As many of you know, Mick Womersley’s Environmental Citizen class last fall built a barn. It was a great way to get students involved in a tangible project that will serve lasting needs on campus. A couple of garden work-study folks have been helping put on the finishing touches. This new construction replaces a smaller structure that had previously been used to house sheep, and before that I understand there were cows and horses on campus too. A lot of the folks I work with have a real interest in getting animals back on campus, but we want to be very careful about how we do that.
Yesterday, Sarah Cunningham, Professor in our Captive Wildlife Care and Education program, gathered together a crack team to work on a successful animal management plan that satisfies lots of campus interest while keeping the safety and well-being of those animals in mind. This was our first structured conversation of many, and we’re really open to ideas. We know we need to start small, but the folks who gathered really don’t seem to be married to any one notion. Of course, some of our academic interest in campus livestock can be satisfied off site at nearby farms, but we mostly agree that managing animals on campus could offer something additional to the educational and living experience at Unity College.
Some of our good reasons for bringing animals back to the Unity College campus are below. Do you have any to add?
- Captive Wildlife Care and Ed students (and there are a LOT of them) need the practice. Both the regular daily care of animals, and a certain level of accountability for managing them that may be lacking in our current partnerships.
- Sustainable Agriculture students could certainly benefit from diversifying their hands-on experience with animals (whether on campus or not). We currently require Soil Fertility and Livestock and Pasture Management courses in the major that will get students some good planning experience as we develop and implement our campus animal management plan.
- More food! We’re also interested in closing (or narrowing the gap in) the nutrient loop on campus. We could use animal waste to fortify soils for vegetable production. And we may even decide to raise livestock for food.
- Land management was also brought up. The right kind of herd animals on campus could be great for managing grass and hay areas and cut down on time and fuel spent mowing lawn (a rather big expense to the school, actually).
- The Future Farmers of America (FFA) club on campus has some great animal experience among their ranks, and are eager to exercise their talents away from their home animals.
So we’re not sure what it looks like yet. Chickens, pigs, sheep? (oh, my). But we’re thinking carefully about scale (we need to remain small) and management (there has to be some dedicated staff/faculty oversight).