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As we head into the last few days in New Zealand, we'd been saving one of the largest segments of agriculture for last - the sheep industry. As Kate and I are both born to sheep ranching we were very interested in seeing how NZ sheep stations and operations compare to home.


However, where you are makes a big difference in a country dominated by coastline. The climate changes literally every 10 kilometers as you head east or west, so different types of operations can be found. We ended up visiting three, and the topics of discussion, questions, and sights could fill up a great number of website real estate, so we'll stick to the highlights.



High and Dry = Merino Country

If you are familiar with sheep, you know there are two 'types' that our sheep breeds today go back to: the open-fleece, meat types of England and the fine wool breeds that harken from the highly coveted and guarded Merinos of arid Spain. The high country of New Zealand (as seen in the second Lord of the Rings - it's all the brown hills and fields) is where Merinos can be found, and in force.



We pulled into a sheep station whose drive is literally the 55 kilometer highway that runs up to the base of Mt Cook, NZ's highest elevation. There 20,000 hectares stretch most of the valley, and is home to 8,500 ewes. Which you can see they move up and down the road when necessary.


The other interesting thing about this place is how they shear. Mark, one of the guys who were working the sheep that day, told us that all these sheep were shorn by hand with blades -not the motorized handpiece you usually see but with the old fashion method. The crew of eight shearers who come in can do nearly a 1,000 a day this way; a conventional crew would be getting nearly 2,400 done in the same nine hours. But the hand shearing leaves more wool on the ewe, as they shear in the winter, and also the heat from the handpiece is purported to damage the wool follicle, and limits regrowth. A very interesting way of doing things.



"The Customer is Always Right"

Later that day we continued our way east, away from the rain shadow of the Southern Alps and closer to the Canterbury plain. As the average annual rainfall increased, so did the number of meat-type breeds. We were most fortunate to be able to meet with and be hosted by Anne and Phillip, two long-time sheep and cattle ranchers. Both have a great deal of experience in agriculture; Anne currently sits on a national beef and lamb industry board, and both are very engaged in what markets and trade are doing to and for NZ's meat animal industries.


A clear focus of their operation is improving quality of product and best management practices so that they can fulfill the needs of more valuable contracts for retail stores overseas. This commitment to quality and meeting those demands of the customer - who as Anne said is always right - allows them to market their product at a higher value.


Staying with them was an excellent, and I'm afraid we only scratched the surface with our questions of what we could learn from them. It was very interesting to see how these folks who were very engaged in what markets and trends were happening and were helping to promote and improve their industry.



"200% Lamb Crop with No Triplets"

After an evening and morning with Anne and Phillip, we headed another 20 kilometers eastward and stopped in on a farm that has been in the same family for a hundred years. Warren was a contact made from a college roommate who spent some months down here his senior year. While the family place has grown a great deal since they started there, sheep have always been on the place.


Warren is also running his operation as a "Demonstration Farm," which there are about 12-14 of across NZ who are supported by the beef and lamb industry group (same one Anne is part of the leadership of) to develop and demonstrate best practices. This support allows him to try new things and collect data while doing so. There are three things he is working on with his farm:


- Achieving 200% pregnancy in scanned (ultrasound) ewes with no triplets. Possible? Yes. Probable? No. But collecting the data on which ewes twin, when they twin, how soon they are bred, etc is working to that goal. The large amount of data they are collecting is meant to help find those factors that make the difference. They are using electronic ID tags (EID) to track information on the ewes.




- Achieving 100% bull calves born using natural service. Again, are there factors in nutrition, timing, age of bull, behavior, etc that can lead to more bull calves?


- Using fodder beet as winter feed for cattle. Many people here use kale or brassicas for winter feed, but this crop may have some large benefits. They are currently trying it with cattle.




And Then There Were Cows

An interesting conversation that was had with Anne, Phillip, and Warren was the rise in dairy cattle and dairy grazing happening, especially with sheep, beef, and deer farms. Both of their operations have some dairy grazing happening, which is where a dairy farm ships them their replacement heifers to be grown out until they are ready to calve and be milked. The ranches who graze these cattle are paid on a head/week basis. This has provided a high level of consistent income year round, compared to volatile markets and once-a-year livestock shipments. While this helps the bottom line, it also competes with sheep and cattle for land.


Only time will tell how long NZ is known as a 'sheep country' and instead Kiwiland is known as Dairyland.




Road Report: icy, but not too shabby. We've been moving right along, and up a few steep hills for the views. Although my streak of hitting the windshield wipers at least once trying to make a turn signal has been consistent. And after driving through about 50 of them I finally understand two-lane roundabouts! Too bad/just fine that we have very few of them in Oregon, and even if we did I would probably drive into them in the wrong direction...

Wes Crawford

A 10,000 Word Essay

Posted by Wes Crawford Jul 10, 2013
















Over the last couple days we've had the chance to sit down with some of our Kiwi counterparts and talk shop. It has been incredibly illuminating, and we appreciated the time we were allowed to spend with some great folks.




We started Monday morning at Lincoln University, as mentioned previously. First, we wandered around like tourists freezing our tails off. We did see one lecture in session; the topic was (no joke) the history of beer (I'm starting to see a real theme here). But after a bit of poking around, we had the chance to talk briefly with Dr Alistair Black before he headed to class. From there we made it to the Agriculture Science department office, and we burned through a couple hours with Dr Jon Hickford in what seemed as no time at all.


I couldn't begin to fill the page all we talked about, but I have prepared a handy (subjective, I know) cliff-notes for you. We were interested in understanding not only the agriculture the school was involved in but the education system itself; from the recruiting of students to placement in the industry. So in so many bullet points:


- Over 70% of NZ's exports are agricultural products. You might call it important.

- NZ's agriculture industry operates in one of the most free-market economies on the planet, with virtually no subsidies/insurance programs/etc from the government.

- The Lincoln Agriculture Department struggles with student recruitment as high school science teachers tend to consider it as 'low-achieving' and tend to steer capable students towards areas such as medicine. Thank goodness we don't have that problem.

- An open immigration policy has brought in a diverse workforce. Rising populations have also pushed up land prices, where good dairy group on the North Island in the Waikato region is worth $58,000 a hectare (2.5 acres; that's nearly $20,000 an acre in US dollars) and kiwifruit ground is now valued northward of $200,000 (yes, 5 zero's) a hectare!

- They don't use EPD's here; it is EBV's or EBW's. - Data is used similar to the US in sire selection, minus using different forms of data. This could be CT scans of rams (instead of body composition ultrasounding), genetic testing, etc. Or some dairy producers just breed to what is literally called the "Bull of the Day", which are more less expensive semen straws from AI technicians. Oh which there are 70,000 of in the country, by the way.

- When looking at groups of people by occupation, two groups in New Zealand have the most education - teachers and farmers. Almost all producers have some sort of tertiary (post-secondary) education.

- The industry groups, not the government, covers much of the cost of various programs, including insurance. In fact, just this week apparently China is now requiring New Zealand meat products be inspected again on arrival in China, which will add cost that will likely be picked up by producers or the trade groups. This is in accordance of the course with the 'free trade' agreement with China. Needless to say the idea isn't very popular here.

- And if you have dorper sheep, you really need to get your sheep tested for the dermatosporaxis recessive allele. And it makes a great genetics teaching example (long story short -skin becomes as fragile as tissue paper).


Tuesday afternoon we were able to stop in at James Hargest Senior Campus in Invercargill, in the south bit of Southland (guess where that is on the island?). Thanks to the Horticulture & Agriculture Teacher's Association (HATA) of New Zealand, we were able to make contact with Mrs. Jean Hesselin, one of the teachers at the 2,000 student high school. She very kindly allowed us to see her school and sat down to discuss various aspects of ag ed in NZ.



It was fascinating to see just how alike our systems are, but at the same time very different. The highlights:


- They have standard objectives they have to meet, which are tested at various levels almost exclusively through essay exams. A great deal is based around these.

- They struggle with getting the perceptions of what agriculture is out there (even in a country that is this agriculture-intensive).

- They have student groups known as Teen Ag, an offshoot of their Young Farmer organization, that includes social aspects and competitions.

- They have a professional development conference every other year, rotating between the North and South Islands. The format sounds very similar to ours - speakers, workshops, tours, etc.

- They grow Douglas Firs here (from Oregon), on the south faces of hills. If you're from Oregon, you know why that is weird/cool. Otherwise, consider this irrelevant to you.

- Their break begins Friday for winter. They can't wait for such things either.


There was a lot more to both conversations, which will be put to great use hopefully throughout the rest of the trip and when we get back home. The bottom line was this - clearly, we have much in common with our Kiwi counterparts. Maybe its type to revive some exchange programs...if you could leave yours for a year.


Road Report: apparently it may snow down here in the uplands, as it is winter and all. We'll see how that goes. The scenery is keeping up well. Now that we are in Southland, there tends to be a lot of sheep. And some other horned livestock that I'm trying to finagle my way onto a farm to find out more about. So far the closest I've gotten is on my dinner plate.



The last couple days have seen us hauling down the South Island, starting from Blenheim to Chirstchurch yesterday, and then down to Dunedin (pronounced Duh-knee-din, apparently) tonight. Along the way we' ve been able to meet with a great deal of the locals, and have had some excellent experiences with both fauna and faculty.


At the Kiddie Pool

Thanks to a tip from the gent at the hotel, we stopped at Ohau Point Sunday morning on our way down. The unassuming gravel widespot is along a highway that is threaded along the beach and skirting the footslopes, and has a small sign pointing out the trail that hikes inland along a stream. However, you wouldn't believe what you find up there.


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The area is a nursery where baby seals hang out and grow up as mums stay out on the rocky beach and hunt, only meeting up so the pups can nurse. The hike was about 300 meters up a shallow, rocky stream, but that doesn't stop these guys. They climb up the darndest hills along the stream as well, perched all around you as you hike up. And the pool at the end, below a sixty foot waterfall?




Christchurch and Lincoln University

For the record, when they say Lincoln University is in Christchurch, that is like saying that Baltimore Airport is in DC. It's actually in Lincoln, but we stayed in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island.


You may have heard of Christchurch from the massive earthquakes here from 2011. What you may not expect upon arrival is the utter destruction that is still prevalent. We walked from our hotel the 15 minutes to downtown for dinner as well as to see the town. We saw more than we bargained for.




Roads are torn up and still fenced off from utility work. Empty lots of gravel lay behind signs advertising churches and stores that once stood there. Cargo containers are stacked like legos next to freestanding remnant walls of historical buildings to prevent them from falling into the street and causing more damage.




What was the eeriest was one row of stores that have not been touched since that day in February. Shops still had piles of groceries heaped at the bottom of broken shelves. Newspapers and magazines with dates such as February 19, 2011 lay on window front counters in cafes. And in one restaurant, dirty dishes still sat on diner tables, waiting to be cleared.


Some stretches of the town are still closed down, but the work is underway for restoration. And some of the finer things survived, such as the Churchill Cathedral (but still is under heavy restoration).




Heading Home

Well, after that somber note brought to you by natural disasters, today was a bit more upbeat. Firstly we started at Lincoln University, site of one of the two major agricultural universities. We had an excellent conversation that ate up two hours in a hurry with some fine faculty, but that conversation was great enough for its own post.


This afternoon as we approached Dunedin we caught up with two other very neat natural attractions. First was the Moeraki boulders, a unique set of five-foot stone marbles piled up on the same beach. A wonder of sedimentation, rock formation, and now erosion.




A few kilometers farther, and with a little insider info we caught up with a few other NZ residents who were just getting back from a 35 mile swim out into the ocean for the day.






What a place.



Road Report: So we got a new car when we came across the ferry, which has been fun trying to find all rearranged (and still backward from home) controls. Besides the fact the AC comes on all the time on its own (its winter here people), it's working out well. And it's diesel, which is great because it is 30% cheaper than unleaded! Again, better to be lucky than good.

We just wrapped up a couple days of travel south through the North Island, and tonight we find ourselves in Blenheim, at the north end of the South Island. I meant to type this up while crossing on the ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait to Picton, but instead I was distracted by the views.


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And I say 'ferry' because that's what they call it, but 'small cruise ship' would be a better description. It had plenty of space and windows below, but I spent 2.5 hours of the 3 hour trip topside taking in the (extremely windy but sunny) views.




So today was a transition day, with the morning spent seeing the capitol and driving around around the bay a bit. Yesterday we trekked from Hawke's Bay on the east coast and headed south to Wellington. We followed the "New Zealand Classic Wine Trail" along the way. Seeing how vineyards are popping up our area, and as I sit on the advisory committee for the viticulture and enology program our local community college, we thought this a likely track to take.


However, the label "Classic Wine Trail" may be an exaggeration. And by exaggeration, I mean in four hours of driving we saw three signs for wineries and saw one vineyard. But oh well. We made the most of it. And even so, we found that our three stops that day all had a bit of the Wine Trail theme.


Stop #1: Tui Brewery

It's better to be lucky than good. We were especially lucky when we stopped in a tiny town with a very old brewery. We arrived at the original Tui Brewery in some town I can't pronounce (not a rare occasion, that) just as the tour started. When you're from Oregon, you've been on a brewery tour before. In Kentucky, you tour distilleries. In Oregon, breweries. But we hadn't seen one on bottling day, and that was impressive to watch.


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Interesting note - almost all the hops they used came from a small area on the South Island. They also had a fermentation setup that was called 'continuous' fermentation that was designed about 50 years ago and is purported to be the only one like it in the world (according to the tour guide's note cards. She really couldn't get into it beyond that). But the tour was good, we saw some near things, and the end rivaled the refreshments at the 2011 NAAE State Social.


Stop #2: The Only Vineyard We Saw

That afternoon we stopped in to a small vineyard and winery that was a full-service set-up - the vines, the wine vats, the tasting room, dining area, everything. The Wairarapa region only has 3-4% of NZ's grapes, but is similar to Oregon in that it has smaller, higher-quality production. We were able to talk with the owner and compare notes to how things are done here compared to home. Suffice it to say they are in the start-up phase, which is similar to much of NZ's wine industry - it is young.




Stop #3: The Home of the Golden Shears

Our last stop of the day involved a segment of agriculture that has a long and storied tradition here. We drove through Masterton, which is home to the Golden Shears, the national shearing competition of New Zealand. In a country of sheep, where the majority of its post-war export income came from wool, shearing wasn't born here but certainly came of age.




New Zealand is a place I've known about as long as I can remember, because growing up my father was a sheep shearer, and was down here twice before I came around and was part of contract crews. The second time was after my parents were married, and I grew up with pictures, sheep skins, and stories from their time down here. Personally, I've sheared more than the average guy, but I lacked the physical aptitude or the mental fortitude to gain it. And in a couple decades my back will probably thank me for that.


So what did shearing have to do with the wine trail? Well, while we are at the Shearing Museum for the Golden Shears in Masterton we learned that beer is a tax deductible shearing expense for farmers who hire contract crews. Who knew.


Retracing Footsteps

So while most people wouldn't turn down a chance to come this way, for me it has a special role, as I retrace the footsteps of my parents through towns such as Eketehuna and up and down the country. Right before I left my dad said there was something he needed to show me before we came down here. I thought it might be some place he had visited or someone he had known.


Nope. It was to show me the brand of shearing moccasins he wanted me to find for him and bring back because they were too hard to get in the US.


Nostalgia or practicality, I suppose.



Road Report: I'm happy to report that I think I've settled in fairly well here on the road. One way I can measure this growth is that I find myself yelling at other drivers who are timid at roundabouts or driving erratically. We'll call it progress.

We've successfully finished a second day on the far side of the world. Today was a fantastic one in both weather and what we saw, and most interesting in what we learned. We split the day with two visits in the north central part of the North Island.


This Morning's Lesson: We've Missed Out on A Lot of Income, Folks


This morning was spent at the Agrodome outside Rotorua. This tourist attraction is on a 400 head sheep farm, and goes back 40 years. In fact, my parents stopped by when they were in New Zealand. And that was before I was born. The attraction includes a shearing museum, tours, and a sheep farm show.


So what was the opportunity we've all missed out on, ag teachers? The show was about an hour long, and the first 15 minutes or so was an introduction to 15 rams of different breeds that are raised in New Zealand, starting with Merinos and ending with South Suffolks and Dorset Downs. In other words, people paid for them to teach them about sheep breeds. And we give it to our students for free...dang it!




Of course, you probably don't have a podium and 15 rams in the room when you teach breeds. Sounds like a missed Ideas Unlimited submission to me.




Overall, it was interesting to see a tourist attraction that is 100% based on a livestock commodity. While my wife and I didn't learn a ton about sheep we didn't know, it was very interesting to see this agricultural literacy piece in action and speak with some of the farm workers afterward.


This Afternoon's Lesson: What the Future Holds


This afternoon, we actually caught up with some folks who originated from our part of the world. Gary and Jeri have been in New Zealand for decades and spent most of that dairy farming, and have been outside Tirau for the past 12 years. Thanks to mutual connections from home, we were able to connect with them while here and visit their dairy operation.


Firstly, while I've heard that dairy farms have supplanted sheep stations as the dominant form of agriculture in many parts of NZ, especially the North Island, seeing farm after farm of black, white, and tans drove the point home. The farms tend to be around 400 head with small milking sheds with carousels (rotaries) being the dominant form. All the cattle are in the paddocks and run into the sheds down raceways. Gary and Jeri's farm was divided into 43 7.5 acre paddocks that are rotated through.




What was very interesting was the amount of regulation they have to deal with here. While we are most familiar in our part of the world with effluent, non-point source pollution, run-off, and the like, here it is monitored to the point where they come take water samples from every (fenced-off, by the way) ditch, stream, or drain and fly over routinely in airplanes looking for fields where too much effluent is being spread. In fact, New Zealand even has a 'fart tax' for methane emissions from cattle.


On one hand, I fear this is just a vision of where we are heading in the US. On the other, one can hope that sustained efforts to improve agricultural literacy and spread agricultural education can allow us to have just enough support and understanding on our side.  We'll see how it goes.


I am glad to report that the whole driving-on-the-left is settling in well. I'm even hoping that tomorrow I'll make it the whole day without turning on the windshield wipers by accident when I go to hit the turn signal.


No promises.

So to beat the heat, my wife and I flew to New Zealand.


Actually, that's not true. We were flying to New Zealand anyway. The fact that it is winter here and 100 degrees at home did soothe the pain of 13 hours of plane. In fact, I may never leave; one, it's pretty nice here so far, and two, I don't want to do that much plane followed by that much standing in line (queues) just to have my shoes inspected for a long, long time.


However, a better use of my jet-lagged typing would be to explain why we're here in the first place. We submitted a team application to the Rural School and Community Trust Global Teacher Fellowship. I actually stumbled across the opportunity here on CoP while preparing for a grants workshop. On a whim, I submitted an application and -literally the same day I threw away all the application copies because I assumed we weren't selected - we received an email that can be summed up in two bullet points:


- We were going to New Zealand!

- Someone was going to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road.


Never in my life have I focused so much while driving than I did today. We arrived at 6am this morning into Auckland, at the north end of the North Island. After the literal shoe inspection, we found our rental car, loaded up, struggled to figure out how to start said car, got that sorted, and pulled out on the road. Then swerved.


Because the largest metropolitan area in the country is the best place to learn how to drive again.


For the record, we really didn't see much of Auckland. After 60 minutes of poor directions from our Garmin knock-off, and the tension radiating from the passenger seat as we navigated our way through morning rush hour, I gave up seeing anything and got the heck out of dodge and out in the countryside. And that suits our purpose here just fine.


Our mission while here for the next two weeks is to connect with as much New Zealand agriculture as possible, with the goal to bring as much of it back to our students as we can. And we've already gotten off to a good start today, with a little tour of an oddly famous place that happens to be in the middle of a 1250 hectare Romney sheep farm.




Oh, and the other thing we already have to take back? History lessons. I am convinced after 3.5 hours of driving here today that after Britain's tyranny of oppression, taxation without representation, and the ilk, the backside of the Declaration of Independence has written on it 'driving on the wrong side of the road.' I wouldn't doubt it if round-abouts are mentioned too.  Happy Independence Day, all.


ON THE ROAD: we'll keep posting pics, allegories, incriminating bits of evidence, and the like as we head south. Through the North Island. Then onto the north bit of the South Island. Right. I mean Left. Of the Road. Wait, which lane should I be in?*



*My entire day, summed up.

Or, why I have to reintroduce myself to my students every other week in the spring.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become great/the best/annoying to everyone not as good as you.


If that is the case, then I must be approaching phenom status when it comes to writing sub plans.  Welcome to Spring.


In retrospect, I'm pretty sure March was last week because this month has flown by.  What began with a CDE or two was filled in with a couple great conferences in the middle.  Alamo.jpgThe first one was just a couple weeks ago down in San Antonio.  Throw a few thousand science teachers together, drop a few ag teachers in the mix, and you get the National Science Teacher's Association conference.  Thanks to the ever-generous support of DuPont, a few Agriscience Ambassadors were able to join in and present a few workshops to science teachers from literally across the world. Not to mention an opening night dinner that couldn't be beat inside the grounds of the Alamo.  Yes, that Alamo.  Apparently they build it right inside of downtown San Antonio.  You would have thought that would have helped out Crockett and Co back in 1835 (and yes, it is smaller than you expect.  And either those walls were higher back then or people were a lot of shorter). you haven't heard of the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy (NATAA), you are missing out.  This program is one of the best professional development opportunities for ag teachers out there, and I've been to a few.  The folks at DuPont know how to make teachers feel valued, and go all out to help you be a better teacher of inquiry and agriscience for your students.  I was able to be part of this very cool experience back in 2010, and have been able to be part of workshops here in Oregon as well as NAAE Convention, FFA Convention, and at NSTA.  More importantly, all those speakers and inservices I've sat through re: inquiry and science and science and inquiry finally made sense as to how it can apply in my classroom.  I am very thankful to have been able to be part of it, and to continue to help spread the word.


Then it's back on a plane and headed home.  After a solid 2.5 days back home (which is exactly how long 'they' say it takes to recover from the time changes/jet lag), and just enough to reset classes and check in on the pile of fire irons, it was back on the road for a six hour drive across Oregon for the NAAE Region I Conference in Pendleton, Oregon.  If you've heard of Pendleton, you know this old rodeo town is in one of the most unique agricultural areas in the western US.  With about 70 teachers from across eight states, we had a great gathering of teachers and university staff at one of the best-hosted conferences we could ever hope to attend.  Props to Blue Mountain Community College and Nick Nelson for hosting an awesome event complete with Underground Tours, Calcutta Calf Roping (which, for the record, I can proudly claim to be part of the team with the 3rd and 4th best times and certainly the team with the best average), driving through ranches and farms and hearing from some great teachers presenting Ideas Unlimited and workshops.  Even Breed'n Betsy herself was there in the...synthetic flesh.


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As you can see, our very own NAAE President Farrah Johnson gets gloved up to pass the AI gun, while Region I Secretary Heath Hornecker coaches from the side and Region I Vice President Erica Whitmore needs a glove to use the camera at this point of the conference.  On the right, Paul Andres of La Grande High School in La Grande, Oregon demonstrates using ultrasound for body composition.


All in all, a great conference and great weekend.  If you haven't attended a Region conference, put it on your list.  It's time well spent.


And now? Well, the bad news is I won't teach a full week of school but once until the end of the year.  In the next nine days, I'll be at CDE's for six of them.  But at least I can still keep working on those sub plans.


What's keeping you busy these days?

IMG_4238.JPGSometimes you have to provide a little context.


Last year an opportunity for state funds to strengthen college credit came around, and it came to pass that we heard about this contraption out of Australia being used for artificial insemination instruction.  Since one of the challenges  we find with classes-too-big and cattle-too-few is being able to get kids elbow deep into cows (serious Animal Lab envy here) this seemed like a potential solution.  A few phone calls later and we had a consortium of schools together, and we had the funds to order this AI instruction model.


Her name is Betsy.  The Breed'n Betsy.


You can imagine the steps one might have to go through to order an AI dummy from down under.  Interested in your own Breed'n Betsy?  Just follow these easy steps:


1)  Go to your administrators and explain what you want permission to turn in a grant for.

2)  Explain what an AI instructional model is.

IMG_4240.JPG3)  Explain AI (actually I didn't have to do this, my principal is pretty ag-saavy. I'm just anticipating).

4)  Send your principal to a district admin meeting where he has to ask the superintendent for a signature on a grant for a $14,000 grant for an "AI breeding dummy" in front of all the other administrators (not making this up folks)

5)  Submit grant.  Be one of only a handful of applications.  Get more money than you were qualified for.

6)  Contact Australia.  Ask for a Breed'n Betsy, Bovine Repro package 3 (if horses are your thing, there is also Bonny).

7)  Be the first person in your school district to talk your business manager into wiring money to Australia.

8)  Be the last person in your school district to talk your business manager into wiring money to Australia.

9)  Get a phone call back over a bad international connection at 6am local from a really nice guy named Brad with more brogue than a Dublin pub.  Decipher slowly.

10)  Wait a smoko or two for manufacturing, etc and then await your Betsy's completion.

11)  Get the email letting you know that your Breed'n Betsy has shipped.

12)  Use Fedex's website to track that Betsy has traveled around much of the greater continent of Asia.

13)  Attend the NAAE National Convention in Atlanta where you receive a phone call from Homeland Security re:  your 'large shipment' you are importing into the country.

14)  When asked, tell them it's an "educational model" because you really, really don't want to go there on the phone with Homeland Security.

15)  File paperwork with Homeland Security to allow Betsy into the country while she waits patiently in Anchorage, Alaska for three days.

16)  Finally receive your Breed'n Betsy.  Some assembly required.


So there you go.  I really do wish I was making up some of those steps, but alas, no.  While the hurdles piled up faster than in an old track shed we persevered, kept calm and carried on. But now here we are, with a complete mobile reproductive lab that is currently being shared and coordinated between six of our local ag programs.  We're looking forward to using Betsy to expand access to such skill for suburban students within our programs, and strengthen our college-credit agreements with our community college partners.  And as we continue to use her we'll induct a few more capable kids into the Order of the Blue Glove.


Some new inductees for 2013.  Team Motto:  Elbow deep.  Ask sometime for the secret handshake.


More pics?   Check out the parade of facial expressions (although nothing beats the real south end of a north-facing heifer) here!


What sort of trials and tribulations have you overcome to make things happen for your students?

If you've read Jim Collins's Good to Great, that may make a bit more sense than if you haven't. to catch you up/recap - the Hedgehog Concept is this:  a hedgehog is good at one thing in the world - curl up in spiny little sphere and hence protect itself.  The hedgehog's adversary, the fox (apparently this parable happened in England), knows many clever ways to catch it's prey.  But not the hedgehog; a hedgehog doesn't fight with teeth.  It doesn't claw the competition.  It doesn't run.  It knows one big, really important, simple thing.  And that's what it does.  It curls up in a ball.  Really well.


So the concept is the basis of decision-making for a business or organization and what they should be doing.  There are three intersecting circles (not that you've ever seen a diagram like that before) that make up the Hedgehog Concept:
- What are you deeply passionate about?

- What can you be the best in the world at?

- What best drives your economic (or resource) engine?


This was the topic of conversation the other day in my Ag Business, Leadership, and Economics class.  It's a new class this year that only took me four years and - literally - convincing our local community college to create a class so we could articulate it and get it onto the books.  But I digress... I am absolutely loving this class for two reasons - one, the topic is interesting as all get out to me, and secondly the kids in it are the (sorry, showing off my street-cred.  Is street-cred hyphenated?).  The class has rotated against our Horticulture class, so much of the instruction is applied to our greenhouse as a business.


It was in our early planning of The Business (we haven't named it yet, we just refer to it as The Business.  You know, like The Family.  Or The Great Escape.  Or The Mob) as we wrote a mission statement, determined its purpose and values, and designed the vision for our enterprise.  And they've come up with some pretty darn good stuff.  Early in this planning we brought up the Hedgehog Concept, and applied it to our Business.  Knowing we had a greenhouse at our disposal, but no rule saying we had to use it to grow plants, we drew the familiar overlapping three circles and looked at what would put us in the middle where the three circles overlapped.

- What were we passionate about?

- What could we be the best at?

- What would drive our economic engine?


As we facilitated our way through the planning processes and made decisions based on the three criteria of the Hedgehog Concept (were we passionate about running a business?  Creating a service?  Designing boutonnieres with analogous color schemes?) I made the point that this does not just apply to businesses - any organization or even an individual can utilize the Hedgehog Concept.  In fact, I challenged, if you can find a career that you are passionate about, that you can strive to be the best at (note:  it doesn't say you have to be the best, just could be), and that will be economically sustainable, then you'll have it made.  And be ahead of about 97% of the rest of the world.


These juniors and seniors and I have been around been around the bend together a time or two, so they're fairly unafraid to ask questions.  And this one was immediate but unexpected:  "Mr Crawford, have you found your hedgehog concept?  Is it teaching?"


I should probably say I had already considered this question.  Or maybe I should say I gave it some intense consideration before responding.  But that isn't the truth.  Yet my response was immediate.  And unprepared.  "Yes."


I didn't give a lot of detail, but I don't think I had to.  I do think I'm as close to the middle of those intersecting circles as I can be in any field.  I am very much passionate about what I do.  I don't have to be the best ag teacher in the world, but I think I have it in me to do the best job for SHS that I can as an agriculture educator.  And while I can't say I'm getting rich, the job pays the bills.  I do think I've found my Hedgehog.


Although it was that third part that was the least believable by my students.  In fact, that question from the senior student was qualified with "Well, except for the third circle (economic), because teachers don't get paid enough.  Other than that, have you?"


Out of the mouths of kids.  I hope that, someday, they find their Hedgehogs too.



Have you found your Hedgehog?

How do you know?

How do you help your students find theirs?


If you doubted whether there is any usefulness to that newfangled social media, watching my Facebook Feed/Twitterverse blow up last night during the Super Bowl should have provided your answer.


Don't know about you, but late-breaking research (read: past 24 hours) suggests my Facebook friends are (by demographic):

29% Ag Educators

46% former FFA members

22% agriculturalists

1% people I went to high school with and haven't talked to since

2% San Francisco 49ers fans (we're on the West Coast, people)


The apostalyptic response to Ram's Year of the Farmer was not limited to my own social network, I know.  I was actually out of the room when the commercial first came on (I know!).  I walked in just as the emblem flashed up at the end and my wife saying "you just missed the best commercial...".  Naturally, I jumped online and Googled it, and found the video on YouTube, all of 2 minutes old but already at 301 views.  At 9am PST today, YouTube claimed just over 1 million views of the video.  By this evening, the 3 million mark had been breached (combining all the times it has been reposted on YouTube channels, even when you subtract all the ag rooms where the ag teacher showed it to all 5/6/7 of their classes, that's not bad).


So what do we take from this?  Incidentally, we've proven the possibility of what I've yet to see happen:  the explosion of a positive and meaningful message so effectively, so quickly through social media.  We've confirmed the very strong feelings held by those associated with and appreciative of American agriculture.  We've shown the power of an engaged, supportive community, whether that is in your town or across the network.  We can say 'we' because the whole engine of this idea being carried this far has been all of us.


And we've helped take FFA mainstream again.  We haven't done that for a while, not truly nationwide.  FFA has a strong reputation in our community and school, but that doesn't mean some of our students don't have to continually justify their 'ag stuff' to friends, coaches, and families.  But the quote of the day may have been one of our best students triumphantly exclaiming "To all those who make fun of my FFA involvement, I didn't see YOUR organizations during the Super Bowl!"


Agriculture and FFA for the win.  Ram and a million social-media savvy agriculturalists with the assist.


Thank you to the many supporters who make this organization the influence it can be for more than half-a-million students a year.

READERS RESPONSE:  How next can we tell our story?

...and the kids barely knew what it was.


I'm not talking the document camera (Elmo).  I'm talking the keystone-distorted, outlet-on-a-cart, squealing-gerbil-wheel-when-the-fan-first-starts, overhead.  You know - the one your oldest college professor wrote copious amounts of notes in a script that proved "doctor handwriting" wasn't limited to the MD doctors.  Shoot, maybe you've been teaching long enough all your college classes went that way.  For some of the newer teachers, perhaps all you saw was death by PowerPoint.


When it comes to technology, I almost fall under the category of 'bleeding-edge':  use it as soon as it is available, first on the block with the gadget, etc.  I've built and used websites since my first year teaching; was the first teacher in the school to dive into Moodle, then Google Docs, then Edmodo; have had students make videos, radio broadcasts, blogs, databases, spreadsheets, about a million Word or Publisher docs, and even some giant posters for assignments, tests, or finals.


If you're like most teachers, your overhead is long gone.  Our school doesn't even stock the lamps or transparency rolls anymore.  Within the last few years I couldn't count the number of emails from teachers that said "I'm getting rid of my overhead, anybody want it?"  I'm guessing there weren't a lot of takers.


And I can relate.  I have a mounted computer projector with four different cords running through the ceiling and down the wall.  I have two laser printers, 34 computers, and large format ink printer around the room.


And, over against the wall, sits my overhead projector.  Because when a piece of paper (or even a transparency) does the job better, that's what I use.  And when technology works better, that's what we do.


Too many teachers fall into one of two categories:  category one - technology should replace everything I do, including teaching, grading, assignments, lessons, etc; or category two - technology is a fad and shall be shunned in this room.  There is no doubt that the current style of student is technology-centered; hence, the cell phone glued to their face. However, despite popular belief, the current teenager is not technology savvy.  In other words, while they are quite familiar with technology, they do not know how to use it productively.  How many times have you had kids say "I hate computers".  I hear it all the time.  Keep in mind their phone is not a computer to them.  Nor is their tablet.  It's the desktop running a word processor, or presentation software, or landscape design CAD program, that they don't like.


I even had one student ask to type their speech on their phone, claiming it was quicker that way.


So I propose a truce:  teach kids to use technology, and when something else works better, use it.  Sometimes, its a lot easier to have kids make an overhead transparency to present a bit of information in about 20 minutes than it is to spend two days having them make a three-slide PowerPoint about it.  But at the same time, teach them to use Microsoft Word properly.  Take them to PowerPoint school (and please please please explain why sounds and animations are not necessary).  Dive into a CAD program.  Explain what makes a website a reliable research source (hint:  it takes more than .org, kiddos).  You might be a techno-nerd, and you might be a techno-newbie.  But it is the world we live in, and agriculture is infusing technology as fast as anyone.


But at the end of the day, you're a teacher.  Teach with the best tool for the job, whether it has a power button or not.




How do you use technology?  What things do you do that work better with a pencil and paper?  Give ideas in the comments!

Wes Crawford

A Holiday Poem

Posted by Wes Crawford Dec 20, 2012

Or, "Evidence I Should Never Teach Language Arts"

Ahem.  Here we go.

Twas the day before break, and the kids were all crazed

Snow was on the ground, and the school day delayed;


Shouted laughs rang through all the halls, unfettered,

Coming from the warm-clothed, bundled and ugly-sweatered;


In the ag room could be found the usual mess,

Projects, papers, and the random official dress;


Record books stack up on the desk without care,

Still waiting to be updated since last summer’s State Fair;


Projects pile up in the corner of the ag shop,

Hoping to be finished by next term’s student crop;


The greenhouse sits lonely, benches long bare,

Waiting for the plugs which will too-soon be there.


The land lab was cleaned up, to the general surprise,

With the barns buttoned up, and the pipes winterized;


Unscored papers sat ready for the reluctant red pen,

The inbox greatly outweighing the graded out-bin.


Then the last bell rings, and the halls empty out,

The last student through the door with a bang and a shout;


Before the echoes stop ringing, and last grades are due,

The rest of the teachers are out and on the road too;


But not the ag teacher, who’s parked at their desk,

Grateful for the first chance today to sit down and rest;


Winter Break is a break, but not without tasks,

For SAE visits, FFA meetings, for whoever asks.


They do it for the students, to influence their future,

and for our communities, and the future of agriculture.


But that’s okay; after all, that’s why they do it -

Because it’s good work, and good work’s worth doing.


But now, it’s lights out, and head down the road home,

No more lectures, no more labs, no more sticky clay loam;


It’s the time for family and friends, for they are the reason,

We can enjoy all the good parts of this Christmas season;


So Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year.

But should the Mayans be right, one thing is clear:


No grading will be finished before the 21st,

‘Cuz all of that work wasted would be the absolute worst.




Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and thank you for what you do!

Wes Crawford

Award Winning R & R

Posted by Wes Crawford Nov 5, 2012

First quarter of the year is in the books...well, at least most of the grades that are supposed to be there are.  Back a week now since National Convention.  Rolling the clocks back is the insult to the injury of jet lag.  About to certify 50 freshmen in the safe operation of agricultural equipment.  Gearing up to host a district ag sales event.  T-shirt order is wrapping up Round 1.  Probably should get that plant order in...


With this sort of line-up staring you in the face, there is but one recourse:  college game day.  Road trip.  Tailgater.


Oregon has one agricultural education teacher preparation program (and a darn good one), so it's no surprise the great majority of our ag teachers are Beaver Believers (and we don't speak to the rest).  Our district's cohort of teachers decided earlier this year (read:  the first weekend after school started) that an adviser retreat was in order for the fall.  We made that happen this past weekend with a great day of get-out-of town with a visit to the Alma mater and a day of barbecued beef and socializing.  It ended up we couldn't all make it, but those that did made it a good one.


Sometimes you can get wrapped in the day-to-day and forget about the long haul.  And if you want to keep everyone on the bus with you positive and working well together, then making the time to take the time to reinvest in the personal as well as professional relationships you have with your colleagues is key.  I work with the other ag teachers in our district as much as some of the teachers in my building, and rather more than most of the rest.  And clearly, all you need is the right orange-black attire, a pop-up tent, and a rusty barrel smoker and you are in business.


But the good times didn't end there on Saturday.  Allow me to to quote our very own Dr. Greg Thompson, Ag Ed department head at ol' OSU, from the email he sent out over the OVATA listserv this morning:


"During the Arizona State game, I looked up at the jumbotron at halftime and there were some rough looking rascals from the Umpqua District with Benny the Beaver.  It was Kate Crawford, Braden Groth, Charlie Vandehey, Wes Crawford and Brian Arp, proudly displaying the Oregon Beef Council's Tailgater of the Game Award.  It sounded and looked like a true Beaver Classic Tailgater.  Congratulations to the Umpqua 'Ag Teacher Tailgater' for their display and salesmanship in Tailgating."  And then he said something about OSU Ag Ed receiving prestigious awards, etc. etc.

Haha yep.  So there we were enjoying the extremely pleasant not-rainy weather in Corvallis, and had accumulated a bit of a crowd of friends and visitors, when a group from the Oregon Beef Council came by looking for tailgaters serving beef.  They said that if we let them sample some of the cookin' they'd consider us for the OBC Tailgater of the Game Award.  We retorted that if they could identify the primal cut, they could have a sample.

We're ag teachers.  What do you expect?

But in the end, some great smoked Beef - Chuck - Clod Heart (yeah we didn't recognize it either, but it was cheap; again - we're teachers) with a bring-it-on attitude won the day, as did the boys on the gridiron, and indeed it was a bunch of ag teachers mugging on the big screen in Reser Stadium.

Overall, just another day in the life of an ag teacher:  camaraderie, good friends, cooked beast, and a story to tell afterwards.  Can't beat that.

READER RESPONSE:  Share your ag teacher hijinks, stories, and the like!

Wes Crawford

Through the Windshield

Posted by Wes Crawford Oct 8, 2012

Well hello there.  Welcome (back) to another school year.


Being out here in Oregon (pronounced OR-ih-gun, by the way) we're a bit farther off the track than most.  Many people don't realize just how a) large and b) diverse the Beaver state can be.1  This is true for both many of my students who haven't made it that far across the state, and for many folks from other states as well.  For example, what do you think of when you think of Oregon?2  Most say rain, forests, rain, Portland, rain, and the Oregon Trail.3  Fortunately, there is a lot more to it than that.


In fact, Oregon is incredibly diverse in environment, terrain, and agriculture.  With over 280 commodities produced in some part of the state, there is a lot going on.  Today, the Sutherlin FFA (my chapter) and the Oakland FFA (my wife's chapter) embarked on the 11.675 hour minibus ride (with stops) across the state of Oregon to the literal northeast corner to compete in our State Soil Judging CDE, and tonight I type this from the Enterprise, Oregon Best Western.


For most, 507.2 miles of travel gets you through 1, 2, or 7 states, depending on your region.  But this trip was one I looked forward to, because I knew what a great chance it would be for our students to see how quickly Oregon gets different.4  So it was with gusto we started at 8am this morning, and by this evening had completed the following:



Now I realize many of you drive less miles to attend the National Convention.  Now you know why we fly.


So let us share with you the diversity of Oregon's...diversity.  Check out some of the shots we saw through the windshield today:5


We started heading north this morning and entered the south end of the Willamette Valley.  The ultimate goal of all those pioneers, the Valley is a textbook example of prime, Class I farmland thanks to ice age action 10,000 years ago that ended up stealing all the great top soil from eastern Washington and depositing it here6.  Unfortunately, it is also home to 75% of the state's population.

You probably have heard that Oregon has trees.  And yes, we did not cut them all down in the 1980's - there are as much or more forestland now as there was in 1800.  In fact, Oregon has some of the most progressive forestry practice laws in the country.  But in fact Oregon is only 42% forests, and of that 59% is owned by the government.  As a result of the politics of the past 25 years, over 80% of the timber production in Oregon is from private land.7



Now as you get over the Cascade Range the term 'rain shadow' is on display.  While western Oregon receives 40-100" of rain/year (depending on location), some parts of the east side receive less than 10" annually.  If you think this is a surprise, imagine how my students who live with the rain and have never been to eastern Oregon before feel!

Some of you flatlanders may feel better as you head east...your view is no longer filled by mountains.  This is the part of Oregon I endearingly refer to as 'The place where you can count the trees you see.  All the trees."



And sometimes, you just never what you're going to find along the way...

Just another day in the life.  The only thing better than a day of changing scenery through the windshield is introducing a group of students to it, and making their world that much bigger.


See you on the road!



READER RESPONSE:  What things have you done to broaden your students' horizons?





1 - Notice we are the (OSU) Beaver State, not the (UO) Duck State

2 - If you said "Portlandia," you understand why I cry.  The worse thing - that show is no exaggeration on Portland, Oregon.  None.

3 - You remember that game right?  Where you tried to ford the river and your oxen died?  All I ever did was buy 20,000 rounds of ammo and hunt...

4 - Ecologically/environmentally/agriculturally different, not Portlandia different

5 - Care was taken so that the driver was not distracted while driving the minibus, thank you very much.

6 - Missoula Floods

7 - I could be in a presidential debate with this sort of display of knowledge!

8 - There was no number 8.  But special thanks to my friend Tyler as I shamelessly steal his method of footnoting blog posts.

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