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The Tarleton Agricultural Tradition

By Frank Chamberlain

The Tarleton agricultural tradition officially began in 1917 when the college became part of the Texas A&M system. Although a majority of the early students at John Tarleton College came from agricultural backgrounds, the college lacked an official degree program in that field. Meanwhile, A&M was the only college in Texas that offered training in the agricultural sciences. With this consolidation, the name of the school was changed to the John Tarleton Agricultural College. This name accurately expressed the importance of the new agricultural curriculum (Guthrie 37-40).

One of the key components in the deal to bring Tarleton under the control of A&M was the purchase of 500 acres of land that was to be used as a school farm. This property was located northeast of the town on loop 8 in between highways 180 and 281. There were originally seven residences located on the farm that housed various employees. It also contained separate barns for horses and dairy cattle, several sheds for sheep and pigs, and a state–of-the-art slaughterhouse. It also contained a large and varied livestock population. The farm was divided into separate sections for each of the agricultural departments: Agronomy, Agricultural Engineering, Animal Industry, Veterinary Medicine, and Horticulture. Each of these departments offered numerous electives in their respective fields of study (Finley 44-47, Grissom 110-112, Guthrie 37).

Another unique feature of the Agricultural department was the poultry farm that was located on campus. This series of chicken coops was located on the southwestern edge of the main campus on the land now occupied by Bender and Ferguson Halls. Students and faculty of the agriculture department tended to the hens. Tarleton became the site of a series of highly successful “egg-laying contests” that took place from the late 1920s until the early 1950s. These competitions became known as one of the preeminent contests of this nature in the whole nation (Finley 45, Grissom 110-111, Guthrie 51-57).

The current Agriculture building was completed in 1951, replacing the old wooden structure that had housed the main department since the beginning of the program. That old building had been located on the northeast end of campus near the site of the present day Industrial Arts building. This new three-story brick building was located in between the Science building to the east and the original football field to the west. Much of the lumber from the newly demolished old structure was used to build a new dairy barn and creamery at the school farm. It underwent a major renovation in the late 1970s. These repairs covered up the carving of the steer that decorated the main entrance. In 1998, this bovine sentinel was restored to its former location in the ceremony that dedicated the building to Dr. Joe W. Autry. He was a former instructor and head of the Agriculture department (Guthrie 113).

The Tarleton school of Agriculture received a tremendous boost in 1966. At this time, the State Board of Education allowed the college to begin offering agricultural education degrees. Today, this degree program is cataloged under the Department of Agricultural Services and Development. It only took four years for this new program to become the state leader in agricultural education degrees. (It was second in the entire nation behind Ohio State University.) It remains one of the most active degree programs on campus (Guthrie 144).

Tarleton has also been a longtime supporter of agriculture in the community. Throughout the years, the college has cooperated with numerous local fairs and livestock shows. Many faculty members have served as judges in these events and offering much needed assistance. The School of Agriculture offered a number of farmers’ short courses each year to owners of area farms. These classes demonstrate all kinds of agricultural techniques in all areas of agriculture such as new methods of dairying, veterinary work, seed treatment, and many more procedures. As a result of these offerings, local farmers have been able to present and solve many problems involved in their lines of work (Finley 53-54).

Hundreds of high school students from around the state regularly attend judging contests and FFA events on campus. These meets are held on the school farm or in various campus classrooms. College students and faculty members frequently serve as judges and timekeepers at these competitions (Finley 54).

Finley, J. Rice. “The History of John Tarleton College”. Unpublished M.Ed. thesis. The University of Texas at Austin, 1933.

Grissom, Preston B. “The Development of John Tarleton College”. Unpublished M.A. thesis. West Texas State Teacher’s College, 1933.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.