Jay Wilkins is one of those whose town life and country life are so entwined that figuring out where one ends and the other starts is hopeless. Jay is both the Agricultural Division Chair at Crowder College in Neosho, Mo., and their farm manager. His wife, Tresa, also works at the college.
Jay wears many hats. As Division Chair he is in charge of hiring people for his department, teaching animal science classes, budgeting and settling student grievances. One of his big annual tasks is running Aggie Day which allows high school students from all over Missouri, parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and sometimes even as far away as Texas to compete in a wide range of agricultural competitions from judging chickens to identifying trees.
Students, some paid, some volunteer, and some as part of their classes, do the chores around the farm which are as extensive and varied as any regular farm. In addition the daily feeding and caring for the wide variety of animals, students also clear fence rows, spray thistles and help load animals for class use in animal labs. Jay said, “This is a college, so it is very important that students come to do the chores according to schedule, and everything still gets done.”
The college’s farm animals include 80 momma cows, 50 sheep, 50 doe goats, four sows, and 15 quarter horses. The variety is intended to give students as wide an experience as possible with a variety of farm animals. Jay said, “Animal labs take a long time to prepare, often as long as several hours. The process requires rounding up the animals by horse, separating out those we need, loading them, bringing them to the lab and then setting up for the lab itself.” A typical lab might be teaching students how to vaccinate calves with Jay first demonstrating and then the students in small groups of two or three practicing the new skill.
The farm has 500 acres and is as self-sufficient as possible. Jay said, “This year we had to supplement more than usual because of the drought though we did stockpile Fescue, most of our hay is Bermuda.”
Jay’s typical day starts at 5 a.m. when he fixes his wife and daughter breakfast and his daughter’s lunch. His workday starts with him checking farm animals such as those expecting newborns and sick or injured. His next task is to go to the office at the college to check e-mails and phone messages for any problems. Jay is a troubleshooter and said, “My job is not to do everything, but to make sure everything gets done.” The rest of Jay’s day is spent moving back and forth between the college and the farm. He tries to catch a lunch with his wife. In the afternoons when not in class, he often has committee meetings such as Division Chairman meetings and scholarship meetings as well as performing other administrative duties such as paying bills. Then it’s back to the farm. Jay said, “I try to be done for the day by 5 p.m. but 7 or 8 is not unusual. On late days I do try to spend an hour or so with the family before finishing my work for the day.”
Jay is a true teacher. He loves being with the students and is proud of their accomplishments such as this year’s agricultural knowledge bowl team winning first in the nation. He also travels with his students to learn about different agricultural practices, sometimes to places like Costa Rica and Russia.
Jay said, “I’ve been doing this for 21 years and have the perfect job because I get to ride horses and four-wheelers. I also get to hang out with younger people, both the students and colleagues, which is great. Keeping up with them is the hard part.” Then Jay smiled and said, sometimes I even ride a horse into town to go to a movie or through the Burger King drive-up.”