Students in the GSB Upper School Animal Science class joined Home Winds Farm Manager Ned Lincoln and Upper School Science Teacher Dr. Montana Vasquez-Grinnell for a one-of-a-kind hands-on learning experience this week: the weighing of baby goats.
Monitoring the health of the ever-expanding Home Winds flock is one of the key responsibilities of the GSB animal science students. With eight pregnant ewes (sheep) and three does (goats)--most of whom have more than one lamb/kid--keeping track of all the offspring and ensuring they are thriving is a fulltime job. Students are charged with weighing the babies within a few hours of birth to set a base weight and then weighing them again over the next few weeks to make sure that number increases. If not, additional actions will need to be taken.
“It’s very important to see that the babies are growing,” said Mr. Lincoln. “If they aren’t, we need to determine if there are any underlying issues preventing them from thriving, and we may need to supplement with a bottle and specialized formula.”
In addition to monitoring the health of the babies once they’re born, students track the health of the mothers during gestation and immediately after they give birth as well. Part of this evaluation is determining a body condition score using a 1-5 rating scale on different aspects of the mother’s physiology. In mother goats, for example, students will examine the fat and muscle mass along the rib cage, hip bones, and spine to ensure the mother hasn’t lost or gained too much weight.
“Students become intimately familiar with the animals,” Mr. Lincoln explained. “They learn a great deal about the metabolic demands of pregnancy and the toll it takes on the body. I always tell them that if they take one lesson away from class, it is to be thankful to their own mothers!”
Along with hands-on animal experience, students in the Animal Science class learn about other biological principles in animal behavior, including seasonal rhythms, habitat selection, antipredator behavior, communication, and more. While all of these lessons are incredibly valuable, tending to the babies happens to be one of the favorites due to the cuteness factor. In the end, the most important lesson passed on to the students is just how much time and hard work goes into tending livestock and in producing the food we eat.
“When the shelves are stocked with gallons of milk and all sorts of artisanal cheeses and organic meats, it’s easy to become immune to how much time and energy goes into getting those products to the market,” said Mr. Lincoln. “When you are involved in an animal’s care from the moment of gestation, you learn not to take those choices for granted.”