For some skills, there’s just no substitution for learning by doing – and that’s exactly what 4-H Veterinary Science Camp offered.

Nearly 100 youth ages 11-19 learned more about veterinary medicine as they worked with horses, cattle and chickens at three one-day camps offered around the state this summer. The camp is an outreach of the Arkansas 4-H Veterinary Science program, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Dr. Heidi Ward, associate professor and veterinarian with the Division of Agriculture, coordinated the program and invited industry professionals to share their experiences.

“We try to incorporate as many hands-on opportunities as possible so that our youth learn skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career in veterinary medicine,” Ward said.

In years past, the camp has been offered as a three-day event at the Arkansas 4-H Center, drawing youth from all over the state. Last year’s camp was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year, the camp was limited to 30 students, but the camp was offered at three sites – at the Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center in Fayetteville on June 24, at the Arkansas State University Show Barn in Jonesboro on June 25 and at the C.A. Vines Center in Little Rock on June 26.

“The 4-Hers are always excited to get hands-on experience from professionals in the field,” said Hot Spring County agent Rachel Bearden, who brought a group of eight students from her county to camp. “They are learning practical skills they take back home.”

While some of the camp attendees were new to animal science, most had 4-H projects in beef, horse, poultry or another animal science, and many of them care for animals on their family’s farms. For them, the camp offered the chance to talk with practicing veterinarians about their careers.

Eva Berryhill, 18, of Leola was attending the vet science camp for the sixth year and has wanted to be a veterinarian for many years now. She is president of the Hot Spring County 4-H Veterinary Science Club, which she helped start, and she raises Nubian dairy goats on her family’s farm. She plans to attend the University of Arkansas this fall as an animal sciences major in the pre-professional sciences track. Eventually, she hopes to attend Oklahoma State University’s veterinary school and specialize in large animals with a specialty in small ruminants.

At the Little Rock session, Ward taught one group how to hold and restrain chickens – a much-needed workplace skill so that neither animal nor human gets injured during treatment.

Outside the 4-H Center, another group of teens worked with quarter horses owned by Bearden.

Dr. Kelly Ross, a veterinary from Nashville, Arkansas, and her husband, Tommy, a farrier, discussed equine health during the workshop. Hope Hunt of Lonoke pressed a stethoscope firmly to the side of a horse to find its heartbeat while Ross talked about the importance of paying close attention to foot care and digestive health.

Nearby, another group of youth worked with two Miniature Hereford heifers – Gracie Lou and Cindy Lou – owned by Lonoke County 4-H agent Sarah Beth Johnson.

Dr. Chelsea Bland Smith, who has a mobile veterinary practice, explained how she usually starts an exam by looking for telltale signs of problems such as a limp or tearing in the eye, and then does a “TPR” – vet speak for temperature, pulse and respiratory rate.

“Veterinary medicine is never cut and dried,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to know your breed.”

In the afternoon, the attendees participated in a mock surgery. Dr. Marcus Eddings, a Little Rock veterinarian, taught students intubation and IV catheter placement using simulators. Between sessions, the campers had lunch with a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program on foreign animal disease.

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