Animal Handling Course Allows Hands-On Introduction to Animal Behavior

Sep. 18, 2017

The changing nature of the Department of Animal Sciences student demographics meant fewer students were coming from an agricultural background. Even those who had agricultural exposure tended to have experience with only a limited set of animals. Gone were the days of the small family farm with a variety of animals to meet all of the family’s dietary needs. In 2016, the Animal Sciences faculty decided to address the needs of their changing student population by requiring all Animal Sciences students, starting in autumn 2017, take ANIMSCI 2000 Animal Handling.

Cameron Hupp, a freshman from Lowell, Ohio, grew up working on his grandparent’s dairy farm and his family raised other food and companion animals. He participated in both 4-H and FFA. However, he still sees the need for an animal handling course in the curriculum, “I think the most challenging part is having to know how to work with every animal. Having come from a very agricultural background, I still have n ot worked with every type of animal so it is still a learning aspect in some respects.”

Animal Handling is a 7-week course open to any Ohio State student. Students attend an 80-minute lecture one day and a nearly three-hour lab another day. The instructors, Dr. Steven Moeller (Professor and Swine Extension Specialist), Hank LeVan (Lecturer and Livestock Evaluation Leader) and Dr. Justin Kieffer (Clinical Veterinarian, Professional Practice Assistant Professor) bring a diverse set of experiences to the course. Each is able to draw from his experiences not only from an academic setting, but also having worked with livestock farms of all sizes and structures. Additional faculty and staff are also utilized on lab days to bring in additional expertise on all of the animals (beef and dairy cattle, horses, poultry, sheep, goat, and swine) the students will come in contact with.

Prior to the Animal Handling course, Christyana Bolls, a freshman from Cincinnati, Ohio, had only been exposed to companion animals. She hopes to become a veterinarian and appreciates the exposure to agricultural animals. “I haven’t been real close to farm animals, to work with them in the way that we are. It is great to get the experience and it has been the most enjoyable part because I love animals so much.”

The content of the course focuses not just on exposure to animals, but according to Dr. Moeller, “appropriately managing behavior on both sides of the human and animal interaction.” During lectures, students are exposed to characteristics and behaviors of all of the animals they will interact with to keep both sides safe. Students learn about signs of stress and appropriate handling. They also learn about rules and regulations for every step along the supply chain. Animal welfare is an important component of the course. During a recent lecture, Dr. Kieffer revealed he will remove electric livestock prods from truck drivers if he sees them when inspecting trucks for animal health and safety. Students are instead taught means of raising and moving the animals that is better suited to their natural instincts and makes them easier to handle.

Natalie Prischak, a junior from Erie, Pennsylvania, finds animal welfare one of the most interesting components of the course. “The part of the course that really gets you thinking is the lecture. Dr. Moeller does a great job of incorporating welfare into his lectures, connecting it to the behavior and handling, and, rather than just tell us what is right or wrong welfare, making us think for ourselves.”

Freshman Brianna Osborn, from Dublin, Ohio, also finds animal handling and welfare an important component of the course. “It [ANIMSCI 2000] has allowed me to interact with animals that I have spent little to no time with before, and learn the proper techniques to take care of them without being inhumane. It has also informed me about why animal handlers use the techniques they use today, and the reason behind the older techniques being banned or shunned. “

The adoption of ANIMSCI 2000 , Animal Handling, as a required course for all Animals Sciences students, grew from an observed demand for interaction with animals that many students had limited or no exposure. The course content and time spent with the animals has made it a valuable inclusion in the curriculum.

“It’s [ANIMSCI 2000] different in how hands-on we are with the animals. It’s one thing to see a video, or hear handling techniques in a lecture, but it’s very different implementing those techniques. Most livestock animals haven’t read the textbook on how they’re supposed to act, and having the tools and knowledge for those situations is valuable. “said Jessica Shrake, fifth-year senior from Worthington, Ohio.