The overall UMAD COWS experience is so labor-intensive and fraught with responsibilities and challenges that it can’t help but strengthen students’ team-building and communication skills, and knowledge of animal husbandry. Through the years, the program has springboarded several students into veterinary careers, many with large animals. For all, the experience bonds them through their UMaine years — and beyond.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see co-op alumni roaming the barn, looking for descendants of the cows they were assigned as students. And reminiscing with the newest UMAD COW participants.
For alumnus and Maine large animal veterinarian Simon Alexander, it was a Holstein named Louine and the hands-on experience he got at UMaine that solidified his career choice.
“The University of Maine by far is the best value in the state, and probably all of New England,” says Alexander, a native of Easton, Maine. “It set me up very well to excel in vet school.”
In 1998, UMAD COWS started as a two-semester, eight-credit program with 35 Holsteins and a dozen students, led by Alexander as vice president and Erin Emmans as president. After that first year, Alexander continued to volunteer in the dairy cooperative until he graduated in 2000 and went to vet school. When he returned to Maine to work first in a veterinary clinic in Dover-Foxcroft before starting his own practice in Bangor, he was once again a regular at Witter. One of those first farm calls was about Loucille, Louine’s offspring. He had to put her down.
“I still have her ear tag in my pickup at home,” he says.
Some students who participate in UMAD COWS are glad for the experience because they learn they don’t want to pursue this area of animal sciences. However, many more discover their calling.
“I never thought that I would enjoy cows and now I love them,” says McGintee, the herd supervisor during the spring 2009 semester. “Being here in this curriculum, I definitely want to be involved with large animals in some way.”
Image Description: The dairy barn at the J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center is a living laboratory for AVS 346, a three-credit course in dairy cattle technology, led by Associate Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences David Marcinkowski. Pictured above are two of the many tools UMAD COW students are exptected to use throughout the semester--teat dip cups for sanitation and the herd book that keeps everyone at the farm on the same page when it comes to responsibility and safety.