By Robin DeRieux (CA&ES Outlook)
At an hour when some college students are just going to bed, animal science major Teresa Greenhut is feeding cows. It’s 4 a.m.—one of four times a day that the herd gets fed at the UC Davis Dairy Teaching and Research Center. Greenhut awakens before dawn in her dairy dorm room, bundles up, puts on a headlamp and rubber muck boots, and heads out to the barn to shovel feed.
As a student resident at the dairy barn, Greenhut takes the 4 a.m. feeding shift a couple of days a week as part of her internship duties. In exchange for 10 hours a week of work, student residents get free housing at the dairy.
No, not in the stalls. In dorm rooms much like any other, though the doors are decorated with a black and white pattern like a Holstein, and the rooms are located just a few feet away from the milking parlor. Greenhut is one of four students who live at the dairy to help keep things running when facility manager Doug Gisi goes home at night.
“There are many ways to get experience with animals on campus, but the barn residency is much more in-depth,” said Greenhut, a sophomore from Wilton, California, who was involved with livestock through FFA in high school. “You really get a taste for managing a herd.”
Life on the farm
The Barn Residency Program, which has been around for more than 50 years, lets students live up to two years at a single campus animal facility and apply to a different barn when their tenure is up. There are eight facilities on campus that provide housing in exchange for animal husbandry, giving students the opportunity to work with cows, pigs, goats, horses, birds and sheep.
“When I meet new people, I tell them I live in an actual red barn with white trim,” said Pedro Martinez, an animal science junior who resides at the sheep barn with two other interns. “It’s a conversation ice breaker. I tell them it’s like being a resident advisor, only for sheep, not students.” Martinez, who grew up in Porterville, California, plans to become a livestock veterinarian and learns on the job by shadowing and assisting veterinarians at the barn.
“It’s a conversation ice breaker. I tell them it’s like being a resident advisor, only for sheep, not students.”
The sheep barn, the dairy and other campus animal facilities also give Martinez, Greenhut and other student residents ample opportunity to get hands-on experience with livestock reproduction and births.
“Animals normally don’t give birth between 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon when the barn manager is around,” said Dan Sehnert, who oversees all animal facilities on campus that are managed by the Department of Animal Science. “These animals give birth in the middle of the night. So our barn residents are the ones who are assisting and seeing it through, or calling for help in emergencies.”
At the sheep barn, lambing season runs from about October through February, but most of the babies are born in November, when sheep barn residents might handle up to a dozen births per night. “Some of the first-time mothers are lousy moms,” said Martinez. “So we put the mother and the lamb in a small pen together where they can bond. We make sure the lambs are getting milk, because the first milk has lots of antibodies that help protect the babies from infection.”
Midwifing during the wee hours can make it hard to get up for classes the next day, but barn residents think the experience is worth it. “It’s definitely rewarding,” said Greenhut, who has spent many sleepless nights helping cows give birth at the dairy. “But you need to know what you’re in for.”
To vet school, industry and beyond
Former animal science students who were barn residents have gone on to careers in veterinary medicine, the livestock industry, as well as dentistry, firefighting and more. Sehnert considers the program good for everyone involved—students get experience, parents get a price break on the cost of college, and the herds get round-the-clock supervision.
“Being a resident has helped me meet lots of people and make connections in industry,” said Martinez. “When I go to a conference, people already know my name, and they know I’m a resident at the UC Davis sheep barn.”