Southwestern High School freshman Kaylee Jenkins checks on one of the two calves from the SWHS agricultural department’s Community Calf Project. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/
Southwestern High School freshman Kaylee Jenkins checks on one of the two calves from the SWHS agricultural department’s Community Calf Project. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/

With a fenced in pen, a small shed and two young calves grazing, Southwestern High School's campus looks a little less like a school and a little more like a farm these days.

The dairy calves are the first heifers to be raised in the Community Calf Project. The project, the idea of agriculture teacher Greg Schneider, gives students in Schneider's animal and veterinary science classes the chance to raise and care for the calves before they are processed for meat.

Schneider credits many people for the project that was first approved by the Southwestern school board in January.

While Schneider said many people have already come up to the pen to see the calves, official tours won't begin until May 11. There will also be a ribbon cutting at 3:30 p.m. May 15 at Southwestern High School.

The calves will spend eight to nine weeks at the school being cared for by students. Phase two of the project will have the calves moved to Schneider's farm for six months. There, veterinary science students will care for the animals and raise them to approximately 550 pounds.

The third phase places the growing steers with a host farm in the community for six to 14 months. Veterinary science students will make farm calls every few months, according to Schneider, and see the steers raised to approximately 1,100 pounds before being taken to a processor.

Schneider created the project as a teaching tool for his students. The project is a way of showing them first-hand what is involved in raising a calf.

"Because you're taking a newborn animal, and you're taking it away from its mother, you become the foster parent of sorts. Which is why the students are so involved in the care," Schneider said.

Recently, Schneider had to take one of the calves to the North Madison Veterinary clinic, where the calf was diagnosed with an umbilical hernia. Schneider took some of his students along to see veterinarian Ivan Rimstidt work.

"Dr. Rimstidt is great with the students. He was down there with the calf and he said 'Hey, come down here so you can learn something.' So, everybody got a chance to palpitate the hernia and feel what that was like and recognize it," Schneider said.

The calf will be scheduled for surgery soon to correct the hernia

Freshman Kaylee Jenkins was one of the students that went along.

Kaylee said she's always wanted to be a veterinarian "ever since I could talk."

"Since I was three or four years old, and it's never changed. I don't know why, I've just always had a love for animals," she said.

Kaylee said she's been involved with the project since its inception. She comes in most nights to help feed the calves milk.

As the Community Calf Project gains more traction, Schneider hopes the project can be opened up to other classes in the school. He wrote a proposal citing biology, chemistry, engineering and aerospace, environmental sciences, math, history and even art classes that could potentially use the facility to teach.

The Community Calf Project is being used to do more than teach. Once the calves are fully grown, they'll be processed and the meat from the calves will be donated to Gleaners Food Bank food pantries across Jefferson County.

"Gleaners has asked for donations of livestock from farmers. While definitely a worthy cause, this is not a sustainable option as a long-term food source," Schneider said.

According to Schneider, the steers will produce between 700 and 800 pounds of beef. Schneider has set up a schedule for the project. If it keeps pace as projected, the agriculture department will place between eight and 10 steers a year, with steers being processed every two to three months.

The calves that are at the school now will be processed in early October.

Schneider described the Community Calf Project as a local level version of Heifer International, an organization that sends farm animals to needy families in third-world countries.

Both Schneider and his students are excited about the project. He said his biggest worry isn't getting students involved, but keeping them involved.

"I don't want to have them get burned out," he said.

"The goal is for this to be a reassuring project. Not only in Jefferson County, but for Gleaners and nationally for the FFA once we start experiencing success. We're being kind of guarded about where this will lead, because, as far as we know, it's never been done before. But, once we start experiencing success, then it'll start growing onto other counties."