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Introduction of Livestock on Campus Reinforces Experiential Learning Model Employed by Unity College

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Unity College is an environmental college with a solid hands-on approach to learning. On any given day, students are either in the classroom or outside conducting experiments, doing research, gathering specimens, and improving their skills.

The fall 2013 semester has begun, and one of the most visible summer improvement projects is the newly renovated barn, home to a supply of college-owned livestock including San Clemente Island goats, Katahdin sheep, silver fox rabbits and Delaware chickens.

The introduction of new animals to the barn on campus was a concentrated effort and an extension of Unity’s method of experiential learning utilized throughout the College’s entire curriculum, benefitting students across all majors.

With the recent building of the College’s new barn came the natural progress to obtain campus livestock and hire a barn manager to oversee the animals. Megan Anderson ’09 clearly stood out as the right person for the job. Anderson graduated from Unity College with a degree in Ecology, and has her own farm in Unity where she raises dairy goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys and hogs. The connection between being a Unity alumna and her extensive knowledge of animal and vegetable agriculture gained from maintaining her own enterprise makes Anderson’s appointment as the campus barn manager a perfect fit.

“I can’t imagine working in a place where I feel more at home than I do here at Unity.  I am so encouraged by the changes I see around campus and the ever-evolving curricula,” said Anderson. “I feel very fortunate to be an integral part of the campus revitalization process.”

The completion of the livestock barn has been very well received with energy and support from all members of the Unity College community. Barn renovations and permanent perimeter fencing are all completed.

The animals chosen to stock the Unity College barn are all breeds that were developed in the United States and include:

  • San Clemente Goats (San Clemente Island, California)
    • Unity College is now one of only two breeders in Maine
    • Known population is under 500 worldwide
    • Breed is considered critically endangered by The Livestock Conservancy (TLC™)
    • The College is breeding these goats to increase the population
    • The goats will serve as teaching tools for Animal Training and Animal Health courses and to study their natural parasite resistance and possible disease resistance
  • Delaware Chickens (Delaware)
    • A dual purpose breed developed by George Ellis in the 1940s
    • The campus will be hatching its own chicks, a sustainable practice that will make it so that the College will no longer have to buy chicks from a hatchery
    • The meat will be used for special events and maybe even eventually in Dining Services
  • Katahdin Sheep (Maine)
    • These sheep were developed in Northern Maine by Michael Piel in the 1950s and are highly manageable, personable and have no horns
    • They have hair as opposed to wool, making them cost effective in that there is no shearing necessary
    • A meat breed and will be used for special events and perhaps eventually in Dining Services
    • Are extremely parasite resistant
  • Silver Fox Rabbits (Ohio)
    • Originally bred for fur (the “poor man’s” silver fox fur), they have now been developed into a meat breed
    • Are under TLC™‘s conservation list as “threatened”
    • Unity College would like to introduce the rabbits to Dining Services in the future
    • The animals will be used to study animal reproduction and small breed management practices

In addition to identifying breeds to best meet the College’s educational and operational goals, over the summer Anderson developed a rotational grazing fence system, and prepared a safety and management protocol for effective use of the barn.

Anderson says that she is looking forward to bringing in Unity College students to analyze pertinent data, and that having the animals on site in the barn will help with the College’s curriculum in courses such as genetics, animal health, and sustainable agriculture. She also feels that the animal breeds on campus have the potential to touch every major at the College and that many professors will incorporate the animals in the barn as part of their teaching curricula.

“While the obvious classes such as Animal Health and Animal Training will often be in the barn studying our livestock to learn about management practices, other students such as our Conservation Law majors will benefit from working in the barn as well,” said Anderson. “They are bound to encounter wildlife in the field, so it is important for them to be exposed to situations that require interaction with live animals.”

There is resounding enthusiasm from Unity College professors as well, and many of them will be using the barn as an on-campus learning laboratory.

Tom Mullin, Associate Professor, Parks and Forest Resources, has had discussions with Anderson about possibly incorporating the new barn and its operations into his Interpretive Methods Class.

“One experiential idea would be to have project teams develop a brochure, exhibit and a multimedia project, and maybe even an accompanying Facebook page,” said Mullin.  “In addition, if the interest is there, we could create temporary interpretive signage for the new animals that have arrived while the more permanent and professionally developed ones are planned and fabricated.”

The students in Assistant Professor of Captive Wildlife Care and Education Cheryl Frederick’s Animal Health class will have the chance to work with farm animals that, until now, were not accessible to them on campus.

“The barn will give the students the opportunity to see and be a part of health management and husbandry of larger animals on campus,” said Frederick. “Students will participate in care, be a part of preventative health measures, and see first-hand reproductive management of our new barn residents.”

Assistant Professor Sarah Cunningham has plans to use the barn animals in her Animal Training class as part of a collaborative effort with one of Frederick’s courses.

“The students will learn how to get the new goats trained to walk on lead and hold still on a milk stand. That will then allow the students in Professor Frederick’s Animal Health class to perform health exams as a lab practical,” said Cunningham. “This is an example of Unity students participating in husbandry while also learning important practical skills that will enhance their careers.”

About The Livestock Conservancy
The Livestock Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect nearly 200 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. For more information, please visit www.livestockconservancy.org.

In recent years Unity College has gained national attention for a variety of achievements including: its focus on sustainability science, the leading-edge of 21st century ecological problem solving and the vanguard in the fight for the mitigation of global climate change; its ground-breaking “green” innovations such as the award-winning TerraHaus, the first student residence on a college or university campus built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient building standard in the world; and for being the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels, igniting a growing national movement in higher education. Unity College has repeatedly received superior placement in the Washington Monthly magazine annual college rankings, including being named among the top baccalaureate colleges in 2013.

Unity College is a private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

Thursday, August 29, 2013