Virginia Hamilton - Cattle Handling Facility Improvements at the Warren Wilson College Farm

Warren Wilson College

Project Title

Cattle Handling Facility Improvements at the Warren Wilson College Farm


Abstract

Cattle Handling Facility Improvements at the Warren Wilson College Farm

The Warren Wilson College Farm has a long standing history of being leaders in our local agricultural community. Though the years, we have often been the first to showcase improvements in both animal husbandry and agronomic practices. Our current corral that we use for our beef cattle fails to provide students on the Farm Crew with a safe way to restrain animals while they receive veterinary care. With the purchase of a new squeeze chute, the Warren Wilson College Farm would best be able to showcase best practices in cattle handling in a safe way that would benefit current Farm Crew students, academic courses, and community partners. Upon installation of the squeeze chute, the College Farm would be able to provide data proving decreased animal stress and decreased injury to Farm workers. By providing a safer method to restrain cattle, we open the doors for improved veterinary experience for our students, safer ways for academic courses to participate, and we will continue to showcase best practices to our valley.


Narrative Summary

Cattle Handling Facility Improvements at the Warren Wilson College Farm The College Farm has kept a herd of cattle since it’s inception in the 1890’s. The cattle

herd provides healthy, local protein for the College community as well as providing valuable ecosystem services by grazing the College’s pasture lands. Proper animal husbandry dictates working the full herd several times per year to administer vaccines, determine if an animal is pregnant, gather animal weights, and provide parasite protection. These days provide some of the most intensive work learning experiences for the students who have chosen to work on the Farm Crew. Working cattle in the corral provides hands on Pre­Veterinary, Agricultural, and Animal Science experience, as well as providing students an opportunity to expand their skills in situational awareness, leadership, teamwork, observation, and the physical skills of low­stress animal handling. The headgate that we are operating now is an unsafe piece of equipment. Our current cattle handling system is aging rapidly, and a continuing commitment to workplace safety and showcasing best practices compels us to pursue these necessary upgrades.

The installation and continuing use of a new squeeze chute will provide ample opportunity for the College Farm to serve the Farm Crew, on­campus community, and off­campus community partners. Current best practices for handling cattle dictate the use of a squeeze chute to help hold cattle still while they are receiving medical care. Studies have shown that a gentle squeeze (much like a weighted blanket for an autistic person) calms cattle in the chute; preventing injury to both the animal and the handler as well as preserving meat quality. The best cattle handling chutes provide multiple access points for administering veterinary care safely, as well as protecting farmers or veterinarians from injuries caused by the animal kicking or swinging their head. Our current headgate does not provide this protection.

By providing an improved corral, we will be more able to send graduates into the world who are well versed in best practices in animal husbandry. The College has been making efforts to promote our pre­veterinary courses in response to high praise of our programs by both alumni who went on to veterinary school as well as the veterinary schools themselves. We stand poised to best make use of the tremendous resources that the Farm program offers when used in conjunction with an excellent academic program.

Alumnus Hannah Fearing, DVM, sums up how important her experience on the Warren Wilson College Farm was to her when she entered Veterinary School;

“WWC may not produce as many vets as other schools, but it equipped me for vet school and veterinary medicine better than many of my peers. After working on the farm I felt comfortable working with a variety of animals safely. I got to see multiple veterinary procedures, help with regular care and husbandry of animals, and learn to manage a large group of  animals.  It taught me how to relate to farmers and understand the financial and practical aspects of farming that will be so important to my clients later in my career. Besides all of that practical stuff, it taught me more general skills like teamwork, patience, time management, and the value of hard, honest work.”


Opportunities for Collaboration

Academics: The squeeze chute would provide a more safe and user­friendly environment for students pursuing both Warren Wilson College’s Pre­Veterinary Studies track as well as courses offered in Biology and Animal Science. Our current system requires a high skill level and is not conducive to observation by classes or other work crews.

The College has been making efforts to promote our pre­veterinary courses in response to high praise of our programs by both alumni who went on to veterinary school as well as the veterinary schools themselves.

Community: If we are to showcase best practices to community partners, we would like to do so using the best possible equipment. By improving our cattle handling facility we will be able to fulfill the numerous class visit requests that the College Farm receives from the local technical college and local high­school ag classes and agricultural interest groups. We believe having a safe and state­of­the­art corral will help us better serve these groups. The College Farm is widely regarded in the local agricultural community as an innovator in animal welfare and natural farming methods and this would allow us to much more.


In Summary…

Improvements to the Warren Wilson College Farm’s cattle handling system will:

Benefit the Managers of the College Farm by providing working opportunities for students that offer better safety and more control, giving managers more time to put in place best practices in workplace education pedagogy.

Benefit the students working on the College Farm by providing the safety equipment needed for them to gain the full experience of providing veterinary care for cattle in a manner consistent with best practices as described by the grass­fed beef industry.

Benefit the institution by sending graduates into the world who are highly skilled, well­ rounded individuals; living proof of the merit of work learning in higher education.

Benefit the Work College community as a whole by graduating exceptional students who bring attention to their alma maters.

Alumnus Amelia Hubbard, DVM, provides a similar experience, and reinforces that her time on the College Farm set her apart from her peers in vet school;

“The WWC farm provides a wide variety of awesome experiences that I think would be really difficult to obtain at other schools. While these experiences include farm maintenance, herd management, and basic veterinary care, I think the most important and unique skills I learned on the WWC farm were leadership and teamwork skills. There are a number of opportunities to work as a leader on the farm, and you are required to work as an effective team member every day you come to work at the farm. These skills are incredibly important no matter what you want to pursue after college. I also think that these skills are something that stood out on my vet school application. Overall, I think WWC was a perfect fit for me and definitely provided me with awesome and unique opportunities that I know helped me get into veterinary school. [ ] looking back,   I feel that I have a unique set of skills, sense of community, and global view that many of my other classmates lack[ed].”