On Dec. 13, 2006, 33 WestJessamineHigh School students presented the culmination of a semester’s work, an event not at all unexpected in the month of December. What was unique was that the information in their presentations was assimilated outside the classroom, among Thoroughbred horses grazing the pastures of a prominent horse farm in Nicholasville.

 

These students were part of a community-based program sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture’s TracyFarmerCenter for the Environment and held in conjunction with UK’s Pasture Management Program and Nicholasville-based Taylor Made Farm.

 

Carol Hanley, director of education and communication for the TracyFarmerCenter, explains that the premise of this program, and others like it, is for students to learn science in their own backyard – in this case, analyzing the types of grasses and composition of those grasses within Taylor Made Farm’s horse pastures.

 

This hands-on approach resonated with the students, and the group of five recognized as giving the best presentation talked enthusiastically about how much more relevant it was to take what they were learning outside the classroom and apply it to something they saw every day – in this case the pastures of a local horse farm.

 

During the semester-long project, instructors from UK’s Pasture Management Program helped students study the grasses in each pasture they were assigned to at the farm and then make recommendations to farm representatives based on what they found. The 33 students were divided into six groups, with each group analyzing a different pasture on the farm. Not only did the students record what types of grasses were found in their random samples, but also whether a common and potentially harmful fungus in one of these grasses – tall fescue – was present and, if so, in what levels. This fungus found in tall fescue can cause pregnant mares to abort their foals, so its presence is of particular interest to prominent horse farms like Taylor Made.

 

The students then presented their findings last Wednesday to representatives from Taylor Made Farm, the University of Kentucky, their class teacher and school principal. Each group’s presentation was judged by WestJessamineHigh School principal Bart Flener and winners were chosen based on content, presentation visuals and public speaking. Two of the teams stood out, and a tie breaker was used to award top honors to “Group 3,” whose members included sophomores Natasha Walsh, Whitney Preston, Randy Troyer, Isaac Monell and Zach Whelchel.

 

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to use science to solve real world problems, and to help others make important decisions. We learned a great deal about experimental design, research and the importance of accuracy in collecting data,” said WestJessamineHigh School teacher Pam Long. “The students and I had a great time working with representatives of the University of Kentucky. It was a great to have students participate in a community-based real world problem, collecting data at a local horse farm and then communicating with scientists like Dr. Smith and his staff, who used their expertise and contacts to verify our data and conclusions.

 

“Students gained tremendous knowledge about the horse farm industry and we owe special thanks to representatives from Taylor Made Farm, who allowed us to visit, and Dr. Hanley, with the TracyFarmerCenter for the Environment, who funded the project,” she added

 

Scott Kintz, broodmare manager at Taylor Made Farm, said that the farm was pleased to partner with the school on the project. “We did this because it’s important to us to be part of the community,” he said. “The students gave good recommendations – not anything we’re not doing already, but it’s nice to know we’re already doing the right things.”

 

Ray Smith, UK forage extension specialist and UK Pasture Management Program coordinator said he and his team enjoyed working with the students, who were interested and engaged in the process, and appreciated Taylor Made Farm’s partnership.

 

More information about each of the partners can be found on their websites:

 

UK Pasture Management Program: www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage/

UK Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment: http://tfce.uky.edu/

Taylor Made Farm: www.taylormadefarm.net/


Author: Holly Wiemers