A group of students seeking a new perspective on ranching created a record turnout for Utah State University’s annual Sheep Day trip to Evanston, WY, organized by the Department of Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences. The event drew 150 participants this year and is a unique opportunity for students to get a first-hand look at the sheep ranching industry.
“This is the biggest group we have taken yet,” said Chad Page, the department’s sheep and goat specialist. “I don’t know of another university that does something to this extent.”
Sheep Day was first organized in 1989 by now Emeritus Professor Lyle McNeal during his 40-year teaching career at USU. This year’s activity began in the early morning hours as students met at the USU Animal Science Farm in Wellsville and made their way to the J.R. Broadbent Ranch, one of the largest sheep operations in the region. The purpose of the trip was to conduct breeding soundness exams on the rams of the operation and provide the Broadbents with valuable information for managing their flock.
Page and Anahi Rivera, the USU Sheep and Goat Club president, organized the event and worked together to add new elements to the trip. In years past, most participants have been introductory animal science students. This year, however, Page partnered with Clay Isom, USU animal science associate professor of developmental genetics, and students in his senior-level reproduction class.
“With the knowledge they have gained over their college experience, events like this will now help to solidify it,” Page said.
Isom’s students set up an onsite lab to run semen evaluation tests. Other students were responsible for operating sheep holding chutes, administering vaccines, and moving rams from station to station by hand all while trying to avoid getting run over or letting a sheep escape.
“Seeing other students who have never touched a lamb, or aren’t even on an agricultural career path, seeing them excited about it is really cool,” Rivera said.
The experience is open to all USU students, regardless of major.
“I think it’s good to use your hands sometimes,” said Al Solar, an MBA student in the Huntsman School of Business. “You don’t need to be learning theories all the time. The people here might think another way, and I want to gain a new perspective.”
Page and Rivera said they hope this served as a unique educational experience due to its wide reach. Whether students gained a newfound spark for the industry or safely ruled it out as a career option, they were able to see and appreciate what ranchers do on a daily basis.
“There was a student who approached the rancher and thanked him for the opportunity and expressed how meaningful it was to him,” Page said. “This student had no experience like this prior to the event. It was a completely unique experience for him. That was the most impactful moment for me.”
The students were able to examine more than 400 rams by the end of the day.
Students who missed out on the Sheep Days experience this semester will have another opportunity to attend in the spring. Page and the rest of the sheep and goat program hope the trend in increased student involvement is here to stay.
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