College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Animal & Avian Sciences

It's a Small Wool (After All)

Students tend to Campus Farm's sheep in 'lamb watch' animal sciences courses
Photo Credit: 
Rachel George

Kayla Miner vividly remembers watching her sheep give birth to three lambs — Harry, Hermione and Ron — one spring Friday afternoon. “It was just the miracle of life, and I got to help and be a part of it,” the senior animal sciences major said. Miner watched the birth during her lamb watch course, ANSC 235: Applied Small Ruminant Parturition. Now she is a teaching assistant for the two-credit animal sciences course, in which students learn about and look after sheep on the Campus Farm.

“For them, it’s one of the few classes where they get to spend a whole lot of time on the farm doing animal science; they get to see all of their classes come together,” said Sarah Balcom, undergraduate animal sciences program director and lecturer for the lamb watch class. “They really like working with the lambs; let’s face it, they’re really cute.”

Students can enroll in the course in the spring semester and have the opportunity to take it again at the 300 level with less supervision as “advanced lamb watch” students. The 22 lamb watch students learn about a variety of topics from basic sheep care to the slaughter and breeding processes, proper birth practices and how to prevent infections and other potential problems in the weekly lectures. In labs, students learn skills from the Campus Farm manager, Crystal Caldwell, and student pairs care for a ewe and her lambs. The students administer vaccines and do other basic care chores for the sheep at first as they wait for the lambs to be born.

On the day of the lambs’ births, the pair of students responsible for the ewe giving birth will watch and then care for the newborns immediately after. They clean them and do other tasks, and the students come to the farm periodically to check on the lambs, looking for abnormalities. Students are also divided into eight groups to perform nighttime lamb watches every eight nights, Balcom said. “It’s one of my favorite classes to teach, and, I think, for the same reason that it’s a favorite class of the students: because it’s very hands-on with the animals,” Balcom said.

Some students in the course, such as senior animal sciences major Cody Auxier, feel privileged to work directly with the farm animals. “This class is very good in that not only does it offer learning in a very enticing way given the raising of adorable lambs, but it also offers that experiential aspect that might be lacking in the animal science department,” Auxier wrote in an email. In addition, the course offers a look at careers in animal science students might not have considered.

Though many animal science students come into their undergraduate studies on the pre-veterinary track, Balcom said, this course offers a look into the more traditional, agricultural side of animal science and gives students an alternate track to traditional veterinary studies, which students might eventually forgo for cost or other reasons. For Miner, the lamb watch class affected her postgraduate goals. She plans to attend Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va., on the “mixed track,” learning about food animals, such as cows and sheep, as well as domesticated animals.

“[The class] is really fun, hands-on experience,” said Miner, who began working on the Campus Farm more than two years ago when she first enrolled in lamb watch. “It’s something that’s pretty unique to this university and just kind of brings this piece of agriculture into this very metropolitan campus — and everybody loves the babies because they’re super cute.”

In the end, Balcom and Caldwell hope students can appreciate what it takes to work on a farm with livestock and perhaps consider working with sheep in the future. “We hope they appreciate what it really takes to be a farmer,” Balcom said. “It’s a very doable thing, but it also requires commitment and a certain set of skills and a knowledge base to do that well.”


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