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Five things you need to know about PCC’s lambing season (and that llama)

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You don’t get far in the Rock Creek Campus barn before you are greeted by the inquiring shaggy character named Talisman, who definitely has personal space issues.

It’s late winter and the lambs are coming fast and furious for PCC Farm Coordinator Terry Lookabill, who will eventually oversee the delivery of 50-60 “babies.” Lookabill and student volunteers from several programs work 24/7 to make sure the sheep’s birthing goes well and that the offspring are fed regularly. His right hand man is Talisman, a six-foot-plus tall llama best known for his thick unkempt coat and his habit of waltzing up to visitors to kiss them whether they like it or not.

Here’s five things to know about this annual tradition that dates back to when the the farm began at Rock Creek:

1) Why does lambing always happen in February and March at the college?
Talisman the llama guards the sheep from predators.

Talisman the llama guards the sheep from predators.

Lookabill said that lambs won’t eat solid food the first month of life. So, by having the lambing occur in late winter the nearly 60 lambs will be ready to eat real grass that has started to grow in the campus pastures when spring arrives. This scheduling reduces the amount of hay needed during the cold winter months. Lastly, the timing gives Veterinary Technology Program students a chance to test their tailing and castration skills on the youngsters during winter term labs at the barn.

2) What happens to the lambs once they mature in the fall?

The lambs are considered meat animals and the males are sold at market when they get close to 120 pounds. This annual selling (roughly $10,000 that goes to the PCC Foundation) helps the farm pay for the hay ($17,000 a year) it imports to keep the animals fed during the winter. Lookabill keeps some females so that there are animals for students to care for through winter time.

3) Why are there alpacas and a llama named Talisman bunking with the lambs and sheep?

The four alpacas are used by students for their training as well. Talisman serves as a guard to watch over the flock and protect them from attacks by predators like coyotes and cougars. He’s economical, too. Because he eats the same food as the sheep and other livestock, Lookabill doesn’t have to buy additional food. Sheep dogs would require more costs due to this.

4) Do the sheep get sheared?

Yes. Lookabill hires Australian Eddie Dunham to shear the flock annually, a task he’s been doing for PCC the past 20 years. Dunham travels to the US for six months at a time to shear sheep all over the country. While at the farm, the Aussie also shears the college’s alpacas, which Lookabill describes as like watching melted chocolate roll off their backs. Historically, the wool would be thrown out but recently a knitting supply business in Orenco Station has been buying the wool every year for its classes.

“They love it,” Lookabill said of the local business. “It tickles me that somebody can use it.”

5) Can anybody come out to the Rock Creek Farm and see the lambs?

Absolutely, but one should wait until construction subsides later this spring. A structure is being demolished and a new one being built, according to Lookabill. Access will be restricted until work ends. When it all finishes, interested lamb watchers should wear old shoes or boots as it gets muddy. Lookabill’s only rule is to not feed any of the animals. They’re all on controlled feeding schedules, and outside food is unhealthy for them.

When access returns, head to the farm on the southwest side of the campus. Just look for the shaggy llama and you’re there.


About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Interim Senior Director of Marketing & Communications at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section e... more »

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x by Elizabeth 7 years ago

it’s great to see my fellow students interested in the lives of animals. I grew up on a small family farm myself and consider myself a person that cares for the lives and well being of animals. I mean, who doesn’t?! However, I think we are approaching this the wrong way with a programs like these. I realize that this is an educational institution meant to prepare students for future jobs, and job opportunity lies in the animal agriculture industry. Therefore, should PCC teach us, the students, how to raise animals for eating? Let’s start with a little background first. (And please forgive me for this MLK speech length comment, but bear with me!)

On the farm I grew up on, I realized how much work it took to raise an animal. It requires enormous amounts of resources. It’s hard work, and it’s difficult physically and mentally. You learn a lot of lessons, and it’s arguably a very educational opportunity. At the end of the day, you kind of bond with the animals too, just like the people are in the cute pictures in this article. When they mature, and all is said and done, you might choose to kill and eat them (or you pay someone else to kill them) or use them to make other products. You have gotten what you worked for, but it might not be worth it.

As of today, 3/28/2016, 95% of the Great Barrier Reef is classified as severely bleached and *half* is predicted to die by the end of the following month. Whatever we’ve been doing to the planet, it isn’t working anymore. It is not sustainable. We have to take action, but how? As I mentioned, it takes enormous amounts of resources to raise animals, and the United Nations says a plant based diet can save the planet. The number one life change you can make for the biggest positive environmental impact is to stop eating animals and animal products. Draining your in-ground swimming pool, replacing your lawn with sand, selling the hummer for a sweet bike, or skipping showers for a month at a time don’t even begin to compare. The biggest impact will be made by stopping the consumption of animal products. http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/new-research-says-plant-based-diet-best-for-planet-and-people Our college takes pride in sustainability, and thus should consider getting rid of these livestock programs to make the biggest positive impact. However, that is not the only problem. It is also unethical to raise animals for our use.

Sentient beings feel pleasure or pain, and sentient beings include all of the animals we raise and kill for food. It is unethical to cause pain to a fellow earthling and fellow sentient being, emotional or physical. Even if you disagree and believe it is ethical to own and use our fellow earthlings for food, despite it being completely unnecessary in the developed world we all live in here in Portland, consider eschewing animal products for sustainability or health (health is also mentioned in the UN article).

The answer to whether PCC should teach the students how to raise animals for these purposes is: no. It is not sustainable or ethical to raise animals for consumption.

PCC- let’s carry on with the pride we take in being a sustainability focused school and get rid of programs like these. Join the future.

Students- consider other classes and a different career if you are considering this one, as it will not help the future of our planet, our children, and our health to participate in these careers. If you are interested in learning about animals, I invite to volunteer at an animal sanctuary, for example, Wildwood in Newberg. You don’t have to pay for a class and they aren’t doing it for the money. If you consider yourself and animal lover, I highly suggest an activity like that!

Anyone- reply if you have any questions about eating plants, there are tons of great resources out there I can refer you to!

x by Dani Dennenberg 7 years ago

The birthing of the lambs is a well celebrated event at PCC so I’m sure I’ll ruffle some feathers when I share an opinion that likely isn’t a popular one, but it’s a thought-provoking one. As an institution institution, we need to instill critical thinking, which often means presenting multiple perspectives.

Animals are extraordinary. Baby animals are especially precious, so it’s easy to gloss over other aspects of their lives that may not be so cute when we read a story like this.

We owe it to the animals to ask whether the raising of generations and generations of animals for food is necessary, humane or sustainable. These are individual, sentient beings with personalities with their own needs that should be respected.

Scientific studies have shown that tail-docking and castration are serious animal welfare problems, causing distress, pain, and increased fly infestation. The separation of babies from their mothers, transportation, and final moments are violent, agonizing processes for the ones who experience them.

x by ann marie eaton 7 years ago

WOW I agree with your opinions and I have both a domestic cat and dog and they both have great personalities and they are viewed as family members so a lot of decisions are made with there welfare in mind. I hate to think of there time here on earth as being a cruel one. I really love what you wrote and stand beside you in your beliefs.

x by Nicole 7 years ago

Elizabeth and Dani, your comments are fantastic and absolutely correct. I read this article with horror but was so gratified to find your remarks at the end. If anyone wishes to learn more about the plight of animals used for food and/or the impact of our food choices on the planet, please watch the documentaries “Earthlings” and “Conspiracy” (respectively). Mercy for Animals, a US-based animal rights organization, is also a fantastic resource (their website is mercyforanimals.org). I, too, hope that PCC retires this program and sends the lambs to a farm sanctuary rather than to a violent, premature–and totally unnecessary–death.

x by Nicole 7 years ago

Sorry, the name of the second documentary is “Cowspiracy,” not “Conspiracy” (autocorrect overruled the real title, I’m afraid). It is available to stream on Netflix!

x by sandra 7 years ago

Great spring time story!

My office mates and I were looking at the cute screen shot. One of them said” Hey that is not a lamb it is a goat”. I’m a city girl I really don’t know the difference between a baby lamb or goat… so which is it?

Either way they are all adorable.

x by Carlos 7 years ago

I agree with you completely, Nicole! This is a unnecessary program and needs to be phased out immediately. What’s worse is that these animals are raised to to trust their handlers only to be betrayed and sent to slaughter.

x by Matt 7 years ago

I agree 100% with Elizabeth, Dani, Nicole, and Carlos! PCC should not be slaughtering lambs for profit. It is sad, wrong, disturbing, and completely unnecessary for a college or for anyone else to profit from the betrayal of these innocent animals.

Please, someone, phase out this program as soon as possible.

x by Max 7 years ago

I really enjoy reading this story. Its so nice to see all the different things PCC was to offer.

x by James Hill 7 years ago

It should be noted that the college farm provides a real-world learning environment for our Vet Tech students. The ability to care for animals that range in ages is critical for their learning. Then our graduates go out into the world and have the skills necessary to tend to the health of a variety of animals. Without the farm, a critical piece of training for our students would be lost and well-trained veterinary graduates would be at a shortage for area vet clinics.

x by Jenn 7 years ago

Yes, a global shift to a plant-based diet would slow down global warming and other forms of environmental destruction, and if we could accomplish that shift we’d have a better chance of preventing catastrophic change.

No, PCC should not even consider getting rid of its livestock program. The human world is not going to give up keeping animals for meat and fiber and crop fertilizer. It’s too deep a part of who we’ve been for millennia. It confers too many advantages, especially for people who would otherwise be in poverty below subsistence level. Heck, humans as a species aren’t even likely to give up petroleum-based farming of plant crops for as long as the petroleum holds out, and we’ve only been making nitrogen fertilizers through the Haber process for a century (with horrifying consequences, of course). If the world changes terribly for the worse as a result of our actions in the environment — okay, WHEN the world changes terribly for the worse — the human population is probably going to crash, cities are probably going to be abandoned, and the scattered bands of survivors are *certainly* going to have goats or cows or sheep. If some of them are PCC vet tech students, well, they’ll be the ones who survived because their flock survived because they knew how to deliver lambs.

I’m not saying I want to give up trying to stop the world from becoming semi-uninhabitable. I’m saying it’s going to take a different strategy than attacking a community college’s right to support a wise old farmer in teaching the next generation how to care for animals. Hey, PCC, thanks for keeping us even *slightly* in touch with the rural world that surrounds Portland and keeps us alive.

x by Carlos Meza 7 years ago

James, Vet Tech does not = raising animals for slaughter. I think Vet Tech education can be done without eventually sending the sheep and goats to slaughter. For the reasons address in the above post, PCC can and should do better.

x by James Hill 7 years ago

Carlos, the farm coordinator runs the animal operation not vet tech. The students benefit by being able to work with live animals of all ages. Farm provides a needed lab for students and needs to be able to fund itself.

x by Carlos Meza 7 years ago

James, I can’t speak for everyone else but I don’t completely oppose the students being exposed to animals. However, the way in which the program “funds” itself leaves much to be desired. I don’t claim to know all the nuances of the program, but I feel that the animals ultimately going slaughter is not the only solution. Its more like the proverbial low hanging fruit of ideas. l

x by Makana K. 7 years ago

I agree with the previous posters on the ethical aspects of this program. PCC should find other avenues for potential vet students to gain hands on training in order to learn. I find it difficult to believe that PCC is unable to develop some sort of partnership with a few local vet clinics in order to accommodate students. Another aspect I don’t feel comfortable with is that the proceeds from the lambs will go to the PCC Foundation which will likely benefit students in one way or another. I’m sure there are others who find this disheartening. I respectfully ask PCC to reconsider this program or look for alternatives that treat animals with the dignity they deserve!

x by Kristina 7 years ago

I am constantly blown away by the amazing classes and programs that PCC offers. The PCC farm is yet another reason I am proud to be a student of this great institution.

As a side note: I know that male turkeys are used to protect chicken flocks, but I had no idea that a male llama would do the same for a flock of sheep. Too cool!

x by KC 7 years ago

I have boys in 4H and FFA, I want to know if you sell your lambs for kids in FFA and 4H to show at county fair, the lambs would be used in showmanship and then market.

x by James Hill 7 years ago

Hi KC, to answer your question contact Terry Lookabill, Farm Coordinator, 503-720-9660
tlookabi@pcc.edu. Thanks!

x by Nicole D 7 years ago

I would never be able to assist in birthing, feeding, raising these babies and then send them to slaughter without a second thought. I know we’ve been eating meat since the beginning of time but animal agriculture is wreaking havoc on our planet. I wish people were more empathetic to the lives of others, and more aware of the consequences of our actions as a society.

x by William 7 years ago

I love the farm, and have had the pleasure of visiting it (and the vet tech program), and getting a guided tour by Terry. While I agree with the emotional response that many have to the fact that most of the lambs will end up in a slaughter house, this is an unfortunate aspect of life that is not likely to change, as humans are addicted to flesh as a norm of the social construct.

For those that don’t understand, I recommend watching the food sequence in Samsara. (Google search ‘samsara food’)

We might survive another century or two, if we change our behaviors globally, to try to live with nature instead of trying to take domain over it…

If you need a motivator to inspire you, Charlie Chaplin ‘greatest speech ever made’ might do it, or give you tears.

Remember YOU are the change you’ve been waiting for. (re-posted sans links)

x by Carlos 6 years ago

This is absolutely the worst program at PCC. How long has this program been at PCC?