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Farmers earn conservation award

Staff Photo: Erin Evans
 Don and Sherry Smith of Dogwood Sport Horses, a farm in Mansfield, have been named Newton County Conservationists of the Year by the Upper Ocmulgee River Soil and Water Conservation District. 

Staff Photo: Erin Evans Don and Sherry Smith of Dogwood Sport Horses, a farm in Mansfield, have been named Newton County Conservationists of the Year by the Upper Ocmulgee River Soil and Water Conservation District. 

MANSFIELD — Don and Sherry Smith of Mansfield have been named Newton County's Conservationists of the Year by the Upper Ocmulgee River Soil and Conservation District.

The Smiths own and operate Dogwood Sport Horses, a farm specializing in the breeding of warm blood sport horses for cross-country, show-jumping and dressage competitions.

They began breeding horses 30 years ago on a small farm in Jacksonville, Fla. They purchased their 100-acre property in Mansfield — formerly Hays Dairy Farm — in 1996 and moved to Newton County permanently five years ago.

The Smiths were selected as Conservationists of the Year due to several practices they have implemented on their farm with the assistance of the National Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The program provides financial and/or technical assistance as an incentive to farmers to protect the environment.

The Smiths have installed a restrictive buffer fence around ponds and creeks on the property to prevent animals from gaining access. They have also installed three alternative water sources for the horses, consisting of water troughs located on 6-inch pads of crush and run stone to minimize soil erosion. Also, they have implemented a rotational grazing system and take regular soil samples to make sure they are applying the correct amount of fertilizer and lime to their pastures to manage forage production throughout the year. Finally, the Smiths have planted lots of clover on their property to reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use.

"We want to keep the land as natural and preserve the land as best we can," said Don Smith. "We feel too much of the land is being used for construction and other improvements. We try to keep it as natural as when the Creator made it."

The Smiths don't allow hunting on their property, which is home to wildlife such as deer, foxes, Canada geese, rabbits and birds. They also have eight dogs that share their spacious house.

"We're just animal people. Any kind of animal, we want it to live and enjoy the habitat and the lake," said Sherry Smith.

The Smiths believe so strongly in ensuring animals' quality of life that they breed only two or three horses a year.

"There are about 270,000 registered thoroughbreds each year. So few have a productive life. We don't want them to end up where they don't have a good life," said Sherry Smith.

The Upper Ocmulgee River Soil and Water Conservation District includes Newton and Jasper counties and serves as the guardian for soil and water resources. For more information, contact the Milledgeville office of the Soil and Water Conservation Commission at 478-445-5766 or visit www.gaswcc.georgia.gov.