Students at NRHS take hands on approach to raising a calf
For the second year in a row, the New Richmond High School received a special guest to help Rachel Sauvola’s Large Animal Science class learn more about how to raise, take care of and study a large animal.
“We love to do hands-on learning in this class and try to give the kids the right tools they need to learn as much as they can about large animals,” Sauvola said. “So, I took a team of students down to to the farm where he was born. We toured the farm where they had over 40 Shorthorns, with the oldest one they had being 17-years-old. They also had cows in all different colors and patterns, which was nice for the students to see.”
Axel, a Shorthorn calf, was very young when he arrived at the high school on Sept. 13, about three weeks after the students made their trip to the farm. He was named Axel in the traditional style of naming newborn calves after their mother, which in Axel’s case meant he needed an “A” name to go with Abby, his mother.
“When he got here, we bottle fed him and then upgraded him to a bucket,” Sauvola said. “We then weaned him like you would on a farm and did all the other things that are part of raising a cow on an actual farm.”
While he has been at the high school, students have been tasked with taking care of Axel, and that includes daily chores three times a day. The students in the class split the duties and sign up for the specific chores they want to help with, from feeding Axel to cleaning his pen.
“Axel lives in a 10-foot square pen in the back of the Large Animal Science classroom where he has a ball to play with and gets fed and gets weighed every week,” Sauvola said. “The students do all that stuff as part of the class. We even had another student bring in one of their family cows to compare him to Axel, but he got too big to share a divided pen with Axel, so we could only keep him there for a short while.”
When Axel first came to the school, he weighed close to 96 pounds, but after just a few short months he has grown to nearly 320 pounds.
Also included as part of taking care of Axel for the class, students were guided through how to castrate, dehorn, give shots and ear tag the young calf. However, Sauvola was not able to actually take part in any of those activities since she is allergic to most animals and can’t physically touch them.
“If I did touch him, my throat would swell up and I couldn’t breathe,” Sauvola said. “I can’t touch them at all. Just putting my hand on their fur would cause me problems with my allergies. So the students have had to do all of this themselves after I walked them through it as best I could.”
Another difficulty the class has dealt with was moving Axel around the school if they wanted to show him off to other students or just walk him inside.
“The school floors are not good for his hooves,” Sauvola said. “So if we were going to take him anywhere else in the school he would go sliding and slipping all over the place and probably get hurt in the process.”
One of Sauvola’s main reasons for bringing in a real calf for the students to study and work with is to make the class as hands-on as possible. The students appreciated that effort so much that they were clamouring for another steer to be brought into the classroom again this year.
“The kids just kept asking for me to bring in another calf this year after how much fun it was for them to work with one last year,” Sauvola said. “It isn’t often that a kid asks to do chores, so you know that they are enjoying the experience since it isn’t something every kid gets to do in their normal lives.”
The Large Animal Science students raised $100 for the Five Loaves Food Shelf with their "Get Your Pic Taken with Axel" holiday campaign. They later hosted Tia Bismonte from the food shelf who told them that their donation would buy $700 worth of food or 1,000 pounds of goodies.
Axel will stay at the high school until the end of the school year when he will be shown at local summer fairs. After that he will be given to a local farm and eventually slaughtered for his meat.