For many farmers, farming means early mornings, late nights and hard work.
What a lot of farmers don’t think about, though, is making sure they get done checking livestock before they have to make it to their 11:30 a.m. class.
There are a group of students and faculty at K-State; however, who frequently have that mindset. Just outside of campus are livestock units that range from purebred beef cattle to swine, with many species in between.
The units are overseen by faculty, run by managers and worked on by students. These units are all different, but connected by one thing; they are K-State units that are operated by K-State students.
The units are used both for research and teaching opportunities. It is not an uncommon thing for classes to come and learn how to do tasks, like how to calve out cattle or how to give proper shots to sick animals.
K-State differs from other universities in that it’s livestock units are closer in proximity to the main campus.
“Agriculture has become secondary in many places across this country,” Jim Drouillard, faculty coordinator for the Beef Cattle Research Center and professor in animal sciences and industry, said. “However, the great part about being here in the heartland is that we get to be involved in what drives the economy of this state. We are one of the only places where our units are continuing to grow, not recede.”
Students who work at the units have a range of skills and backgrounds. Some students come with a firm upbringing in a specific species or job, while others come with no livestock background at all. This is part of the teaching purpose of the units.
Garet Koester, senior in agriculture economics, has only been working at the Swine Unit for two weeks. Even from that short amount of time, Koester said he believes his experience at the swine has been a great one.
“I plan to go back to the farm after graduation, and I come from a diverse farm that has 130 head of cattle and a 150 head sow operation that is also farrow to finish,” Koester said. “I have already learned a lot of new ways to do things, now I can take those new skills home and improve how we do things there. I wouldn’t trade my K-State experience for anything.”
Along with teaching and research, the units also provide animal products to the university. The Dairy Unit produces the majority of campus milk and milk products and the meat lab is supplied with animals via the units. Students get to see the practical side to running a farm while also getting a taste of research.
For students with a passion for or interest in livestock, the units provide a hands-on training experience to not only prepare them for their future, but to help them find out just what they want to do in life.
Most student workers discuss how they enjoy their work, particularly because it often aligns with their passions and future careers.
Wyatt Schroeder, senior in animal sciences and industry, said he has been working at the Horse Unit for two years.
“I do enjoy working at the Horse Unit, it allows for me to have a full class schedule,” Schroeder said. “I also get to ride horses every day. I plan to make training horses a part of my future career, and working at the unit has made me a more well-rounded and open-minded individual.”
The many experiences that the units provide to student workers not only help them for their future, but give them something from the past to draw on and grow.
Jack Lemmon, graduate student in ruminant nutrition, said he has worked at two K-State units. He started his freshman and sophomore years at the beef feedlot, then worked his junior and senior years at the Cow and Calf Unit.
Lemmon said he still continues to help out at the Cow and Calf Unit when needed.
“It all depends on the time of the year,” Lemmon said. “We do everything from bringing cattle up to breed, to keeping an extra eye on them in the winter to make sure they have plenty of food and water. There is also general equipment maintenance and work on fence.”
Lemmon said his experience has played a significant role in his work now.
“It was totally worth all the time spent working,” Lemmon said. “The units have allowed me to grow and expand myself, and they are a great resource for people to use.”
As many people know, traditions can die hard. In many ways, the units are continuing on the K-State tradition in the agricultural field of study. Students who work at these units get to be a part of that tradition.
Riley McKenney, senior in animal sciences and industry, has worked at the purebred beef unit for a year and said he recognizes the importance of that tradition.
“My favorite part of working for the purebred unit is still doing stuff on horseback, and carrying on the cowboy tradition,” McKenney said.
At any rate, the agricultural units north of Manhattan have several student workers that do all that they can to do their jobs well and still make it back to campus for their next class. The units are an outlook into the life of campus agriculture through the perspective of a student.