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Truman Tipton: veterinarian turns around farm operations.

After 25 years in private practice as a veterinarian, Truman Tipton unexpectedly ended up in corrections. Upon learning that the state of Kentucky decided to widen the highway outside of his clinic, Tipton was approached by a friend from the Kentucky Department of Corrections who urged him to apply for a branch manager of farm operations position with the department. "Corrections was completely foreign to me," Tipton said.

Tipton has now been the branch manager of farm operations/veterinarian for three years, each of which has been challenging. Last year, farm operations were transferred from Adult Institutions to Kentucky Correctional Industries because farm operations are revenue producing. "Dr. Tipton has adapted to a completely new working environment and continues to expertly manage the daily operations of four farms," said J. David Donahue, deputy commissioner for the DOC.

According to Tipton, the backbone of all four operations is cattle. At the two larger farms there are between 750 and 800 commercial cattle and 100 true-bred Angus cattle at the two smaller farms.

Prior to 2002, a hog operation was used on the farms to get rid of waste from the mess halls. That year, laws were passed prohibiting that practice. So, Tipton initiated four composting operations that handle the liquid waste from 10 state kitchens, thereby reducing institutional costs. One of the farms has instituted a land farming program, which helps return sewage waste to the soil.

Tipton oversees the four farm operations, everything from equipment to crops, livestock and the staff. Depending on the season, the farms employ in excess of 100 people. "Sometimes I'm at all four farms in a week's time. Some weeks require me to be on one farm three or four days in a row. I usually spend more time on the farms than I do in the office," Tipton said. Three of the farms are within an hour's drive from his office in Frankfort and the other one is about three and a half hours away. Tipton gives much credit for farm operations success to others. "We have a really good staff and they do a great job."

Tipton continually finds innovative ways to increase the use of the farms and boost revenue. According to Donahue, much improvement has been made in the department's registered Angus herd and the use of artificial insemination has increased, resulting in better bloodlines. This has led to excellent sale prices at the DOC's spring and fall bull sales.

According to Donahue, Tipton has used his experience and contacts to forge relationships with state universities and agencies. "This has increased the products the farms can offer, plus it allows for greater utilization of the farms' acreage," Donahue said. After losing some revenue from swine, Tipton began looking for something else to take its place. He noted that there have been several feasability studies on alternative farm practices to replace the tobacco crops in Kentucky. The one that caught his attention is aquiculture, and coincidentally, Kentucky State University in Frankfort conducts the majority of this research. "They have bent over backwards to work with us and help us," Tipton said. So, the department dug two ponds at one of the farms last year and stocked them both with shrimp and tilapia. "We did real well with it, and we intend to repeat that again this year and hopefully to expand that in the future a little bit."

Tipton and his staff have begun working with Murray State University to conduct experiments with feed and grass trials. Additionally, MSU and the DOC will collaborate through the use of the university bulls for artificial insemination and the department's calves as recipients of the university's embryos.

Under Tipton's leadership, Kentucky Correctional Industries Farms has partnered with the forestry service to raise Christmas trees. Through this seven-year program, they will be planting two acres of trees each year for seven years and harvesting them in the seventh year and replacing one each year. The first trees were planted in the spring. Tipton is also exploring the possibility of collaborating with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's research department in animal management and crop disease studies. All of these endeavors have provided more inmate jobs and increased revenue. "Dr. Tipton's innovation has literally taken the farm program from a passive operation to an aggressive partner in the state agriculture environment," Donahue said.

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Tipton truly enjoys what he does. "I like the people, I like the excitement of something different each and every day," he said. "We have over 5,500 acres under our watch so there's something going on at all times. Few weeks pass without some excitement. Some problems are bigger than others and it's fun trying to solve them."

Like many others in corrections, Tipton says one of the biggest hurdles he faces is limited funding. "That's not only the farm's biggest challenge but probably the department as a whole." Clearly, though, Tipton does not let that stop him. And after three years, he has found a home in corrections. "This is not where I thought I would end up but it's been a great experience and a lot of fun."

Susan L. Clayton is managing editor of Corrections Today.
COPYRIGHT 2005 American Correctional Association, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Kentucky Department of Corrections
Author:Clayton, Susan L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U6KY
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:867
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