building | News

Agriculture faculty, staff and students at Northeast Community College are making plans to fully utilize the new farm operations/animal handling building constructed on the Acklie Family College Farm.

“The new building will be much more conducive to teaching and learning than the old barn,” said Jill Heemstra, ag program director at Northeast. “The animal handling area will be safer for both students and animals, and the shop area is quite an upgrade, since we had no indoor shop for the farm at the old location.”

Heemstra joined the staff at Northeast two months ago, after more than 20 years with University of Nebraska Extension. During that time, she worked in research at the Haskell Ag Lab, as an Extension educator in Dixon and Wayne counties and on multi-state and national grant projects. Among those projects was one developing environmentally focused curriculum for high school ag instructors and another developing modules to help bring together staff from EPA and representatives of such ag animal trade organizations as the National Cattlemen and National Pork Producers.

At Northeast, Heemstra oversees the ag department and the farm.

“Right now, I’m busy learning more about what all the instructors teach,” Heemstra said, “and making sure the farm operation is in a way that provides instructors planned with the experiences they need for their curriculum. I’ve already learned this is a ‘can do’ department. These instructors take on a lot in addition to their classroom instruction.”

Heemstra is excited for Northeast ag instructors and students to have access to the new farm operations/animal handling building.

“Mr. (Mike) Zierke will be able to bring his class inside the shop area to learn how to change oil in a tractor,” she said. “Mr. (Mike) Roeber can do animal handling demonstrations in a way that gives students more hands-on experience with the animals.”

The Acklie Family College Farm also includes a new feedlot and outdoor animal handling pens.

“The feedlot pens can be divided,” Heemstra said, “allowing for more applied research. And the facility is designed to help students learn about minimizing environmental impact. The feedlot drainage will be handled through a vegetative system.”

Another feature of the new farm site at Northeast in Norfolk is a three-sided commodity storage building.

“We will be able to maintain higher quality rations with feed storage under a roof,” Heemstra said. “Now Dan Radenz, the farm operations specialist, can only pile ground hay and other feed on a concrete slab. Winds like we’ve had this week just blow that all over.”

Tara Smydra, dean of science, technology, agriculture and math at Northeast, said the new farm operations building was designed to be used both by the farm staff and instructors.

“The large overhead doors allow us to bring any piece of equipment inside,” she said. “There is room for the Farm Experience students to store projects as well as for staff to do routine maintenance on college equipment.”

Smydra said the shop area has an exhaust system, storage space and an office for the farm manager.

“One of the special features of the animal handling area,” Smydra said, “is the mezzanine that provides space to view activity from above. This is not only a safe area for students, but also provides a unique perspective on the bud box and pen area.”

The large animal facility is used by animal science vet tech students. “There are several horse stalls and four stanchions that allow vet tech students to work and learn safely,” Smydra said. “The building also has a wash bay and a dedicated space for medicines and tools needed to work on animals.”

As far as the feedlots and animal pens outside the new building, Smydra said they are “flexible, flexible, flexible.” The three feedlot pens can easily be broken into six pens with water access in each. There is a sick pen and a sheltered area on the south side of the building.

“It’s hard for students to learn in the elements,” Smydra said. “A teacher might offer great instruction, but if students are fighting to stay warm and dry, they don’t learn much.”

The college farm site is a work in progress, Smydra added.

“We could really use a large shed to store machinery, and we will need grain bins and bulk tanks.”

Smydra and Heemstra said the new facilities would allow more community education events. AI (artificial insemination) training will be offered in the animal handling facility. The improvements also could allow for crop scouting training, low-stress animal handling demonstrations or even training for feedlot employees.

Public tours of the Acklie Family College Farm buildings and the new vet tech clinic will be offered from 1 to 4 pm on Tuesday, April 26. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies will begin at 1:30 that afternoon at the vet tech building, just west of the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex at 2301 E. Benjamin Ave., in Norfolk.

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