Animal lab gives MTI students hands-on experience

Mitchell Technical Institute students are getting a first-hand look at ranch life thanks to the school's animal lab. According to MTI's Agriculture and Transportation Division Head Lori Repenning, who owns the ranch that doubles as the animal lab...

Students in Mitchell Technical Institute's agriculture technology program get hands-on experience at the school's animal lab, a cattle ranch owned by Lori Repenning, division head for the program's agriculture and transportation division. (Photo courtesy of Lori Repenning)

Mitchell Technical Institute students are getting a first-hand look at ranch life thanks to the school's animal lab.

According to MTI's Agriculture and Transportation Division Head Lori Repenning, who owns the ranch that doubles as the animal lab, students get first-hand experience of the challenges facing beef producers, including calving, castrating, tattooing, dehorning and taking care of sick animals.

"We try to expose them to a little bit of everything," Repenning said. "It's truly fun to teach them."

Repenning, a former veterinarian of 20 years, said she wanted to teach her students what issues require immediate veterinary attention and which ones do not, and according to a former student, animal lab participants learn some practices that are normally reserved for veterinary school.

"We learned things like (pregnancy) checking cattle, freeze branding, things like that, that usually your vet does, but now going through the program, now we can do that because we learned it at school," said Riley Zoss, an alumni of the agriculture technology program.


Zoss, 22, of Letcher, graduated from MTI in 2014. He lives on his family's farm, helping with a cow/calf and feedlot operation, but he spends his days as MTI's agriculture and engineering admissions representative.

Zoss said the animal lab is geared around animal reproduction, overall animal health and how to efficiently manage a cattle operation. Coming from an agricultural background, Zoss expected the animal lab to be mostly review, but he was surprised.

"I kind of went in thinking that I knew a lot about animal science, and I thought it would just kind of be a review, but once I got into the program, I learned a lot of things that I didn't know prior to going to Mitchell Tech and getting an ag technology degree," Zoss said.

Repenning said the program is split into fall and spring classes, and about 20 students at a time travel to her 250-cow ranch 6 miles southeast of campus for about three hours each week.

The agriculture technology program has been running for decades, Repenning said, and students were using the animal lab long before she started teaching at MTI four years ago, though the lab was hosted on another faculty member's farm before she arrived.

The lab is optional, but Repenning said all of the roughly 90 agriculture technology students choose to take part in either the animal lab or the school's land lab, which allows them to use county-owned land west of the fairgrounds and near the Poet ethanol plant for an agronomy emphasis.

"It's just so much easier for them to learn when they get to actually do it. They get to try different methods that maybe grandpa or their dad use or don't use at home, so they can see what they're most comfortable with," Repenning said.

Repenning said some students have rich backgrounds in agriculture, and some are seeing it all for the first time, so the animal lab also gives the students a chance to help each other.


MTI's animal lab is not the only hands-on animal science program in the state. Repenning said Lake Area Tech in Watertown and South Dakota State University in Brookings also have cattle.

SDSU offers four-year programs, but while MTI and LAT's programs only last two years, Repenning said the students are "getting a lot of education in a short time" and are probably getting the same jobs as graduates of four-year schools.

According to Zoss, the animal lab at MTI provides the best hands-on agricultural experience available.

"Our students at Mitchell Tech are getting that first-hand experience out there," Zoss said. "Whether you want to head back to the family farm or operation, or you want to pursue a degree in animal science, that first-hand experience is as good as you're going to find."

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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