At university, hands-on chance to help with lambing

March 23

The instructor is teaching her course, nature is taking its course, and the result is that more than two dozen lambs have been born this year within the highly urbanized confines of the Capital Beltway.

The course is being given this semester at the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, headquartered on the College Park campus, not far from such area landmarks as the Comcast Center and Metro’s Green Line.

The title, according to the teacher, Sarah Anne Balcom, is “Applied Small Ruminant Parturition.” It is more popularly known as “lamb watch.”

In the classroom, Balcom said, students learn about the care of ewes and the lambs they produce.

Then, she said, they “participate heavily in the care of the mother sheep and their offspring during the lambing process. This, according to the university, entails “hands-on” involvement in the birthing of the animals.

In pairs of “lamb parents,” the university said, the students work together to provide the ewes with prenatal care. After assisting in the birth of the lambs, they name the newborns and help take care of them while they remain on the campus.

According to the university, at least 29 lambs have been born this year at Maryland’s on-campus working farm, which is a teaching facility.

The purpose of the setup, Balcom said, is to give students in animal and avian sciences “real-life exposure” to a working farm.

Gail Yeiser, a spokeswoman for the agriculture school, said that many students in the course go on to study at veterinary schools. Others, she said, enter animal research. Still others become sheep raisers on their own.

With the participation of the students, Balcom said, it is possible to say that “we have some of the best-cared-for lambs around.”

Some of the females are kept on the campus farm, along with the occasional ram for replacement breeding stock, Balcom said. Others, mainly the females, are sold for breeding stock to other farms or to 4-H clubs, she said. In addition, she said, many of the males are sold for meat.

But before that comes April 26, when campus facilities will be thrown open for public view, and the lambs can be admired by all.

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