Aussies in Iowa
By LARRY KERSHNER
BREDA – How an entourage of 13 high school-aged Australian ag students and their chaperones ended up on a Carroll County cattle farm last Saturday is nothing more complicated than an email address.
Greg McAlpin, an instructor for Hurlstone Agriculture High School, said he was researching the websites of Limousin cattle breeders in Iowa and found the ranch of Jim and Becky Venner, in rural Breda.
“Most websites have a phone number, but not an email address,” McAlpin said, adding calling from Australia was a problem because of the 15-hour time difference.
Through email, McAlpin said he pitched a possible visit to the Venners, who accepted.
The high school-aged students attend Hurlstone Agricultural High School, a full-time, co-ed academic boarding school in the middle of a working farm in Glenfield, NSW, Australia, about 40 miles southwest of downtown Sydney.
McAlpin said he wanted to give the youths a chance to see how farming is managed in another part of the world.
Besides touring beef cattle operations, the students were scheduled to visit several dairy operations in northwest Iowa, plus a few ag processors.
One of the big differences, the students noted, was the lack of sheep in Iowa.
Australia has sheep everywhere, McAlpin said.
“And they have animals on pastures,” where here, he noted in much of northwest Iowa, “they’re in feedlots.”
Focused on bulls
Jim Venner introduced the students to his prized two Limousin yearling bulls and a couple of quality heifers.
One of the bulls was the 2015 reserve grand champion at the Iowa State Fair.
“We concentrate on the bulls,” Venner told his guests. “We like muscle, that’s what we’re doing.
“And we must be doing something right, because we have a lot of repeat customers.”
He said he sells eight to 12 bulls each year and shows animals at the ISF, Iowa Beef Expo and at Rapid City, South Dakota.
Jim Venner said he and his wife have shown the reserve grand champion bull for four consecutive years at the ISF.
Although showing cattle is not a big part of the operation, “it’s part of the marketing arm,” Venner said.
The farm was started by his great-grandfather in the 1890s. Both the Venner’s families have cattle backgrounds.
When they aren’t in the feedlot, Venner said he rotationally grazes his 25-head cow herd on 40 acres of pasture comprised of fast-growing orchard grass and alfalfa.
They’ll get a free-choice feeding of corn stalk bales and a hay bale every other day, Venner said.
A few will get to clean up harvested corn fields in the fall, he said.
The Venners have no row crops.
McAlpin said the ag school is selective, meaning students have to take an examination before they are allowed into the program.
Although there are many ag school through Australia, he said Hurlstone is one of the largest at 260 acres.
When they aren’t in classes studying English, math, science, history and geography, they are working on the farm.
According to the school’s website, older students are generally assigned to milking and feeding its 116-head dairy herd, or feeding and caring for the 20-head of beef cattle, 120 poultry, 38 pigs, 117 sheep and 13 goats.
While older students work around livestock, younger students are assigned to sharpen gardening and plant husbandry skills.
The youths said they are intensely interested in agriculture, because they know there will be a job waiting for them when they complete their 12th year.
Jamie Whybrow, 18, is in her sixth year at Hurlstone and nearing the end of her time there.
“I grew up around ag,” Whybrow said, “and I chose Hurlstone to be a large animal vet.”
Sarah Ludington, 16, described herself as a city kid who’s been involved with horses.
“My sister (a graduate of Hurlstone) was into cattle,” Ludington said. “I’m not a girly person. I like to get my hands dirty.
“Ag has so many things to offer and there are so many interesting people to learn from.”
Whybrow said she has a dairy scholarship she’ll use after this tour to visit dairy operations in New Zealand.
These tours. she said, give her a chance to see different farm operations and to make connections with people.
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