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Getting up close, personal with a college farm
Photos and Story by James Hill
At Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus farm, there are almost 30 sheep, two dozen cows, five alpacas, three rabbits, two goats, a horse, some chickens, and a group of dogs and cats at a next door kennel.
No, there’s no ark being built. These are the animals that students care for as part of their learning within the Veterinary Technology and Biology and Management of Zoo Animals programs at Rock Creek (17705 N.W. Springville Road). The relationship between students and the animals is one of mutual benefit that gives them access to a living farm right on campus and provides opportunities to rescue and serve animals of all kinds.
“Being able to work with animals hands on is really important because there are a lot of different behaviors you can learn about,” said Ann Lauerman, a student in the Biology and Management of Zoo Animals Program, or known as BAMZA. “With Rock Creek having the farm animals it has been extremely helpful and ties in with what we’re learning in the classrooms. It’s a great way to really learn the skills.”
Lauerman recently finished an internship at the Oregon Zoo and a stint training alpacas at the farm, which has allowed other students to apply halters without spooking them.
“We’re desensitizing them to our presence,” Lauerman added. “We use positive reinforcement training so they are less stressful when they are taken out of their comfort zone in the barn. It’s especially important to keep those stress levels down.”
In fall of 2012, the college launched the two-year associate of applied science degree in Biology and Management of Zoo Animals. It is a partnership with the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University. The program is one of six in the U.S. and the only one in the Northwest.
“Our community partners provide opportunities for on-site experience and the mentors at these facilities who work with our students are among the best in the country,” said Joyce Kaplan, BAMZA faculty chair.
The Veterinary Technology Program is the only program of its kind in the state of Oregon (one of four in the Northwest) and prepares students to become certified veterinary technicians and to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam. The two Rock Creek training programs share the resources at the college’s farm to integrate student learning and hands-on training.
“There has been good sharing of resources, including college-owned animals, between the Veterinary Technology Program and the new BAMZA Program,” said Dr. Brad Krohn, licensed veterinarian and PCC instructor. “BAMZA students have been able to learn behavioral enrichment techniques with animals as diverse as freshwater fish, rodents and alpacas. BAMZA students were able to complete an entire course dedicated to the water quality management of zoo animals using college-owned fish and aquaria. To our knowledge, this is the only course of its kind offered in such a training program.”
The Vet Tech Program rescues a group of dogs, cats, and lab animals from local shelters at the start of the year for students to provide daily care, exercise and assist with medical procedures to keep them healthy. Students also clean the on-site kennel, organize animal feedings and participate in farm activities like the popular lamb watch. This is where groups of three students take shifts to watch for potential births in the barn among the farm’s sheep and keep detailed logs of their behavior and care. In addition to their program work, students fund raise and lend their expertise to local nonprofits.
“We have applicants to the program from all over the United States,” Krohn added. “Animals serve student learning in so many ways at PCC – from reinforcing basic anatomy and physiology skills, to learning safe handling, husbandry and nursing techniques, to more advanced techniques such as radiography and dentistry. PCC’s diversity of on-campus animals and the presence of a fully operational farm provides a unique hands-on exposure and full immersion into small animal medicine, large animal medicine and agriculture. This really helps define the program as one of the most elite and successful training programs in the country.”