UMN Crookston: Not just hands-on...hands-on animals

Times Report
Crookston Times

    The University of Minnesota Crookston has long hung its hat on the experiential, hands-on learning that it provides its students across many of its academic programs. But in UMN Crookston’s Animal Science and Equine Science programs, students have many opportunities to put their hands on animals.

    This month, students majoring in those two programs are caring for newborns in several barns. It's lambing, kidding, calving, and foaling season on campus and faculty, staff and students in the animal and equine science programs are providing support for both the lambs, kids, calves, foals and their mothers.

    “Our animal science majors really enjoy our classrooms. We call them the barns, labs, paddocks, and stables. There’s nothing quite like it, as our students are hands-on from day one,” says Animal Science instructor Terrill Bradford. The student experience and career options after graduation run the gamut, from A to Z, she adds. “We are talking about ‘A’ (Animal Nutrition) to ‘Z’ (Zoo Managers), and everything between,” Bradford notes.

    At the University of Minnesota Crookston students work with cattle, goats, sheep, swine, and horses, all of which are located on campus.

    This month, several mares are on campus to foal. You can hear the mares whinny as you enter the University Teaching and Outreach Center stables. UTOC, built in the early 1990s, accommodated 25 horses for the Equine Management degree and three years later another 20 stalls were added to support the growing academic program that feeds into an ever-growing industry with the latest information technologies used by faculty, staff and students to take care, and in the process learn from, of UMN Crookston’s herd of 45 horses.

    Nicky Overgaard, UMN Crookston alum and instructor of equine science, said the equine science team uses live-streaming video technologies throughout the foaling season. “These horses are on our campus for two reasons, first, to provide a comfortable environment for our partners' animals during birth and, second, to provide a variety of teachable moments for our students,” Overgaard explains. “Hands-on is certainly the key within our Equine program.”

    “Our equine science, equine business management, animal science and pre-veterinary degrees provide a broad-based management education which appeals to employers,” Bradford said, adding that UMN Crookston graduates understand and are able to manage the daily nutrition, health, and exercise/training needs of the animals in their care.

    “The knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in equine or equine-related careers are what you’ll find here,” said Overgaard.

    And students can top it off, Overgaard and Bradford each noted, with the business and management experience necessary to operate an equine or related business. The UMN Crookston programs focus on the business and management aspects of the animal and horse industry while maintaining strong relationships with affiliated agriculture industries, they said, adding that it is those newly created relationships that provide a broad-based management education that appeals to employers.

    Coursework on both equine science and animal science includes computer and communications training, sales, and business management. Other required coursework is traditional to livestock, but students have the option of taking courses specific to their interests. Options also exist for students who wish to pursue pre-veterinary studies. UMN Crookston’s pre-vet emphasis, which is a science-based program, includes curriculum needed to get into veterinary college. Through these hands-on activities, students gain an extra edge by getting their hands on the animals for labs in every equine and animal science class. “They not only help in the birthing process, but they also assist in breeding, genetics, nutrition, basic animal-handling skills, vaccinations, and many other skills needed to be successful upon entry into a DVM program,” Bradford explains.

    “The students monitor the mares closely during foal watch,” Overgaard adds. “When she’s close, the students will take turns staying overnight with her. Once parturition begins, the student will call faculty and staff to assist as well as others in their group so they can observe. It’s a really great experience for them to have.”  The aftercare of the neonate foal and postpartum mare is just as important as students monitor them closely for their complete health and wellbeing, she notes.

    The mares are on campus courtesy of UMN Crookston partners who are looking for a safe environment for their animals, Overgaard said. While UMN Crookston has only been foaling for the last two years there is great potential for the students and the Crookston campus’ partners. “We would love more opportunities to aid our community, region and state,” Overgaard stressed.

    Among other things, both Overgaard and Bradford said the foaling, calving, and lambing teaches students another dynamic piece of the industry. “It is exciting to work with a horse that you’ve known for a while — perhaps since it was born,” Overgaard said.

UMN Crookston Animal Science students and prospective UMN Crookston students hold kids.
UMN Crookston students dry a newborn foal in the University Teaching and Outreach Center stables.