Counting on Sheep to Deliver Hands-on Education

Mar 23, 2016 / General News

[Illinois veterinary students with lambs]

Ewes present a practical teaching model

The oohs and coos one expects to hear in a delivery ward were mixed with plenty of high-pitched bleats and long, passionate “mehs” on a sunny March evening when half a dozen first- and second-year veterinary students visited.

That’s because these moms were ewes, and sometimes when a student entered a pen to scoop up a baby for its health check, vaccinations, and ear tag, mom made her objections known.

“Don’t worry. We’ll bring him right back to you,” promised one student.

Hands-on Learning

[vet students vaccinte a lamb]

Sara Pearson holds a lamb and Jacklyn Porter vaccinates it as Allison Knox and Katie O’Brien look on.

Along with considerable cuddling, each lamb received two injections and an ID tag. The males also got a painkiller and a castration band.

The students, all members of the Production Medicine Club (PMC) or Theriogenology Club at the College of Veterinary Medicine, took turns holding, vaccinating, banding, medicating, and tagging. With 13 lambs, everyone got plenty of hands-on time.

Dr. Chelsey Ramirez (far right in the photo above), an instructor at the college, and Dr. Jamie Stewart (front, center, holding black lamb), who is completing a residency in bovine theriogenology (a word that means the study of animal reproduction), were there to teach and supervise.

[vet student tags a lamb's ear]

Dr. Chelsey Ramirez supervises as Hannah Lynaugh places an identification tag on the ear of a lamb.

The ewes and lambs were also there to teach.

“When it comes to teaching animal reproduction to students whose goal is to become a mixed animal practitioner, the ewes present a more practical model than do other species in terms of safety, economics, and hands-on opportunities,” said Dr. Ramirez. “We are in the process of expanding our current flock to be able to accommodate the teaching needs.”

Unique Educational Opportunity

[Allison Bergin with lamb]

Allison Bergin, Class of 2016, said, “I was very excited [to see this lamb] because I didn’t even know if I had successfully inseminated the ewe I had worked on in October.” Dr. Stewart snapped this photo.

The hands-on teaching did not start with the delivery. In October 2015, fourth-year veterinary students on a population medicine rotation kicked this learning cycle off with an artificial insemination lab.

“The first group of ewes to lamb were all bred via laparoscopy by fourth-year students,” said Dr. Stewart. “Any ewes that didn’t become pregnant from that lab were put out with the ram and bred by him on their next cycle, about 18 days later.”

Allison Bergin, who will graduate in May, appreciated the opportunity to try her hand at laparoscopic surgery in the lab.

“Every new experience is a selling point when you are a new graduate, so being able to say I’ve successfully artificially inseminated a sheep and done a laparoscopic procedure is definitely a unique attribute,” she said.

“It was exciting to do because a lot of routine surgeries, such as canine spays, are becoming laparoscopic. I was familiar with the process, but only in theory from reading about it and watching videos of others performing the procedure,” she said.

“There seems to be a steep learning curve. The easiest way to describe it to say it’s like playing a video game!”

Something to Brag About

[ultrasound of a lamb]

This transabdominal ultrasound image was taken at around 50 days gestation. The head, body, and one of the hind limbs of a lamb are visible. Sheep have a cotyledonary placenta, meaning that nutrient exchange occurs through specific sites called placentomes. In sheep, there are between 70 and 100 placentomes, and each forms a concave structure, resembling a “C,” as shown above.

Veterinary students were also engaged in ultrasound labs with the pregnant ewes.

“The first lab was around a month after artificial insemination, where we identified the ewes that were pregnant from the AI lab. Third-year students in a theriogenology lab pregnancy-checked the sheep via abdominal ultrasound,” said Dr. Stewart.

“We also held separate labs for the Therio and PMC clubs a few weeks later, where we confirmed the AI ones were still pregnant and then found that the ram had successfully bred the rest.”

Bergin did not participate in the ultrasound labs because she was completing off-campus rotations from December through March. In fact, she did not learn that the ewe she had inseminated had become pregnant until she saw the baby when she went with Dr. Stewart to check on the sheep while on a rotation in Rural Animal Health Management.

“I was so excited to see ‘my’ ewe with her babies!” reported Bergin. “I even asked Dr. Stewart to take a picture of me with the lamb and posted it to Facebook to brag about it all.”

Photos by L. Brian Stauffer, Public Affairs, except as noted.