In order that I may inspire some other youth, I've decided to share how my education has prepared me for my career choice as a dairy farmer. Maybe I'll be able to help some youth wanting to come back to the family dairy farm make some smart decisions, too. To get the story rolling, I'll start out with a small recap.
I graduated from a very small high school, Briarwood Academy. From there, I attended Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College (ABAC), my father's alma mater. ABAC had just begun a four-year diversified agriculture bachelor's degree that I thought suited my needs and my career path. Once I graduated from college, I came home to work on the farm. Two years later, I was presented with an amazing opportunity to attend the Young Dairy Leader Institute (YDLI). That's the quick version.
I was very blessed to attend Braidwood Academy as a high school student. The school was very small and the teachers routinely had one-on-one time with their students. On numerous occasions, I was pushed extremely hard by a few teachers who really prepared me for the next level - my history teacher, Mrs. Kathy Chalker, was one who stands out the most.
Mrs. Chalker was always challenging us, pushing us to learn as much as possible, teaching us how to properly take notes the way that we would have to in college (writing shorthand to try and keep up with the professors), and not giving us much slack. My advice gleaned from Mrs. Chalker: Challenge yourself, if you have a chance to choose classes in high school, don't slide by with easy ones!
When deciding on a college degree, I contemplated two options: business or diversified agriculture.
I decided to go with diversified agriculture because of all the different doors the degree opened to me. It covers ag business, crop production, crop and soil science, and livestock production. While choosing classes, I always tended to lean more towards the animal science classes, as animal health and reproduction are my passion.
One of my most influential professor's, Mary Ellen Hicks, D.V.M., allowed us to be very hands-on when it came to learning. We would go out to the ABAC farm and palpate, vaccinate, castrate, feed, build fence, and even cut hay. This was a huge step in preparing me for my career.
My advice to others: Try classes that put you in real-life career situations. This will not only prepare you for your career, but it will also make sure you are heading in the right direction of that career.
My first job
After graduation, I was placed directly under my father's watchful eye, learning exactly how the farm ran internally as well as externally. Over the next two years, I began managing cows and employees, learning a great deal both through blessings and hurdles at the family farm.
And then I was given the opportunity to attend the Young Dairy Leader Institute. This was by far the most challenging thing I have ever done. The institute taught me how to grow and become a better farmer, speaker, leader, and an integral part of the community. While at YDLI, I also made many great contacts. I would suggest YDLI to anyone in the dairy industry!
Although I have learned and am still in the process of learning while at home, my education provided me with a great foundation. I wouldn't change any of my steps to where I'm at today. Always strive to be the best, learn as much as possible, and challenge yourself!
Mark and Caitlin Rodgers are dairy farmers in Dearing, Georgia. Their "Daddy and Daughter Dairy Together" column will appear every other Thursday on HD Notebook. The Rodgers have a 400-cow dairy that averages 32,000 pounds of milk. Follow their family farm on Facebook at Hillcrest Farms Inc.