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Michigan State University Ag Expo reaches out to those not involved in food production

by Dan Cash

Probably the horse farm at Michigan State University won’t routinely be offered as a good example of Spartan outreach to folks not directly involved in food production. And yet it was prominently featured in Ag Expo this year.  I attend Ag Expo almost every year.  It’s now a nationally ranked “Exposition” of things Agricultural.  I attended the first one - - actually the forerunner, when it was an ambitious “Corn and Soybean Expo” put together by a far-thinking Extension Agent. I don’t know if the horse farm has been a part of Ag Expo routinely.  I came across mention of it in this year’s promotional catalog about the event.

There’s a special place in my heart for horses - - draft horses in particular.  To narrow it down even more, make that Belgian draft horses.  So, I sought out the horse farm demonstration.  It was not on the grounds of the big event, but Spartan buses were provided to transport folks to and from the off-site horse training facility.  No draft horses.  Draft horses were part of the farm for many years, until around 1980, we were told, a budget crunch demanded cutbacks, which left only the Arabian herd.  The interesting thing, to me at least, about this part of the big program, is that it really wasn’t all about the horses, although the MSU herd is part of the University’s ranking as third in the nation, among continuous, uninterrupted Arabian breeding programs.  The emphasis to us who made the trek to the farm, was on the students.  They acquire their knowledge first-hand, literally.  Under the watchful eyes of the faculty, of course, the students do everything from monitoring and adjusting nutrition demands of the individual animals, to the cleaning of the stalls. The more glamorous of the student undertakings include training for show, and for riding, and for whatever else one might require of a purebred Arabian.  Obviously, the MSU School of Veterinary Medicine is an integral part of this Spartan picture.

There probably are all kinds of reasons why visitors, at least on this occasion, didn’t get very close to the horses.  Purebreds can be “fractious”, particularly the stallions.  Fifteen hundred pounds of fractious can be frightening, even dangerous.

The gentler breeds, such as those that left the farm in the ‘80s probably would have allowed better access. Heck, I remember, back on the family farm when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was assigned to bring the team in from the pasture when it was time for work.  They’d ignore my dad, knowing what he wanted.  I, on the other hand, could walk right up to Judy, a 22-hundred pound gentle giant, tug on her beard, turn and walk away, and she’d follow me, all the way to the barn, with her half-sister, Punch, tagging along.

I had hoped to re-live that time - - a little of it - - if only briefly.  I guess I did - - a little.

Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.