From a sixth-generation, Brooksville, Florida cattle ranching family, Caitlin Bainum grew up working cattle with her grandfather and barrel racing. She didn’t think life could be any better.
“I was perfectly happy with my life. What could be better than spending as much time as possible on horseback? Maybe getting paid for it?” says Bainum. “I am fortunate that I have supportive parents who told me that I could go to any college and study whatever made me happy. I was determined to find a career that didn’t feel like work.”
Bainum found just the college degree and a profession that suited her.
“When I came across the equine program at the University of Florida, I knew I’d found just what I was looking for,” she says. “And I knew I was a guaranteed Gator for life.”
In May 2017, she graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor of science in animal science with an equine specialization.
“I love learning so I loved my time at UF. Then in January of my graduation year, people started asking, ‘What are you going to do after you graduate?’ I hadn’t even thought about it that much,” she says. “My professors suggested I look for an agricultural agent position with the UF Extension Offices.”
Within weeks of graduation, Bainum was an agriculture and natural resources agent with the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Office.
“I call it my first adult job,” she says. “It was a little scary at first. But I’ve been fortunate to be around such great people. I was very lucky to be mentored by Mark Shuffitt, the livestock agent. He taught me so much and I will always be so grateful.”
A longtime fixture in the Marion County agricultural community, Shuffitt died suddenly in August 2018. Bainum finds it very fitting that her position, as of this January, became that of livestock agent.
“I am very honored to have the title of livestock agent,” says Bainum, 23, who is currently working toward a master’s degree in agronomy. “I use what Mark taught me every day. It’s a great position to be in to help our community of hard-working agriculturalists.”
Bainum’s job description incorporates “cattle and equine production and health, as well as pasture management, including helping producers make economically smart decisions in all aspects of their operations.” And she points out, “My services are free, paid for by tax dollars. We do charge for classes and soil analysis tests, but it doesn’t cost anything for me to come out to a farm and address an issue.”
On average, Bainum goes out to three to four sites a week, from hobby to large equine and cattle operations.
“Generally when people call me, they have a specific problem,” says Bainum. “And 70 percent of the time, it’s a weed issue. Here in Marion County, every weed there is seems to grow. What they need me to do is identify the weed and make an herbicide recommendation.”
Another pasture management issue Bainum gets called on to address is a year-round forage system.
“Our perennial grass here is Bahia or Bermuda, but they become dormant during the winter months,” says Bainum. “We usually recommend a cool-season forage mix of oat and ryegrass. It’s best to buy your seeds in September and then plant in October through mid-November. The oat will produce first, then the ryegrass to extend the grazing into May when the Bahia/Bermuda regrows.”
Of course water plays a big role in agriculture, too.
“Water management is a big issue here in Marion County, where we have three first-magnitude springs to protect,” says Bainum. “My job is to provide my clients with the best information on good water management practices. Educating about the statewide Best Management Practices (BMP) program in an effort to minimize impaired water bodies is a goal for UF/IFAS. This program includes manure and pasture management, as well as proper fertilization.”
When asked if there is one farm management practice she considers invaluable, Bainum didn’t hesitate.
“I think getting a soil analysis is essential to any operation. Pasture management starts with soil health, then grass growth and eventually animal production,” she says. “It costs only $7. We can assist you with sampling or show you how to do it then send it off to a soils lab. Of course, we use the UF Soils Lab. Any time is a good time for soil testing, but I recommend the fall, generally in preparation for the following growing season.”
Bainum sees her position as a partnership with her clients and the land.
“My job is to help my clients find solutions to their farm management and livestock production issues,” says Bainum, who still barrel races most weekends. “Most ranchers will tell you that the land doesn’t work for you unless you work for the land.”
Caitlin Bainum, Livestock Agent › UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Office › (352) 671-8400 › [email protected]