SDSU students learn on the farm


BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– For students studying animal science, their education comes from more than just a textbook.

At South Dakota State University there are six livestock-related farms where students are able to gain hands-experience in real-world scenarios.

SDSU has research farms for almost every area of the animal science industry, including cattle, sheep, swine and more.

For students like Kallista Roers, these units allowed her to work in an aspect of the industry that she had no prior experience in. She began working at the swine unit last year.

“I got to learn aspects of how to farrow, what wean-to-finish has to offer, and then I kept growing my interest from there and now I am doing a lot more. I come here almost every day and do all of that,” Roers said. “It has really helped me learn a lot and it grew my interest, which then lead me to an internship this summer.”

Since she didn’t have experience working with pigs before starting at the unit, there were people to train and prepare her.

“Now I can fully do chores by myself on the weekend, which I’m proud to say I can do,” Roers said.

The hands-on experience gained here at the units helps prepare students for a career in the livestock industry.

“If they’ve got experience maybe it’s not the initial exposure to that, but they’re going to learn some things. If they do have experience at home, okay maybe it’s going to be a little different way of doing it,” Kevin VanderWal, manager of the cow-calf education and research facility said. “If they don’t, then it’s a really good start in the industry, they can find out if that’s something that they’re interested in and they want to continue with or ok, maybe this isn’t for me or the works a little too hard or maybe a desk job is better, you know it’s up to them, but we at least get them started.”

“I have been able to do stuff that wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else,” Jaycen Timm, senior said. “You know, I get to do, I’ve gotten AI certified, I’ve gotten to help with a lot of the weaning work, a lot of that stuff that you wouldn’t regularly get to do if you’re not on a bigger-scale operation, so I think it will help prepare you, you know, whether you’re going in the ranch side or just being a producer or feedlot side, I’ve gotten to learn a lot about animal health, husbandry and handling so it’s been great.”

The lab portions of the animal science classes are also able to be hands-on, by performing their labs at the units. At the swine unit alone, they see over 500 students a year come into the facility for labs.

“So again, it’s one thing to read it in a book, but then life happens and the animals don’t always read the book so they respond differently and then understanding good animal husbandry, how to manage those issues and it’s pretty exciting for them, Bob Thaler, extension swine specialist and distinguish professor said.

The livestock units are used for research projects conducted by both undergrad and graduate students.

“Coming here as a grad student is definitely different than working here as an undergrad, but it’s definitely just as much of a learning experience and you are in undergrad, you just have more responsibilities,” Madison Kovarna, graduate student said.

As a graduate student, Kovarna is the assistant manager at the Cow-Calf unit, so she is responsible for making feeding decisions and overseeing the scheduling of undergrad students, as well as working on her own research project.

“Research is really important to the CCU being able to function, without research this facility more than likely wouldn’t be here, it would have no purpose,” Kovarna said. “With research, it allows students to have the ability to learn and take that new information that can make the industry bigger and better.”

Students at the units are not only learning for themselves, but they are able to share that knowledge with others around the world through virtual or in-person tours.

“How it works is I bring my cell phone into the barn, and I basically take them through what my daily chores are in the farrowing room and why we have pigs indoors,” Logan Tesch, senior said. We bring it down to basically a third grade level of explanation that way we don’t overwhelm them with terms and specifics but still give them enough information that they can walk away and they have the opportunity to ask us questions about what we do.”

“As I kind of stand back and watch that, it’s really rewarding for me to see that they know about the place and some of the details that go into it. Some of the tours are frequently from the schools or they are younger kids and they just do a terrific job of explaining things to them, this is why we do this and this is why it’s important and they do an excellent job of explaining all that,” VanderWal said.

Most students have a positive experience during their time at the units.

“It’s really been a fun time getting to work with my peers. Like I said, it’s not work if you’re having fun,” Timm said.

The animal science units rely on grants and gifts to keep their operations up and running with some of the latest technology. These facilities help students stay up-to-date with some of the newest advances in the industry while in a hands-on environment.

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