Four University of Delaware undergraduates have spent their spring semesters on Webb Farm as independent study students, gaining valuable hands-on experience about what it’s like to work with lambs, sheep, beef cattle and horses in a real-world environment.
Under the guidance of Larry Armstrong, farm manager, students Jeff Chubbs, Hunter Harrow, Alexis Omar and Charles Scarff work different times and days of the week, learning the ins and outs of farming and discovering what aspects they like best about the job.
“This year’s independent study group is very diverse and everyone brings something new to the table. Everyone’s found their own little niche whether it’s working with the sheep and monitoring the lamb weights and health, focusing on cattle work, and we’re doing some overall pasture management,” said Armstrong. “That’s what we like about the independent study students. We want to teach them things but we want them to find their passion and we want them to say, ‘I want to learn more about this.’ A lot of times that leads the way.”
Armstrong said he is hoping the students gain executive function from their time out on the farm, learning to solve problems in a real-world environment.
“I’m available but I try to keep it independent because they’re going to get more out of it that way,” said Armstrong. “It’s very much problem-based learning. It can be as simple as how to develop a routine for feeding and there’s things that we need to do but how we get them done is open for them to figure out. That’s my favorite part about this year’s group. We’re diverse and everyone is finding their own passion and area of study.”
Harrow, a senior studying animal and food science with a minor in forensics, said her independent study focuses on sheep and calf management and added that Armstrong is great about teaching the students.
“Larry basically wants to help us learn so he’ll say ‘give this medicine, administer this shot,’ so it’s more experience for us but we’re also taking it for class credit so it kills two birds with one stone,” said Harrow.
Her favorite part is working with the lambs and the newborn calves on the farm.
“Who doesn’t love a baby animal? The fact that we get to actually raise farm animals, that they’re ours and it’s our responsibility is an incredible experience,” said Harrow, who added that it was beneficial to work directly with the animals and with record keeping to track how the animals progressed throughout the semester.
Scarff, a junior in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources whose father is a cattle dealer and grew up around farm animals, said he is focused on beef cattle but has also worked with sheep when they were lambing early in the semester. He has also found a passion for the horses on the farm.
“I’m taking a couple of equine classes. My older sister rode show horses, and I think that’s why I have an interest in them. I would like to do something with them,” said Scarff.
As for the most beneficial aspect of the independent study, Scarff said that it definitely had to be the hands-on learning.
“Before the cows started to calve, we were weighing the heifers and the steers. Now, since the cows are calving, we’re weighing the calves, tagging them and everything like that – just keeping an eye on them,” said Scarff.
Chubbs, a junior studying natural resource management, said that during his time on the farm, he worked closely with the livestock, sheep and cows. He also worked with a colleague in developing an exercise routine for some of the horses.
“We typically perform ground work in the arena, ride on pasture and have recently had the experience of introducing a new thoroughbred into the herd,” said Chubbs.
His favorite part has been learning how to ride, train and manage the horses.
“They’re wonderful and well-mannered creatures, which has ultimately inspired me to write the research paper I’m currently working on for the independent study with the help of Lesa Griffiths [the T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources],” said Chubbs.
As for the most beneficial aspect, Chubbs said that it’s “getting exposure to how agriculture management strategies affect the pasture, livestock and practically all elements of the entire system. Farming can be extremely brutal and intensive on the land and environment, but it can also be practiced in a way that leads to sustainability and long-term health of the animals and soil.”
Omar, a junior majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences with a double minor in wildlife conservation and theatre studies, said that her main focus was the sheep during lambing season.
“Now that lambing season is over, I have been working with Larry in the overall care of the farm. Besides working with the lambs, which was my personal focus, I also have helped with the beef cattle. Now that it is spring, the beef cattle are allowed to go out and graze on the pasture. I have helped put up fences for the beef cattle, to block off certain areas of the pasture so the cows don’t over graze,” said Omar.
Omar said she loves working on the farm, being outdoors and getting an experience that helped her realize how much she enjoys working with sheep.
“I love working with sheep and would like to pursue sheep production or be involved in some way with the sheep industry. I would not have realized how much I enjoy working with sheep if it weren’t for this independent study,” said Omar.
Both Omar and Scarff also thanked Griffiths for letting them know about the independent study experience.