USU professor: Feed sheep and cows protein, feed Iraqi farmers knowledge

Feb 4 2011 - 12:14am

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Courtesy photo
When Justen Smith first arrived in Iraq, he found that the feed farms were not effective because the animals were being fed a steady diet of straw. “Straw has no nutritional value,” Smith says, “so we had to get them to understand that.” Smith taught farmers about using alfalfa and grains that are high in protein.
Courtesy photo
Justen Smith, a professor at Utah State University’s 4-H Livestock and Agriculture Extension program in Farmington, was in Iraq from October to January, teaching Iraqi farmers how to properly manage and maintain these agricultural feedlots.
Courtesy photo
When Justen Smith first arrived in Iraq, he found that the feed farms were not effective because the animals were being fed a steady diet of straw. “Straw has no nutritional value,” Smith says, “so we had to get them to understand that.” Smith taught farmers about using alfalfa and grains that are high in protein.
Courtesy photo
Justen Smith, a professor at Utah State University’s 4-H Livestock and Agriculture Extension program in Farmington, was in Iraq from October to January, teaching Iraqi farmers how to properly manage and maintain these agricultural feedlots.

FARMINGTON -- For Justen Smith, restoring Iraq is all about the cows.

Smith, an associate professor for 4-H Livestock and Agriculture at Utah State University's Extension program in Farmington, spent the past four months in Iraq as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

While there, he taught citizens how to manage and maintain feed lots for cattle and sheep.

"The Iraqis eat a lot of meat, so we tried to make their own meat production more sustainable," Smith said. "It's about creating their own food production, in their own country, so they don't have to rely on imports."

When Smith first arrived in Iraq, he found that the feed farms were not effective because the animals were being fed a steady diet of straw.

"Straw has no nutritional value," Smith said, "so we had to get them to understand that."

Smith taught farmers about using alfalfa and grains that are high in protein.

"We taught them how to give them this much alfalfa, this much wheat, barley, corn," he said. "We showed them how to provide a balanced ration for their livestock."

Smith said the Iraqi people were very receptive to his techniques.

"Some of the feedlot owners are high-profile, like sheiks and things like that," he said, "so when they adopt a new lifestyle, others follow. It was rewarding because you could see almost instant results."

Smith said a common misconception about Iraq is that it's all desert wasteland, but in fact, the land does have some good agricultural areas, especially near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Although he was based in Baghdad, Smith traversed the entire country during his time in Iraq. He visited Fallujah, Ramadi, Babil, Kirkuk and many other areas.

With Smith's background in animal science and livestock production, he has done consulting work for the U.S. government in such far-off places as Lebanon, Syrian, Egypt and Jordan, but he said his journey to Iraq was unlike any other.

When Smith would leave his base in Baghdad, he'd have to travel to the different feedlots by armored convoy.

"We always had bullet-proof vests and helmets on, everywhere we went," Smith said. "But we had a private security company, so for the most part, we felt pretty safe."

Smith also said many of the farmers he taught put their lives in danger by working with the United States.

"It's a great risk for them because, once it's found out they are working with us, they become a target."

Smith is set to return to Iraq sometime this spring. He said he's excited to go back and see many of the people he met his first time there.

"There are a lot of good people in Iraq, but they are suffering because of a few bad ones," he said. "The majority of the people I came across were good people."

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