Hands-On at CMC's Vet Tech Program 9

Learning from a Llama or a Miniature Horse

Before the snow flies at the Spring Valley campus, professors and students in the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) veterinary technology program will have spent a lot of hands-on-learning time outdoors with resident farm animals.

The college’s 220-acre vet tech facility accommodates classrooms, offices, labs, a companion animal hospital, a six-stall teaching barn and hay storage. It provides plenty of outdoor space for six horses, four alpacas, seven steers, eleven chickens, two sheep, twelve goats and one llama. The majority of these animals were donated to the school by local residents. “Stella”, a retired show horse, helps students learn animal handling and restraint, physical exams, giving vaccinations and de-worming. Animal Resource Manager Leslie Rockey explains that the school doesn’t accept just any animal. Each one must pass a behavioral and medical exam before being accepted into the program—good temperament and health are prerequisites.

Dr. Jeff Myers, DVM, director of the vet tech program, points out that the horses, alpacas, goats and others “all function to teach basic animal husbandry practices, medical diagnosis and treatment.” Although the farm animals are handled for teaching only about twelve days per school year, they continue to “teach” through the year as students provide daily basic care for them.

CMC is dedicated to caring for these animals for the rest of their lives, and what a good life it is!

Students come to CMC from all over Colorado, the nation, and even different countries, arriving with varied experiences in the animal world. Professor Nancy Sheffield, Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) finds that “there are kids who grew up in the saddle and city kids who’ve never been anywhere near a horse or a cow.” She finds rewards in both a student’s enthusiasm for getting outdoors with the animals and in witnessing more-experienced students encouraging and assisting less-experienced classmates.

CMC’s program is rigorous and meant for serious applicants; before applying, prospective students must spend 30 hours shadowing a veterinarian or vet tech at a veterinary clinic. “We demand a lot from the students because we want great vet techs out there,” says CVT Lauren Thraen, who is an assistant instructor and a 2010 CMC graduate.

Because few programs in the U.S. offer CMC’s combination of hands-on experience, a variety of animals and a farm setting, future vet techs are drawn from all across the country. They encounter a challenging curriculum that ranges from learning basic handling to administering and monitoring anesthesia. In addition to their hands-on learning, they spend many hours indoors at labs and classes ranging from Anatomy, Clinical Pathology, Pharmacology, Parasitology to Radiography. They take tests every week.

Professor Dr. Gretchen Lamb, DVM, says that it’s important to make “students comfortable with handling these animals and with safety for the humans. Learning humane, safe methods of handling the animals is a top priority.” That’s easier said than done with some animals. The teaching horses tend to be more cooperative than steers and alpacas; the latter have a tendency to spit when handled.

Students and professors alike tend to have a favorite animal. Maverick, the miniature horse, has many fans due to his sassy attitude. Some students are fond of the pygmy goats for their spunk.

Larger livestock can be intimidating especially for those who have never handled them before, but some students like the excitement and challenge because of the animal’s size, strength and/or stubbornness. Freshman Brian O’Neill says that cattle, weighing in at a ton, are the most challenging. Having worked with marine mammals for over 20 years (walruses are his favorite), O’Neill finds a lot of common ground between big land and sea animals when it comes to reading their behavior and the methods used to handle them.

Most of CMC’s four-legged, feathered and furred residents seem to love attention. Horses begin to nap while the students examine them. These animals get their share of hugs, scratches under the chin and rubs behind the ears. But as sophomore student Tasha LaForme points out, between the labs, animal care, studying and exams, the program is a lot of work. “This is not just about petting animals. You have to be dedicated!”

The Colorado Mountain College Vet Tech school, started in 1970, was one of the first American Veterinary Medical Association accredited programs in the country. Their mission statement is “to educate a small group of high-quality veterinary technicians who are successful at becoming credentialed and who are dedicated to the concept of lifelong learning and the improvement animal health.”