K-State Sheep and Meat Goat Center offers agricultural experience for students in and out of agriculture

Sheep stand around at Kansas State University's Sheep and Goat facility on Feb. 12, 2017. (Regan Tokos | The Collegian)

The Sheep and Meat Goat Center at Kansas State provides students with more than a part-time job: it also provides hands-on learning experiences and connections in the livestock industry.

From studying and learning about health and nutrition to producer-education programs that are extension-based, the facility provides several opportunities for students, faculty and industry professionals.

Joe Hubbard, manager of the Sheep and Meat Goat Center, said the unit hires students from diverse backgrounds, even outside of the agriculture industry.

“Some of the students have a strong background in agriculture and have been involved in the industry their entire lives, but there’s also students who do not have an agricultural background and haven’t been around sheep and goats before working there,” Hubbard said.

There are five student workers who feed about 200 sheep and goats at the unit, check their water and monitor the health and wellness of the livestock every morning and evening.

“The students gain experience in general animal handling and also how they behave around the animals,” Hubbard said. “At least with sheep and goats, the students with little experience can get used to handling them in our facility operations and don’t have to worry about being stepped on or being seriously injured by an animal.”

The center does not have an undergraduate research program for students to develop their own projects. However, students who work there gain experience from the different tasks they have each day.

One of the opportunities for experience is a lambing class that teaches students about the process of lambing — which is when the female sheep give birth to their young — and how to efficiently help the sheep if they need assistance with their offspring.

This class opportunity is held every spring and the students are set up on a “lamb watch” schedule, where they learn what signs to look for when they are watching for labor and taking care of the sheep before, during and after birth.

Sam Davis, sophomore in animal sciences and industry and a student worker at the center, said he had previous experience working with goats, which is why he applied to work there.

“My parents and I are partners in our own commercial show goat operation,” Davis said. “Working at the sheep and goat unit was a logical job choice. I thoroughly enjoy raising livestock, and the sheep and goat unit offers perspectives that I had not encountered back home.”

Pierce Bennett, senior in animal sciences and industry and a student worker at the unit, said the people he works with make the long hours spent at the sheep and goat unit worthwhile.

“I love the camaraderie of being with a good team,” Bennet said. “It always makes it fun being out on the farm with good friends. It makes some of the long hours and hard work all worth it.”

While it’s not “easy” work, Bennet said working at the Sheep and Meat Goat Center has taught him many lessons.

“I don’t know if I would call it ‘easy,’ simply because there would be a big learning curve,” Bennet said. “However, if someone is interested and willing to learn, I don’t think there is any reason that a person of any background couldn’t come to a university livestock farm and be an asset. But they would definitely have to be willing to learn, and learn fast.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series showcasing K-State livestock units. The first was on the dairy unit. Next week’s story will feature the beef cattle research unit.