Reprinted from MCC’s Summer 2012 Career Focus magazine.
Although they both grew up on farms, Michael and Cassie Hatch didn’t know how many career opportunities are available in the agriculture industry until they enrolled in Montcalm Community College’s Animal Science class.
The Hatchs completed the course during MCC’s 2012 spring semester. During the 15-week class, they visited a variety of area farms and agri-businesses, heard presentations by agriculture professionals and learned through hands-on instruction.
“I wanted to see what kind of jobs were out there in the agricultural field,” Michael says. “I have always enjoyed being out on the farm and exploring different areas. When we went on site visits, I was amazed at the variety of positions that are available.
“They aren’t just farmers going to the field every day,” he says.
During the visits, Michael says he learned that people work as production managers, salespeople, mechanics, scientists, grain merchandisers and more.
“They need all kinds of skills, and there are a lot of jobs available,” he says.
Michael grew up on a hobby farm where his family raised crops, hay, beef cattle and horses. His first career choice was diesel mechanic. He earned a certificate in auto diesel and worked in the industry for three years before being laid off from his job. That’s when he decided to return to college at MCC and explore other career options.
Cassie was raised on a dairy farm and recently worked with students in Merry Kim Meyers’ animal science class at the Montcalm Area Career Center. She says she enjoys “learning everything about animals. I grew up around animals and have always liked working with them.”
She says she “got a general understanding of agriculture” from the class and hopes it will “help open peoples’ eyes to the agricultural industry.”
Animal Science at MCC
Taught by MCC Biology Instructor Michelle Gibson, Ph.D, AGRI110 – Introduction to Animal Science, explores the history and development of animal agriculture in the United States and the world.
“We also look at the relationship of animal agriculture to human needs and production systems, and we consider marketing and environmental concerns,” Gibson says.
Michigan’s $91.4 billion agricultural industry is one of the most diverse in the nation, producing more than 200 commodities for domestic and worldwide markets. The state ranks No. 2 in the nation for its agricultural diversity, second only to California.
Gibson explores this diversity during the course. She builds the class foundation by providing an overview of animal production, during which students also learn about exotic and companion animals. Throughout the semester, the class visits a local orchard to learn about exotic animals, goes to a local cheese processor to get a first-hand view of how one of Michigan’s top agricultural products is made, and learns about animal feed and rations by visiting an area grain elevator and processor. Other field experiences include visiting area horse, poultry, beef, swine, sheep, goat and dairy farms, a local meat processor, and Michigan State University to tour the university’s facilities.
“We talk about everything from carcass traits, cuts of meat and exotic animals to farm business management, environmental issues in animal agriculture and animal welfare,” says Gibson, who earned her master’s degree and doctorate in Animal Science from MSU and owns and operates her own farm near Coral.
“Farmers have to do it all,” she says. “That is the point of this class – to give our students an overall view of the opportunities available in the agriculture industry. Students don’t necessarily have to want to pursue a degree in animal science.”
Tom Smith, Associate Director of the Institute of Agricultural Technology at MSU, agrees.
“Animal agriculture in Michigan is a huge business, with dairy being the largest agricultural commodity in the state,” he says. “Meat processing is projected to be one of the top 10 food processing growth industries in Michigan over the next eight years.
“Animal science at Michigan State is also a very popular major for students wishing to go into veterinary medicine and even is a good major for students interested in human medicine,” Smith says.
Why Animal Science?
Whether you want to study the genetics of muscling in pigs or work with handicapped children and horses for therapy, animal science is a program area that offers a variety of career opportunities.
Completing a bachelor’s degree in animal science prepares students for a variety of careers by establishing a strong basic science foundation combined with practical experience working with animals. Graduates may be farm owners or employed in agribusiness, consulting, extension, finance, management, marketing or public relations. Students also may specialize in areas such as companion or exotic animal biology to prepare for a career in small animal nutrition, pet food sales, management and others.
Advanced-degree holders may work as a veterinarian, product research and development representative for a meat company, state livestock or equine extension specialist, research scientist for an animal health or pharmaceutical company, product development specialist for a feed company, marketing research specialist for a genetics company or professor of animal science.
“The opportunities are endless,” Gibson says.
An economic impact study released earlier this year by the MSU Product Center shows that Michigan’s agriculture and food industries not only survived the recent recession, but have emerged prosperous and are growing stronger by the day. “The Economic Impact of Michigan’s Food and Agriculture System” found steady, consistent growth and cumulative increases of nearly 50 percent during the past eight years. Among Michigan’s more than 200 different commodities, dairy continues to lead the way, generating more than $1.3 billion in total annual economic activity. Combined with other livestock production, Michigan’s animal agriculture sector accounts for nearly $5 billion annually.
The report found Michigan has more than 73,000 full-time farmers and farm workers. That’s 12 percent of 618,000 direct jobs in the state’s food and agriculture business sector. Food and agriculture account for 22 percent of all jobs in Michigan.
Partnership helps MCC students when they transfer
MCC and MSU have partnered to make it easier for students to transfer to MSU.
By following a suggested course schedule at MCC, students may complete up to 35 credits under this agreement that will transfer to MSU. One additional credit is waived by MSU, so transfer students arrive with a minimum of 36 credits.
Many of these courses fulfill basic educational requirements at the university, including coursework in English, humanities, sociology, psychology, math, economics, biology, chemistry and agriculture. Plus, other MCC classes may transfer to MSU, and students may consider earning an associate degree from MCC to fulfill more credit requirements.
In addition, MCC’s AGRI110 is equivalent to MSU’s ANS110 – Introduction to Animal Agriculture, one of the university’s entry-level animal science courses.
According to MSU Professor and Associate Chairperson for Equine Nutrition John Shelle, completing any animal science coursework before transferring to MSU gives students a head start on an exciting career in the agricultural industry.
“The most important opportunity for students who can take ANS110 before entering MSU is that it allows them to complete the program with more ease when they enroll in animal science at MSU,” Shelle said.