Sylvester working to give back to next in line
Jackson Sylvester, 19, has been showing dairy heifers since he was 4 years old. He has enjoyed it so much that now he has set up a dairy leasing program so that others can try it also.
Sylvester noted that it’s much easier to raise a market lamb or market goat for the Delaware State Fair: All you need is a pen in the backyard.
But few people have room for a heifer that starts out the size of a large dog and six months later weighs about 500 pounds — on its way to more than 1,000 pounds when full grown. Sylvester has made it possible for members of the FFA at W.T. Chipman Middle School in Harrington and Lake Forest High School in Felton to work with heifers at his parents’ farm in Felton.
Sylvester said his father, Greg Jackson, had built a new barn and they were sitting down at the State Fair discussing what they might do with the space. The next year the lease operation was under way.
Sylvester developed the program as his FFA Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) in his senior year at Lake Forest.
“Dad grew up on a dairy farm, but sold out in the 1990s. Now he has Sylvester Custom Cabinetry,” Sylvester said.
His mother, Renee, loves having the calves around, Sylvester said. “She enjoys it more than I do. She’s excited when I come home with a new calf. She comes out and names them.”
Sylvester’s mom serves as the program secretary, making sure all the members are entered into all shows correctly, accurately and on time.
Sylvester bought his first cow at 18. Because he’s not set up to milk cows at his place, he breeds his heifers and keeps them until about a month before they are due to calve.
Then they go to a family member’s farm in Ingleside, Md. Once the calf is born, he brings it back home to care for.
Sylvester also has built a strong relationship with local dairymen who have allowed him to borrow some nice heifers for the summer.
Students start coming to the Sylvesters’ home around the end of March, when they and their parents sign a contract.
The students are obligated to work with the animals Tuesdays and Thursdays, learning to walk and care for them, and on Sunday afternoons to do barn work and clean the pens and spread manure with a manure spreader purchased by Sylvester as part of his project.
Members learn how to halter break their heifers, as well how to clip and clean them. They have a chance at a trial run for the fair at Cow Camp, a spring show started by the Busker family and held at the State Fairgrounds in Harrington.
Sylvester and his father transport the animals back to the fairgrounds in time for the Delaware State Fair in late July.
When the fair is over, so is the lease program for the year, and the heifers go back to the Sylvester farm.
The first year, Sylvester and his team brought home several “top five” placings and even a few first place ribbons.
There is a charge for a dairy lease, Sylvester said. “A hundred dollars covers everything, from the first time the student is at the barn until the heifers leave the fair. It’s a relatively cheap operation.,” he said.
“We don’t want it to be a financial burden. We want the students to come and have a decent time and learn something.”
The fee includes feed and any veterinary expense that may arise. Sylvester said Dr. Matt Weeman of Bayside Bovine Veterinary Services in Centreville, Md., provides all his veterinary needs, although a vet is rarely needed.
Julie Murphy, mother of Cole and Caleb, who are in their second year of leasing, said she has been impressed by the program.
“The dairy lease program turned ordinary FFA members and their families into a family of their own,” she said. “By the end of the project season, so much more was made. Forever friendships among FFA members and their families who would not have normally crossed paths, worked together to form a tight knit group, willing to work wherever needed and learn new tasks that did not often come naturally to them.”
There were 11 participants the first year; 15 this year. Sylvester said he plans to make the dairy leasing program an annual thing, “as long as God allows us to.”
On Tuesday, April 27, the Delaware State Fair announced its summer concert series, scheduled during the 101st fair in July, would be canceled but “there is still hope among fair staff and a multitude of volunteers that this year’s 101st annual event, minus the grandstand shows, will still be held in some form or another as they continue to be remotely but actively engaged in the very detailed planning process.”
If permitted to open, the fair said it plans to actively manage the number of patrons permitted inside all of the buildings, barns or tents during operating hours just like the practices recently adopted by many supermarkets and big-box retailers.
Plans also include live-streaming livestock shows and judging events to allow friends and relatives of junior livestock exhibitors the opportunity to “virtually” attend and enjoy these competitive events from their homes.
Sylvester has had one semester at the University of Delaware, but has put his college education on hold while he completes a year of service as the president of Delaware FFA Association.
He was State Sentinel last year. In 2021 he plans to go back to the university for a degree in business.
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