In the viewing area of the milking parlor at the UW’s Arlington farm last week, a group of National Guard members listened to Bob Kaiser, a dairy specialist, talk about milking procedures and other management practices for the farm’s 500-cow dairy. Photo By Jan Shepel
Soldiers train to work with Afghan farmers
The day was hot, but not as hot as it will be in Afghanistan.
It was another one of this summer’s many “heat advisory” days, but that didn’t keep a group of Wisconsin National Guard members from donning their khakis for “Agriculture 101” training at the University of Wisconsin’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station.
The Guard members have volunteered to be part of an agribusiness team when they deploy to Afghanistan in early 2013. Though many have some agricultural background, they all were brushing up on skills and knowledge, courtesy of many UW specialists.
The group learned some of the finer points of dairy cow management at the farm’s 500-cow dairy and picked up knowledge on sheep at the other end of the farm where the UW flock is housed.
The visit to Arlington was just a slice of the 40-hour course provided by The Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research and Development within the University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Specialists in the college tried to tailor their information to focus on farming techniques the group might encounter when they deploy in Afghanistan next year.
There were about a dozen members of the 97th Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) training for participation in the Provincial Reconstruction Team.
While in the dairy barn, the group learned about general cattle health, milking techniques and how the animals are cared for at Arlington.
Dairy Cattle Specialist Bob Kaiser explained that, whether milking cows in a large milking parlor like the one at Arlington or milking cows (or other species) by hand in a more primitive setting, the goal is to get the milk from the animal with little contamination.
“We want the milk to be as clean as possible. If you’re milking by hand, wash your hands. We want to use very little water when cleaning the udder too, because bacteria transfer in that water,” he said.
WORKING WITH SHEEP
Sheep, goats and wheat are very important crops in Afghanistan and the training session gave the group a chance to work hands-on with part of the UW’s flock of 350 Polypay, Hampshire, Rambouillet and Targhee sheep.
Rusty Burgett, a graduate student in Animal Science at the UW-Madison, explained to the group that sheep can be stubborn and helped them learn some animal handling techniques.
“Their flocking instinct makes them a bit different to handle than a single pig or cow,” he said.
Burgett talked with the group about animal nutrition and breeding programs and gave them a chance to handle some animals themselves.
“In the first group there was one person with sheep experience,” he told Wisconsin State Farmer. “In the second group there was one person who had seen a sheep.”
The grad student, who recently earned his Masters, worked with Professor Dave Thomas on what kinds of things to cover with the National Guard “students.”
Thomas’s time in the Peace Corps helped the men develop the kinds of information the Guard volunteers would need, Burgett said.
Afghan farmers generally favor dual-purpose sheep – those that can be used for meat and milk.
“There are also a lot of hair sheep in the Middle East,” he said.
As part of their training, the team spent a full day with a beekeeper during weekend drill.
“I have a new appreciate for honeybees,” said one soldier.
They also visited a chicken farmer and spent time on a goat dairy, where they learned more about the basic practices involved in making a living from that kind of animal.
MISSION TO KUNAR
Cpt. Craig Giese, a full-time active duty Army National Guard member from the Lodi area, said both of his parents grew up on dairy farms, as did his wife, and he has wanted to be part of this agribusiness deployment for several years.
He missed out on the last deployment because the team had already filled.
“We will utilize the personnel we have – their experience and education – and find out the needs of the people in country,” Giese said.
Two of the people who have volunteered for the duty are veterinary technicians, he said.
The operations officer said that when his team deploys they will concentrate on helping Afghan farmers utilize their own government’s funds in carrying out projects, rather than relying on the U.S. military.
They have been in contact with the group that is already serving in Afghanistan working with the farmers there and will try to continue and build on their efforts.
Their Agriculture 101 training has given them a lot of information.
“It’s at the PhD level,” he said. “It’s very technical agricultural training.”
Once in Kunar province in Afghanistan, the group will be visiting demonstration farms there and providing oversight.
Those farms predate the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and were funded by Afghans themselves. But there’s a generation gap, Giese said, because younger Afghans know very little about these demonstration farms and agriculture has been disrupted by the unending wars in that country.
Three decades of war have cost Afghanistan up to 40 percent of their irrigated farmland and a generation of farmers.
The team’s mission will be to promote self-sufficiency and help create markets in a country where most of the agriculture is subsistence farming. Helping them increase their yields will help create a chain of success, he said.
The team will aim to increase success of farmers there, but will need to first cultivate relationships with local farmers.
All of the National Guard members have some experience with agriculture, but may still be surprised by things for which they didn’t get trained.
“We will likely work with cattle, sheep, goats, oxen, donkeys, and may even see a camel or two,” Giese said.
The climate in Kunar, which borders Pakistan, is similar to Denver, and the mountainous region has forests and mineral resources.