By Jessica Mozo
Clay County High School junior Kristen Clements isn’t your typical teenage girl. Instead of hanging out at the mall or getting manicures with friends, the 16-year-old spends much of her free time in a pig pen.
“Hogs are my favorite animal. I think they’re so cute,” Kristen says. “Mine are spoiled because I go out and sit with them and pet them to death. I don’t mind getting dirty.”
An active 4-H and FFA member, Kristen has been showing hogs and sheep since the fourth grade. She has racked up an impressive list of awards, most notably in 2011, when she took home the coveted Grand Champion Hog award for her pig named Claudia at the Tennessee Market Hog Show. Kristen was shocked by the win, for which she had to beat out 168 other exhibitors showing 348 hogs.
Kristen’s older siblings, Brittany (27) and Jake (21), were also active in 4-H and FFA, both of which have strong agricultural ties but are open to students from all backgrounds.
“I always knew I’d be involved in 4-H and FFA because my sister, brother, cousins, parents and everyone in my family has been,” she says.
Kristen’s parents, Jeff and Lisa Clements, produce beef cattle, broiler chickens (poultry raised for meat) and hay on their 245-acre Hermitage Springs farm, with another 90 acres of leased land. A fourth-generation farmer, Jeff also works as vice president of sales for Honest Abe Log Homes. Lisa is a registered nurse who spent most of their three kids’ growing up years as a stay-at-home-mom, while tending to the family’s poultry houses daily.
“The enjoyment of farming is hard to describe,” Jeff says. “There’s a satisfaction in knowing you are caring for your animals and crops in the best possible manner. Making sure they have proper nutrition and are comfortable is important to us. Not only is it the right thing – it’s the key to being profitable. Being outdoors experiencing God’s creation firsthand is most rewarding.”
The family’s beef cattle operation consists of 65 cows, and son Jake, a junior at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, comes home every weekend to help care for them.
The farm uses artificial insemination (AI) in some of their herd to improve genetics, which allows them to choose the traits they want from bulls that would be too expensive to own. Both Jeff and Jake have gone through AI training and certification.
“Jake is by far the better practitioner and handles most of our AI duties,” Jeff says.
An animal science major, Jake is also talented in poultry production. In 2012, he won first-place honors in the Poultry Production Proficiency Award area at the Tennessee State FFA Convention.
“I had to fill out a lot of paperwork about how I help out on our farm, take pictures of our poultry operation, and include my spending habits and goals I’d like to achieve,” Jake says. “I also had to go through interviews.”
All his hard work paid off, as Jake ranked among the top four in the nation.
As poultry producers, the Clements family is responsible for properly caring for birds provided to them by a poultry company called Keystone Foods Equity Group. The family owns four poultry barns and modern equipment, where they care for 92,000 baby chicks at a time just after they are hatched.
“We provide them with a comfortable environment,” Jeff says. “When it’s cold, we have heaters to keep them at the proper temperature. When it’s warm, we have big fans and an evaporative cooling system to keep them cool. They have access to clean water and feed at all times.”
Scientific research and advancements also play a role in the poultry industry, he says, but with it come some public misconceptions.
“It is a myth that we are feeding our chickens harmful growth promoters and huge amounts of antibiotics,” Jeff says. “We are able to reach the fast growth of our birds through the industry’s genetic improvements more than any other factor.”
That’s not the only way raising chickens has changed over the years.
“Growing poultry today is very different than the way my grandparents would have done it,” he notes. “They had to worry about predators killing their chickens when they were in the yard and getting into the henhouse at night. Today our chickens are not subject to predators (or extreme temperatures) in these modern facilities.”
Jake hopes to follow in his parents’ footsteps. His dream is to have his own farm one day.
“I’ve been around agriculture all my life,” he says. “It’s taught me responsibility and hard work. You see things growing up on a farm that not everybody gets to see.”
Older sister Brittany is already carrying on the family tradition. She is now married with two sons and lives on a beef cattle and burley tobacco farm in Kentucky.
Everyone in the family agrees they wouldn’t trade their agricultural heritage for anything.
“When I have kids some day, I want them to have the same farm experience I did,” Kristen says. “I think that’s how everybody should grow up because it teaches you so much about life.”