Veterinary science class visits J. Paul Brown’s ranch to observe childbirth
IGNACIO — Veterinary science students at Escalante Middle School traded kittens for lambs.
Lu Boren’s veterinary science class visited breeder J. Paul Brown’s Ignacio Ranch on Monday to collect the orphaned lambs they will now raise for about three weeks. While at Brown’s, eighth graders watched the birth of lambs and discussed raising livestock while learning the difference between caring for livestock and pets.
“The majority of kids in my class aren’t farming kids at all, they don’t have any farming background,” Boren said. “Exposing them to agriculture, it roots us all.”
Brown guided the students through the pens where the sheep lambed, explaining how he and his crews would help lamb the approximately 1,600 ewes that will lamb this week.
He explained to the students how they sorted and numbered sheep and how they would determine if a mother was strong enough to return to graze in the mountains.
With the constant baas ringing out, the students adored the newborn lambs. Some headed to a pasture to find ewe No. 77 after her lamb appeared lost, while others immediately picked out the orphaned lamb they will care for over the next few weeks, swaddling them in towels and giving them names like Billy the Kid, Bouba and Bingo.
The students assessed the condition of each of their lambs and even convinced Boren to bring a seventh lamb back to school after fears it might survive. But first they had to discuss the risks of bringing a bad lamb back to school and how they would feel if the lamb died. The students ultimately voted to bring back the lamb.
Boren’s veterinary science class will now raise the lambs at Escalante Middle School where they will live in the school’s greenhouse and garden. The teams will share the responsibility of feeding the lambs formula donated by Basin Coop in the mornings and evenings, while ensuring they are cared for on weekends.
After fostering four kittens earlier this year, students will compare their experience raising lambs to answer the question: How is caring for livestock different than caring for pets?
“Being a farm person, I think it’s really important for kids to understand that livestock is different from a pet in your house,” Boren said.
“If you are in agricultural production, these animals are part of your business and part of your livelihood,” she said. “When your whole business revolves around these animals, you take care of them very well, but you take care of them differently than a cat sleeping on the end of your bed.”
Throughout the three weeks, students will continually assess the condition of their lambs while discussing the difference between pet and livestock welfare.
Boren’s veterinary science students have already started learning. On Tuesday, they identified one of the lambs that they believe is not seeing well and another that appears to be drooping.
The seventh lamb the students brought home died Monday evening, providing a lesson in death alongside birth.
“We spent the class (Tuesday) talking about: Could we have done something differently? What did we do right? What did we do wrong, if we did something wrong? ‘could we have done differently to get a different result?’” said Boren.
One of the kittens also died weeks after students returned the litter to the La Plata County Humane Society after he fell ill while in student care. After the lamb died, the students discussed whether their reactions were different for the kitten or the lamb, Boren said.
While at Brown’s Ranch, Reid Ruecker, a student in the class, said he enjoyed the class and the opportunity to learn about the animals through hands-on experience.
“It’s really fun to learn about pets and livestock,” he said. “It’s super cool and also cute to spend time with animals.”
Ruecker, who had no farming experience before Boren’s veterinary science course, also found it helpful to expose students from non-agricultural backgrounds to animal husbandry and agriculture.
“I think it’s really important to be able to put yourself in the shoes of a breeder or an animal owner,” he said.
Brown reiterated the value of exposing students and people in general to agriculture.
“(Education) is something people in agriculture probably don’t really like to do; they just like to do their thing,” Brown said. “But it’s really important that we try to educate people about people’s lives in agriculture.”
The students’ visit to Brown’s ranch on Monday was not the first time they learned about ranching and farming. The veterinary science class had previously visited Brown’s operation to observe the shearing, pregnancy check and vaccination of the sheep.
This year also marks the fourth time Boren’s class has cared for orphaned lambs and worked with Brown.
Raising the lambs began as a way to give his students an experience they otherwise wouldn’t have had, Boren said.
With the introduction of kittens this year, veterinary science students can now see and participate in the full spectrum of animal care, a rarity inside and outside of classroom walls.
“It’s just such a cool experience,” Boren said.