Learning Both The Theory And The Practice

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VERMILION

Students afraid to get their hands dirty need not apply. Lakeland College, with branches in Vermilion and Lloydminster, specializes in the practical application of knowledge in crop science, animal science technology, feedlot rider and livestock production.

Amy Hornan, a 19-year-old student from Bowsman, Man., says she chose the Animal Science Technology Program at Lakeland because it enabled her to stay in a smaller community. “I knew I wanted to work in the livestock industry and knew that this college focused on hands-on instruction.”

Her friend Jenny Sparks is an 18-year-old from Prince George, B. C. Her cousin took agricultural business at Lakeland and a visit to Vermilion inspired Sparks to enroll. She enjoys the opportunity to work with all the different animals. This year, she has halter-broke heifers, farrowed pigs, lambed and calved.

Both students come from agricultural backgrounds, and have enjoyed the opportunities offered by Lakeland College’s programs.

“The students are in there making the decisions, managing a barn or learning about a dairy project”

Sparks may continue on to an animal science degree at a university. “I’d rather start small with hands-on activities and then proceed to the theory,” she says.

Darrell Hickman, chair of Agriculture Sciences at Lakeland, says one of the main challenges for the program and its instructors is accommodating the number of students who are interested in the program. The agriculture program currently offers three one-year certificate programs and seven two-year diploma programs.

Enrolment in the Agricultural Sciences Program at Lakeland has increased, and Hickman says he expects the numbers to grow due to the economic downturn, since past trends have shown people return to school during harsh economic times.

Classes at the school are geared towards management and production to enable students to acquire jobs in agriculture. Many of the students come from rural communities in the four Western provinces, although the Animal Health Technology Program does attract urbanites. Only about 40 per cent of the students return to their family farm, while the others work within the industry.

Local support

Hickman says teaching agriculture in an agricultural community has tremendous advantages, especially when it comes to community support. “When we want to do something or our students want to fundraise, they have a lot of people behind them.”

Community members involved in agriculture will also participate in classroom activities. Larry Bingham, program head and instructor of Animal Science Technology and Livestock Production, says the Vermilion program at Lakeland offers students a unique opportunity to interact with a wide variety of crops and animals right on campus. “You don’t get that opportunity in a lot of the bigger centres,” he says.

Students have the opportunity to practice their skills on dairy and beef cattle, swine, horses and sheep. Many of the students live in the on-campus residences, which makes it easier when they are on-shift in 48-hour rotations during the calving period. Lakeland College is the only college in Alberta to offer a dairy program and a one-year feedlot rider program, which enables students to hone their riding and roping skills for sorting cattle.

The campus has 300 acres of crops onsite for students enrolled in the Crop Technology Program. Students who are in this program also lease land to grow crops they manage as part of a credit course. Most of the facilities at Lakeland’s campus are used entirely for teaching, and not for research purposes. “The students are in there making the decisions, managing a barn or learning about a dairy project,” says Hickman.

Planning a farm

One of the unique courses in the program is the studentmanaged farm, where students apply their skills to manage a farm, using skills needed in a real agriculture setting. The studentmanaged crop stream has been around for about 17 years. The student-managed farm livestock model started this January.

Students taking courses as part of the student-managed farm crop program plan their acres, seed, fertilize and harvest them in the fall. Students also learn marketing, and make decisions about futures hedging and crop insurance as part of this program. The student-managed programs are geared towards second-year students and force students to make organizational changes and decisions, and work in teams.

Bingham says the practical approach works well for students. “Some of it may sink in when an instructor is standing in front of a classroom, giving you a PowerPoint on facilities. But, it really sinks in when you’re standing there, making decisions in the barn and you can see what needs to be changed.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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