Understanding how pigs think is not easy. Just ask the students in Bill Fisher’s swine lab. A few miles down the road from the University of Illinois campus, students are learning the art of stockmanship. More than 1,000 students have completed a unique, hands-on course designed specifically to teach the basics of working with farm animals in labs like this one.
Nearly 85 percent of students enrolled in the University of Illinois’ Working with Farm Animals—or ANSC 103-- class have little to no experience working in a farm setting. While this percentage seems staggering, it’s reflective of many college animal science departments today. Urban females who want to attend veterinary school make up perhaps the largest demographic of animal science students.
ANSC 103 was developed when Illinois professors began noticing that fewer students understood the basics of working with farm animals.
“In my upper-level lactation biology class, most students did not have the fundamental knowledge to effectively handle the animals in order to complete their class projects,” notes Walt Hurley, animal science professor.
The first ANSC 103 class was offered in 1996 for 16 students to teach practical stockmanship and animal handling skills.
“Most introductory courses of this nature are oriented toward teaching the science of the animals or the ‘how-to’ of farm-animal management,” Hurley says. “We understood that the most fundamental needs of our urban students who generally did not have a specific interest in food-animal production was to let them learn through direct contact with the animals.”
Sarah Osawa, a sophomore in animal sciences, came to the University of Illinois to become a veterinarian, just like 80 percent of her classmates.
“Some students in animal sciences have grown up on a farm, but many are like me and have little to no experience working with farm animals,” Osawa says.
One of the course strengths is that it allows students to find out if they really want to work with farm animals, says Dick Cobb, instructor of the university’s sheep lab.
“Many students want to become a veterinarian because they enjoyed caring for pets during their childhood,” Cobb says. “This class exposes them to opportunities to care for and treat farm animals. Some find this appealing and it opens new doors. Others realize it’s not what they want to do, which is critical for them to discover at this stage of their education.”
Currently 80 percent of animal science majors enroll in this experiential learning course at some point in their educational program. In the fall, this course will become mandatory in the university’s revised animal science curriculum. The goal is for all animal science students to take this class before they enter their junior year and begin advanced courses.
The labs require significant, direct oversight by instructors. The five labs include dairy with Hurley; sheep with Cobb; beef cattle with Tom Nash; poultry with Carl Parsons and Chet Utterback; and swine with Bill Fisher.
The instructors include full professors, academic professionals and non-academic farm managers. In a typical lab, instructors describe the activity they want students to perform, offer a brief demonstration, and then let students try it on their own. The students quickly develop the rudimentary skills associated with the various animal species.
Rebecca Maloney, a senior in animal sciences, always wanted to work with animals and hopes to pursue a career working in a zoo.
“Before taking this class, I had almost no experience working with farm animals,” she says. “I now know several methods for drawing blood and giving injections, not to mention how to operate chutes to catch animals and how to operate an automatic take-off milking machine. I even know how to inseminate a sow.”
“This class has taught me the practical skills needed to handle farm animals while adapting to new situations along the way – a skill I can apply in any career,” Ozawa says.
Source: University of Illinois