Passion of the Percherons: Getting Ready with Young Living Horses & Team

Cyclone, Bode, Huey, Tuff, Ice, Jag, Elk, and Rocket.

These are the names of the 8 wonderful gentlemen I had the pleasure of meeting recently at the Nebraska State Fair. They all had dark hair and were well over 6 feet tall. It isn’t often I feel as if I’m in the presence of giants since I’m fairly tall myself. However, these guys have a way of making you look up and feel small.

Now, you are probably wondering who these guys are. With names like those, you may think I met some sort of band. They aren’t a part of a band, but they are all stars. These 8 gentlemen are the Percheron horses of the Young Living Exhibition Team.

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Young Living is a company (you may have heard of it) that produces essential oils. Their founder, Gary Young, loved horses. It only made sense to combine his passion for essential oils and horses together. At their Whispering Springs Farm in Mona, Utah, they have over 120 horses and focuses on draft and Fresian horses.

A handful of those horses are able to travel to various fairs and shows to compete and represent the Young Living brand and products. The 8 horses I met do not compete in shows, but do show off at fairs as the exhibition team.

Each horse is filled with personality. They may look very similar, but they are each unique. Those who get to handle and care for them can tell you all about each one.

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Here enters my friend Bradley Glover. Bradley and I grew up in the same county and showed livestock together. Bradley loves draft horses. He has interned with the large Clydesdales at Budweiser and helped drive wagons in Yellowstone National Park. Now he is living in Utah with the Young Living Percheron horses.

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I got a text from Bradley asking how close I was to Grand Island, Nebraska. Garrett and I then made plans to drive up to see Bradley (Garrett and Bradley worked together at NCSU) and meet the horses at the Nebraska State Fair.

Bradley not only helps feed and care for each of the horses with four others on the exhibition team, but he also helps prepare each horse for their performance.

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It takes about 2 hours to braid and comb the horses manes and tails. In addition, they add boots, paint their hooves and make sure they are clean. They also tack all the horses up in harnesses and gear that weighs about 100 pounds per horse. This sounds heavy, but each horse weighs around 2,000 pounds. Huey may weigh a tick more…he likes his food.

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After they are decked in their purple splendor, they are practically itching to go. It was so funny to see the horses nodding their heads and straining to get into their harness. They love their job and love to perform. They were ready!

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After they are harnessed up, they are hitched to the wagon. In a 6-horse hitch, there are three positions: lead, swing, and wheel. Typically the largest and most trustworthy horses are placed in the wheel position. These are Tuff and Jag. The swing horses must stay in their spots and help round corners. Elk and Cyclone are swingers. Finally, the lead horses are often the flashiest horses who really like to prance. Bode and Huey are the guys for the job.

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And what about the man behind the reins? That would be Jason Goodman. He has been around draft horses about all of his life. His wife Rose, who is also on the team, has a long history with draft horses as well.

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No matter what your position on the team, everyone pitches in to get the job done. That job is making those 8 gentleman looking spectacular, and that job involves shoveling manure, cleaning equipment, braiding hair, feeding, washing, and so much more.

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Thanks to the hard work of all the team members, the horses do indeed look spectacular in the ring. With Jason Goodman guiding the team, they trot, make figure eights, dock, and full on run. Their time in the ring seems like a blur, and I do believe the horses wouldn’t mind one bit if they could go around the ring once or 3 times more.

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They will soon do it all over again, though, showing crowds that big doesn’t mean they can’t be agile or graceful. They proved to me that, although lovable and goofy in the barns, they are all business and style when it is show time.

Cyclone, Elk, Bode, Huey, Rocket, Jag, Ice, and Tuff, you guys are amazing!

Bradley, Jason, Rose, Cole, and Henry, thank you for letting me capture your normal. I so enjoyed soaking up your knowledge and witnessing the passion you have for draft horses.

Garrett, thanks for carrying my camera bag and reaching up high for a couple of photos. I think we found your size of animal.

Young Living, kudos to you for what you do with these horses and sharing them with the public.

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A Farm of the Future: Butler Farms

Most hog farms involve a few common key aspects. There is typically a dirt path that leads to hog houses aligned in a row. There are lagoons (waste pits), fields, pumping reels, employees, and of course, pigs! However, I recently visited a hog farm that was a little bit different. It had all the “normals” I would expect in a hog farm– the farmer, pigs, and poop– but there were a few additions too. It wasn’t typical, and yet again it was. The best adjective I could find is futuristic.

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My day started with a drive through my alma mater, Campbell University (always a good day to go through camel country) and then on  deeper into Harnett County. I came upon my destination–Butler Farms. Following a long dirt path, rows of hog houses came into view on top of a hill overlooking a field. I pulled in and was greeted by Mr. Tom Butler, the owner of the ten-barn finishing farm.

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Originally tobacco farmers, the Butlers decided to build a hog farm. Recognizing the potential for incorporating new technologies on the farm, the Butlers began to research the color green — a greener way of pork production, that is.

In 2008, the first lagoon cover was installed; a second one was added later. One of the biggest tasks for hog farmers is managing lagoons, especially during wet weather. Lagoon levels naturally increase with the occurrence of precipitation, but lagoon covers help reduce the amount of precipitation that ends up in the lagoons, allowing for more manageable levels. The water that falls on top of the covers can simply be pumped onto crops. Not only do the covers reduce the stress of high lagoon levels, they also reduce 85% of the farm odor. If that isn’t awesome enough, it can also double as a type of trampoline…well sort of. You can walk on top of the cover, which is pretty cool, and yes, I walked on it!

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A covered lagoon
A covered lagoon

Working in conjunction with the lagoon covers is a digester. The digester stirs waste from the lagoons and builds up bio-gas methane that is then converted into electricity! Pipes take the methane from the digester into a building that houses an engine that runs a 180 KW gen-set. This engine utilizes the methane as its fuel to power the gen-set which produces electricity  that is used to power the farm.

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In addition to the methane run gen-set, Mr. Butler has also installed solar panels to add to the electricity production. The farm produces enough electricity to not only run the farm, but to also provide excess electricity which can then be sold to South River Electric Membership Cooperation.

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A final section of the farm is the composter. On a farm, it is inevitable that death occurs. On the Butler farm, any mortality is sent to the composter to be turned into fertilizer. The compost is mixed with wood chips to make the fertilizer that is spread on the fields.

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edit9To keep the fertilizer as nutrient rich as possible, it must be kept at a specific temperature. Anything higher than 160 degrees, and the fertilizer will begin to lose nutrients, so keeping a steady temperature is imperative. This is accomplished with air that is circulated through pipes at the bottom of the pile of fertilizer. Not much goes to waste on the Butler farm.

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Part of the machinery that runs the air flow in the composter
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The control panel that manages the air flow in the composter

Of course, I couldn’t walk away from the farm without seeing some of the 7,800 pigs on the property. After all, they are my favorite farm animal, not to mention the money-makers. For the Butlers, they are not only the  bacon, but they are the “poopers” that make bio-energy.

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So, there you have  a virtual tour of Butler Farms. What you haven’t seen yet is the passion behind the technology.
I spoke with Mr. Butler about his farm and why he wanted to incorporate so much technology. He shared with me that his motto is “A green farm for a green future.” It doesn’t take long to identify Mr. Butler’s dedication to following his motto. To couple with his desire to be green is his passion for science and technology. I had to frequently stop a discussion to ask questions about some complicated concept , but Mr. Butler knew the ins and outs of it all.

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Mr. Butler was able to implement much of his technology through grants. He is a huge advocate of installing lagoon covers and other technological advances in other farms across the state. He hopes to see a day when his farm is not the future but the norm, and he never skips an opportunity to share his knowledge and ideas with others. Mr. Butler is very open to visitors and tours of his farm. University groups have spent a great deal of time at his farm running experiments, and he has spoken with and given farm tours to politicians, international persons, and various organizations.
The Butlers hope to one day see more farms across North Carolina and the nation implement similar technologies; however, it will take time. These new ideas are not perfect and are costly, but they hold much promise. Mr. Butler is dedicated to constantly improving. He researches a great deal and is already making plans for further improvements.
Butler Farms, in many ways, is a typical hog farm. The name of the game is pigs and poop, and doing that responsibly and well. However, Butler Farms is more than typical. They are innovative and, dare I say, futuristic.

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I truly enjoyed my time at Butler Farms learning about the technology, walking on a lagoon, and talking pigs in the farm office. A huge thank you to Mr. Butler, his son Will, and the rest of the crew at the farm for sharing their time with me.

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Tom Butler is left and Will Butler is right

As I drove back down the dirt path to leave the farm, it started to rain. I couldn’t help but think of the technology that would provide a barrier between the rain and those lagoons.

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NC Purebred Swine Family Reunion

On August 22, the North Carolina Purebred Swine Family Reunion took place where I was able to catch a glimpse of decades of work that not only made North Carolina’s hog industry better, but forged lifetime friendships, created lasting memories, and instilled a great sense of pride and accomplishment in those involved.

DSC_0074The Family Reunion is a time for those involved in the purebred industry to come together and reminisce. Many of those in attendance were a part of the North Carolina Swine Evaluation Station that operated from 1973-1994, and was headed up by Dr. Bob Jones. It was here that performance testing was conducted that has had a lasting impact on today’s hog industry.

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Dr. Bob Jones

Many stories were told about the “good old days” at the evaluation station–stories of record breaking boars, stories of camaraderie, and stories filled with good humor. The pride of those who had played a part in the station was evident as they spoke. Over 7,000 boars were evaluated during the 21 years with a percentage of those boars selling for a revenue of over $1.8 million. 120 breeders participated in the program during its lifespan.

The afternoon also consisted of a moment of silence for those who had passed away since the last reunion and a catered meal. North Carolina Pork Council CEO, Deborah Johnson, and NCSU Animal Science Department Head, Dr. Todd See, spoke on the industry and recent trips to China that gave insight into international pork production. Dr. Bob Jones, former NCSU Extension animal husbandry specialist also spoke about the research station and all of his fond memories. Ron Hughes, former NC Swine Evaluation Station manager wrapped up the reunion.

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Ron Hughes

It was a wonderful afternoon filled with heritage, friendships, and of course, pigs!

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Not Your Typical Fraternity– The Men of Alpha Gamma Rho

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of getting to know the great group of guys that belong to the Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity at North Carolina State University. I was introduced to them through my boyfriend, Garrett (for a post on what dating a fraternity guy is like, her is the link) who is a member of the fraternity.

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What I love about this group, is they aren’t your typical fraternity. Sure, they like their tailgates and bow ties like any other good fraternity man would, but they also all have a common interest and passion in agriculture. So, while they are bonded in brotherhood, and all of have the commonality of being in college together, they are also bonded through agriculture. They don’t all have the same interests. Their majors include agriculture education, biological engineering, animal science, poultry science and everything in between. Some come from backgrounds of sweet potatoes and others come from pigs and cows. One thing is certain, they all love ag, and are all dedicated to both their fraternity and to the agricultural industry.

This weekend, AGR had their annual Founder’s Day banquet. This is an event to bring together AGR alumni from years past,  current brothers, and families of the brothers. It is a special day for all of the guys as they review both their struggles and achievements of the past year and share that with the alumni and their families. It only takes a few minutes in that room to know that the AGR men are passionate about their organization, each other, and an agricultural future.

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At the luncheon, there were two guest speakers–Jason Brown and Bryan Blinson. Jason Brown is a former NFL player, who has recently retired and turned to farming. Jason has gone from the football field to the farming field and is loving the change. He has a passion for growing food and then donating it to those who are hungry. Jason was very honest with the group that he was not an experienced farmer. He was still learning and was doing all he could to learn. The AGR guys announced that they planned on going to his farm and volunteering an entire day’s worth of work to help Jason. After the event was over, I heard many vocalize how excited they were in helping out.

Jason Brown
Jason Brown

The second speaker is also a local farmer. Bryan is heavily involved in the cattle industry and an AGR alumnus. He reminisced about his AGR experiences and all that it meant to him. Something that stuck out to me was when Bryan highlighted the uniqueness of AGR. He explained that in other settings, he was the only ag guy, and would get picked on, but when he joined AGR, he was surrounded by like-minded people who all had the same interest. AGR was not your typical fraternity.

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Bryan Blinson

In addition to being able to get to know the AGR men and attend Founder’s Day, I was also able to have a part in making the event happen. I was excited to be organizing centerpieces and decorations. After many hours on Pinterest (because that is the only logical way to prepare), Garrett and I decided on an antique theme. His grandma has countless antiques, so we borrowed two boxes filled with kitchen utensils, churns, jars, and so much more. I ordered wheat (this is an AGR symbol) and there was also pink roses purchased (another AGR symbol). I went out with my brothers and cut sticks from the woods as decorations too. I was so nervous that it wouldn’t come together, but it all turned out great! The antique pieces turned into many a conversation piece. I’m very thankful that the guys let me have some creative fun at their event.

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The guys of Alpha Gamma Rho are a stellar group of men who are already doing some pretty awesome stuff in the agriculture world. With the 3rd highest fraternity GPA at the university and an award for excellent financial management, they take their responsibilities seriously. They truly fulfill their mantra of “Making Better Men.” Thanks guys for introducing me to “not your typical fraternity”