Student Stories: Animal sciences major cares for alpacas in internship

While many college students spend the summer months working in their old seasonal jobs or interning in an office, Penn State junior Liz Walker had a unique summer experience on an alpaca farm as part of a once-in-a-lifetime internship.

After working with small animals for a few years, the animal sciences major in the College of Agricultural Sciences hoped to branch out. "I wanted to work with large animals and get experience," Walker said. "I was excited. Alpacas originally were imported from overseas, so to have an opportunity to work with them was unusual."

From May to the beginning of August, the Danville, Pa., native lived on the alpaca farm in Lebanon, Va., daily tending to as many as 80 alpacas.

Her days began around 7:30 a.m. "I started the day by going to the main barn, looking at each of the animals and getting the feed ready," she said. "If something needed to be done, I did it."

With three years of experience working in a veterinary office under her belt already, Walker also was responsible for providing some medical care to the alpacas. The summer months were the birthing season, so she consistently monitored the alpacas and their crias (babies) throughout the day.

"The farm owner invests a lot of money in the alpacas, so I had to give 100 percent to take care of them," she explained. "I had a lot of responsibilities besides feeding the alpacas at set times. So handling my chores and making sure none were giving birth was a challenge."

As one of only a few helpers on the farm, Walker's days were busy and long. Between feeding, weighing the crias, providing medical care and doing farm chores, her duties often ended well after sundown.

"It was a really good experience," she said. "I learned about a species of animal that most people don't have the chance to get hands-on experience with."

Veterinary school is no longer in her plans, but through her experiences, Walker knows what direction she would like to take instead. "I'm really interested in behavior and interaction between humans and animals," she explained. "I'd love to work with service animals."
 

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Last Updated February 24, 2012