By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt
Working with sheep in the springtime can mean long hours in the barn. Ewes may need help with difficult births. Lambs might have trouble nursing. It’s a busy time for the flock.
At the University of Arkansas, a team of students devoted their time this spring to making sure lambing went smoothly. The students, called “Lamb Watch 2012,” spent evenings in the barn to learn about lambing and animal production.
“Students love the hands on experience,” said Bryan Kutz, an animal science instructor, youth extension specialist, and advisor to the Lamb Watch students at the University of Arkansas.
Students have helped with lambing in previous years, either through classes or as volunteers, but this year was the first time the university had an official Lamb Watch. Danny Belcher, supervisor of the Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center at the University of Arkansas, came up with the idea of creating more of a team environment.
“We had a lot of students saying they wanted more hands-on work,” said Belcher.
Belcher promoted Lamb Watch in the animal science department, and the response was surprising. Thirteen students signed up for the project and stuck with it until the end. Kutz, who has recruited lambing volunteers in previous years, said that number was “the most we’ve ever had.”
A couple of the students did have farm experience, but several were pre-vet students who wanted to learn more about working with livestock.
“Sheep are a good model for that because they’re not too large,” said Belcher.
The thirteen students first met with Kutz and Belcher before the lambing season started. They worked in the barn and learned about ewe diet and management during gestation. When lambing started, each student spent at least two evenings a week in the barn. They learned how to help with difficult deliveries and keep lambs healthy.
“In some cases, we had to bottle-feed them,” Kutz said.
Kutz said there were several sets of triplets born this year, meaning students got to learn the technique of “grafting.” Grafting is where one of the triplets is taught to nurse from a ewe that only had one lamb. That way, there is enough attention and milk for each lamb.
In the course of the project, students helped with 31 lambs. Lamb Watch ended last week when the students visited the barn to give lambs their pre-weaning vaccines.
Belcher was happy with how the new Lamb Watch project went. When the project ended, Belcher took a small survey of the students.
“They felt more competent and confident,” Belcher said.