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.

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)

Sheep Wrestling- Chelsea Freeman

I worked some in the office this week preparing for the BCIA bull sale. We finished up catalogs for the day of the sale and also gathered supplies for it. The highlight of my week though, was being out at the South Farm filming sheep management videos. We filmed CIDR insertion, “rumping”, breeding crayon, and de-worm plunger videos. Rumping is where one can put a sheep on it’s rear end in order to better handle it for various management practices. I learned how to do this my freshman year at State, but to MUCH smaller sheep than those that are at the the physiology unit currently. Needless to say, I had a hard time demonstrating sheep rumping and whoever gets the bloopers of those videos is in for a good laugh!!