Teaching Youth about Sheep:ADS 4221-Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences

Note: This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course, who were assigned to work with youth in a nearby county to teach them about sheep

“Speaking of Sheep”

“What are those fluffy white animals that you see on a farm, and why do we have them?” This was the question we asked around sixty kindergartners from in Columbus, Mississippi, on March 11, 2016. Our main project for our Animal and Dairy Sciences senior capstone class was to design and create an “activity box” to teach children about a specific farm animal and why they are significant to the world. Based on our experience with different animals, our group was assigned the animal we had the least experience working with – sheep.

Finding a time for five seniors to all meet up and develop our prop box proved to be difficult; so, our group strategy for the county prop box project was to divide and conquer. We split up the task evenly so everyone had a job to do. Therefore, our “prop box” consisted of five sections: an introductory “Q & A” about sheep and why we have them, a herding activity, a shearing activity, a “feel box”, and a take-home sheep activity book. The introduction included basic information about sheep with a few pictures, and we gave each child their own sheep to use for the subsequent activities (the “sheep” were balloons with faces drawn on them). For the herding activity, the children used shepherd’s canes to herd their “sheep” into a “feeding pen” in a relay-race fashion; and once the sheep were all herded, we informed the children about different forms of feed that they could give to their sheep. After all the sheep were “fed”, the children brought their sheep over to be sheared. For this activity, we placed shaving cream on each child’s balloon sheep to simulate wool; the children then used a tongue depressor to “shear” their sheep. Following the release of the sheep back into the pasture after shearing, the young students were able to participate in a “feel box” activity. The “feel box” was a shoe box with a hole cut into three of the sides with a curtain over each hole so that one could not peek inside. Each separated portion of the shoe box contained a different material: silk, cotton, or wool. After having felt inside each compartment, the children would guess which hole contained the wool before we opened the shoe box to reveal the materials inside.

We were surprised at how receptive the students were to learning about sheep. When we asked the children about their favorite part of the day, they had a wide range of answers, but the general consensus was that the “shearing” activity was the most popular. They were also very excited when they each received their own balloon sheep to care for during our presentation. The teachers informed us that the students never really had the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities like those we provided. The hardest part of the day was keeping a few of the more excitable students focused on the task at hand; however, whenever the students’ teachers were in the room, they all seemed to be on their best behavior. When we asked each class if they had fun learning about sheep, the answer was always a loud “yes!” At the end of each class, we reviewed the students on their new knowledge about sheep, and they were usually able to answer all of our questions. Some of the other funny quotes from the children were “this is so magical!” and “this was probably the best day of my life.”

As we prepare to do a similar activity for the upcoming “Afternoon on the Farm,” we hope to be able to use live sheep in our presentation. After the response we received from the balloon sheep, we believe it will really help the students to be able to see and feel a live sheep (with real wool) while we teach them about these fluffy farm creatures. This was an incredible experience for our group. A much different understanding comes from teaching students rather than always being taught. We had fun enlightening these young children about a part of agriculture that they may have never been able to learn much about, and we were cheerful that the students were excited to learn about the importance of sheep and had fun in the process.

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Teaching Youth about Dairy Cattle: ADS 4221-Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences

Note:  This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course, who were assigned to work with youth in a neighboring county to teach them about dairy cattle.

This semester we became known as “The Dairy Group”. Our job was to create a
presentation aimed at teaching Junior 4-H kids about the dairy industry. Our first step was to have a group meeting to discuss which areas we wanted to highlight to the students. We wrote out different activity ideas and decided on the ones we liked best. We had hands-on activities to explain the topics of dairy products, feeds, the milking process, and identification. We split the group up in order for each member to more specifically focus on a section of the project. This allowed for a more developed presentation.
On March 8th, we met 15 students at the Clay County Extension Office and spent half an
hour teaching them about our semester’s work. They all had a fantastic time learning to milk a cow and seeing that chocolate milk does not come from a brown cow. They were able to learn about the weight of a gallon of milk and the importance of a variety of feedstuffs. Since there were so many students, we were not able to have one on one time, however the multitude of parents helped to keep the kids focused and attentive. At the end of the night, we were showered with questions from both students and adults alike. Each child went home with a simulated ration made out of different types of candy. Overall, the majority of the group was very attentive and responsible for their sections of the presentation. We enjoyed the project and learning how to interact with students on their level while still teaching them something new. The experience as a whole was interesting and positive.

Teaching Youth about Pigs: ADS 4221-Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences

Note:  This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course, who were assigned to work with youth in a neighboring county to teach them about pigs.

Here Piggy Piggy! This semester our group was assigned the swine species. We were
tasked with teaching 6 cloverbud students all about pigs in a manner that targeted their interests and attention level. With such a small group, we were able to give one on one attention during each of our 3 activities. We had an amazing time getting to know the students and teaching them about an industry that affects everyday life. Though the kids enjoyed all the activities, they were particularly fond of playing in the simulated mud. We had an abundance of questions and interaction between the students and their parents, as well as with us. Each child had an area that they were more familiar with, however everyone left with new knowledge. At the end of the presentation, each student took home a bag of mud, a separate bag of bacon and pepperonis, a pig head cut out used for ear notching identification, and a mobile that showed multiple products obtained from pigs.

Our strategy for this presentation was to break down the activities into 3 main sections. We had product, nutrition/health, and identification sections with a hands on activity attached to each. Since we had 6 members in our group, we split and had 2 “teachers” per activity. We had group meetings to discuss each activity and to gather supplies. Every person worked diligently to develop their part of the presentation thoroughly. Overall, the entire group was pleased with our progress and deem this presentation a major success.

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Teaching Youth about Beef Cattle: ADS 4221 Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences

Note: This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course, who were assigned to work with youth in a neighboring county to teach them about beef production

Our capstone group was assigned beef cattle for our topic and Webster County for our presentation location. We had several activities planned for the Cloverbuds, ages 4-8. We first briefly explained the difference between beef and dairy cows. We then showed them the basic parts of the cow on a poster we had made and pictures of different breeds. We then went over the history and purpose of branding and had them make their own brands with pipe cleaners. They then stamped their pipe cleaners on a cow outline with paint to “brand” their cows. Next, we had them make puppets and “tagged” the puppets’ ears with a hole punch, while we explained the reason for ear tagging. We also passed around a real brand and samples of feed for them to examine.

There was an education graduate student present that asked the children questions before and after our activities. It was evident that the children grasped the concepts presented in the lecture, as they were all able to easily answer her questions. All of our activities were very hands-on based, which we feel made the children better able to pay attention and learn from the experience. The youth were very well behaved and responsive to us. They were eager to do all of the activities and seemed to enjoy themselves. Our group had a fun time participating in this project with the 4H children of Webster County.

ADS 4221: Capstone: Improving Forage Utilization

Note: This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course, who were assigned to work with a local livestock producer to solve a production challenge.

ASD 4221 - Little Creek Farm - Hallmark Unit

Our producer is an experienced and savvy cattleman.  This much was apparent when our group first met with him in August to discuss the challenge he presented to us.  He runs a beef cattle operation that specializes in Red Angus and Fleckvieh Simmental seed stock animals.  The producer asked our group to take a 175 acre parcel of land and develop a rotational forage plan.  The goal was for the land to produce enough forage for the animals to graze off of as well extra forage to store as hay for the winter months.  Overall, the producer was looking for 13 months worth of forage to maintain his animals.

Our group started with questions galore.  At first, every answer we found seemed to lead us to more questions.  We explored every aspect of the challenge we could think of.  We delved into soil types, forage types, nitrogen supplementation, animal requirements based off of mode of production, and much more.  With the invaluable help of Dr. David Lang of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, our group was able to sift through the information we had gathered about the land and its carrying capacity.  After hours spent over spreadsheets full of calculations and countless maps of the land, our group developed a forage plan that suited the specific needs of the producer’s cattle as they move through different phases of production throughout each year.

Our group is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with our producer and expand our knowledge in several aspects of animal agriculture.  This forage plan challenge has allowed us to apply the knowledge we gained in a real-world setting.  The project has also taught us about where to look for answers should we not know the answer immediately.  We, as Animal Science students, feel equipped with the knowledge necessary to enter the world of animal agriculture.

ADS 4221:Capstone: Genetic Testing in a Commercial Setting

Note: This blog post was written by a group of students in the Capstone in Animal and Dairy Sciences course, who were assigned to work with a local livestock producer to solve a production challenge.

During our senior-level “Capstone” class, our group was challenged by a commercial beef cattle producer and veterinarian to increase her herd size and the quality of her cattle so that she can successfully market them to a feedlot.  Our partner asked us to analyze her heifers’ (young cows that have not been bred) genetics using a program called, Genemax  (GMX) Advantage, to decide which heifers to keep in order to expand her herd and continue keeping quality genetics within her cattle. Genemax Advantage is a program used to measure different genetic traits through the DNA of primarily Angus cattle in order to help predict the animal’s future progeny and traits. The producer collected blood from her heifers and sent it to a company to analyze the genetics of each animal. These results allow the producer to compare her animals to one another and other animals of the same breed. Here is an example of a commercial Angus heifer:

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We were also assigned to select Angus bulls with good maternal genetics and docile qualities through a catalog that lists the traits of the bull’s female offspring performance as well as some of his own qualities. The catalog is so in depth, that we can actually see how his daughter’s have performed in other herds as far as milk production, birth weights of offspring, and various other traits with markers that compare each bull to other bulls of the same breed. We researched  bulls offered by American Breeder Service (ABS). We selected bulls to use on these heifers based on maternal, growth, docility, and calving ease characteristics. The producer also requested to use genetically superior, high accuracy bulls. These are examples of bulls we chose:

Secondly, we were given a detailed list of all our producer’s cattle with
genetic markers that compared to other female cattle that were at least 50% Angus. We were able to look at three specific sections of their DNA that were categorized into growth traits (such as birth weight), maternal traits (such as milk production), and profit traits (how much money the cow will be worth as an adult and how much her offspring would be worth). We analyzed the information from the GMX Advantage to make our decision.

Our group began this process by culling heifers whose average trait values were less than 50 (each trait is given on a 100-point scale). Culling these heifers allowed us to keep better genetics in the herd. Next, we utilized peer reviewed articles to broaden our understanding of replacement heifers and genetic selection.

Finishing our challenge, we will now compile all our data and results to present to our producer. We used the knowledge gained through our previous classes in the Animal and Dairy Science Department and personal experiences to make our decision and solve our producer’s challenge.

ADS 4221: Sheep Group Press Release

 4-H and sheep industry save the future of farming

By Andrea Seitz, Neely Gaddy, Ayla Oneal, Courtney Ransom, Char’Lesa Tadlock, Destiny Winkler

Fourth Year Animal and Dairy Science Students at MSU

Capstone in ADS 4421

STARKVILLE, MS- Recently the question, “What does 4-H bring to our youths’ development?” has become popular. Uniformed individuals often have the false belief that 4-H “desensitizes” children to the mistreatment of animals, which is far from the truth.

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Two sheep at a local producer’s farm in Oktibbeha County. 

Char’Lesa Tadlock, a fourth year Animal and Dairy Science student at Mississippi State University, comments, “children that are active in 4-H gain a better understanding and appreciation of the sheep industry. I feel that kids who aren’t involved in 4-H view sheep as cute animals being eaten, whereas 4-H kids understand the importance of sheep harvesting… and take pride in knowing how they contribute to improving the industry.”

In an interview with Will Christiansen, the son of a local sheep producer and a participant in 4-H, he states that sheep are “not really pets; they’re meant to be livestock”

4-H is a youth program, open to young men and women, between the ages of five and nineteen. The purpose of the 4-H club is to provide an opportunity for the youth of our nation to develop skills and gain knowledge that will help them become “productive and contributing members of society.” (USDA.gov)

A more appropriate term for the efforts of 4-H is education, not desensitization. 4-H promotes responsible animal husbandry and ethical treatment of animals. It also promotes the consumption of locally sourced, fresh products that are very rarely seen in supermarkets.

“Without an interest in agriculture from our youth, how will our society obtain food in the future when the current farmers are aged out of this industry?” questioned Andrea Seitz, a fourth year Animal and Dairy Science student at Mississippi State University.

Nancy Christiansen, a local sheep producer whose sons participate in 4-H, states that “4-H and FFA help to train our youth so that they will be competent farmers and ranchers for years to come. These children love their animals, but they also understand that they are livestock not pets. Yes, it is hard to say goodbye to an animal that they have put so much time into. Learning that there must be someone responsible for feeding an ever growing population is the other side of the loss that they feel.”

In light of the agricultural generation gap, now, more than ever, there is a need for educating the younger men and women of this country on the importance of being involved in agriculture. Because of 4-H, the youth across our nation are steadily gaining skills, knowledge, and hands-on experience in the agricultural field.

When asked about his experience with 4-H that has turned into a sheep producing business, Will Christiansen stated, “I’d like to keep raising [sheep] and pass it on to other people so they can have the same opportunities that I had”.

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Will Christiansen looking after his sheep.

Alya O’Neal, a fourth year Animal and Dairy Science student at Mississippi State University, commented that “the sheep industry coincides with 4H very well. Since the species is a smaller species compared to swine or cattle, it allows younger children to be involved and teaches them how to relate to animals as well as other children. These children learn at a young age how sheep play a role in their everyday life as well as learn to care for animals and develop a sense of responsibility.”

More recently, studies on the effects of 4-H on developing character have shown that members have the opportunity to gain: confidence, a larger knowledge of nutrition and health benefits of certain food groups, skills in conflict resolution, and a deeper understanding of record keeping. Also, research has revealed that 4-H helps young adults in their everyday life by encouraging members to be “more motivated to help others; develop skills in leadership, public speaking, self-esteem, communication and planning; and make lasting friendships.” (USDA.gov)

ADS 4221: Dairy Group Press Release

 Holy Cow, Why is that Cow so Skinny?!

By: Mississippi State Senior Seminar Dairy Group

As the dairy group, we are here to inform you that these cute little cows serve a purpose to provide for us. Many people have negative things to say about producers. They are concerned that producers do not adequately feed their animals or take care of them. Cattle, just like dogs, are not all designed for the same purpose. A German Shepherd is not built the same as a Chihuahua, as a dairy cow is not built the same as a beef cow. Both types of cattle serve a different purpose. Dairy cows are bred to produce milk, while beef cows are bred to produce meat.

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Ms. Susie Wall, a jersey heifer-calf farmer in Sturgis, Mississippi, feeds her calves twice a day allowing them to get the amount of nutrients they need to be healthy and produce milk. She started raising heifer calves on her family farm to teach her sons responsibility and stewardship. When prompted about issues she has encountered from the community, Ms. Wall said, “Over the past ten years, I have noticed that the public perceives dairy cows as emaciated and frail.” People criticize that they can see the cows’ ribs and bones leading them to think that the owners do not feed them enough. Generally, the public does not understand that dairy cows are not meant to be muscular and over-conditioned. Dairy cows serve a purpose, and that purpose is to produce milk. Ms. Wall shows love for her animals as if they are her pets, but she knows that they are livestock and have a job. If a dairy cow is overweight, her udders will become filled with fatty tissue, inhibiting her milk production. A high producing dairy cow is using her energy to produce milk, thus she is leaner than a typical beef cow whose goal is to use the same energy to gain weight and fill out. The farmer and the cow work to benefit and provide for each other, contrary to the belief that only the cows work for the farmer. We, as the dairy group, aim to inform our local community about the dairy industry and remove any confusion or misinformation that stems from lack of knowledge.

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ADS 4221: Horse Group Press Release

Eventing makes athletes, not victims

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Photo courtesy of Charlie Blanton http://www.louisville.com/content/equestrian-events-inc-producer-rolex-kentucky-and-kentucky-reining-cup-makes-charitable-cont

Throughout history, horses have been used for transportation, aid in agriculture, and leisure.  Today many horses have retired their carriages and replaced them with riders.  One main category that performance horses can be grouped in is eventing.  Eventing is comprised of three different disciplines: dressage, show jumping, and cross-country.  Although many see eventing as decadent sport, there are some who deem the sport dangerous to both the horse and the rider.  A recent article in Time.com calls equestrian events the “most dangerous sport” in the Olympics, citing a number of rider and horse deaths occurring in competition (Cooke 2012). While the article focuses on the human dangers of riding, various animal rights activists spin stories about animal welfare issues arising from the continuation of these events.

For our project, we were asked to find an issue in the horse industry and disprove those issues with the help of a producer in the industry.  We met with Betsy Ball, an eventing horse trainer in Mississippi, and asked her about the eventing community as a whole.  While she has not encountered many negative issues in eventing, she could explain to us how important animal welfare is for the industry.  She states that “Animal welfare plays a huge part in all of the disciplines that I take part in.  The United States Eventing Association has started several groups to monitor the welfare of the horse as well as the rider.”  The United States Eventing Association is an educational organization that assists, organizes, and maintains responsible safety standards during an event.  Their mission statement explains that they “advance the sport of eventing through education of riders, trainers, officials and organizers, with the health and well-being of the horse of paramount importance” (USEA).

Betsy explained in an interview that the USEA and several other groups have implemented various rules and regulations to ensure the safety of the horse.  She states that most people do not realize that these rules are enforced to discourage neglect within the eventing community.  She continues by saying, “Every rule in eventing is made for the animal.  Everything is about safety and looking out for them… [The rules] encourage people to school their horses to come to the events prepared and be ready to answer the questions that are thrown at them.”  There have been some new rules implemented in international competitions that allow stewards to walk around and make sure that horses are looked after.  This includes details such as clean stalls, fresh water and hay, and the general healthy appearance of the horse.  If any of these are found inadequate, trainers and owners alike can face hefty fines, or even disqualification from the event.

Fitness programs are established for horses in the eventing community to protect their health when they perform.  These programs monitor feed intake, energy output, respiration, temperature, and stress levels.  Recently, a study was conducted that focused on stress levels in horses that were used in different kinds of work.  There was a non-significant increase in stress levels and heart rate after performing more intense work, but was not shown to adversely affect the horse long-term (Fejsakova et al., 2013).  Another study proved that horses could adapt to the demands of usual work.  When a healthy adult horse is regularly exercised, no abnormalities were found in heart rate, respiratory rate, or temperature (Popescu et al., 2012).

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Photo courtesy of Ben Radvanyi http://rk3de.org

Just as an athlete works to perfect his or her sport, so does a trainer and their horse.  Experienced trainers know their horses and how they respond to stress.  They are diligent in their training so that the horse can get better with time.  We asked Betsy to explain how all of the training that horses go through makes them athletes.  She said, “There are a lot of horses that are better athletes than the humans that ride them.”  She also says that many horses involved in upper level eventing exercise up to six times a week for multiple hours per day.  This made us question if people outside of the industry considered horses as athletes.  We randomly selected sixty people between the ages of 20-50 and asked them their opinion on if horses should be considered athletes.  60% of them agreed with Betsy and said that horses were indeed athletes, while 40% disagreed.

Some animal rights extremists have attempted to corrupt the eventing industry by accusing them of neglecting the horses.  However, most owners and riders in the industry understand that horse welfare is of the utmost concern in any event.  The USEA and many other associations constantly monitor the horses during the competitions.  They also enforce rules and regulations regarding animal welfare that come with a hefty fine if they feel the horse is being neglected.  Horses that compete go through rigorous training so that they are fully prepared for anything that could be given to them during the event.  Therefore, horses are treated as athletes and are properly cared for, just like the rider.

Devin Allen, Emily Beaty, Casey Fekete, Kimberly Hardy, Jarrett Isabel, and Melissa Steichen

Literature Cited

  •  Ball, Betsy. “Horse Welfare.” Personal interview. 13 Nov. 2014.
  •  Fejsakova M., J. Kottferova, Z. Dankulincova, E. Haladova, R. Matos, and I. Mino. 2013. Some possible factors affecting horse welfare assessment. Acta Vet BRNO. 82:447-451.
  •  Popescu S., E.A. Diugan, and C.I. El Mahdy. 2012. Animal Science and Biotechnologies. 45(2):256-262.
  •  Time. Sonia van Gilder Cooke. 2012. Equestrian Eventing: The Olympics’ Most Dangerous Sport. http://olympics.time.com/2012/07/28/equestrian-eventing-the-olympics-most-dangerous-sport/. (Accessed 17 Nov 2014).
  •  USEA. 2014. About Us. http://useventing.com/about. (Accessed 17 Nov 2014).