Agriculture education in focus: Animal science degree
LA JUNTA, Colo. — The farms and ranches that proliferate across the high desert region of southeast Colorado often look like very traditional, family-run businesses, and to a large extent, they are. However, farming isn’t only about tradition — there’s also a lot of cutting-edge science going on behind the scenes in what is, essentially, a thoroughly modern business.
Otero Junior College Agriculture Instructor Brooke Matthew, who leads the two-year animal science degree program at Otero Junior College, was born and raised on one of these cattle ranches and has seen first-hand how commercial farming has dramatically changed in recent years.
“Ten years ago we weren’t putting the focus on science like we are today,” Matthew said. “Farmers are now under more pressure than ever to increase their production while maintaining and improving standards. This is why animal science is so important to the modern agricultural business.”
According to Matthew, animal science degrees don’t just focus on the “hardcore science” of things like reproduction and genetics. Animal science also looks at more traditional animal husbandry skills and the business side of commercial farming.
“As a business, commercial farming is a job that people take very seriously,” Matthew said. “Animal science encompasses all of the different building blocks that the business is built upon.”
Citing the influence of Temple Grandin, the author of more than 60 scientific papers on animal behavior and a prominent proponent for the humane treatment of livestock, Matthew highlights how taking a more scientific approach to animal husbandry can significantly add to the bottom line of a commercial farming business.
“Temple Grandin has really led the industry to understand that your animal husbandry skills do affect the health of your animals and in the long run, your meat quality,” Matthew said. “In my grandparents’ time that stuff wasn’t even heard of.”
Students in the animal science degree program at OJC focus primarily on domestic farm animals including cattle, sheep, goats and horses. The college doesn’t have any animals on campus but is instead supported by a community of local farmers and ranchers who open up their operations to allow for extensive hands-on education.
“The community support for the agriculture program at OJC is astonishing,” Matthew said. “I have producers, all local people from basically all walks of the industry, who allow our students to go out and use their facilities. This gives students an amazing opportunity to have real-world experience of working with all manner of species and breeds.”
SCIENCE AND MATH
However, animal science isn’t just an opportunity for students who want to work directly with animals.
“It’s not just boots on the ground learning,” Matthew said. “We also have students who really enjoy the science and math that goes with it. These are the students who can crunch numbers and be able to calculate a ration for those cattle in the dairy, balancing production costs with profits. If they have these skills and want a career in agriculture, there’s plenty of opportunity for that.”
Following the successful completion of the two-year associate of science animal science degree program at OJC, students are able to seamlessly transfer into the third year of a bachelor’s program at Colorado State University-Fort Collins College of Agricultural Science.
“Right now, half of my students are transferring on to get their bachelor’s degrees in either ag business or animal science, and the other half are going straight into the workforce,” Matthew said.
Aside from the significant cost savings of attending a community college instead of going directly into a four-year program, Matthew also highlights the benefits of a practical education taught in small groups.
“At OJC, we’re pretty heavy on the practical side of things,” Matthew said. “I think a lot of times our students really need to have an idea of what they are getting themselves into before they get there.”
According to Matthew, the job opportunities following graduation from an animal science degree program are wide-ranging.
“If anything, it’s too broad to say ‘You’ve got a degree in animal science, here’s your starting salary,’” Matthew said. “You’ve got everything from minimum wage farm jobs in feedlots and dairies up to some six-figure salaries for food scientists.”
To learn more about OJC’s Associate of Science Animal Science Degree program and transfer opportunities, please visit the program page of our website or http://www.ojc.edu and type in agriculture in the search bar.
Fall semester at OJC will begin on Aug. 17. All classes are currently being planned to be in-person, with options of hybrid-remote learning for those who wish to remain at home to study. ❖