Arkansas 4-H President finds his niche
It took a while, but Arkansas State 4-H President Travis Clark finally found his niche – swine.
Travis, who lives with his family on 6.5 acres in the White County, Ark., town of El Paso, is a student at Arkansas State University-Beebe, majoring in ag systems technology.
“It’s working with all of the technology that’s associated with agriculture,” Travis told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “So far, I’m just taking a lot of basic classes, just basic understanding of animals and plants. I can’t wait until I jump into it even farther.”
After two years, he plans to transfer to a four-year college, and from there?
“I’ve thought about that a lot, and I really like Extension,” he said. “Extension puts on 4-H at the local level, and they do a lot of cool research and activities. I really hope that’s where my degree leads me but really, wherever I see the opportunity, that’s what I’m going to do.”
And that could lead to swine, which the family turned to after building its rabbit and chicken operations. Travis’ dad, Randal, works for the Arkansas National Guard, while mom Tracy has home schooled Travis and his siblings. The family was living in a subdivision in Vilonia, over the county line in Faulkner County, Ark., when his older sister Emily came home from a 4-H meeting with a desire to raise rabbits. Eventually the enterprises grew to 25 rabbits and 30 chickens.
“Our neighbors were wondering what we were doing,” Travis said. “We said we should probably move out of the subdivision to some land where we can expand a little bit.” They lived in a small building on the property in El Paso for a year and a half, until they were able to build their own house.
Travis said his father had always wanted to get back to the land – a grandfather on one side, and a great-grandfather on the other, were farmers – and 4-H projects presented the opportunity.
He called the farm a “joint cooperation.
“We share responsibilities; we share interest,” Travis explained. “We just kind of give and take as to what we do. I want to raise this animal, and everybody kind of pitches in a little bit, and we do the same for each other.”
They introduced the swine after the move.
“We fell in love with them,” Travis said. “At first we just did show hogs, so we bought the pigs in the spring and fall and that was it. Then we said, ‘Why not keep one of them as a sow?’ I always wanted to raise pigs, but I’m just going to get a degree and see where that takes me. If I get a chance to work on a hog farm, I’ll definitely take that opportunity.”
As several piglets from the last litter scurried around in a pen, Travis explained they’re a common mixed breed for market hogs, Hampshire and Yorkshire with some Duroc.
“I really do like the Yorks the best, because I think they have the best personality,” he said. “One will stay on the place as a sow, one has been promised to another farmer as a boar, and the rest will be butcher hogs.
“We don’t actually keep a boar on the farm, because it’s a lot easier to artificially inseminate all of our sows. We ordered from a company that had this red-and-white-and-black-spotted pig, and we got some cute little piglets out of him.”
They’ve tried several meat lockers, and currently use one in Bentonville, Ark.
“You have to get a USDA certified butcher in order to sell the meat,” he said. “There’s not really much you have to do for the eggs other than they have to be clean, and after they’re refrigerated they have to stay refrigerated as we take them to markets.”
The Clarks’ laying chicken flock has swelled to 200, and the whole family tends to them. They sell the eggs at a farmers’ market, and also participate in an Internet marketing venture through which they sell eggs, pork and bread.
Travis said it’s getting to the point where the operation is a full-fledged farm.
“It does feel like that sometimes, but at this point it’s still just a hobby,” he said.
The swine enterprise and other farm chores, a full load of college courses, and being 4-H president sounds daunting, but Clark said he just takes things “one day at a time.”
The 4-H role involves making speeches promoting the educational organization; he spoke recently before the Arkansas Agriculture Board. He was also president of his local club back in Vilonia, Hooves, Spurs and Fur 4-H Show Team, and remains active with them. He said Faulkner County, Ark., is up to 22 4-H Clubs, with a new one just last year.
Clark was district vice president last year, and decided to run for president in 2015.
“I gave a three- to four- minute speech at our state competition, and also did an interview,” he said. “The theme for my speech was ‘TLC,’ which are also my initials – ’Travis Lee Clark, the TLC Arkansas 4-H needs to see.’”
His stage presentation included a 6-foot cardboard truck that he said had broken down; he “fixed” it and said, that was how he’d apply TLC to Arkansas 4-H.