Hands-on experience is providing her with valuable information, said Davana Mahon, a student enrolled in the Applied Sustainable Ranching program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.
“I’m learning from people who are working in the industry,” the 22-year-old said Wednesday from Chimney Creek Hereford Ranch along Highway 20 west of Williams Lake.
The ranch is owned by Bill and Lyn Stafford.
Earlier that morning Mahon assisted a veterinarian with semen testing of bulls.
Mahon took the opportunity to observe the vet conducting sperm counts.
Mahon enrolled in the Williams Lake program in January, after completing a year and a half of agriculture studies at Olds College in Alberta.
Through her practical experience at the ranch she has helped with herd health management, range riding to check cattle.
“Whatever needs to be done, we do it,” she said. “We’ve got branding coming up at the end of April and then we’ll go onto the range.”
Mahon enjoys working with animals, she said.
“One of the things that is huge with this program is the hands-on experience. Everyone says Olds is the agricultural capital of Canada and has the best lands in Alberta, but I was learning from professors who used to be in agriculture but aren’t any more. They just teach it.”
Through the course out of Williams Lake, she said, the students are learning from instructors who are still working in the industry.
“They aren’t teaching you out of a text book per say. They can say on my ranch this weekend this is what I encountered or this is what I am doing next weekend.”
She had some of those types of experiences at Olds, but said she is receiving more at the program in the Cariboo.
There is also networking going on between the students and the instructors, Mahon added.
Sometimes the program’s director Gillian Watt will message the students to let them know that someone is looking for ranch hands.
“They are really helping us set ourselves up in this area,” Mahon said.
So far in class they’ve covered marketing and finances and will be tackling predator and protection issues next.
A big highlight for her so far was the class tours they did during the first week of the course. They visited half a dozen ranches in the Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House areas.
“It was so interesting to see how each ranch has specialized. The Kaufmans grow corn and vegetables, one ranch does custom grazing and another is doing sheep,” she said.
“None of them are just cow-calf operations. They each have a niche market to diversify their operations.”
When she completes her studies at TRU, her plan is to venture into beef marketing.
“The beef industry is my passion,” she said. “I want to work with helping consumers understand what the marketing means.”
Businesses can advertise “hormone-free” but all animals have hormones, Mahon used as an example.
Born and raised in the Williams Lake area, Mahon spent time on her grandparents’ ranch when she was younger and was involved with the Rose Lake Miocene 4H Club for 11 years.
“One year I raised the Grand Champion 4H Steer at the district here and it taught me so much,” she said.
“I also worked at a feedlot before I decided to go to Olds.”
The year and a half at Olds reacquainted her with agriculture and she enjoyed hands-on work with a vet while there.
Now she’s building on what she learned at Olds to further her knowledge while studying at TRU, she said.
“Hopefully one day we can save ourselves costs, work on our own marketing and understand all those aspects of the industry.”