Learning with livestock
For the first time, Western Dakota Tech receives animals on campus as part of Farm & Ranch Management program
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Kaden Eisenbraun, an ag instructor at Western Dakota Tech, knows that it’s much easier to teach students about livestock if animals are on campus.
Now, thanks to his efforts over the past year and a half, the college has welcomed cattle to its campus.
Three Angus cattle arrived this fall, which provide hands-on learning for students in the school’s Farm and Ranch Management program.
Eisenbraun, the program’s director, said the school is one of only 35 colleges in the U.S. to have cattle onsite. South Dakota State University in Brookings is another one.
Eisenbraun arrived at the Western Dakota Tech a year and a half before the cattle arrived and spent the first six months preparing for the program before it launched in fall 2019; however, he’s spent his whole life ranching.
Eisenbraun comes from a seventh-generation farm and ranching family in western South Dakota and was named one of AgGrad’s inaugural 30 Under 30 in Agriculture for 2019.
He said the school did have a similar program once before, but nothing quite like the new and improved Farm and Ranch Management program. For one thing, it’s the first time the school has had animals on campus.
“We started from scratch,” he said. “There is nothing left here from the previous program.”
The program focuses on several aspects of farm and ranch management, intended for those business-minded individuals who want to work in ag management. Interest in the program continues to grow.
“We are having as much active community involvement as possible,” Eisenbraun said. “There have been a lot of negative campaigns out there, misinformation on social media, about what farm and ranching looks like these days. The industry wants to reestablish trust, because people want to know where their food sources are coming from. … We talk a lot about market diversification, and market strategies.”
Having animals on campus is nothing new at South Dakota State University, which has had livestock on site for more than 100 years, according to Dr. Joseph Cassady, head of SDSU’s Animal Science Department. Animals include beef and dairy cattle, as well as horses, pigs and sheep.
“These animals support our ‘hands-on’ teaching approach in dairy production, dairy manufacturing, pig production, horse production, beef production, sheep production, meat science, veterinary science and biomedical sciences,” Cassady said.
“Students interact with animals in multiple classes, graduate students work with animals as part of their research, and some students work part-time jobs at our livestock units providing daily animal care.”
Cassady said most of the animals used for teaching research come from SDSU-owned herds, but the university also purchases several hundred head of feeder calves each year to stock the program's beef cattle feedlots. It also purchases replacement females for the Swine Education and Research facility.
“We do occasionally work with local producers to purchase or borrow animals for teaching and training purposes,” he said, noting about 1,000 students per year across all programs are involved with courses that utilize the animals.
The three animals at Western Dakota Tech are used to help students in their studies of agriculture. They interact with the livestock a variety of ways, from feeding them to rotating them between pastures, judging their phenotypic characteristics to decide what bulls they want to breed them to, and eventually vaccinating, branding, and working the cows and their calves.
Eisenbraun said students also will potentially assist birthing in the rare case of dystocia. “Students will also work to market the calves when they are ready in order to find the best price for them,” he said.
Eisenbraun is invested in the program in another way. One of the three animals on campus came from his own ranch; the two others arrived from a friend’s ranch in Wisconsin. The cattle are located in a pasture area behind the college’s Badlands Hall building.
As for the future of farming and ranching in the region, Eisenbraun said it is one he thinks a lot about.
“And while I don't have a perfect answer for that, I do see a lot more diversification coming down the pipeline,” he said. And having cattle on campus also helps diversity the school and its programs.
Initially the Farm & Ranch Management program started with seven students, but has a current capacity for 20.
“I am working to grow this program to that student capacity over the next few years by hitting hard on quality curriculum, student outreach and recruitment, developing new and innovative lab activities, and constantly searching for new opportunities for my students, he said.
“In the agricultural world, it sometimes takes a bit of time for growth, because trust needs to be built around the product being promoted. My goal is to grow the program by about 40% to 50% with each incoming class.”
Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or email@example.com