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Middle school students learn joys, heartache of caring for lambs

Veterinary science class visits J. Paul Brown’s ranch to observe birthing
Makenna Bard, 14, holds an orphan lamb on Monday that her Escalante Middle School veterinary science class selected from rancher J. Paul Brown’s flock to raise in their class. The students will raise the lambs for about three weeks, learning about livestock agriculture and comparing it with caring for pets. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

IGNACIO – Students with Escalante Middle School’s veterinary science have traded kittens for lambs.

Lu Boren’s veterinary science class visited rancher J. Paul Brown’s Ignacio ranch Monday to collect orphaned lambs they will now raise for about three weeks. While at Brown’s, the eighth graders watched the birthing of lambs and discussed livestock agriculture as they learned the difference between caring for livestock and pets.

“The majority of the kids that take my class are not ag kids at all, they have no ag background whatsoever,” Boren said. “Exposing them to agriculture, it grounds all of us.”

Brown walked the students through the pens where sheep were giving birth, explaining how he and his crews would help lamb the approximately 1,600 ewes that will give birth this week.

Local rancher J. Paul Brown explains the lambing process to Escalante Middle School staff members and veterinary science class students on Monday during a visit to his ranch near Ignacio. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He told students how they sorted and numbered sheep and how they would determine if a mother was strong enough to go back to the mountains to graze.

With the constant baas ringing out, the students fawned over newborn lambs. Some headed out into a pasture to find ewe No. 77 after her lamb seemed lost, while others immediately took to choosing the orphaned lamb they will care for over the next few weeks, swaddling them in towels and giving them names like Billy the Kid, Bubba and Bingo.

The students assessed the condition of each of their lambs and even convinced Boren to take a seventh lamb back to school after they were concerned it might not survive. But first they had to discuss the risks of bringing a lamb in poor condition back to school and how they would feel if the lamb died. The students ultimately voted to bring back the lamb.

Newborn lambs stay close their mom on Monday at J. Paul Brown's ranch near Ignacio. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Boren’s veterinary science class will now raise the lambs at Escalante Middle School where they will live in the school’s greenhouse and garden. Teams will share responsibility for feeding the lambs with donated formula from Basin Coop at morning and night, while also making sure they are taken care of on the weekends.

After fostering four kittens earlier this year, the students will contrast their experience raising the lambs to answer the question: How is caring for livestock different than pets?

“Being an ag person, I think it’s really important for kids to understand that livestock is different than a pet in your home,” Boren said.

Escalante Middle School veterinary science class teacher Lu Boren has her class vote on if they should take a sickly newborn lamb that could die back to their class to raise with six other orphan lambs they selected from J. Paul Brown’s sheep herd on Monday during a field trip. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“If you’re in production ag, these animals are part of your business and your livelihood,” she said. “When your whole business revolves around these animals, you take care of them very well, but you take care of them differently than you do a cat that sleeps at the end of your bed.”

Throughout the three weeks, the students will continually assess the condition of their lambs while discussing the difference between wellness for pets and livestock.

Boren’s veterinary science students have already begun learning. On Tuesday, they identified one of the lambs they think might not be seeing well and another that seems droopy.

The seventh lamb the students brought back died Monday night, offering a lesson about death alongside birth.

Elber Conozeo Riveros, a herder for Ignacio rancher J. Paul Brown, moves lambs from birthing pens with the mother close behind to a pasture for healthy ewes and lambs on Monday during an Escalante Middle School’s veterinary science field trip. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“We spent class (Tuesday) talking about: Could we have done anything differently? What did we do right? What did we do wrong, if we did anything wrong? And what could we have done differently to have a different outcome?” Boren said.

One of the kittens also died a few weeks after students returned the litter to the La Plata County Humane Society after it fell ill while in students’ care. After the lamb’s death, students discussed whether their reactions were different for the kitten or the lamb, Boren said.

While at Brown’s ranch, Reid Ruecker, a student in the class, said he enjoyed the class and the opportunity to learn about animals through hands-on experience.

Newborn lambs stay close to their mom on Monday at J. Paul Brown’s ranch near Ignacio. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“It’s really fun learning about animals pet-wise and livestock-wise,” he said. “It’s super cool and also cute to hang out with the animals.”

Ruecker, who had no experience with agriculture before Boren’s veterinary science class, also saw value in exposing students from nonagricultural backgrounds to ranching and farming.

“I think it’s definitely important to be able to put yourself in a rancher’s shoes or a pet owner’s shoes,” he said.

Brown reiterated the value of exposing students and people in general to agriculture.

“(Education) is something that probably people in agriculture don’t really like to do; they just like to do their thing,” Brown said. “But it’s really important that we try to educate folks about the life of people in agriculture.”

Students’ visit to Brown’s ranch Monday was not the first time they learned about livestock and agriculture. The veterinary science class had previously visited Brown’s operation to watch shearing, pregnancy checking and vaccinating of the sheep.

This year also marks the fourth time that Boren’s class has cared for orphaned lambs and worked with Brown.

Raising the lambs started as a way to give her students an experience they otherwise would not have had, Boren said.

With this year’s introduction of the kittens, veterinary science students now get to see and partake in the full spectrum of animal care, a rarity both inside and outside classroom walls.

“It just is such a cool experience,” Boren said.

Local rancher J. Paul Brown explains the lambing process to Escalante Middle School staff members and veterinary science class students on Monday during a visit to his ranch near Ignacio. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)


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