One of the many unique things about Sterling College is our commitment to experiential learning, or learning through doing. We still study in the classroom, and have readings and assignments, which form the basics of theory, but we also spend significant time gaining practical experience on the topics we’re studying.
This semester, I am taking Animal Science 1, with faculty member Louise Calderwood. As part of this class, we are managing a herd of ten male calves, which we purchased from a local dairy. The 12 students in the Animal Science class are overseeing all aspects of caring for the animals.
On Monday, we went on a field trip to acquire the calves from Fairmont Dairy, in East Montpelier. We toured the barns on the property, and had the opportunity to ask the farmer any questions we had. Given the wide variety of familiarity with agriculture in my class, the questions varied greatly. Some wanted to know more about the breed of cattle, which is Holstein, while others with more dairy experience were asking specific questions about the management systems, such as feeding and milking frequency. After the thorough tour, we gingerly brought our calves to the trailer, and brought them back to campus.
Once on campus, we began our chore rotations.
As part of the Animal Science class, each student is required to complete a supplementary chores rotation of two weeks, in addition to the regular dish and farm chore shifts. While I am not scheduled to do my rotations until the end of March, I have been helping out with the evening chores as the calves have acclimated. Over the past week, we’ve had some challenges, mainly surrounding upset stomachs. Thus, I’ve been helping feed calves, and give medication when needed. Over several days, we were giving supplemental fluids, to ensure adequate hydration. This was done with intravenous injections. I had never given an injection before, but under Louise’s careful guidance, I became proficient. One of our major challenges happened on Wednesday, when one of the calves died.
For the students without agricultural backgrounds, this was the first experience of having to deal with livestock not surviving.
Even though I had not been taking directly responsible for this calf, I felt a twinge of culpability that the calf had died on our collective watch. Fortunately, those who had raised animals in the past were able to provide the perspective that despite the tragic nature of these occurrences, they do happen, and it’s part of life on a farm. While that didn’t entirely relieve the feelings of culpability, it gave me the outlook that we must move forward, and this is what we did.
Despite this hurdle, we continued our work, and worked hard to ensure the good health of the remaining nine animals in our care.
And so far, knock on wood, all are doing well. They have a spring in their step, and are eating well. Despite this cold weather, they are flourishing.
As I made my way down the farm road this morning, braving the harsh chill, I was greeted by emphatic mooing, a welcome relief given the difficulties we’ve had with animal health over the week.
While I realize that I am only at the very beginning of the course, and will be learning so much more in the coming weeks, I am keenly aware of how much knowledge I have already gained in the past ten days. I’ve learned to bottle-feed calves, as well as give medication when needed.
For my entire life, I have lived in urban areas. I grew up in Paris and New York, and then later moved to Los Angeles. Thus, I haven’t had any experience with these topics. It’s a steep learning curve. As the semester progresses, and we delve into more subjects in the classroom, the learning will only continue, and I can’t wait!